5 Ideas for a Simpler Kitchen

My kitchen used to be a mess. Dirty dishes were occasionally left on the table or counters. The pantry was disorganized making it hard to find what I needed. The fridge was cluttered with leftovers and other food that had been forgotten. My cupboards were full of things I didn’t use, or at least didn’t use very often. I was often frustrated by the mess and the fact that my kids didn’t always help like I wanted them to.

When Nathan started to work from home, he saw how much the state of the kitchen bothered me and we decided to make some changes. The kitchen needed to be a welcoming place that wasn’t full of stress for me, where the children could learn to cook and bake, and the family could spend time together. In order to do this, our kitchen needed to change. It needed to be peaceful and orderly.

This idea led Nathan and me to inventory and organize the pantry. We found food we didn’t even like, and some food we had bought years ago that was still waiting to be eaten. It took time, but eventually we had a more organized pantry, with a pile of food to give away or, if expired, throw away. By the end, the pantry looked amazing. After a few weeks of using this new organized pantry we did it all again. This time it didn’t take nearly as long since it started in a much better place, but we were still able to find a few more things to get rid of and a few more areas where we hadn’t got it right the first time.

After our success with the pantry we repeated this process with the fridge, freezer, and kitchen cupboards. Once again we found lots of things we didn’t really use and things we had forgotten were even there.

We have loved this new way of doing things. The pantry, fridge, freezer, and cupboards have stayed at a fairly consistent level of order. We have been disciplined about not accumulating things we don’t need. The kitchen is generally a much happier place and my stress associated with the kitchen has dropped considerably. Here are some of the rules that we found helped us

Everything has a place. Do you ever struggle to find the ketchup in the fridge? Or the tuna in the pantry? We did. The problem was as new food came into the house it was stored in the most convenient empty space. Last week that space may have had macaroni and cheese, this week it is where the boxes of cereal are stored. This inconsistency made it more difficult and time consuming to find things, and it makes it more likely that you will end up with the same thing in multiple places.

To solve this problem we decided to reserve a place for everything we keep in the kitchen. This means the space in the fridge for the ketchup is only for ketchup. Even if we are all out of ketchup and the rest of the fridge is overflowing, that space sits empty until we have replaced the ketchup.

This rule extends to our freezer, fridge, pantry, and cupboards. This rule has forced us to simplify the variety of food that we store and to be more intentional when we go shopping. It also means it is easier to find things and to know when we need to restock items.

The meal isn’t done until the kitchen is clean. A dirty kitchen isn’t readily available to be used. We want our kitchen available for serving the next meal, baking a cake, or as a place to spend time with each other.

This means that after a meal everyone is expected to help clean up before we continue with our day. Everyone helps clear the table, unload or load the dishwasher, wash the table and counters, and sweep the floor. No one leaves until the kitchen is ready to be used again.

Eating between meals isn’t permitted. This rule is simple. Once the meal is done, the kitchen is closed. Food is off limits until the next meal.

This rule required a little work to enforce. We even created little signs to help remind ourselves. The amount of positive benefits though have made it more than worth it. Some of the benefits we have found are:

  • We eat less snack food.
  • Kitchen stays cleaner between meals.
  • Easier to get teenagers to eat with the rest of the family.
  • Grocery bill has decreased.
  • Children have had fewer problems with their teeth. (Less cavities.)

Don’t store a specialty item when an all purpose one will work. We used to have a kitchen cupboard that was overflowing with spices. This made it difficult to find any of the spices, even the ones we regularly used. We decided to go through all of our spices and remove anything that we hadn’t used recently, that we didn’t really love, and that was easily replicated. This removed well over half the spices from our cupboard. Some of them had been purchased years ago specifically for a single dish that we had never made again.

We realized that the medley spices we use, like taco seasoning, could be replicated well enough with other spices we used more frequently. Spices that are only needed once a year or less could be purchased specifically for that one situation, and only in small enough quantities that they don’t need to be stored (from the bulk section for example). And some spices didn’t add value to the food we were eating and so we could simply stop using them.

Each of these specialty items cluttered our kitchen. Simplifying created space for the things we really needed and loved.

Choose to have less variety of the same item. When we first got married, we were poor, teenage, university students. This meant making do with what we had. In this case I am talking about mismatched knives, spoons, and forks. Being poor, teenage, and in university disappeared in time, but the mismatched utensils remained. Fairly recently we decided we had had enough and that we would replace all of the utensils at the same time so that they matched.

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This ended up being far more impactful than we would have expected. We thought we were splurging on some new cutlery, when in reality we were creating a new habit. This new cutlery meant that children no longer went hunting for their favorite spoon. It meant that there were no longer arguments at the table for who got the smaller fork. In reality it simplified meaningless things.

When we realized the benefit this had we started doing this with other items in our cupboard as well. For example we used to have many different sizes and shapes of containers for storing food. Now we just have two sizes of containers for storing leftovers. This, surprisingly, made a huge difference in keeping our fridge organized. We used to end up with leftovers being forgotten, now that we use consistent sizes and shapes of containers this no longer happens.

This doesn’t always mean going out and buying a whole new set of things. Often it just means being more consistent in what we buy, and being a little quicker to get rid of mismatched things in our cupboard.

These changes to our kitchen have made a huge difference in our lives. These new ideas help meals flow smoother and we can go into the kitchen at any time of day and it’s ready to use. Our hope is that some of these ideas will prove useful to you as well.

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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