Living with a small kitchen

Are you living in urban studio apartment with a galley kitchen or a dorm with a shared kitchenette? If so, this post is for you. Small kitchens can become very functional with just a few adjustments. I’m one who knows.

My family’s house has a small kitchen. When we first moved into the little summer cottage that would become our year-round home, the oven and refrigerator couldn’t be opened at the same time because the door of one would bang into the other. We’ve remodeled, but the space constraints are mostly the same. There is very little counter space, only a few cabinets, and we are a family of four. You can do the math on that one.

To make it work, we’ve had to prioritize about what we really need, efficiently store the items we keep, and eliminate anything we can live without. Here’s how we’ve made it work.

If the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location, the small kitchen mantra is prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. When storage and counter space are at a premium, every item must earn its right to be there. Go through your kitchen and decide if each item can stay or needs to go. Here’s an example.

We got rid of the microwave oven after realizing all that it really offers is convenience. That is to say, it doesn’t accomplish anything that the stovetop and oven can’t do. It’s quicker, but getting rid of it freed up a couple cubic feet of space. We’re years into living without it now, and haven’t missed it one bit.

Think about the bulky items in your kitchen such as the juicer, mixer, and coffee pot. (I know, nobody is going to give up a coffee pot!) Is there a smaller version? Can an item be eliminated entirely?

Once you’ve culled the bulky items, consider the “must haves.” These are the things you can’t do without, like utensils, cutlery, plates, pots, and pans. For each item on this list purge down to only what’s necessary.

Next, adopt a zero tolerance policy for unitaskers. There is no room in a small kitchen for the Jumbo Jerky Works Gun. Seriously though, these things take up space and almost never get used. Don’t just take our word for it. Celebrity chef Alton Brown breaks down exactly why there’s no room in your kitchen for these things.

Here are a few other suggestions for living with a small kitchen.

  1. Stack up, not out. Like me, you’ll probably have more vertical space than horizontal.
  2. Store items near where they are used.
  3. Find things that work with your space, not against it. For example, a magnetic knife mount is much more efficient than a knife block when counter space is at a premium.
  4. Clean as you go. This is probably the best tip of the bunch. There just isn’t room to make a big mess, so clean up as you work.

Here’s hoping this was helpful. Tiny kitchen life can be cozy and fun if you’re doing it right.

7 Comments for “Living with a small kitchen”

  1. posted by Dirk Gifford on

    Your suggestions are useful for organizing any kitchen space. For us, cleaning up as we go has made a huge difference. Thanks for this article.

  2. posted by JJ on

    I am a big fan of using the wall space for in my kitchen. You can go with the classic Julia Child pegboard, but I prefer a wire grid in combination with S-hooks. This was a life-saver in my first tiny NYC rental apartments (and required only a few holes in the walls to hang the grid), and is still a great way to maximize the limited counter space in my current home.

  3. posted by Wendy on

    My issue is severely limited cupboard space and nowhere to store my Le Creusets. How much more do I have to get rid of to make this hellish kitchen work?

  4. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I keep a small singles skillet, saucepan, and a soup kettle out. All other pots and pans reside in a Rubbermaid tote under the bed. I hope this helps you with your Le Creusets. Find what you use daily or several times a week, and stash the rest.

  5. posted by G. on

    If you rarely use the oven, use it as an extra cabinet but NOT FOR PLASTICS – too many times someone will not check what’s in the oven before turning it on. And keep whatever you do store in it easily removed and stashed elsewhere for those occasions you do use the oven.

    I see nothing wrong with keeping a pan or 2 that are used nearly every day out on the stove ready to use.

  6. posted by M. Isaac on

    La cucina piccolo fa la casa grande.
    A small kitchen makes a large house.

  7. posted by Kristin on

    “I know, nobody is going to give up a coffee pot!” No no no.. use a French press and/or a pour over. They are much smaller and can be put away in a cabinet instead of taking up counter space. Also the manual process forces me to drink less coffee 😉

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