Can’t find a thing to cook with in the kitchen without causing chaos? It’s time to declutter. Sarah Smith lays down the rules.
Worn-out saucepans, endless gadgets bought from Lakeland in a fit of lust, herbs gathering dust next to a pack of old lentils. Behind the cupboard doors of my kitchen is chaos, to the point that I’m afraid to open them, in case of death by flying pan. I read blogs by American housewives and books by the Japanese bestselling tidy freak, Marie Kondo. Her golden rule is: “Counter space is for preparing food, not storing things.” The answer, I realise, is not more storage, it’s simply less stuff. I devote chunks of time to a cupboard or drawer, then gradually work clockwise round the room, first ditching, then organising. As my minimalist kitchen begins to take shape, I feel sexy, efficient and in control. Here’s what I did.
D is for ditching
Start by removing anything that doesn’t belong – hairbrushes and outdated chargers ring a bell? Current paperwork (old is filed or chucked) can stay, as long as it is confined to a designated home. I use a large fruit bowl. This has become a catch-all dish where daily paraphernalia, such as sunglasses, phones and keys, can be kept rather than dumped on the worktop.
The five-year-old “nonstick” pan you have to soak for three days after use. Would you keep clothing once the zip has bust?
Chipped crockery, manky tea towels and burnt oven gloves are the kitchen equivalent of grey knickers.
Anything with a missing part.
Anything beyond its use-by date.
Mugs that don’t feel “right” (relegated to the back of the cupboard) and the wine glasses you avoid.
Melamine and Ikea plastic “kiddieware” (now that they’ve stopped throwing food).
Outdated implements, such as the inherited grapefruit knife that hasn’t felt fruit flesh for 20 years. All single-use gadgets snatch space, so ditch the apple corer, egg poacher, rice cooker and popcorn maker.
Cast-iron pots and pans you can barely pick up, even when empty.
Tagines, chicken bricks and woks are a waste of space.
My husband has four different gadgets, all of which make his morning coffee.
I had four wooden rolling pins. I’ve ditched the two child-sized ones and the spare one, and have saved the ancient one inherited from my great-grandmother.
Knives – you need one big, one small and a bread knife.
Now you have a Nutribullet, you don’t need that juicer or blender.
You don’t need a clunky, counter-hogging KitchenAid mixer as well as a food processor and handheld mixer.
A breadmaker – prepare the dough using a food processor, then use your oven timer.
You don’t need a sandwich toaster when you’ve got a frying pan and a fish slice.
Upgrading items: bin the old one
Anything you ditch must be chucked immediately. Tip it or donate it. It is not allowed to sit around while you pretend you’re going to eBay it, and don’t keep it “just in case”. That’s hoarding. If you’re planning to move on to another room in the home once you’ve done the kitchen, you may wish to consider getting a dumpster rental so that you can throw everything in the one receptacle and not have to worry about taking it away or sorting it yourself, as the rental company will be able to do that for you.
With infinite resources online, cookery books are now a space luxury. Admit it: you cook less than one fifth of their contents. But before you donate them to charity, keep a digital image of your favourite recipes (apply the same trick to kids’ artwork to clear your fridge door), or write them down, creating easy reference and a family heirloom. The few books that remain will look infinitely better stripped of their dust jackets and displayed in grouped colour order.
Everything must have its place. Think of your kitchen as a library, filed into categories. So, baking ingredients, tins, oils, spices and breakfast goods live in happy clusters. Keep smaller, related items such as pulses or cake-decorating bits together in straight-sided (so they sit snugly together) wire or wicker baskets. Biscuit tins – one for sweet, one for savoury – also make sense. Use them for nuts and seeds, if you’re healthier than me.
I don’t understand the fashion for Mason jars on show. What happens to those few tablespoons of flour or quinoa left at the bottom, to which you add the refill? Yuck. Also, they hog space.
Instead, keep crockery that’s used daily to hand on open shelves. Plain white is my choice – it’s easily replaced and instantly matching. And life is short, so use your best, rather than keeping it hidden away for special occasions.
I do believe in decanting herbs and spices, as seeing their colours helps to identify them. Reuse clear plastic deli tubs or small jars – they’re easily labelled and stackable. But please keep them in a cupboard. You are allowed one junk drawer, but try to organise it into compartments using takeaway-food containers. Promise to sort it as soon as it starts to overflow. Note: storage isn’t such an issue when you simply have less.
I’m a former stockpiler, I confess. I’d cram my big American fridge-freezer, slotting it all in as though preparing for a game of jenga. One wrong tug on a block of puff pastry and the whole thing would tumble down on top of me. Frozen food can maim.
Before you shop, go through your cupboards and resolve to spend less and use up. In case you have less space in your cupboard, try replacing it with something like an office tambour cupboard that might take less space but offer more storage area. Also, plan meals based on neglected ingredients by Googling relevant recipes. By getting rid of neglected items, you can be able to declutter the cupboard as well.
Use up odds and sods such as tea and coffee sachets snaffled from hotel rooms, frozen herbs and leftovers (easier once you’ve learnt to label), and pickles, chutneys and sauces.
Only buy things you have actually run out of, so there’s no risk of being tempted by the new and neglecting to use the old. You will not die if you don’t have any pomegranate molasses for a couple of days.
Instead of leaving it out of sight, use a cake stand as a fruit bowl.
A vegetable peeler can also work as a cheese slice.
A saucepan, colander and pan lid, et voil ! – who needs a steamer as well?
You don’t need a hachoir set. Put a handful of fresh herbs in a glass and snip them with scissors.
Scissors are also good pizza cutters.
A salad spinner the size of a large casserole dish? A colander lined with kitchen roll and a quick shake does the same job.
Cursing falling foodstuffs no longer happens in my kitchen. It is cleaner (I can wipe down empty surfaces), calmer (I know where everything is) and curated with only the necessary, tasteful and loved. Fresh, healthy ingredients sit smugly for a few days, then I actually use them. I don’t have to battle my way through spaces crammed with stuff – my kitchen feels liberated, and so do I.