Great things can come out of small spaces. In an age where minimalists are growing in numbers and more and more people are ditching their oversized lifestyle for something much simpler (think Tiny House Hunters for all you HGTV fans), it's normal to make do with much less. However, for a lot of us (depending on the city you live in and where you are in your life), tiny kitchens are the norm whether we like it or not, and sacrificing on kitchen space doesn't mean having to sacrifice efficiency in cooking good food. For all the college students, post-grads, and anyone else who finds themselves with seriously limited kitchen space, here are my top tips on how to stay organized.
1. Stash the big appliances
Having a tiny kitchen doesn't mean you're resigned to having zero larger appliances, like slow cookers, blenders, etc., it just means that you may have to get more creative with storing them, which is totally doable. If your kitchen probably lacks in counter or cupboard space, look elsewhere. If there is space above your cabinets (as in directly on top of the cupboard), utilize it. P.S. a small step ladder is a great addition to the kitchen. Or that seemingly useless cabinet tucked above your fridge? Place larger appliances or even large pots and pans you don't use as often up there. If you can condense items in your pantry to open up a shelf, you can place equipment there. And if you still feel you're lacking the adequate storing space, create some. Consider investing in a kitchen prep table or island block equipped with plenty of storage space and shelving.
2. Make your walls do work
Master the art of vertical space to keep your area uncluttered, and looking/feeling more spacious. Installing some shelves on the walls can help you clear out additional storage space in your cupboards and allow you to make a mod eclectic display of your dishes--two for one efficiency. Depending on what's spelled out in your lease, you may need to receive special permission before installing heavy-duty shelves into the wall if you are renting, but some rental companies will actually take care of small renovations like this for you if you ask (pocketing the cost and making sure the job is handled professionally). From some landlords' perspective, making the apartment or house more livable for you is increasing property value in two ways--this makes you more likely to renew a lease for next year and any special updates can give the property higher appeal for the next potential tenant. Point being--it never hurts to ask. Other ways to master the vertical space include pulling your knives out of the drawer and/or get that honking butcher block off of the counter with a magnetic knife strip and set up a rod to hold other regularly used utensils or coffee mugs from hooks like these.
3. Maximize counter space
Meal prep can be inherently "messy"--think chopping up produce and laying all of your other ingredients out like you're "supposed to" to make cooking dinner quick and smooth sailing. When you've got restricted workspace (i.e. countertops), the clutter just piles up faster and becomes more overwhelming. The first thing to do is to clear your limited counters of anything that isn't essential (refer back to #1 if you've currently got large appliances taking up 75% of your work surface area). Keeping the counters clear additionally makes cleaning up significantly easier, as you aren't moving around pieces of equipment and canisters to wipe away hiding food scraps. Now, does it require a little extra effort to pull your blender out of a cabinet when you want to use it for your breakfast smoothie? For sure. But get over it. The kitchen is a hard-working area in most households, and making that small space feel less claustrophobic requires putting a little more effort into creating efficiency. Herein lies another benefit of investing in a kitchen island block.
Now, if your sink is practically larger than the amount of counter space you have, try placing your cutting board over the sink to create more work area. Not only does this expand the work space, but it allows you to brush any produce scraps off of your board and right into the sink. Not all cutting boards will be great for this, some be way too small--you need something that's long enough to extend well over both ends of the sink so that there is no wobbling or potential for slipping. But if you feel space maximizing trick could be helpful for you, buy a cutting board specifically for it.
4. Capitalize on your kitchen's inherent efficiency
A major pro on the pro/con list for tiny kitchens is that most everything you need is within reach. There's no scurrying across the kitchen for a spatula when there's no room to scurry in your kitchen... everything is right there. Still, it's important to be mindful of your kitchen workflow to help you out on this front. This might mean storing your spices in a cabinet with close proximity to the stove for easy access or making sure a knife strip is positioned above the area you're most likely to be meal prepping. Creating the most functional kitchen mean making sure everything is exactly where you need it to be.
5. Use your stove for more than cooking
Just like the sink, the stove can be used to add some extra space to your kitchen. Burner covers can be used to create more flat space for to use as an additional prep area. Most ovens also typically have storage drawers beneath them--use them. They're perfect for storing flat sheet pans, pizza stones, or muffin tins (these drawers can get warm, so do not store any items that might be prone to melting, like plastic containers). If your stove doesn't have one of those compartments, you could also store those sorts of items in the oven itself when not in use. The trick to that is remembering to take them out before you turn the oven on. If you just keep leave your pizza stone in the oven all the time, that's no big deal (but heads up--it will absorb heat and add a few extra minutes of cook time to whatever you're baking), but dealing with a stack of baking pans that have just been preheated with your oven can get dicey. Always be highly aware and vigilant when using space around your stovetop and oven to keep yourself safe and avoid injury.
6. Clear out what you don't need
If you have dishes, prep bowls, pans, appliances, or other tools that rarely get used, it might be time to kick them to the curb. Some items like bowls might be able to be recycled into being useful or decorative in a different part of the house, but if you don't love it or need it--lose it. It'll make your next move a littler easier. Take inventory of what you use often and what you use rarely and keep a mental tab going so you can prioritize those things that do get used. If you have a clutter of items you never touch collected in the back of the pantry or cabinets, pull it on out to the light of day... do you actually need these things, or even want them? Donating kitchenware to a charity is also a great way to give back to the community and gives your gently used kitchen tools a new life for someone else who might really need them. If you find yourself in a bind because you suddenly find yourself needing that practically new bundt pan you gave away, I'm almost positive someone you know has one you can borrow.
7. Improvise your pantry
If your pantry leaves much to be desired (or maybe you don't even have one) investing in a set of freestanding cabinets or metal wracks for dry food and/or cookware can be a lifesaver--and look pretty cool. This not only adds a large amount of storage space and a whole new dimension to your kitchen, but the unit would belong to you and would go with you (or go on Craigslist) should you ever move out of your space. This is especially helpful for those who live in areas where tiny kitchens are the norm.
Do you have a tiny kitchen? We'd love to hear from you. What are your best tips and tricks for utilizing your space to the max? Being able to simplify the cooking process is the first step toward a happy kitchen (and great food).
Beyond utilizing space, a great way get resourceful in the kitchen is by checking out our comprehensive collection of kitchen hacks. If your utensil drawer is overflowing with kitchen tools, you'll be happy to know that there's more that can be done with a lot of them than what you may use them for. Anyone who's spent a lot of time cooking in a small kitchen knows, it's all about making use of what's there. One last tip is dedicated to the large kitchen appliance a lot of us find in our tiny kitchens whether we brought it there or not--the microwave. If you've got one preinstalled, check out some of the great ways that you can use your microwave by viewing the tips in the video below: