The Kitchen Cupboard – less is more

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Hands up who has a kitchen with loads of stuff in it? You know the kind of thing I mean – plates and cups galore, several wooden spoons – all slightly different, kitchen gadgets from processors to grinders, salad spinners, countless pans, earthen ware/oven dishes of every hue, or food mouldering in the fridge or the half empty packets in the cupboards, let alone the unopened packets of dried goods.

How much of it do I REALLY need?

We all accumulate. me included. Oh I MUST have this spice or THAT sauce to make this recipe or to prepare that dish. Do I need ground cumin as well as whole? Do I need several kinds of vinegar? Do I need any number of dried beans and pulses?

The small things, the details make life pleasant I’m the first to admit that. And as an inquisitive cook and gardener I’m prone to seeing a recipe that mentions something new and wanting to try it, Good quality knives and pans make cooking a simpler, pleasanter task. Many things may be gifts, maybe other items are hand me downs with lifetimes of memories attached.

How much of it do I REALLY need?

I’ve just returned from a trip to the French Alps, I had the good fortune to stay in a friends chalet for two weeks before going on to house sit for other friends. The 2nd space was tiny, I mean TINY. There are motor homes and glamping tents that are bigger. Living in a small, sorry that should be BIJOU space made me re-think my needs. Pare life down to the basics. What is NECESSARY and what is a LUXURY. I know I’m fortunate to be able to discern between the two.

Our bijou kitchen was ingenious, a kitchen in a cupboard. Simply a large four door cupboard (floor to ceiling) with a 2 ring electric hob on the left hand upper side, a microwave and shelf above, to the right a sink and more shelves and hooks. On the door a rack for cans or dried goods. Below a small fridge to the left and under the sink on the right a bin and cupboard for kitchen cleaning products and brushes. Simple and small I’m sure you’d agree.

Careful thinking and planning was needed, preparation had to be done on the table, but obviously the table had to be cleared beforehand. Simple tasty recipes for 2 hungry skiiers. 2 pot cookery challenges you, but the small space challenged me further, the need to pare down the ingredients and simplify the methods. When you strip away the clutter what do you need? A couple of rings to cook on, something small to store perishable goods, a few shelves for plates and dried goods. And about those plates and dishes – 4 bowls, 4 plates is all 1 or 2 people NEED. Unless of course you are a food blogger and you want to present your food in an attractive and imaginative way!

On my return home, to what I always considered a standard kitchen, reality hits – how large it is, how many cupboards there are, the acres of worktop space, the stacks of plates and dishes and the cutlery drawer brimming, and glasses of all shapes and sizes and well countless STUFF accumulated over the years. Some of those things hold precious memories (hand me downs from my mum or even my granny), others viewed in daylight are luxuries. When summing up I can’t help but say there is heaps of space and tons of stuff.

How much of it do I REALLY NEED?

Let’s face it, it boils down to a couple of pans, a coffee pot, some good knives……

But there’s a conundrum – there always is isn’t there?! If you grow your own food – even if it is to supplement what you buy in the shops and markets, you need to be able to store it – most food will go off very quickly when dug from the ground, some crops are meant for winter storage (think of pumpkins) – be it pickled beetroot or frozen peas. And how do I prepare and store these precious foods? I need room and space to do so. The conundrum of living in the 21st century and growing your own food, making your own jams and preserves, storing the bounty for winter replenishment.

Perhaps I just need to adapt my thinking, after all previous generations didn’t have the space, the technology and the sheer accumulation of stuff that we all have.

The puzzle I’m struggling with concerns space and paring things down and de-cluttering.. I’m trying to apply the lessons of my recent trip to my life at home. Do I need to spend more and more? And yes I have just been out and bought the cutest omelette pan (there is a way to go here isn’t there?!) Do I really NEED a new jam pan? Do I need several different varieties of seeds to sow? No. But it does give me great pleasure to grow different beans and salads, to be able to store and preserve some of the food for later use. But all of that takes time, energy and space. Besides you never know I might find a new favourite lettuce to grow a variety that the slugs don’t like….

