Ah, the kitchen. One of my favorite spaces in the home. So many of my childhood memories take place here. The kitchen is where I most often connect with my heritage, too, through making family recipes.
I’ve also come to realize that an organized kitchen is crucial for keeping myself healthy and plugging money leaks.
I started to figure out feeding myself beyond heating up a can of soup in college, and I had a nice, easy little rhythm for myself. I kept things pretty simple - whole wheat pasta, baby spinach, baby carrots, and hummus.
The Food Network was popular back then, and then I discovered all of the beautiful food blogs on the internet, and at some point it felt like my efforts weren’t enough.
I had fantasies about cooking (and eating) fabulous dishes all made from scratch, and started challenging myself a little more. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was terrible - my husband still tools on me for a yogurt soup I made one summer.
I have no regrets about my efforts to learn how to cook. I certainly know my way around the kitchen, and I enjoy trying new recipes from time to time. However, as I crossed the threshold from student to professional, the expectations I had created for myself became increasingly challenging to manage in my everyday life.
I would start off my week with the best of intentions. I’d go grocery shopping, and load up on fresh ingredients for the week ahead. I’d cook Sunday, Monday, maayyybe Tuesday…but by midweek? Forget it. I would totally run out of steam, cringing as my left my fresh ingredients to spoil in the fridge in favor of takeout or Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese. Such a money leak!
My struggles had a few different threads.
First of all, I had unrealistic expectations for myself. And secondly, those unrealistic expectations led to distorted priorities in how I was using my kitchen as a workspace, which made it difficult to work in.
Coupled with the exhaustion of these unrealistic expectations, this difficulty in using the kitchen as a workspace further derailed me from the plans I’d make on Sunday. This pattern continued for years.
I knew it was a problem, because it was exhausting me and filling me with shame - but I had overcomplicated things so much at that point that I couldn’t see a different way.
When I got engaged and it came time to register for wedding gifts, I blithely scanned all kinds of kitchen equipment at the department store for the Food Network fantasy version of myself, assuming that once we moved out of the city and into a house, we’d have plenty of space in our kitchen for all of it.
Well, as I found out, we most certainly did not have plenty of space in our house for the Food Network fantasy version of myself.
It required a series of mindset shifts to uncomplicate things and bring my kitchen back to simplicity.
Do you get frustrated working in your kitchen? Do you feel overwhelmed by everything involved with feeding yourself and your loved ones? Read on to uncover these five mindset shifts that may help clear the confusion and cut through the overwhelm.
Remember that Your Kitchen is a Workspace
Functionality is everything in the kitchen. This can be easy to forget because our culture tends to romanticize it.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t romanticize the kitchen - as I alluded in the opening of the post, the kitchen is a sentimental place for me. But when we lose sight of the tasks that need to happen in the workspace, and compromise functionality in the process, that’s when things tend to go south.
When I am working with a client in their kitchen, my goal is to create a strong foundation for workflow and storage of key items. Once we have that, we can look at options for warming up the space.
Kitchen Storage is Valuable Real Estate
No matter what the size of your kitchen, it’s important to realize that your storage space is incredibly valuable.
One way or another, in our culture, kitchens seem to attract loads of low-value items. The free knife they were giving out that day at the supermarket. The chintzy ice cream maker you received as a gag gift at a Yankee Swap. The water bottle with a corporate logo that you received in a swag bag.
Many of us will receive these items and assimilate them into our kitchen without thinking about the consequences. When we don’t set boundaries with what we are willing to store in our kitchen, that’s when things get out of hand.
Accept the Size of Your Kitchen
Do you have kitchen cabinets that you dread opening? Perhaps you’re anticipating the frustration that will arise when digging through it to find what you need.
In kitchens, many items that we store are sharp, or heavy - and this may go beyond frustrating to anxiety-provoking.
Because many of us haven’t yet learned to guard our kitchen real estate from low-value items, we can find ourselves trying to cram as much stuff as we can in the space we have available.
However, when we can accept the space we have available, it becomes easier to do that, and pare things down further so that we can create some much-needed breathing room around our high-value kitchen items, so we can access them with ease.
Be Honest about your Kitchen “Hobbies”
Many kitchens attract “hobby” kitchen gear that will take up valuable real estate at the expense of everyday essentials.
For example, I once owned a nice pasta maker I’d received as a gift. It was a thoughtful gift - I indeed had notions about making my own fresh pasta, it’s true.
But at some point, I realized this just wasn’t going to happen. It was nowhere near the top 10 things I’d do with a block of spare time that would be adequate for making my own pasta.
To let go of the pasta maker, I had to let go of the idea of making my own pasta. But in my honesty, I also let go of the guilt I had about not being able to make that happen, and found a little more freedom to spend my free time the way I really wanted to spend it.
Examine Your Equipment for Duplicates
When I am working in the kitchen with a client, we’ll pull out some pots, pans, and other kitchen gear, and I’ll ask what items are most important.
Sometimes, the client will tell me that they honestly use everything. This might be true - but just because you use something doesn’t mean it’s not redundant.
Certain duplicates make sense in the kitchen, and hey, if you have the space to properly store a wide array of kitchen equipment, go for it. But if you are struggling with your kitchen storage, you need to see what you can eliminate because you have something else that could do the same job.
For example, you may have two or three large casserole dishes. Is there a situation where you need three large casserole dishes at the same time? It’s possible that there is, but you may also find that you actually only ever need one, or two, to use at the same time.
Your kitchen can become the serene hearth of your home that so many of us crave - but it does takes some mindset shifts to get there in modern times.
No matter what kinds of organizing gadgets and Pinterest hacks you might find out there - it is really hard to create order in the kitchen without going a little deeper and getting a fresh perspective on the challenges you’re facing.
My biggest takeaway in organizing my kitchen has been letting go of unfair expectations of myself.
I know I’m not the only woman who has been socialized to approach cooking as a part time job and a hobby all rolled in one. By letting go of these expectations, and simplifying my kitchen according to my family’s true needs and our desired lifestyle, we are better able to take care of ourselves and our bank account by consistently feeding ourselves simple, nutritious food that’s easy to prepare.
To me, that’s the end game of an organized kitchen.