The author of the manual/cookbook The Minimalist Kitchen shows you how to create your own food-and-family-friendly zone.

By Sarah Whaton
Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

“The kitchen is the most used yet inefficient room,” says Melissa Coleman, the hit blogger @thefauxmartha and author of the new book The Minimalist Kitchen. “At one point in my life, I quit cooking, because I was so frustrated by the kitchen. Once I was able to pare it down, I knew how to use the room again.”

She walks us through the only things you really need to make meals every day.

Related: Declutter Your Home in 31 Days

Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

Family Circle: How would you sum up the concept of a minimalist kitchen?

Melissa Coleman: A minimalist kitchen is a kitchen pared down to the essentials—everything from the tools to the ingredients to the techniques. You’ll even hone your shopping strategies and meal planning. So it really touches every aspect of the kitchen to make it more efficient.

Also see: Declutter Your Space: Things to Throw Away Today

Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

What are the advantages of a minimalist kitchen?

The advantage is that you know what you have. You can see everything. You can easily find and retrieve what’s in the kitchen. You know how to use that kitchen. You can actually produce something out of it.

How can a busy family tackle a room as big and frequently used as the kitchen?

I tell people to use my book not as a prescription but as a framework. Things always work better when you understand who you are and what you’re working with. Every family is going to look different. People with more kids sometimes have more space, so they might stock three cereals whereas I stock one; they can still use these concepts though.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

What are your best tips for deciding what to keep and what to toss?

Always follow your gut. You usually know the answers, but it can be hard to trust yourself. For your first pass, look inside a drawer or your pantry: You can probably identify things that you haven’t touched for a year. Pull those things out immediately. That gets you over the first layer.

After that layer, you can do the dishwasher test. When your dishwasher is full, check your drawers and see what’s left. Then you can see your kitchen from a different perspective.

A lot of objects are hard to part with. They might be in mint condition or hold sentimental value. I recommend keeping a box in a closet or basement—somewhere separate from the kitchen—where you put those tools you’re unsure about. If you never go to retrieve them, then they were probably just as forgotten in your kitchen. I give myself a 3- to 5-month window to go get an item.

I also recommend storing your holiday and entertaining items separate from the everyday. This concept protects the items you use for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

What options do people have for the items they’ve purged?

We don’t like to throw things away. We try to donate it. This summer, I’m going to have a garage sale for some of the things and then donate the proceeds.

Don't miss these tips: Clean and Declutter in 7 Minutes

How often do you review your kitchen?

When I first started doing this, I was reviewing it pretty frequently. I like to think of myself as a restaurant manager: My kitchen is my restaurant, I’m the manager and my employees happen to be my husband and daughter. I have to help my employees know how to navigate this space, too, because it’s a shared space. So in the beginning, I was looking at it a lot and seeing what worked and what didn’t and rearranging. Now we’re four years in, and it doesn’t take that much maintenance because I know our habits.

That said, our habits our changing. I have a daughter, and she was a newborn when I started this, and now she’s four, so she needs a snack box in the pantry. So we added that. I’d say right now, I check in on things 3 to 4 times a year.

When you’re just starting out, I would recommend doing a monthly glance, just so a small problem doesn’t become a really big problem.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Coleman

What are your rules for bringing something new into the house?

I like this commercial where a basketball player is swatting balls away and saying “not in my house.” I tell my husband, “I want you to think of me at the backdoor saying ‘not in my house.’” I look at every room and think, “Does it have a home?” If it doesn’t already have a place where we store it, can we create a new one? And if we do, do we need to get rid of something else? I really try to think through the entire “ecosystem” to “what is this one thing going to do to our house?”

How does a minimalist kitchen affect the way you cook and the ease with which you get things on the table?

I’ve seen a couple people already making recipes from my book, and they’re showing me their swap-outs. Like, “Oh, I didn’t have that, so I used this.” And that’s the way I cook too. So whenever I approach a recipe that sounds really good, I’ll look at the recipe and say “Oh, I don’t stock those things. Do I have replacement in my kitchen that I could use?” If not, there’s probably another recipe that would fit within the confines of my kitchen. So it’s also a parameter of what recipes I bring into my kitchen. But because I know my ingredients really well, I know what I can swap out to make it work. And I’m watching other people do that with my book, and it’s the coolest thing.