Wanting to grow more and more of my own fruit and veg means I’m always thinking I don’t have enough space to do this or that, or if only the greenhouse was bigger then I could grow more tomatoes or whatever. Or if I had more time I could simply grow more and try things like baking my own bread or making more food from scratch (yes I’m talking about pasta and a pasta machine!)

But looking at what I have with a THINK SMALL – LESS IS MORE hat on I realise I have PLENTY of space. In fact I have much more than many, many people. Let’s face it – I have space, which taken alone is a premium in life. And looking at the copious seed packets I know I don’t need any more, use what I have is my motto for 2013.

Storing food for winter is a way of preparing. Coming home to a fridge with food in is welcoming. Knowing there are cans and jars of food in the cupboards is a lovely thought – I can be flexible and decide to cook what I fancy. It seems unlimited. I know generations past didn’t have these luxuries and countless millions still don’t. Food is not only a necessity but in the 21st century it’s a pleasure and the tools we use, the wonderful fresh ingredients we have all add to the pleasure. And seeking out pleasure is just as important to us in the here and now.

This post doesn’t have answers, it has questions. I’m working my way around these conundrums, celebrating what I have but challenging myself to think about space, time and desire.

Living a simpler pared down life has its complications doesn’t it!

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50 comments

  • oh i understand, i wish for less, for simplicity, but have a partner who loves excess of everything, that will never change … i just have to go out walking in nature and find my simplicity there … i am interested to see what choices you make now, just planting the seeds you already have is a big step … buying less, giving things away … that is where i am right now 🙂

    • What a great pair you must make!
      I think sorting the seeds out and only buying what is truly needed is a good start, but to be honest it’s a lot about “state of mind” as much as the physical

  • Having a rather Zen discussion with yourself, Claire? 😉
    There’s too much stuff, not just in the kitchen, but in every part of the house…Some hangs around, waiting for one of the Adult Children to establish a home and need it. Some belongs TO said children, who draw back in horror when asked to sort-out the things they don’t want any more.
    “You’re going to sell the house, aren’t you?” they ask. Every. Time.
    And still, it sits…
    Good luck with your Simplifying…

    • I reckon you are right Marie, me and Zen are buddied up here!
      And that is too funny about your kids stuff, everywhere I go I hear the same story, utter horror and amazement that a parent could have the gaul to think about a) having a clear out and b) suggesting the kids take the stuff and house it themselves. a univeral truth and problem all in one go.
      So far I’ve simplified the seed packets 🙂

  • Now that is a small kitchen Claire, very tiny indeed. I do agree with asking the question how much do we really need? My late Dad suggested that before every purchase you ask yourself three questions:
    1. Do I need it? (I have left many a things behind at this one).
    2. Do I want it? (Not surprisingly, the answer will be a degree of yes after the first question).
    3. Can I afford it? (Pretty black and white financially, but this one could also be thought of in terms of space that it needs to be stored).
    Not that I don’t buy in excess or even have too many things, but it certainly makes me think before I mindlessly buy. Oh, and I often found that one can really justify anything, depending how well you can spin it.

    • It sounds like your Dad was a smart man Eva, it’s all about thinking before we act isn’t it. The whole experience of living in a small appartment has made me think about how much space I have and how much I need
      So true about the justification 🙂

  • Enjoy your space – I agree you may not NEED everything, but I bet the moment you get rid of a certain thing it will be JUST the thing you need for a certain recipe!

    I have a cupboard under the stairs which is full to bursting… but that’s where the spares go – or the infrequently needed things (like the jam pan) to help to reduce the kitchen clutter 🙂

  • I totally agree with you, this is one of my problems too. Even my kitchen is very small, and I can’t organize well enough… Thank you dear Claire, love, nia

  • I’ve been trying to simplify my life for the last several years. Gradually, gradually I am paring down, but not nearly enough. I never really had applied that to the kitchen, however. And, just this morning, I was looking through a stuffed cabinet for some cinnamon, and I came across a few jars of things I didn’t even know I had. That’s silly. Some kitchen paring is in order! Thanks for the push. 🙂

  • I got rid of an asparagus steamer years ago because it was only used for one thing. Now if I want long spears I need to steam them in a frying pan and the bottoms will be slightly tough–no tears shed here. But on the other hand I have two different shortbread molds ;-).

    You are right that eating natural has its complications. I grow less than you do but belong to two CSAs and buy bulk (we spend less on organic than most people do period). This means we have sooo many canning jars and bulk storage jars … and extra cupboards in the basement and freezers and refrigerators… And the last time I wanted to use the pasta maker, I couldn’t find it among all of our stuff–sigh.

  • It’s hard isn’t it – craving a simpler, pared down lifestyle, but struggling to decide what you really need, or want to keep because of sentimental attachment. I decided the other day that we should move house – it’s the best (and probably the most expensive!) way to have a really good sort out and decide what to put in the packing box and what to get rid of!

  • It seems that I spend a large part of my life these days trying to “pare down”..not just my stuff, but all parts of my existence. At home, in my mind, my activities, etc. I so appreciate all the questions your post brings up. One of my tricks is to give things away to other folks when they are at my house and admire something that I have too many of…such as a particular plate or cup…or tea towel…it is my small way to keep it all under control. Thanks Claire.

  • The whole act of living permanently somewhere and owning/having a home seems to invite the accumulation of stuff. Every now and then I go crazy and think we should sell the big stuff and give away the rest and live a nomadic life with very little, and then I settle down again (usually not without a big purge of some kind). If we have even a corner of our own, there are favourite books on the go and with that the specially chosen lamp or reading table, the chair, the footstool, a little potted plant, and so it goes. I’m equally in love with (and simply entirely used to) having a home and making it comfortable, frustrated by it and guilty about it at times. I think the kitchen is probably where the lunacy of stuff accumulation really peaks, and the more you want to do for yourself with food, the more it makes sense to own certain tools, dried goods, etc. I don’t have any answers either, Claire, but I loved reading about your frustration and how you are seeing this right now. And I am rethinking whether I really need a pan for madeleines 🙂

  • Claire,
    You have hit a nerve and funny bone with one whack! We have this little bitty kitchen in Florida, yet we still manage to accumulate so much “stuff” in it that one or two trips to our local Salvation Army or like-store must be made to thin out every year. We now see empty drawers and are amazed. There are no empty drawers up north in our much larger space! Stuff up north is precious, has memories behind every door. Florida is new to us and we don’t have the history here that we have in Maryland. Food is social lubrication and the hardware to make it and serve it has a great deal of emotion packed with it. So we have consigned ourselves to letting our heirs to sort out the stuff when we are gone. We will treasure our stuff and have fun with it. I would love to live in less cluttered surroundings, but the clutter is beautiful when we meditate on it.
    Best to you,
    Shenandoah

  • Oh my! How many questions… please, when you find the answers let me know, because I can use the help… 😉 I’m always looking for ideas to make my kitchen and its space more… I don’t know, Giovanna’s friendly… But everything seem so important and necessary; I think you nailed it, the thing here is to determine what do we REALLY need (and pick up some vagaries just for the pleasure of it)
    Have a lovely day 🙂

  • Hi Claire. I too am torn but the clutter wins. I figure when I die, it can go to the op shop but, in the meantime, I may as well enjoy it.

  • I really understand your dilemma, Claire. When we moved out of the city I realized I needed more space to store food etc as I would only be able to shop once a week. That means less space for gadgets in the kitchen…. but I have got a large, very accessible attic! 😉 The pasta machine, fondue set, and jam-making stuff are all up there. (What’s more, the glory of German houses is that they almost always have a good cellar…)

  • When I celebrated my 30th birthday – some years back – in my old apartment I served three courses for 25 people and didn’t have to borrow a single plate, fork or glass. And yes, that was three plates and three glasses plus one coffee cup per person, but they only got one fork, one knife and one spoon each. Then came the serving dishes, the cooking implements and… Well, I was washing dishes for the next two days! Now, imagine that I marry somebody with just as large a surplus capacity in table ware… Oh, wait… I did! We could literally serve dinner for 50 with no problems, except we only have 8 dining chairs.
    As for cooking implements, tools and gadgets I think we’re also pretty over-equipped for a two-person household, but I do like my ravioli tray, my jam funnel, my… Well, every cooking gadget you can think of! Except perhaps an egg boiler; that’s my limit!
    We’re about to re-do our kitchen within the next few months, and we’re definitely planning for cupboard space above all other things. (And deciding which plates, glasses and so on should go into the attic room…)

