After spending the first two weeks of the course auditing, taking notes, and conceptualizing your kitchen, we’re finally moving into the action stage. Say it with me now. A-C-T [clap, clap, clap] I-O-N [clap, clap, clap]. Action, people, action! We’re paring down your kitchen this week.
A NOTE OF GRATITUDE
The Minimalist Kitchen Course is brought to you by our partner, OXO, a brand that has brought calm to the chaos of my kitchen. We’ve partnered together to make this course a free resource to you.
A Gentle Paring Down (You are here)
Week 3: A Gentle Paring Down
• Understand the maximum capacity of your space
• Introduce different methods of paring down
• Introduce the Gentle Paring Down method
• Understand everyday spaces vs. special occasion spaces
• Understand the problem of perfectly good
Before diving in, let’s take a look back. Last week we took inventory of all your kitchen items—from the spices to the stack of pots and pans. We looked at the recipes you often make, noticing the overlap in ingredients and tools. Noticing, noticing, noticing. And we made note of your specialty/hobby, something worth preserving.
We’re going to focus specifically on paring down this week. I like to compartmentalize action items in the same way I like to compartmentalize my pantry. When you try to do too much at once, important things get lost or go unnoticed. Just like your pantry. With that said, we’re saving the rebuilding of the kitchen for next week and focusing on shedding a large layer this week.
Let’s head back again to Week 1 and 2 for a second. In fact, we’re going to use all the information collected from the last two weeks to begin paring down. But first, let’s revisit the idea of space (or ecosystem as we called it last week). Every space has a maximum capacity. In city buildings, capacities are plainly listed outside of each room. It’s only wise to fit 59 people in that particular room, for example. You could fit more. You could easily fit less. But 59 humans is the maximum recommended. This idea of capacity also extends to our minds. When I overextend myself, I make a thousand mental mistakes and can’t keep track of my phone or keys, the most basic things to keep track of. In the same way, a glass jar can only hold so much food. Everything has a capacity.
Your kitchen has a capacity, too. And by this point, you hopefully have a better idea of the maximum capacity of your particular space, having added additional storage space nearby if needed. Imagine a maximum capacity sign hanging on one of your kitchen walls as a reminder. I want you to also imagine drawing a square on a piece of paper. That square is your kitchen; it’s your sandbox; it’s the rudimentary line defining the framework of your minimalist kitchen. First rule, you must stay within the capacity your space allows. The square isn’t changing in size.
Now to begin the journey of getting you at or below capacity.
Gentle Paring Down
There are many ways to go about paring down. We’ll talk through three—the ruthless way, the Marie Kondo way, and the gentle way.
The ruthless way of paring down is, as it sounds, ruthless. Throw it all out. That’s how I feel after Christmas. This method produces quick, fast results. While there’s some benefit to that, I often make more regrettable mistakes this way, rebuying necessities, which is a bit wasteful and missing some of the wisdom that reveals itself in the process.
And then there’s the Marie Kondo way. Does it spark joy? This is a great problem-solving tool for traditional closets and storage spaces. However, it doesn’t work as well in the space of the kitchen, a different breed of closet. Some necessities won’t spark an ounce of joy, but they’re necessities, so you have to keep them. While the majority of the kitchen has the potential to spark fireworks of joy. Food is an emotional thing. It sparks so much joy for me. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are my favorite times of the day. The produce aisle, too, at the grocery store sparks joy for me. However, I don’t have the space to store it all or consume it all before expiration.
THE GENTLE APPROACH
For that reason, I’d like to recommend that you try the gentle, intuitive approach. It’s slow and thoughtful, much like the rest of this process. You’ve acquired facts about your kitchen over the last two weeks with the site audit and inventory. We’re going to use that factual information to help make an emotional decision easier, more intuitive. (Intuitive is still an emotional response. Hello, we’re humans. But it tends to be a more informed emotion, not a fleeting emotion.)
We’re going to add joy back into the kitchen, but in order to do that, we’re going to have to press pause on a couple strong emotions during the paring-down process. Because, in many ways, joy got us into the problem of too much in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, joy in the kitchen is not a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite. However, it’s important to understand how it impacts your ecosystem, your kitchen, and how to best wrangle it.
Remember the ground rules for the course that I mentioned during Week 1? You’re going to want to lean on those this week. Go back and read them. Notice your emotions in this process. Advocate for your needs and the needs of your family members. Keep the poetry. I’m sending you out now to wade through the grey spaces of this process.
How do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of?
