How To Downsize a Kitchen: 8 Tips for Owning Less in the Most Space-Sucking Room in the House

updated May 4, 2019
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Lately it seems that I’m hearing the word “downsize” everywhere. From friends buying their first bijoux apartments after years in shared and spacious rented accommodation, to my parents’ generation selling multi-bedroom suburban houses and moving into city condos, to articles about living more minimally, owning less is trending.

Obviously, downsizing is going to be different for everyone. Certain people will find certain areas of the home more challenging to edit; for some it might be their closet, for others their bookshelves. Personally, as a passionate cook, I find kitchen stuff the hardest to cull. At the ripe old age of 31, I already have a small family home’s worth of kitchen goods, and I shudder to think what my collection might look like if left to grow unencumbered for the next several decades.

Actually, I know what it will look like: if I have a house’s worth of kitchen equipment, my mother has a restaurant’s. Cooking in my parents’ house is a joy, especially for a crowd, because there’s always another bowl that can be used or serving spoon to pass around. However, with vague downsizing plans on the horizon, my mother is currently tossing drawers full of excess dishes and gadgets. I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve learned from following her journey, in case any of you are thinking of joining the downsizing game.

1. Get rid of multiples, but keep the best.
Certain things add up over the course of a lifetime spent cooking: mixing bowls, roasting trays, serving platters, salad tossers. Think about how many of each you really need, and keep the best quality/most useful of the bunch. Donate or toss the ones that don’t make the cut.

2. Forget about “everyday” vs. “good.”
When it comes to china, or cutlery, do you really need two 12-person sets? For the three times a year your fancy china comes out to play, it’s probably not worth the storage space. A simple white set of dishes works for every occasion, or just choose the set you like best, and get rid of the other(s).

3. Consider your single-use gadgets.
There’s a lot of hate out there for kitchen equipment designed to just do one thing, and sure, those egg-poachers and garlic-peelers might be a tad silly in a world where a pan of boiling water or the blade of a knife does the job just fine. But I wouldn’t write off every single-use gadget in your home. My aforementioned mother, for example, has both a European tomato press and a fancy-schmancy citrus juicer in her kitchen. Seems excessive, but you know what? The woman makes 500+ jars of various preserves every year, so those things will probably make the cut. Maybe you use that ice-cream maker every week in the summer, and maybe you don’t, but either way— really think about it and be honest about what you need, and what you can get rid of.

4. Add more multi-use ones.
Downsizing isn’t just about getting rid of things; you’ll have to invest in some new space-saving pieces to replace those you’re culling. Four different kinds of glasses for four different beverages, really? It seems that the oh-so-trendy stemless wine glasses work equally well for water and juice. Same goes for pasta bowls, soup bowls and ramen bowls: just choose one in-between size and be done with it.

5. Cut down on appliances.
If you’re moving or making structural changes to your kitchen, you might want to carefully consider which large appliances you choose. In many North American homes, a full-height (and sometimes double-width) fridge/freezer is the norm, but in big cities and elsewhere around the world, people get by just fine with under-counter versions. Dishwashers, too, are another possibly-expendable luxury. It may not be for everyone, but depending on your priorities and lifestyle (more space in exchange for a bit more time spent), it’s worth thinking about.

6. Same goes for small appliances.
Do you need a coffee maker? Blender and immersion blender? Stand mixer plus hand-held electric beaters? Toast can be easily made under the grill! Think about all these things, and keep the pieces that work for your cooking style best. If you haven’t used it in months, chances are you can do without it always.

7. Use smart storage.
In a smaller space, you’ve got to be intentional about where you keep things. Think of a pegboard wall, a foldable stepladder which makes storing things on the upper cabinets feasible, maybe open shelving or wall-hung rails for those items you use frequently. Whether it’s adding these options to your current home or building them into a new one, think about the way you cook and use space, and make your kitchen behave accordingly.

8. Don’t neglect the pantry.
Those large pantries and deep drawers can easily lead to a certain kind of “but I might need this for a recipe one day” food hoarding. Five different types of flour? Four varieties of artisanal chili flakes? Maybe you regularly use all of these things, in which case, carry on! But if those spices or nuts or whatever have been sitting in that drawer for three years, they’re likely stale anyway, so clear them out and make way for more of what you will use. (Consider donating that which is unopened and still in date to a local shelter.)

Have you downsized your kitchen, or is it on the horizon? What are your best tips for living a a more minimal life in this area of the home?