  • Try living with more people: everyone has a different idea about which things are essential — I love to cook in cast iron and my mother doesn’t use it at all. She has coffee pots I don’t go near (I make my coffee with a Melitta filter cone and paper filters over my cup. When my brother moved in, he had his pint glasses and his coffee mugs and his cheese graters, his storage containers, his knives…

  • My problem is, hard to believe as it is, I actually USE most of the stuff in my kitchen. I don’t need to, obviously (I could mince garlic with a knife and a board), but it’s hard to weed out things which are actually still in use. It’s a noble cause though, Claire, because I really don’t want to end up like the lady from the Waste Not exhibition! 🙂

  • I love this! These are questions I ask regularly, problems I face continually. Last year, on a business trip, I spent three nights in a Residence Inn – basically a motel room with tiny kitchen, living area, desk and dining space. I kept thinking, “Why do I need more?” More room means more stuff, which means more energy to care for, store and maintain the accumulations…and yet, for the once a year visit from children and grandchildren, or the autumn canning and freezing of the harvest, or the winter hours spent in the studio…it’s hard. Great thought-provoking post, Claire!

  • As you can see from all the comments Claire, paring down is the new excess!

    Everywhere I go lately, EVERYONE is decluttering/purging/reorganizing and if they aren’t doing it, they are thinking out loud about it! I think it has to do with the times we live in: a sense of looming, worldwide, economic disaster has us wondering what EXACTLY we can do without. But there’s another factor at play (imo) and it has to do with an entire generation of baby-boomers reaching mid-life now. If ever there was a group of people dead-set against being dead-set, they’re it! 😉 The urge to purge is part of getting ready for the second 50yrs.; what stays (or goes) depends largely on how you see yourself living in the future.

    Great post!

  • I inherited a hoarder’s kitchen from my mom and am still trying to clear things out so I envy the organization of something like that one. 🙂

    I’ve had a dining room table propped up against the far wall in my kitchen since July of 2010 when my mom moved in to my dining room and it became her bedroom. I’m going to have to break down the bed and make it a dining room again one of these days.

    Around the same time a lot of pots, pans, baking sheets muffin tins etc were put in boxes and ended up in the basement. Amazing what I found in some cupboards though I still have 2 cupboards of glassware to sort through one of these days. 🙂

  • Oh it’s a tough one and I don’t think there is an answer. I have lived and worked in both extremes of kitchen and each has its pros and cons. Don’t feel guilty about the big one, enjoy it, fill it, use it. And when you have a small kitchen to survive in, adapt, be inventive, and relish the creativity that comes with it!

  • For me, the hardest part isn’t so much getting rid of the clutter. Clutter is crafty and the minute you look away, it will start to gather again, reclaiming the very space you fought so hard to liberate.
    Good luck to you, Claire. I look forward to hearing of your progress in your dispatches from the front.

  • I think it’s the same with our pots and pans … as with our clothing – if we have never used it during the last 18 months we will never use it. *smile
    I was like you – but my apartment in Belfast didn’t have any kitchen cupboards … so I had to break something before I could buy something new and it worked fantastic. We think we need …
    In Brighton was it the opposite – cupboards to die for … and didn’t collect, but the thing was that I moved from Brighton to Belfast.

  • I’ve been thinking about downsizing a lot lately, though it seems a daunting task! My kitchen is tiny, but after seeing this one, plus an article on David Lebovitz’ kitchen and the gal who writes Smitten Kitchen, I have a renewed vision of my kitchen being larger than I thought, but in desperate need of purging and organizing. A thought provoking post, Claire. Welcome back and Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • I am constantly having this conversation with myself and I find that the more I have it the clear things become. I just said to my husband the other day that I think I have finally pared down the cupboard that holds our pans, rice cooker, etc. to only the things that we really use. On the other hand, I open the pantry cupboard and gaze upon the amount of food we have jammed in there and I see there is more work to be done. And yes, I think I have at least three wooden spoons shoved in our only drawer that holds all that “stuff.” These are important questions we ask of ourselves as we shift our lifestyles to “less is better.” I find it seeping into all aspects of my life, and I find myself seeing if I can’t borrow or get something second hand before buying it brand new. Great post! It is this kind of reading and “talking” that keeps me on the right path.

