The Kitchen Makeover (Part 1) - 7 First Steps to a Better Space

Your kitchen is the heart of your home, the place where everyone lingers.  It's where you cook and eat, your kids do homework, and friends sit and drink coffee or wine and talk about their lives.

But it might also hold too many dishes, glasses, gadgets, and small appliances, not to mention piles of mail, bags and backpacks, and 45 magnets on the refrigerator door.

The kitchen is a busy place where clutter loves to accumulate.  We all need to streamline this heavily used area.

simple table setting

Benefits of a streamlined kitchen

  • More peaceful mornings as you prepare and eat breakfast, fix lunches to go, and get ready for the day.
  • More clarity in creating a grocery list.
  • More speed in the transition from grocery bag to freezer, refrigerator, or pantry.
  • More ease in meal preparation and clean up.
  • More confidence in entertaining.
  • More time after dinner for family conversation and togetherness.

That's a lot to promise, I know, but a clutter-free kitchen can make it possible. 

So before you decide you need a bigger house with a bigger kitchen, take a breath.  I'm going to tell you the truth – you need to own less.

You need to own less so your kitchen can serve you better.  You need to own less, not to add frustration by removing a tool you really need, but so you can bypass inconvenience and easily access the items you use the most.

We all need to care more about our everyday kitchens, the ones at the center of our homes, and worry less about the once- or twice-a-year situations that call for something out of the ordinary.

So gather your kitchen cleaning supplies, a few boxes, and some packing paper.*  You'll also need some time, but a few hours is worth it for a kitchen makeover.

* Packing paper is like blank newspaper.  It's quite affordable and can be purchased at U-Haul stores, Home Depot, Lowe's, or any mailing supply and box store.

7 first steps to a welcoming, spacious, functional kitchen

1.  Clear a work space.

You're going to need a holding area for items as you clean and declutter.  The kitchen island or table would be ideal, but you need to remove everything on top first.  Clear and clean the area.

Take note of what you had to remove.  Do you need hooks in the entry area for bags, backpacks, jackets, or keys?  A more consistent method of dealing with mail as soon as it enters the house?  Better storage for items purchased in bulk?  Don't get sidetracked, but plan to take care of this later.

clean the sink
2.  Clean the sink.

Wash dishes first, if necessary.  Put the clean, dry dishes on your newly-cleared work space, stacking like items together (plates, glasses, etc.), and add any clean dishes that are sitting in the dishwasher.

Now use cleanser and some elbow grease and make your sink shine!

3.  Remove duplicate dishes.

This is your main goal in a nutshell – to remove duplicates from your kitchen.

Empty all of your dish cupboards and stack everything on your work space, like items together.

Are there dishes you never use?  Cheap ones replaced with something better, heirloom sets or wedding china that's "too good for everyday?"  They sit in your cupboards month after month, taking up space, making it hard to access the items that are in daily rotation.

You can set a lovely table with less.  You really only need the number of place settings appropriate for your family plus the number of visitors you regularly entertain.  Outside of the holidays, many households can function with six to eight place settings (dinner plate, salad plate, soup/cereal bowl), which provides dishes for everyone plus a couple of guests.

The best option is a style and quality that works for everyday and entertaining (I love classic white dishes for this reason).  If you have sets with seasonal motifs, consider keeping just the dinner plates, or even dressing your holiday table simply with natural d├ęcor (pumpkins, pine cones, flowers) instead of themed dishware.  If you have a set of Grandma's china, consider keeping just the serving platter, a few of the teacups and saucers, or the dessert plates to use for family celebrations.

If you're hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year and need sixteen place settings, consider a party rental company for linens, dishware, glassware, or whatever you need.  Many places rent by the piece, with low or no minimums.  You really don't need to store sixteen place settings to use once or twice a year.

Once you've cleaned the dish cupboard, return what you've chosen to keep.  Wrap up and box the rest for donation.  Be sure to label the boxes "fragile" so they'll be handled appropriately.

