Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Outfitting a Minimalist Kitchen with Erin from


Posted by Ali | View all posts by Ali
32 Comments » | Published in Get Organized, Organization Blog Fest  |  32 Comments

Erin, Unclutterer.comErin Rooney Doland is Editor-in-Chief of the home and office organizing blog

I live in a mid-century modern home designed by the architect Charles M. Goodman. It is a quirky house with two perpendicular walls made of glass, and the other two walls made of concrete. My friends lovingly refer to it as “1960’s vision of the future.”

Twenty years after the house was built, the then-current homeowner decided to do away with the beautiful metal cabinetry in the kitchen and replace it with plywood and laminate cupboards. To add insult to injury, the redesign included only two drawers — and each drawer is just a measly 9 in. wide and 18 in. deep. I feel that I need to show you a picture at this point so that you don’t think I’m lying to you:

Kitchen Organization,
(Toaster included to provide a source of scale for the drawers. Aye, limited space indeed!)

For now, a kitchen redesign isn’t in the budget, so I have had to learn to live with a two-drawer kitchen. One of the drawers is for forks, butter knives and spoons, and the second drawer is saved for food preparation utensils. All carving and pairing knives are kept in a wood block on the top of the counter, which is the safest storage solution at this time.

With only one drawer and inches of storage space for food preparation utensils, I have come to learn what are the minimalist and bare necessity utensils for the kitchen:

  • Can opener
  • Spatula
  • Rubber spatula
  • Tongs
  • Bottle top opener
  • Dry ingredient measuring cups
  • Liquid ingredient measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Whisk
  • Cake/pie server
  • Meat thermometer

Since there are only 11 truly necessary items, I actually have a little extra room in my drawer and have found that I also can store a handful of luxury utensils that speed up food preparation:

  • Ice cream scoop (substitute: large spoon)
  • Vegetable peeler (substitute: pairing knife)
  • Garlic press (substitute: base of a mug)
  • Pizza cutter (substitute: knife)
  • Funnel (substitute: rolled up paper)
  • Melon baller (substitute: spoon)
  • Silicon pastry brush (substitute: wadded up paper towel)
  • Meat tenderizer (substitute: your fist or a hammer)

How does your collection of food preparation utensils compare to this list? Are your drawers filled with clutter? Can you weed out the non-essential items and find room to store what you really need? Imagine you had my two-drawer kitchen — what would you keep and what would go?

About Ali:
I enjoy wood paneled station wagons, German food and senior citizens (I am 80 years old at heart). Nearly every weekend I am taking photos at other people's weddings and I have a blog of my own (but I don't update it often enough). I love to paint, sew and knit. Check out my DP Staff profile on Hatch.

About Ali

Ali has written 149 post in this blog.

I enjoy wood paneled station wagons, German food and senior citizens (I am 80 years old at heart). Nearly every weekend I am taking photos at other people's weddings and I have a blog of my own (but I don't update it often enough). I love to paint, sew and knit. Check out my DP Staff profile on Hatch.



  1. Jacki Hollywood Brown says:

    January 8th, 2009 at 12:42 pm (#)

    I would always keep my grapefruit spoons. Not only do I use them for grapefruit but I’ve also used them for:
    kiwis – cut in half, spoon out centre
    melons – same as kiwis
    scraping peel off lemons, limes, oranges
    hulling strawberries
    scraping chewing gum off the carpet (yes I have kids).

  2. Jen May says:

    January 9th, 2009 at 6:13 am (#)

    When we first moved into our house, our kitchen had **no** drawers! Until we were able to gut the 80’s monstrosity in its entirety, I put all our must-have utensils in cool vintage vases and a 50’s cookie jar. Besides a few sets of silverware and a knife set, we made do with a spatula, veggie peeler, a pizza cutter and a large wooden spoon.

    I never thought grapefruit spoons would have so many uses! Strawberry huller– perfect!