First things first, you’re the boss of this tiny restaurant, your kitchen. Take the wheel. I’m moving into the backseat, backseat driving louder than my husband. As I guide you through this process, I want you to really listen to your gut and start trusting it, too. What works for one person, won’t work for every person. Remember, you have a set of recipes you often make, a menu. You have a specialty, a hobby or two. Your final inventory list will and should look different from mine. Feel free to use my list as guidance when needed, to hear what I chose to keep and why.
Pull out that Inventory worksheet from Week 2. Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to begin mentally categorizing items as either keep, discard, undecided, or special occasion. As you pare down, I recommend setting aside a good chunk of uninterrupted time to do this first run within the same headspace. I also want you to go back and read your objective from the Week 1 worksheet before you begin paring down. You’re going to need that reminder this week, maybe a couple times throughout the week, as you begin to dismantle things. Remember why you decided to start the process.
Here are a couple questions to keep in mind as you consider what to keep: Do I have enough space to store this item? If not, do I have the space to add additional storage? Is this item serving a similar purpose to another item? Can I consume this ingredient before expiration?
If it’s marked keep, just keep that item exactly where it is on the shelf. We’ll come back to it later.
If it’s marked discard, then create 3 piles: trash, donate, or sell (optional). Trash is anything expired or broken. Take the time to recycle when possible. Donate is anything that would be of value to someone else but not valuable enough to spend the time selling, unless you’re a killer garage sale organizer. Think spatulas or unopened, shelf-stable food items. And sell is any item that is in good condition or might be worth your time to sell. Think small appliances. Note: your time is of value. If selling takes up too much time or mental space, then donate.
If it’s marked undecided, then gently pare this item down. Find a storage box for this task. Place all of the undecided items in the box (shelf stable food too), and then remove the box from the kitchen. Store in the basement or in a faraway closet (as opposed to nearby), keeping it out of sight and out of mind, which is probably no different than where it was stored in the back of your pantry. Put a donate date on the calendar for 3 months from now. Rescue an item from the box only if needed. Donate or sell the rest after 3 months. This is the 3-month rule.
Making a lot of decisions at once, like we’re doing, can be overwhelming. Decision fatigue. It’s a real thing. I deal with this all the time. It’s one of the many reasons I lean on minimalism in my everyday life. In this particular case, change your 30-second decision-making deadline to 3 months. A good decision now will still be a good decision 3 months from now, or it won’t. In that case, you’ll be able to rescue the item if needed. As you rescue items, remember your capacity sign. Will it fit? Do you have space for it? If not, are you willing to get rid of something else to create space for it?
This simple task will help to remove some of the emotional attachments we naturally have to our belongings. I’ve only rescued 2 items from the bin using this method. The items were just as forgotten as they were in my kitchen.
Here’s what might also happen. You add that never-used small appliance from 2 Christmases ago to the box. You pare down your kitchen and have more mental and visual space. So much reclaimed space that you have the capacity to sit down and learn that small appliance. Great! Rescue it. Give it a try. If you fall in love with it, keep it. If not, you have your donate answer.
If it’s marked special occasion, then store it somewhere besides your everyday spaces. (Examples include: roasting pans, cookie cutters, turkey tools, special serving dishes, etc.) Consider storing it with holiday items, or in a designated “special occasion” container at the top of a closet shelf, or in one of those hard to reach cabinet spaces above the fridge.
Speaking of special occasion, there are two types of storage spaces—everyday and special occasion. Everyday spaces are where you store items used every day to a couple times a week. Ideally, these everyday spaces are easy to reach and highly user-friendly. Special occasion spaces are where you store special occasion items, items used only a couple times a year. The special occasion often creeps into the everyday spaces. Preserve the everyday. Guard it with your life.
Other things to Consider
VARIABLES TO KEEP IN MIND
Read “Variables to Keep in Mind” when paring down on page 17-18 in regards to quality, quantity, holidays and hosting, the junk drawer phenomenon, and recipes.
THE PROBLEM OF PERFECTLY GOOD
“Perfectly good” creates a lot of storage issues in the kitchen, and the home in general. We often think, if an item is perfectly good, then I shouldn’t get rid of it. But a perfectly good item that’s not being used is no good at all. It’s just taking up precious space.
This problem often arises from overbuying and gifts. In the case of a gift, here’s my perspective. A gift is usually someone saying, I care a whole lot about you. Take that sentiment, and keep it forever. What a gift it is to be loved. However, you’re not obligated to keep the physical item if you know you won’t actually use it or don’t have the space for it. That’s easier said than done. Try it out. See what you think.
