One of the biggest obstacles that gets in the way of eating real food is the actual act of cooking. Though there are plenty of real foods that can be eaten straight from the fridge or pantry, it’s often preferable (and more appetizing) to combine or prepare them.
Don’t get me wrong–I love to cook. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But there are times (especially when I’ve just battled traffic for an hour) that the thought of snapping my fingers to an instant dinner is mighty appealing. And when those times come, it’s much easier for me to jump the mental hurdle and begin cooking if my kitchen is a place that I actually want to be.
In a way, your kitchen isn’t much different than an office or a studio. It’s a place that you create; a place that you bring things together in ways that take inspiration, planning, science. There are measurements to be made (or guesses to be thrown together), things to arrange, multiple items to be combined in a way that makes them greater than the sum of their parts.
Everyone has their preference for the ideal working space, but with kitchens, the common thread seems to be space. Flip through any home magazine or blog and you’ll see images of spacious, sun-filled kitchens with counters that go on for days, sinks deep enough to bathe in…you get the idea. Something about the freedom to spread out just speaks to the inner chef. Obviously, for many of us, the dream kitchen is only a dream (mine usually involves this one). But there is a way to make your kitchen a happy, roomy place–even when you live in a one bedroom apartment (ahem…like me). What might that be, you ask?
It’s my theme for the month. Yes, spring cleaning and all that; but mostly because (thanks to Sara Janssen) I discovered Miss Minimalist and have been devouring her blog (and now her book) like crazy. She’s definitely on the more radical side of the minimalist scale, but for me it took seeing the lengths that she went to truly notice how much I am being owned by my possessions. I have so much STUFF, stuff that I haven’t touched or used in years but am still holding on to just “because.” Stuff that could be used by others who actually need it, or sold so that I can buy thing I really will use, or stuff that is nothing more than junk (and should be sent to the dump, where it belongs).
As I comb through my stuff (and my life) to get rid of things that don’t belong, what better place to start than the one where I spend most of my time and energy? It’s also the place where unused gadgets, utensils, dishes and even food hide in counters and cabinets, just waiting to spill out at the slightest touch. So I’m going to be ruthless and take back my space. This week, I challenge you to do the same. Here are a few tips to help you reclaim your kitchen, and turn it in to a space where you will always be happy to prepare and create.
Set aside a chunk of time. It doesn’t have to be a whole evening, just start with an hour or so, and choose as much of your space as you feel you can take on. Don’t be put off by thinking that you’ll never have time to do it all–an hour here or there going through one cabinet or the next will add up quickly.
Remove everything. Yes, everything. This is a tip straight from Miss Minimalist herself–in order to truly go through each thing that you have and determine if it should be taking up your precious space, you need to take it all out and put back only those things that you need and use. It might sound scary, but it’s surprisingly easy (and refreshing) to start with a blank slate.
Get rid of duplicates. Unless you host parties on a weekly basis, you probably don’t need five sets of appetizer plates. Or three potato mashers. Or (gasp) an entire shelf of drinking glasses. I know, I know–the glasses were the hardest thing for me to let go of. But honestly, there is no reason that Mr. Jones and I need 15 drinking glasses. If we’re having that many people over, we’ll be using disposable cups. We can definitely get by on eight (or even just four). There’s this awesome thing called a sink, where you can wash the dirty glasses and then reuse them again.
Get rid of the things you aren’t using. You may have gotten that electric turkey knife from Aunt Selma for your wedding three years ago, but if you haven’t even assembled it, lose it (true story). Same goes for the Foreman Grill, tomato slicer, or whatever other item seemed like a great idea at the time but turned in to a permanent fixture above the fridge/beneath the oven/in the highest cabinet. If you don’t use it, it’s not useful.
Put the most used things within reach, where you use them. Minimizing your stuff also means maximizing the things you DO use. Keep bowls and utensils close to where you cook, knife and cutting board within easy reach, etc. If you’re constantly running back and forth in the kitchen, grabbing the same few things, condense them all in to one easy-to-snag place.
Clear your counters. Now that you have some lovely empty space in your cabinets, clear off your countertops so that you have lots of room to chop, mix, and knead as you please. Stow the toaster that only gets used on Saturdays, hide the blender that doesn’t show its face every morning. It’s just as easy (if not easier) to pull an appliance out of your cabinets as it is to be constantly working around it, wiping off food drips, and checking to be sure it’s unplugged. And when you’re taking it off the counter, ask yourself if you really do need it–you can replace many appliances with a good oven and a sharp knife.
Be just as ruthless with your food. Your food should be just as edited as the rest of your kitchen. Clear the fridge of those questionable things (olive tapenade from two years ago? container with leftovers that look like they’re about to start walking?) and arrange what’s left in a way that makes sense for your cooking style. When you buy a random spice or condiment for a recipe, keep it on a list on the side of your fridge and work it in to recipes in the upcoming weeks. Use things up before they get swallowed by the bowels of your pantry. And keep in mind one of the key properties of real food: it has an expiration date. Use it while it’s fresh and you’ll reap the best taste and the best health benefits.