  3. Sue Ballard says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 7:09 am (#)

    I have WAY too much stuff in my kitchen – the farthest from minimalist ever – but one utensil I can’t do without is a pair of kitchen shears. I use them for cutting poultry into parts, cutting pizza, herbs, pie crust, etc. A hundred uses. Mine come apart into two halves and can be washed in the dishwasher.

  4. Barbara Tako says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 7:24 am (#)

    I discovered how few tools I really needed to cook when we remodeled our 1960’s two-drawer kitchen a few years ago. Ultimately, during the remodeling process, I found myself cooking on a TV tray with a large knife, spoon, sauce pan, and can opener. That was it! A lot of other clutter had crept into my kitchen over the years–extra bowls, pans, one-task utensils, dishes and tools used once a year or less…

    To get knives off the counter, consider Trident’s “Swinger.” It is a wooden swivel knife block that mounts on the underside of an upper kitchen cabinet. I like the accessibility and the fact that I can swing the knife handles out of reach of little hands that reach up!

  5. Christy says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 7:40 am (#)

    My utensils are almost exclusively what you have. Difference is, I don’t have 2 sets of measuring cups (I use one for both dry and liquid), I have no meat thermometer, tenderizer or pastry brush because we buy super tender hormone free and chemical free meat from a local farmer. I have no garlic press – we buy our garlic minced in a bottle from Costco. We also got rid of the bottle opener and just use Dh’s multi-tool bottle opener on the rare occasion we need one (minimalists must have invented the love twist off!).

    We also have a pineapple corer (we’re smoothie and sangria junkies) and a small silicone utensil for scooping our avocados for weekly guacamole.

    With the exception of the pineapple corer and the avocado scoop, if a kitchen tool doesn’t serve at least 2 purposes, I don’t have the patience to keep it. I multi-task and I expect my tools to too. 🙂

    Great list!

  6. melissa ward says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:36 am (#)

    I am a nutritional chef and caterer. I have had a small apt. kitchen now for 23 years. Here’s how I do it. Pot rack hold all my skillets plus tongs, ladles and sieves with handles. Two shallow drawers hold one set of brass tableware, large knives, chopsticks, spatulas, wooden spoons, large whisk. Other shallow draw is divided in half. The front holds frequently used items: 3 small knives, vegetable peeler, small whisks, measuring cups, measuring spoons, kitchen shears (2 pair) and zester laid out on grip liner like a surgeon’s tools. In the back portion are less frequently used items: a small melon baller, food processor blade, champagne corks, wine opener, wine stopper, ceramic knives, pastry brush, can opener, microplane, handle grater, and mixer beaters. One underneath drawer hold all the wraps, films, parchment and zip locks. The only underneath cabinet holds large pots, baking dishes and glass measuring cups stacked, and a salad bowl, pot lids and a bowl sieve. I keep sheet pans and a roasting pan in the oven. The oven drawer holds a saucepan w/ lid and a small stock w/ lid. Plates, bowls and larger mixing bowls are in the cabinet above the counter.

  7. jgodsey says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:36 am (#)

    wow! you have TWO drawers!!!!! I am so jealous.

    I mounted a round mesh basket on the cabinet over the sink and that’s where I keep my tools. i wash them and just put them in the basket to dry.

    add: a traditional wine bottle opener (the kind with wings)

    btw Instead of a grapefruit spoon, i drafted my titanium spork into service, it scrapes out squash like nobody’s business.

  8. Jasileet says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:40 am (#)

    Very good list. We received this awesome, monster wine opener. It retails for more than 2 meals at my favorite restaurant. But instead, we keep a pocket wine/ beer utility opener. It works just as well, multitasks and is slim storage. I think Ikea also offers a wall-mounted beer top opener.

  9. DJ says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 9:09 am (#)

    I also have only two drawers in my kitchen. I keep all my silverware, knives, bottle opener, and jar opener in one. Also a Swiss Army knife, which I use in lieu of a can opener.