And then there’s the problem of overbuying. We’ve all been there. We all make mistakes. That’s the poetry popping up again. You can course-correct, though. And you can do it through the process of noticing. Notice when and why you overbuy. Read more about this on page 15 under “How to Become a Minimalist.”
The 3-month Rule is wonderful in helping to navigate the perfectly goods and the mint-conditions.
THE PROBLEM OF LESS
When you keep less around, the things you keep get used a lot, daily in fact. Wear and tear is common. For that reason, I try to buy the highest quality/most durable items that I can afford. The good news is, when you’re buying less, you’re able to free up budget to invest in the higher-quality item.
CONSIDERING EVERYONE IN YOUR HOME
As you go about this process, you might find it really easy to get rid of everyone else’s excess, and really hard to get rid of your own. I know because I’ve been there. Pay attention to that. How do you preserve the poetry for your 7-year-old, for your partner, for your roommate? Some of these answers will come by trial and error and others will come with time.
Practically, here’s how I go about it. I bring Kev, my husband, into the process. Sometimes it goes smoothly, and sometimes it doesn’t. Food is emotional. Along with the objective defined in Week 1, our goal is to stay within capacity while keeping the foods we eat most often, love, and can consume before expiration. I have to remind both him and myself of this goal to stay on the same page. On the other hand, I don’t bring my 5-year-old into the process of paring down. I’m not sure that’s she’s ready for this particular task, however, I do advocate for her needs and likings in this process.
Reread the 3rd paragraph down on page 17, paying close attention to the dishwasher test. Notice what’s always in the dishwasher. And the items that are often leftover in the drawers and cabinets. Do you have too many of one item and not enough of another?
Spices are one of the most tangible things to talk about in paring down process because there’s often so much overlap in your spice cabinet. You probably keep an assortment of individual spices and spice blends. And, more often than not, you could probably create some of those same blends with the individual spices you have.
You can approach paring down your spices one of two ways—lean on spice blends or lean on individual spices to create your own blends as needed. Common spice blends include Italian seasoning, Pumpkin Pie spice, Curry powder, Poultry seasoning, etc. Look at the ingredients on the packaging to notice the overlap. I’ve gone the route of leaning on individual spices and stocking a couple of my favorite, most used blends, like Curry Powder. Do what feels most comfortable.
While you’re at it, take a stance on onion and garlic. Do you prefer to use fresh or powdered? There’s no right or wrong answer. I use the fresh ingredient, so I’ve opted not to keep the powdered variety around. If you really love using both, then keep both within the confines of your space capacity. For more guidance, read page 30. Also, read through the Aloo Gobi recipe to see this idea in action.
Now is a good time to look at the tools from your hobbies. Are you still into the same hobbies you were 5 years ago? Do you have items that you didn’t end up using? Do you find yourself with too many hobbies/specialties to actually maintain? Use the confines of your space and your time to pursue the hobby to make paring down decisions.
MAKE A NEW SET OF RULES
Remember all those problem areas from Week 1? As you pare down this week, start thinking about creating a new set of rules to address each of those problem areas, especially the recurring problems like the cereal boxes, chips, and crackers. Do you keep too many of one thing? Can you consume everything you’ve kept by its expiration date? We’ll talk about this in more detail next week.
ONIONS HAVE LAYERS
“Onions have layers. Ogres have layers, too.” I’d like to add to Shrek’s wisdom here by saying, kitchens also have layers. Once you clean out the front of the drawer, you’ll notice the back. Your kitchen will naturally shed layers overtime. You’ll do this process for the first time. Shed a heavy layer. And in 4 months from now, with a little space and time to notice things, you’ll see the back of the drawer and shed another layer. Time, like minimalism, working backward, and list-making, is another really trustworthy problem-solving tool to keep in your toolbox.
This process of shedding layers is like reading Harry Potter for the second or third time. You realize all the things you missed the first time. So rest in this—you can’t get it all right the first time. You have a capacity, too. This isn’t a quick game of right or wrong. As I mention in the book, I look at minimalism as a practice. And a practice need practicing. Ya know? It would be foolish to expect perfection at any point along the process. Let it be.
The Minimalist Kitchen, pages 26-29 on “How to Build a Minimalist Pantry” and 35-37 on “The Recipes”.
Go forth and pare down! We’ll put it all back together again next week.
STAY UP-TO- DATE
For a guided process through this course, be sure to sign-up to receive The Minimalist Kitchen Course emails. I’ll send out early-bird worksheet downloads, Facebook Live reminders, and any additional course information straight to your inbox.