Book review: The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook

I love that I’m back to reviewing books again and I was excited when I finally worked my way to Justin Spring’s The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook. Published in 2006, this gem is essential reading for anyone who finds themselves in a cluttered kitchen of any size.

From page six:

Since clutter is particularly toxic to small kitchen spaces, we’ll start with some purging (and even get a little touchy-feely about why it’s so hard to keep a kitchen clutter free), then move on to deep cleaning and organizing.

Clutter busting, cleaning and organizing — an unclutterer’s dream book!

Some of my favorite advice can be found in the first part of the book:

For Those Who Can’t Let Go:
Some Tips and Tricks for Kitchen Pack Rats

LETTING GO OF STUFF comes easier to some than to others. For those of us who have a really hard time getting rid of unused and unneeded kitchen stuff, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Rmember that much of the stuff you are now going to make a decision about was in fact given to you by someone who, however thrifty, secretly wanted to be rid of it–and finessed the job by giving it to you.
  2. Console yourself that much of the stuff you are making decisions about was never meant to be held on to and has no great commercial value.
  3. Beware of meaningless sentimental attachments.
  4. Focus, whenever possible, on the possibility that by cleaning out your kitchen cabinets you will be giving some really good stuff to others. Your guilt about letting go of stuff (and your fear of unwittingly losing some really valuable stuff) can thus be vanquished through the reassurance that you are giving stuff to charity. Thrift shops that benefit specific charities are your best bet, since your stuff will find a good home, the proceeds from the sale will help a worth cause, and–hey!– you will even be getting a tax deduction.
  5. Finally, and most important: remember that you are not so much getting rid of stuff as making room to live.

The second part of the book is full of recipes that are perfect for a small kitchen. Not necessarily that exciting for an unclutterer, but there are some tasty recipes in there regardless.

The book’s author currently lives in a small New York City apartment that has a 45-square-foot kitchen and grew up using a kitchen on a tiny family sailboat. His advice is practical and based on years of experience.

26 Comments for “Book review: The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook”

  1. posted by becoming minimalist on

    the kitchen is certainly no small task to unclutter. i can see why a whole book would need to be devoted to it.

    when we became minimalist, it was our last room to address. i can say confidently almost one year later that we haven’t missed a single thing yet that we purged: http://www.becomingminimalist......t-kitchen/

  2. posted by Kathy on

    I disagree with the 1st comment on the list – I’ve never had hand me down kitchen stuff.

    Do other people have old spatulas that were passed on by someone else?

  3. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    @Kathy – yes, yes, yes! Many people have hand me down kitchen gadgets, utensils, etc, given to them, left accidentally at their homes after a pot luck, or new stuff given to them as gifts that they never use.

    @Erin, thanks so much for tips and tricks – very helpful and succinctly put.


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  5. posted by April E on

    @Kathy: I’ll second what Ruth said. My well-meaning mother seems to see me as a convenient alternative to making a trip to the Goodwill drop-off. Some of her hand-me-downs are blessings as I have a limited budget, but I have had to get firm about refusing things like tins from Christmas fruitcakes, even when it hurts her feelings a little.

  6. posted by momofthree on

    oh Kathy–your grandmother must not have been a caterer like mine…Most of my kitchen utensils are from her. I love to use my grandma’s bowls, pancake turner, potato masher, etc.

    My grandma’s clientele were people on the “ritzy” north shore/”gold coast” of Chicago back in the 1940’s to 1970’s. They would re schedule parties if my grandmother was not available the weekend they wanted. My dad was her only child, and we would often go to my grandparents house the night after one of the parties she catered and dine on leftovers, since the hosts did not want the leftovers “cluttering up their kitchens”.

    Bottom line: it all depends on what the hand me downs are, and IF you are willing to accept them.

  7. posted by Kathy on

    Thanks for the responses, ladies!
    It’s always very interesting to hear everyone else’s responses.

    I’ve always been good about turning away other people’s clutter and I tend not to keep a lot of extra stuff in general, but especially not in the kitchen. I do a an ice cream maker and a pineapple corer, so those are technically unitaskers. :*)

  8. posted by Marsha on

    These uncluttering points are excellent – and they should help me with my whole house.

