Downsized Kitchen: Living Well with an Itty Bitty Cooking Space

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If my kitchen were only half its size, would I still be able to eat healthfully? That was one of my biggest fears, moving from a relatively spacious apartment to a less than 400 square foot studio earlier this month. With little cooking space, and pretty much no counter space, would dining in get too difficult -- or even impossible?

Behold my tiny kitchen right after I moved in. Yes, I was eating peanut butter out of the jar!

To call it a kitchen may be pushing it a little -- the space is better described as a wall portion with aspects reminiscent of a kitchen. But while the lilliputian cooking area frightened me a little, I have to say I did actually like some aspects of this new kitchenette of mine such as the mini fridge.

Why? Because I like shopping often for the freshest foods. I rarely had much food in the full fridge in my last apartment -- so little food, in fact, that friends who came over would open it and gasp at the emptiness. And while electricity was included in the rent, I always felt the fridge sapped up way too much energy, when most of what it did was keep a jar of mustard and some condiment bottles cool.

Now, my mini-fridge is nicely fullish and I feel like I'm getting my electricity use's worth -- which is doubly helpful since I do get a separate electric bill in this new apartment.

Pretty much all other aspects of the kitchen, however, were a serious challenge. Because while I certainly did anticipate parting with some extra cups and dishes due to the downsize, I didn't foresee that I'd have to rethink the ownership of standard kitchen stuff I'd just assumed as, you know, standard in any kitchen.

Such as a dish rack.

There was simply nowhere to put the thing. Nor was there any room for a silverware tray, since my new kitchenette had no drawers, period.

Parting with the microwave was a little easier. I've actually got a lot of friends who don't own microwaves. Some are eco-health zealots who believe microwaves to be dangerous and unhealthy; others are eco-foodies with a rather snooty attitude toward microwaved food. I've got nothing against microwaves (I only used the thing for the occasional reheat), but I decided I needed the room it took up for other kitchen things I used more often.

Add to the fact that my microwave had taken to beeping at random -- a "feature" that reminded me to unplug the microwave while not in use to save vampire power leaching, but an annoying feature nonetheless that made the microwave impossible to give away, much less resell -- and the boxy thing just had to go to the e-waste recycling facility. On the same day I made that trip, a friend of mine happened to be having a yard sale -- so I added a whole bunch of silverware with its tray, a dish rack, and an odd collection of dishes and glasses to her yard. I hope she made some money off the stuff.

Here's what my kitchen looks like now.

Notice how the pots and pans are on the stove? Yes, I was cooking up some beans when I took this picture, but after I did, I washed the pan and put it back on the stove. There's no storage space for cookware, so now they get to hang out on the stove, whether in use or not.

I dealt with the silverware issue by just keeping four forks, knives, and spoons each -- plus a couple pairs of chopsticks. After all, I'm not going to be having huge parties in my teeny apartment anyway. The silver now sits arranged in a metallic bouquet, sprouting out of a bamboo cup-like holder by the sink.

The dishrack I replaced with -- myself. After washing dishes, I just wipe them with a dish towel (admittedly in an incomplete, half-ass manner that leaves them dampish) and put them straight back on the shelf.

Now that everything more or less has a spot, I'm in assessment mode -- to see what else I can get rid of. I think I'd like to get rid of more dishes for example. Since the teensy kitchen basically forces me to wash the dishes as soon as I use them, I've used and reused a couple dishes and one set of utensils the whole time I've been here -- so why own the rest?

I may also get rid of my toaster, and just toast bread on the stove -- but since the latter seems a lot more time consuming, I'm going to see how often I use the toaster in the next month first.

There's also a whole bunch of stuff in the area under the sink that needs to be dealt with. See how the doors aren't quite closed? That's not because the doors are faulty. Most of what's under there are baking supplies -- flours and sugars -- plus a whole bunch of spices. I'd like to bake cookies for my new neighbors and get to know them, but the mess down there is more than I can face right now.

I also need to find some fixes for tiny cooking. As you can see from the photo, the top of the mini-fridge doubles as my fruit bowl stand -- but it also has to triple as my cooking area (this is why I want to get rid of more stuff; moving the fruit bowl all the time gets annoying, so I'd like to find the sweet produce a new perma-spot). Unfortunately, the top of the mini-fridge is not perfectly flat -- so my Bambu cutting board rocks a bit in an admittedly dangerous manner when I'm cutting up heirloom tomatoes. How do I fix this situation?

Am I eating healthy meals? Surprisingly, yes, at least when I'm at home! I've been eating very simple salads (recipe here; yes I still make my own dressing and cook rice and beans at home) -- or for breakfast, old-fashioned oatmeal and fruit. Once I finally catch up on email, I'll need to figure out how to have a more varied diet -- hopefully while also using up some spices under the sink!

At that point, I'll have a better sense of what else I can get rid of. In the meantime, I've discovered something I dislike about my mini-fridge. Because it's located perhaps 5 feet from my bed, its hum sounds very loud when I'm trying to sleep! I've "solved" this problem by turning the thing off at night with the help of a Practecol switch -- which I think is just fine, since all the food's vegan (no meat to go rancid) and eaten quickly enough that the greens don't get wilted.

Got other suggestions for making the most of my tiny kitchen? Share your tips in the comments! For now, I need to get to work on the rest of the apartment.

Related Links:

  • Courtney of Be More with Less has step by step instructions for decluttering your kitchen, fast!
  • Hillary of This Tiny House shows off the tiny kitchen pantry she put together.
  • Tammy of Rowdy Kittens downsized her kitchen -- and may even get rid of her wedding china.

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BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at greenLAgirl.com.

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