    In the other drawer I have two spatulas, a whisk, measuring cups, wooden spoons, tongs, vegetable peeler, meat thermometer, pizza cutter, baster, and a silicon pastry brush.

  10. maxie says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 9:30 am (#)

    I can’t live without my bench knife; I’ll trade it for the pie/cake server.

  11. Cynthia says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 10:09 am (#)

    I have way to much stuff in my kitchen. I’m hoping that I can organize and donate a lot of the utensils that we have. I have three drawers and they are packed solid, plus on the counter I have to containers with wooden spoons in one and plastic/metal spoons in the other. I need to seriously purge especially after reading your list.

  12. Egirl says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 11:27 am (#)

    Another use for the trusty grapefruit spoon: seeding fresh jalapenos. I live in the Southwest where jalapenos are a staple ingredient for many of my homecooked dishes. Simply slice off the stem then cut the jala in half lengthwise,then use the spoon tip to cut the membrane and scoop out the seeds. Hint: Wear a kitchen glove (like for washing dishes) on the hand that holds the jalapeno. You’ll be glad you did.

  13. Erin @ Unclutterer says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 1:15 pm (#)

    I love everyone’s comments! I never thought about grapefruit spoons being so useful. I’m really glad everyone chimed in about their multi-tasking abilities.

    Another article I might someday write over on Unclutterer is about what kitchen utensils I don’t own, and the substitutions I make as a result. Instead of owning something like cookie/biscuit cutters I use the lip of a water glass. What substitutions do others make??

  14. Zora says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 1:24 pm (#)

    I’ve got 8 drawers plus a knife block plus a ceramic utensil holder sitting by the stove. All occupied, all organized, none jammed.

    I use just about everything … well, the mandoline could go, as I usually end up using a knife. I copyedit cookbooks and cook from many different cuisines. Separately, each cuisine can usually be cooked with a simple set of utensils. Together, they demand a lot of stuff: musubi molds to yogurt drainers (Greek yogurt, lebneh, even paneer) to the funnel strainer that I use for homemade ginger ale. My spice and condiments cupboard is similarly stuffed: everything from amchoor to zaatar.

    I want MORE: silpat mats, a crock for storing my homemade bread, a tiered steamer for making Asian foods.

    I suppose the trick is to be minimalist in the areas in which you aren’t a pro.

  15. sheri' says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 1:48 pm (#)

    i have only 1 drawer (!) and use it for my daily flatware/knives in one of those expandable wooden/bamboo sorters. theres enough room behind it for my spatula and can opener and wine stoppers..dont really use anything else daily, but i bought a gorgeous 3 pc stacked wooden box set lined in a nice velvetly fabric (on a metal base) and keep my “back up..wish i cooked more” items in there, on the floor in a dead 2 ft space under the light switch. They’re tall enough to be able to have a few empty candle glasses standing upright for a little more organization of the smaller items. It works just purrrrfect and looks pretty impressive when sit one of those boxes on the counter and break out the big stuff. a pic to something similar is here:

  16. Jennifer says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 1:53 pm (#)

    One item that I consider a bare necessity utensil that I don’t see on your list is a good pair of kitchen shears.

    I use them for things like opening packaging, trimming herbs like parsley, etc. I find myself reaching for them on a daily basis!

    I live in a small apartment with an even smaller kitchen so I try to maintain a minimalist area whenever possible. For the most part, our lists are very similar!

  17. Paul says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 2:56 pm (#)

    Seems one hugely important thing is missing: corkscrew. Get the waiters knife type that doubles as a bottle opener and takes 0 space.

    Interestingly, several items are missing in my kitchen: can opener (use it twice a year, borrow from neighbours), measuring spoons and cups (got 1 measuring cup), meat thermo.

    What I do have in my kitchen drawer and value a lot: small electronic scales with a flat top. Put any plate or bowl on top and off you go.