    I’m disappointed to see the book is not available for Kindle…yet?

  9. posted by Michele on

    @Kathy — Yep, a good friend of mine gave me a blender and a food processor that had been handed down to him. He hadn’t used them for years. I cleaned them up, but then I never got around to using them myself. So about a year later, I passed them along to a couple who had just moved in together and were outfitting their own kitchen!

    Makes me want to check in with them now and see if they’re using the appliances, or if they’ve passed them along yet again.

  10. posted by Greg on

    My mother gave my wife about 24 little custard dishes. I washed and covered each with plastic wrap. This has been several years ago. To date – not one has ever been used…yet we still keep them…I say they are taking up precious real estate in our little kitchen…one day they will just disappear.

    My brother’s EX-wife gave us nice pottery — hasn’t left the shelf in YEARS. Can’t get rid of it – becuase it was a gift! It’s not like she will ever know…*sigh*

  11. posted by PS~Erin on

    I love that first tip… It brings back memories of my sister cleaning her room, only to stack it up at my door saying she was going to throw it away if I didn’t take it. (I took it all.)

    Keep the book reviews coming!

  12. posted by sue on

    I have some hand-me-downs that are used–grandma’s rolling pin and gingerbread men cookie cutters, Mom’s nesting mixing bowl set, and two wooden handled spoons advertising grain elevators in DH’s home town. They are all well-made and fit my needs, as well as reminding me of those we love.

    However, I have decluttered the unused gadgets that seem so appealing and decided to apply the same technique I used on my jewelry: if I haven’t used in a year, move it along.

  13. posted by Lisa on

    Perfect timing! My kitchen my worst stronghold of clutter. To make matters worse, I am ridiculously, sentimentally attached to items my mother gave me. She died seven years ago, and I feel GUILT about getting rid of the simplest thing. I know that there are some things I would chuck without a second thought if she were still here. Crazy, right? Anyone deal with this??

  14. posted by A. on

    Nice post, and I second the call for more book reviews!

    I am a “just say no” to unwanted stuff type, even though it’s not easy… Or accept it with the disclaimer that it may be passed along to someone else who might need it.

    Lisa, I know exactly how you feel – and having lost my parents some time ago, over the years I’ve had to deal with “what do I do with this item that was my mom’s/dad’s/grandmother’s?” many times.

    Essentially, I boiled it down to the most important items they left me — ones that most represented them — or that I got from them at some point. The others I gave away. I did keep things that were theirs but that integrated well into my apartment.

    So, for example, from my father I kept his Navy peacoat and his pocket knife. I kept two small wooden boxes that I use to hold small items I use regularly. I have some jewelry of my mother’s and my grandmother’s (and one necklace I didn’t like the style of I had made into something I would like).

    I don’t regret giving items away over the years at all. I think one of the things that helped was that when I was getting rid of some of my mother’s things, for example, I donated them to a resale store that was affiliated with a cause she believed in. Not only would someone be able to give the items a new life, the proceeds would help a cause, too.

  15. posted by Theresa on

    This sounds like a great book. After a wedding, years of collecting kitchen supplies, and collecting more hand-me-downs than I know what do with – regardless of your kitchen size – sounds like this book has very practical advice. Thanks for sharing!

  16. posted by Joanna on

    My problem is that my mother inherited a ton of stuff from ehr late mother-in-law, and I—like her—have trouble getting rid of things which have nothing wrong with them. She has viewed me as her place to dump this stuff without feeling bad about it, so every time I move, she gifts me with something. I am about to move again, to a slightly bigger place, and she has decided it is high time I had ‘proper’ serving platters. By stunning coincidence, she has some 🙂

    I have gotten rid of a ton of this stuff over the years, to Goodwill (‘oh, it got broken in the move!’) The most recent was a glass pie plate, perfectly good, nothing the matter with it, that I had trouble deciding what to do with since it was a perfectly good pie plate. Finally, my sister pointed out to me that a) I have never made a pie b) if my mother was so into making pies herself she would not ave given it to me c) if I ever really want a pie, I can buy one at the store for $2-3 and d) when I do buy a pie from the store, it will COME ON A PLATE! I chucked it in the Goodwill box then and there

  17. posted by Suzanne Lanoue on

    I love your site, just found it!

