Do you love the look of a minimalist kitchen but think the reality is unattainable? It’s fair to say that being the heart of the home, our kitchens see a lot. As primarily functional spaces, it’s easy to believe that everything stored in there is necessary but the fact is, that’s probably not the case.
There are two sides to minimalism. First, there’s the beautiful simplicity of a pared-back style and second, there’s the philosophy that encapsulates the notion of living well with less. Of all the rooms in the home, the kitchen is the place we most often allow ourselves a free card to let stuff we don’t actually need build up (we’re talking pretty plates, cooking utensils, and gimmicky appliances). Once you take time to actually assess what you use regularly, however, you’ll find that many of these serve very little purpose whatsoever – if any at all.
‘Kitchen items to declutter are those appliances or things that promised to make your life easier and haven’t delivered,’ explains Julie Peak, a professional organizer at The Precise Place. ‘You should only have items in your kitchen that make sense for your life and how you cook, not what you think you’re “supposed” to have.’ With the help of Julie, some other professional declutterers, and some of our favorite minimalist designers, we take a look at the things you can afford to get rid of right now so that you can finally have the minimalist, modern kitchen you’ve been craving.
Di Ter Avest is a professional home and lifestyle organizer and the owner of Di is Organized. Her in-person services, virtual projects, workshops, and digital book, Organize Yourself Healthy, help women create sustainable organizational systems for their homes and lives. Her expertise has been featured on Forbes, Today, ApartmentTherapy, Real Homes, and Kitchn; she has also given workshops at IKEA, West Elm, and Williams-Sonoma.
1. Knife block
Minimalism isn’t simply a case of shutting everything you don’t want to see behind closed doors and adopting an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. That said, it’s a good idea to start decluttering the surfaces that are always visible, such as the kitchen countertops, if you want a pared-back space – and one of the easiest items to part with is a knife block.
‘Knife blocks are big and take up valuable counter space, not to mention they’re hard to clean and sanitize,’ explains Julie (opens in new tab) of The Precise Place. ‘Instead, store your knives in a drawer or utilize vertical space by installing a magnetic knife strip on your kitchen wall to hang your knives.’
2. Bread maker
There was probably a time (perhaps March 2020, we might venture a guess…) when you thought a bread maker was a good investment. No matter how adamant you were that you’d use it, I can almost guarantee you’ve plugged it in less than five times. For busy modern families, store-bought bread just makes the most practical sense.
For a minimalist kitchen, you should let go of unnecessary appliances such as these that take up valuable space on your kitchen surfaces. ‘Bread machines are big, bulky appliances that take up more space than they are used,’ says Julie. ‘Unless you’re making multiple loaves of bread a day, you can easily make bread with just a mixing bowl and some elbow grease.’ When the urge to bake bread does descend, the oven does just as good a job.
3. Dish towels
A cottage-core kitchen might have linen towels hung on hooks and strung across cabinet handles, but a mismatch of colored kitchen towels certainly won’t be conducive to a minimalist look.
‘A cluster of items with different patterns, colors, and shapes increases the visual business of a space, so create uniformity and simplicity as much as possible with your visible accessories and textiles,’ says Sheena Murphy (opens in new tab) of minimalist design studio, Nune. Ask yourself how often you actually use your dish towels and get rid of any that don’t gel with your pared-back design, keeping just one neutral cloth and a spare. You could even consider storing it out of sight for a more streamlined space.
This one might be controversial, but if you want your kitchen to be a fresh, clean slate, avoid displaying your cookbooks on your shelves. ‘With the convenience of the internet, most cookbooks are just collecting dust,’ notes Julie. ‘Make copies of your favorite recipes and downsize your collection to a spiral notebook, or look to go all digital and create an online cookbook on your phone or tablet instead.’ If you do decide to keep them, you can display them on the bookshelf in your living room.
5. Toaster and microwave
Many of us buy kitchen appliances simply because we think they’re essential to a modern kitchen. While it might be hard to imagine making breakfast without a toaster or cooking the family meal without a microwave to defrost your meat, both these gadgets are holding you back from a truly minimalist design.
Neither is as important as you’ve been led to believe, either. You can just as easily toast bread under the grill or heat food in the oven, it just takes a little more time. ‘When deciding what appliance to keep, choose the one that is the smallest or most compact, or one that’s multifunctional,’ explains Julie. ‘Even if that means it requires a little more effort in the kitchen, the additional space you will gain is worth it.’
If you can’t bear to part with your toaster or microwave, an appliance garage is the best way to disguise these bulky items so that they don’t detract from your kitchen’s clean, minimalist aesthetic. These clever built-in contraptions are designed to hide unsightly items on your countertop behind a door or screen, helping to keep your surfaces super organized.
You might think that the kitchenware hidden behind the closed doors of your cabinets doesn’t matter, but a surplus of crockery and cookware will almost certainly start spilling over to your surfaces. What’s more, it’s good practice to stay on top of the amount of stuff you own, even if it is out of sight most of the time.
‘Organizing a kitchen can be an ongoing process, but depending on your kitchen size, you can get it done in 10 to 30 minutes,’ says Di Ter Avest (opens in new tab), expert declutterer at Di is Organized. ‘Go through all the cabinets and drawers and throw away anything broken. Donate things you don’t use anymore and take the special occasion and holiday items to your secondary storage to free up space.’
Decluttering and minimalism actually go hand-in-hand. At their core, both are about recognizing the value of the things we love and use and getting rid of those we don’t. ‘For the objects in our homes to not distract us from the life lived within the space, it’s important to question each and every one of them,’ explains Emma Jo Ejskjær Sørensen (opens in new tab) of Norm Architects, known for their minimalist designs. ‘Unnecessary items, details, and decorations serve no purpose whatsoever, and as William Morris so accurately put it, you should “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.’
How do I make my kitchen cabinets look more minimalist?
Besides ridding our kitchens of cluttered surfaces, there’s a lot more to the principle of minimalism in interior design. It’s about appreciating the simplicity of an object’s unembellished form with no frills. In the kitchen, the main feature this corresponds to that’s almost always in our line of sight is our cabinets.
‘In our work, we look to the Danish cabinet makers’ design tradition – a tradition that takes pride in modest simplicity,’ says Emma Jo. ‘It’s a rational design language that is rooted in sincere devotion to the craft and the ambition to work with high-quality materials. Finding the simplest shape for a given object while also paying due attention to the beauty of the shape and its details in order to reach that point where there is nothing left to add or take away.’
For the most pared-back look possible, white slab cabinets are the most obvious choice. Traditional styles with recessed panels, such as shaker cabinets, should be avoided. If you still want the visual appeal of a shaker but with a more modern reinvention, try slim shaker cabinets for a more minimalistic take.
Minimalista: Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Better Home, Wardrobe, and Life, by Shira Gill – Amazon
As a professional home organizer, Shira Gill knows a thing or two about clearing clutter for a clean aesthetic and a calming space. Her book is an inspiring and easy guide to going minimalist that makes embracing this pared-back design style manageable.