4.  Remove duplicate drinkware.

Have you ever counted the number of glasses, cups, and mugs in your cupboard?  You can, if you want to, as you remove everything and place it on your work area.  Take this opportunity to clean the cupboard. 

Drinkware multiplies mysteriously.  We buy some for every day, some for special occasions, we get freebies and gifts.  Pretty soon we have separate glasses for water, juice, wine, and margaritas, glasses that advertise a brand of beer or soda, tons of mugs, and champagne flutes we bring out once a year.

That's a little crazy!  If you want to live lightly, you don't need so many.  You may have some simple 8-12 ounce tumblers that will accommodate any cold beverage, and mugs or coffee cups that will work for hot ones.  Don't worry about special glasses for wine – throughout Europe, restaurants serve their best wines in simple glass tumblers rather than fancy stemware.  Choose your favorite and most versatile drinking vessels and declutter the extras.

Don't forget that mugs and glasses can be used for food as well – serve soup, chili, fruit, yogurt, pudding, or an ice cream sundae.

5.  Remove duplicate flatware.

Take it all out and clean the drawer.

Decide which pieces suit your family's lifestyle.  If you're like me, you don't need things like oyster forks or demitasse spoons.  I have one grapefruit spoon because I love grapefruit and eat it often.  If you enjoy serving multi-course meals you might want salad or dessert forks.  But generally speaking, a dinner knife, dinner fork, soup spoon, and tea spoon are sufficient.  They are versatile and can handle just about anything you eat.

How many place settings do you need?  Usually the same number as your dishware.  If you entertain often, you might keep a few extras in case a teaspoon goes missing or someone drops a fork on the floor during a dinner party.

For the easiest care, choose stainless steel.  Sterling silver looks lovely, but it requires a lot of upkeep and should be stored in a special container.  You might not want to give so much effort to your eating implements.

6.  Remove duplicate tools.

When you reduce tools and gadgets, you won't need to rummage around for your favorite whisk or cooking spoon.

Collect all of your implements on your work space, sorting like with like.  You might be surprised at how many serving spoons, spatulas, and peelers you have!  We tend to hang on to old pieces just in case our favored items fail.  The problem is, the old things crowd the good stuff and get in the way when we're cooking.  Honor your most useful tools by giving them space.

Tools are about function, not sentiment.  Keep the can opener that performs rather than the subpar one you got as a wedding gift.  Hang on to the measuring cups that nest perfectly and clean up easily, rather than the cute heart-shaped set.

Speaking of sets, don't feel you must keep every piece.  Just because a dozen knives came in that fancy block doesn't mean you even use all of them.  The most versatile are a paring knife, a serrated bread knife, and a chef's knife in a comfortable size (six to eight inches).  In future, buy tools singly so you can choose the items most useful for you.

Remove specialty tools that only do one thing.  The strawberry huller, apple corer, or garlic press may be good at what they do, but a knife can do the same job and leave you with more space in your drawer.

7.  Remove unneeded serveware.

Do you have a soup tureen, deviled egg tray, or punch bowl that you rarely use?  Maybe a gravy boat, novelty chip-and-dip server, or napkin rings gather dust all year until they emerge at Thanksgiving.

I know that when you start to pare down, the prospect of holidays and entertaining somehow looms larger than the other 360 or so days a year.  Serveware gobbles a lot of space, yet we worry that we'll need it.

I doubt that you live at Downton Abbey, or that you'll ever serve a duchess at your table.  It really isn't necessary to own every possible serving piece.  Perhaps you can share storage duties with other family members.  Mom could bring the big serving platter to the holiday get-together, your brother could take charge of the cake stand, and you could provide the table linens.

To keep things minimal, keep them out of the way.  Store seldom-used pieces in that hard-to-reach cabinet over the refrigerator, or in a labeled storage container in the basement.  Then they won't get in the way of your everyday cooking.

Decide to remove the items you're least attached to.  The extra space might be more valuable.

You're ready for Part 2 – right here!

Updated June 2023


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