    I like to be uncluttered and organized. I’m also a packrat. Sometimes I have trouble with those two competing sides.

    I’ve found the best way to keep the clutter down is to be as organized as possible. I do what you suggest, but not completely because I do keep a lot of things for sentimental reasons as well as because I like to collect. I do go through things periodically and collect stuff to give to charity. Just the other day I went through all my clothes and tried everything on to divide it between stuff to give away, stuff that needed mending, winter clothes to put away, etc. I lost 25 lbs. last year so I have some stuff that needs to be taken in and some stuff that just needed discarding. It felt very good. I still have many closets full of junk to go through!

    I would like to buy more containers to store things and shelves for display, but my husband doesn’t like to spend money on things for the house (he’d rather spend money on travel), so I have to buy them a little bit at a time…

  18. posted by Marie on

    Most of my baking supplies are unitaskers, but I think any hobby to which you are seriously dedicated calls for specialty tools. For to the majority of people, for whom cooking and eating is something to get done with so they can get to the fun, most kitchen tools are merely clutter.

  19. posted by Anita on

    Excellent tips, thanks for sharing!

    My problem isn’t so much hand-me-downs, as my mom going out and buying me stuff for my kitchen/dining room with no regard for the actual size of my kitchen/dining table. Example: I have a 33-inch round glass table. Why did I get the longest table runner she could find? (Especially since no one in my family has ever used table runners, ever, nor did I want to start using them. But that’s another story…)

  20. posted by Frisael on

    Love this book! This is one of the very few I’m going to hang onto and not put out on swaptree.

  21. posted by Cluttered « elle & ish – shopping, decor, fashion, makeup and figuring out how to pay for it all on

    […] EDIT:  Oooh.  I found an even better tip. Remember that you are not so much getting rid of stuff asmaking room to live.  –Via Unclutterer […]

  22. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    Great sounding book! Our kitchen is impossible to keep uncluttered. We have 3 cabinets and a bedroom dresser that works as a fourth cabinet. The layout is a disaster and given that it’s a rental apartment we can’t change a thing about it.

    However, we pay a ridiculously low rent, so I’m willing to put up with the kitchen clutter. 😉

  23. posted by EngineerMom on

    My husband and I struggle with kitchen clutter. We have a “1.5-butt kitchen” as my best friend likes to say (refers to how many people can comfortably be in the kitchen at the same time – hers is a 1-butt kitchen, mine is slightly bigger but still not really comfortable for 2, so…). The layout is pretty good, but counterspace is severely lacking – to the point that I frequently use half the flat-top stove as a counter while cooking on one of the other two unoccupied burners!

    We got married two years ago, and as we both love to cook, we got several relatively large appliances as gifts (food processor, blender, espresso machine – which the hubby likes and would use more if we didn’t have to store it on the top shelf!, KitchenAid mixer which I use at least weekly for making bread, etc.). We have to keep all appliances, alcohol, dishware, and food in our cabinets because there literally isn’t anywhere else to store any of it.

    For the first year we had an extra set of shelves in the miniature dining room. After our son was born, I stripped those shelves and donated them plus anything on them I didn’t keep to Goodwill. Mostly that consisted of duplicates (extra dishes, ceramic mugs, etc.) that we weren’t using. Yet I still feel like we have too much stuff. We’ll be moving in about two months, and I’m actually really looking forward to it – a chance to par our kitchenware down even further!

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  26. posted by Kate on

    My kitchen is relatively small and I have learned to get rid of things that are really not serving me and my life. I let them find a new home via Goodwill or a friend. I now also say “no, thank you” when offered something I neither need nor want. Once you start saying no, it becomes easier.

    Food is another kitchen “space-eater”. Now and then I tell myself I can’t go to the grocery store (except for perhaps milk and fresh veggies and fruits) until I’ve eaten more of what’s on hand. The cans of soup pushed to the back can get neglected when out of sight! I live in the upper Midwest and I never worry about running out of food during a blizzard!

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