Kitchens are often the first place in a home to become overrun with clutter. We got tips from a devoted minimalist—who spends a lot of time in the kitchen—on how to streamline what we need and what we don’t, for a happier, healthier, and more efficient experience in one of our favorite rooms.
Rebecca “Bex” Shern is frequently in the kitchen for both her work and her family. She also happens to be a minimalist, and partner to Joshua Fields Millburn, one half of the writing, podcast, and filmmaking duo, The Minimalists. From her blog, Minimal Wellness, to the ways she and Joshua have found to live a more fulfilled life, Bex doesn’t weigh herself and her home down with any items that she doesn’t use and truly value. When we last talked to both her and Joshua about their home and lifestyle, we realized Bex had some great insight into what makes a pared-down and happy kitchen.
“The only requirements I have for a kitchen are adequate counter space and a good stove,” Bex told us. “Of course, it helps having a space you enjoy...In terms of keeping it ideal for productivity, I work hard to keep our refrigerator and pantry pared down to the essentials. Nothing I cook is very complex, but that's the point. Simple, fresh, whole foods are almost always the most nourishing and delicious.”
For many of us, all those cabinets and drawers seem to magically fill up with tools and servingware pieces we never use—cleaning those out can lead to easier, more fuss-free cooking and baking. Bex’s list won’t be the exact list for everyone, but it’s a guide to really evaluating what you work with in the kitchen and what you don’t. Since we caught Bex packing and downsizing for a move, it was an especially perfect time for her to define what she needed and what she could toss. Here’s what she had to say about how she works in the kitchen and what she keeps on hand to do it:
On her food philosophy: “As a registered dietitian nutritionist, mom, partner, and wellness entrepreneur, I consider food the foundation for a healthy life and happy family. I prioritize healthy eating and cooking, but try to make meals as simple, nourishing, and delicious as possible. Eating well shouldn't be complicated. Our daughter currently lives with us half of the time (half the time she is with her father); when she's with us, I cook the vast majority of the meals for that week at home. When it's just my partner and I, we tend to eat out a bit more. Although I cook a lot, I almost never bake as our diet is centered around fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods."
On her day-to-day cooking style: “I worked in the hospitality industry for nearly two decades and I run our home kitchen much like a quick-service restaurant. I have a small handful of recipes that I tend to make most of the time. I implement bulk prep and batch cooking techniques to ease the day-to-day burden of cooking and I add variety to the standard lineup by changing ingredients like vegetables, proteins, sauces, or finishing herbs. A couple of times a month I'll make a 'special'—something completely new that's a little more labor intensive and several times a month I'll play around with new recipes for the blog."
On recipe development: "Because my primary revenue stream comes from nutrition coaching, I don't focus as much on recipe development as food bloggers do and I tend to approach development of new recipes very practically. When I want to make a particular new item or use specific ingredients I'll take an initial stab at that recipe and serve it to my family, then I'll make necessary adjustments to the recipe the next time I make it, sometimes a couple weeks or months later. Eventually I post many of those recipes, others just never quite get there. It's a slow process, but I'm allergic to the idea of wasting food—even if it's to develop a new recipe—so I avoid that whenever possible.”
1. A large cutting board "Mine is close to 15 years old and made of bamboo. I’ve never oiled it or done anything but wash it off to maintain it and it’s still going strong."
2. A chef’s knife
3. A paring knife
4. A knife sharpener
5. A 12-inch fry pan
6. 2-quart, 4-quart, and 8-quart saute pans, each with a lid
7. A 12-inch deep cast iron skillet with a silicone handle "I’ve burned myself too many times grabbing the handle, so I got a silicone gripper for it and keep it on all the time."
8. Two sheet pans
9. A flat spatula
10. A silicone spatula
11. A wooden spoon
12. A large microplane
13. Measuring cups
14. Measuring spoons
15. A wire whisk — stiff
16. Silicone hot pads "They can double as jar openers and trivets."
17. A peeler
18. A blender
19. A can opener
20. Kitchen scissors
21. A fine mesh strainer
22. Salt and pepper grinders
23. A garlic press "I realize this isn’t essential for most chefs or competent home cooks, but I hate mincing garlic. This little tool makes me happy."
24. A citrus juicer "Another item I could live without, but it’s super handy as I do a lot of recipes with citrus."
25. A hand mixer "I only use this a couple of times a year, but when I need it, I really need it, so it continues to make the essentials list."
26. Muffin tins "Used only twice a year, but still an essential. We celebrate birthdays with cupcakes!"
- A rice cooker "A saucepan works just as well."
- A stand mixer "I had one but it was stolen during a move two years ago and it hasn’t been replaced. I realized I only used it once or twice a year and it took up an absurd amount of counter space. A few months ago I purchased a small hand-held mixer, which works great."
- A coffee maker "A single pour-over or small Chemex are just as easy and make far superior coffee."
- A pot or pan in every size "I’m amazed at how easy it is to execute a host of recipes with just a couple of quality pots and pans."
- An arsenal of servingware "I’ve found that I only need a couple of large bowls and a couple of smaller plates and bowls for hosting get-togethers. If you really need a specific piece, it’s pretty easy to borrow one from a friend."
- Various peeling and slicing gadgets "Some basic knife skills go a long way."
- A slow cooker "I prefer fresh flavors, so slow cookers don’t mesh well with my preferences."
- A bread maker "Be honest. How often does it actually get used?"
What do you think of Bex's list? Tell us how it compares with what you'd consider to be your core kitchen essentials.
This post originally ran in January 2018.