    Space saving tip: buy one type of good sized wine glasses only, no separate ones for red and white wine.

  18. Dream Mom DBA says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 4:37 pm (#)

    My former home was actually a new home and had only one drawer. I can sympathize. Honestly, what were they thinking?

    I have a very small kitchen and limited space as well. I pared down everything in my kitchen a few years back. One of the best ways I found to eliminate any unnecessary kitchen utensils was to put everything in a box and take out only the items you use. At the end of the month, donate anything you don’t use.

    I have found that cooking styles or what people cook vary immensely from person to person so what items one person might need for a minimalist kitchen may vary.

    I think small spaces force you to edit well. As a result, I have come to love them. Editing well leaves more time to do what you love. It also makes me very protective of what I bring “into” my kitchen or purchase. I rarely make a purchase unless I know that I will use it a lot and I can make a space for it.

  19. sheri' says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 7:21 pm (#)

    i just remembered…my x-mother-in-law (from south america) used to keep her flatware in a caddy IN the fridge…serves 2 purposes…keeps germs at bay and frees up drawer space!

  20. Siouxsie says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 7:55 pm (#)

    Keep: knives knives knives! I love my Henkels. You could do fine without a garlic press, shears, apple corer, pizza cutter, pastry cutter, potato peeler, mandolin, grater, etc. if you had a good set of knives and knew how to use them.

    Go (or, a couple things I don’t have and would toss if I inherited a kitchen with them): flour sifter, garlic roaster, egg separator, cookie cutters.

    A note on drawers…you may not be missing out on much with just 2 of them, Erin. Actually, you’re missing out on a lot! But hey, that’s great, less is better right? =) We updated our kitchen to include Ikea free standing cabinets, one a big piece with 12 drawers. Big blessing to me since in our configuration we only have 2 other drawers in close proximity to the main workspace and they must be utilized to the max with utensils needed the most, the 12 drawers hold a lot of other *necessary* things. But they’ve turned out to be a big curse many times to my husband, as he can’t seem to memorize what’s where and he ends up opening 11 drawers before he finds what he wants! =( If we design our next home I think I would be just fine with 4-6 drawers.

  21. Vicki K. says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:06 pm (#)

    In the 11 essentials list, I would trade the pie server for a vegetable peeler. My veg peeler not only takes less skin than a paring knife but de-stems strawberries too.

    In the luxury department, besides the vegetable peeler, I only need the pizza cutter. Everything else I use the substitutes you noted. (I kinda like my toast tongs too.)

    If I only had two drawers, I’d be inclined to put my daily silverware in a cute or vintage holder with the handles upended. Then I’d store my ziplocs, wax paper and plastic wrap in a drawer. Somehow those things get so unruly unless they are contained.

  22. All About Food says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:07 pm (#)

    Oh, I impressed with the fact you can navigate in the kitchen with only the tools that can be held in two small drawers. I have four drawers I use for my tools: one for tableware (including grapefruit spoons), one for baking tools, one for cooking tools, one for what doesn’t fit in with the other cooking tools. Oh, I forgot about the small drawer in my work island that holds measuring spoons, measuring cups and a digital scale. I could definitely get by with less, but how can I part with my gadgets? They’re all favorites.

  23. Veronica says:

    January 13th, 2009 at 8:22 pm (#)

    I can’t imagine cooking without a microplane zester – I use it for citrus, hard cheeses, nutmeg, garlic, ginger… it’s out of the drawer almost more than it’s put away! Other things not on your list that I rely on are a lemon reamer, wooden spoon and corkscrew.

  24. lindalouise says:

    January 14th, 2009 at 8:39 am (#)

    Williams Sonoma makes good collapsible measuring cups that take up far less room in a drawer than metal ones do.

  25. Alison says:

    January 14th, 2009 at 3:19 pm (#)

    We don’t have any drawers in our kitchen apartment. What we have is a utensil drainer/holder that keeps our everyday silverware, a spatula, 2 kitchen knives, a wooden spoon, and a wooden spatula.

    Then we have a small basket on the counter that holds:
    -apple corer/slicer (my favorite kitchen gadget)
    -manual can opener
    -vegetable peeler
    -garlic press
    -rubber things for re-corking wine bottles
    -measuring spoons

    We’ve got one measuring cup that’s kept inside a cupboard. The bottle opener is hanging on a hook inside of a shallow cupboard with the wine glasses. We do have funnels that are inside of a cupboard.

  26. gypsy packer says:

    January 18th, 2009 at 12:00 pm (#)

    I keep my utensils in a crock, handles down. Veg peeler and shears are necessities. Can opener with a bottle opener attachment, multi-measure adjustable spoon, slotted spoon, ladle, spatula/flipper, spaghetti server, paring knife, tater masher, flat grater, I use a Mason jar with measuring marks for a liquid measure and have a set of vintage pottery nested dry measures shaped like walnut halves, with little squirrel handles.

    If I could use cheap enamel sizzler pans for everything, I’d be happy. Shaped like nesting woks in several colors and sizes, they can go from range to table.

    I have food canning equipment and try to get it antique and picturesque so it will serve a second function as kitchen decor.

    I detest drawers–they stick and irritate sensitive hands. I have an antique spooner but the other eating utensils still occupy a darned drawer pan.

  27. Mary Reider says:

    January 28th, 2009 at 1:54 pm (#)

    Inspired me to go thru my kitchen drawers. What do you do for egg flipper, ladle, icepick, serrated spoon, knife sharpener, cheese grater, mesh strainer?

  28. EngineerMom says:

    January 29th, 2009 at 8:51 am (#)

    @Mary Reider – Egg flipper is the same as spatula.

    I think the basic list is truly that – basic. I do a lot of scratch cooking, and I can tell you that there are several items that I consider essential that are missing from that list, like a French-style rolling pin, veggie peeler, and a pizza cutter. I would argue that a single spatula/flipper is not enough – we use a plastic one for our single non-stick pan and metal one for all our other pans so as not to ruin the plastic one. We use the non-stick pan daily for making eggs for breakfast. I also believe that 2 wooden spoons should be added to that list. They are very useful, and it is best to have 2 to avoid cross-contamination when making more than one dish.

    For us, a wine-bottle opener is also essential, but not a bottle opener – we don’t drink beer, but we do drink wine.

    I don’t consider tongs or a cake/pie server to be essential – both are easily replaced with a fork or two.

    I definitely agree that a meat thermometer is essential. My husband and I opted for a more pricey electronic thermometer that can be used for either meat or candy, as we make fancy desserts several times a year that need the candy thermometer’s touch.

  29. eileen marie says:

    August 6th, 2009 at 8:47 pm (#)

    I DO have your 2-drawer set-up! We use one for cutlery & the other for utensils (of which we have way too many). Drawer dividers really help in the utensil drawer. Other bulky “utensils” (funnel, can opener, etc.) go in low baskets in the cabinets.

  30. Ask Unclutterer: Too much storage space | Unclutterer says:

    September 4th, 2009 at 6:52 am (#)

    […] the way, I am really envious of your situation. My two kitchen drawers are not cutting it right now. Also, check out the comments where readers will give you even more […]

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  32. Bonnie says:

    February 28th, 2012 at 5:07 am (#)

    My flatware and utensils share the same drawer. I keep my chef’s knife in a protective sheath next to the tongs because they’re the same length. I’ ve hung my two micro plane graters ( one fine, one extra coarse) on hooks on the outside of the cupboard where I can’t bash my knuckles on them. With arthritis I’ve found that it helps to use soft-grip handles on my veggie peeler and can opener. those fat handles take up space so I keep my spatula and hefty wooden spoon on magnetic hooks stuck to the stove. At one time I’d kept the utensils in a bread pan in the oven with the skillet and just pulled these out to use the oven.

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