  • My impression about the space we need has nothing to do with activities, guest commonly invited to the house, or dietary needs. It is simply this, how much space do we have. And then, after figuring out how much space we have, we usually need 125% of the space available.

  • I LOVED reading this. You made me feel right at home with my own questions. We’ve lived in the same house for almost 40 years now…you want to talk accumulation? Oh my! I have this same conversation in my head all the time and I don’t get very far. The reason is that I have the cupboard and counter space, and so it seems to be more difficult for me to think of letting go of items I might need. If we ever downsize I’ll be forced to change, but my personal ethos is even now gently guiding me towards being more conservation-minded with everything. Not so dependent on what can be trappings that take us away from our most congruent thoughts on living with simplicity. If you get this figured out I want to know all about it! And for today, a Very Happy Valentine’s Day. 🙂

  • I live in a relatively small cottage with a fairly small kitchen (compared to newer ones in the U.S. these days). Whenever I am tempted to buy something to bring into the house – kitchen or otherwise – I ask three questions: 1) can this money go towards something more important? 2) do I need this? 3) where will I put it? More often than not, I don’t buy it!

  • A tiny kitchen is fine if you only spend part of the year there or are only cooking for one or two people. Yes, you can probably cook a banquet in that same small space but would you really enjoy doing it. Be happy that you have a kitchen large enough for preserving you garden harvest each year.

  • As long as you use what you have I think it’s okay to have ‘more’ but making do with less is often easier than we think.

  • Probably the only thing I have more of than I need is dishes, but you know what, I use every single one of them. Nothing stays in the cabinet. As for cooking utensils I have only what I need and find that pretty basic. I do find that I’m using my multi cooker more and more which does eliminate the need for some of the pots and pans.

  • You are very organized. I’m embarrassed to say that I have over 30 bags of egg white noodles in 1.5 cupboards….I no longer eat white rice. So need to find a substitute that doesn’t spike my sugar blood..

  • I loved reading this post, and all the comments… I continually look around my tiny kitchen, and think I should get rid of things… ..In the end I surrender to enjoyment of them instead of simplicity..

  • We’ve been talking of this very thing! I/we have 40 years of accumulated must-haves, inherited treasures, and more. It simply is not going to fit into a ten by twelve foot kitchen. If you figure out the answer I do hope you will share your genius and enlightenment. Oh yes, and I loved that kitchen in a cupboard, although I’m certain that I wouldn’t survive using it more than a week or so…

  • I have drawers of stuff like this and whenever something is called for I can find it! I have tools that were my Mum’s and still they come in useful. I find it so hard to de-clutter……. I try to live by William Morris’s “Have nothing in your home that you don’t believe to be beautiful or know to be useful” or words to that effect. Mr S thinks I have a lot of clutter… 🙂

  • I appreciate the questions you’ve raised here Clare. I love how time away, living under entirely different conditions, informs us – or at least begs some questions. If the ONLY question were “what do I need?” the list would barely fill half a sheet of paper. If the question is “what will improve the way I live or the product that I produce?” the list grows longer. And personally I think it’s a valid question. A question we rarely ask is “Will I use this thing i *want* enough to make it worth the space in my life it will consume?” I think frequently we’re a bit dishonest (or self-deceiving) when it comes to that one. I even think that sometimes it’s an appropriate question to ask, “How much pure pleasure will this bring…and how long might it last?” And all too frequently, in these “privileged” times, the only questions that get asked are “How soon can i get it and should I charge it or pay cash.” A good thought provoking post!
    ps…i’ve often “dreamed” of living in a lighthouse, with a kitchen much like you describe, a few good books that I could read again and again, a few things to cook with, art tablets & pens, a camera, hiking boots, a good quilt and a pillow. That would be my short list and I’d love to know how very full and happy I’d be with so little!

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