It has been a while since I last wrote a whole blog post, though I suppose I do that with every Simple Saturdays email (if you want that in your inbox, sign up here).
In the last email, I shared some pictures of our recent kitchen renovation and wanted to give you a more thorough run down of the process of us minimizing and decluttering our kitchen over the years, to doing a three-month reno of it in the present day.
I want to share some of the mindsets I approached my kitchen storage with, and how they have been challenged by minimalism, and shaped by becoming a minimalist.
In a nutshell, this is a story about how we expanded our kitchen wall to wall in our home, and then over the years, pared it back down again.
The basic split-level home kitchen
Let’s start with our kitchen, 11 years ago when we moved in.
We bought your typical split-level entry home, also called the bi-level. In British Columbia, we call it the BC Box. You can find them on most every street in every small town in BC.
Many of them were built with a closed-off kitchen and dining room that has a sliding door to the back yard.
Trending: the open floor plan
As was also the trend, a decade ago, we wanted to tear down all the walls and release the kitchen from its cage. Being a new mom, I also thought it was necessary to have open lines of sight to wherever kids could be.
Mostly though, we had to tear down this wall so our dining table would fit in the space.
This is a table we made with my talented and wonderful father-in-law, when we were first married. The table is about 9×5 and so it gets to dictate where everything else in the space can live.
Trending: all the storage
As was also the trend, I felt the primal need to nest and nesting meant all the storage units.
We filled a wall with pantry units and a hutch desk. This was before I learned about minimalism, the notion of not having to have a wall filled with storage would have been very counter-intuitive to me.
Here is the pantry wall and desk, pre-decluttering
One hurdle these pantries presented me was that they became a catch-all. They functioned as office storage, cleaning, storage, craft supplies, paper storage, etc. Over the years I would eventually see that giving things a more suitable home helped me keep my kitchen more organized and less cluttered (but this would mean decluttering rooms and making a legit office space)
Real actual life in the kitchen
As we added to to our family, this kitchen was the spot we spent all our time in. With two toddlers and a baby, it was a landing pad for snacks, birthdays, crafts, legos, paint easels, play kitchens, and kid shenanigans.
The kitchen planning station
As with almost everyone else’s kitchen, I’ve ever seen, we all have that spot where things get dumped. The mail, the papers, the planners, the pens. Every kitchen seems to need a planning station of some sort.
With these cupboards to darn full, the planning station exploded all over my counters. It took me a while to catch onto the clutter hot spot and one strategy I used then was to declutter and set up a better planning station for myself (you can read about that here)
Imagining life with less storage space
This led to removing the hutch and pantries and replacing them with a dresser which would become the Craft Drawers.
A kitchen in line with my personal values
Now, I think it is worth pointing out that having Crafts in my kitchen was a personal value of mine. As minimalism helped me uncover what I valued most in my life, it showed me I have a deep value of allowing creativity and mess in order for my kids to create things and make things and try things.
Overall, the kitchen was one of the first places where my preconceived notions of minimalism were challenged by the fact that minimalism isn’t about having less stuff but having less of what doesn’t matter to you. Removing the excess and the clutter leaves what you love and value and use.
Even though these craft drawers demanded routine decluttering and maintenance, I remained motivated by the times the table was full of creations and kids were occupied with their imaginations and the hot glue gun.
Falling out of love with my kitchen, and then falling back in love with it
Over the years, Instagram came onto the scene and with that, a flood of stunning and aspirational visuals started to show up in my feed each day. Day after day.
I loved looking at these beautiful homes and cute bespoke kitchens.
But then I would look at my kitchen, and betray all the effort we had put into making it functional for our family.
I have struggled over the years to love my home and spent more time wishing it were different.
This was at odds with my desire to live simply and contentedly and not spend more money than I had to spend to make a space different when we had already spent time and energy and money doing this.
This discontent in my home really took away from my enjoyment of my space, and therefore the current life available to me.
For years I pined over a kitchen reno, but as I did the work on loving my home even when I wanted to change it (episode right here) I grew more and more attached to my kitchen.
Some things that I grew to adore about this old, laminate, run-down kitchen…
It was a gathering space for countless people over the years.
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It was a home for our beloved table, which held the marks and stains of gathering and use.
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It had these laminate pink countertops that were impermeable to damage by hot glue guns and chopping cucumbers and holding hot pans right out of the oven.
It was bright and white and the sun streamed through the windows each morning.
We weren’t precious about it, so I could do things like write all my favourite recipes inside the cupboard doors
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I grew to really love my kitchen and how it served our family over the years. I didn’t feel this overwhelming sense of urgency to ‘renovate it’ and ‘make it better’.
I realized we had made it better, slowly over time, and it just didn’t look like what I thought it ‘should’ look like.
So, why even renovate? Good question and I think I will give the only answer that really makes the most sense. Because we wanted to and because we could.
We knew our home needed some renovations, like painting the fences and the wood siding, fixing the fireplace, as well as renovating the upstairs bathroom (to make it *not-a-health-hazard). So in order to do this, we talked to the bank and we were able to acquire home credit against our mortgage. This provided the financial opportunity to do some renovations and we decided, the kitchen is something we have talked about doing and let’s do it.
Planning the kitchen reno
This led to me spending a lot of hours plotting the different ideas of what I really wanted in a kitchen. I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of reno and wanted to be so intentional about it.
Between Pinterest and working with a designer, we were able to put together a vision for what I would call a mid-century modern inspired kitchen.
Design what you love, not what is trendy
I will say, I don’t think it was easy at all to pick out and consider every single design decision of our kitchen. I loved all the current kitchen trends, the white and the gold, but I also felt drawn to something a little darker and different.
This kitchen helped me give myself permission to really design and change a space with what I LOVE more than what is hot right now. I know this kitchen design isn’t something that everyone will love (including my kids, they have complaints) but I love looking at it, and I live in it. So that is what matters!
One thing I mentioned on Instagram, is that my husband gave me total authority over every single design decision. This was new for us, almost every room we have renovated (and we have renovated most every room in every house we have lived in), we collaborated and compromised on the design and function of the space. (You can read how this went down right here)
The before and afters of our renovation
I knew I wanted yellow in my kitchen, and went through ideas of a yellow island, or yellow backsplash. We ended up opting to bring yellow in with the stools.
I know most split-level home kitchen remodels bring in an island. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to have an island, but now I don’t know how I lived so long with such limited prep space in our old kitchen.
(In this picture this is green around the window, that is painters tape from touching up the windowsill paint)
The feature tile behind the oven was a decision we made later down the road. I knew I wanted a kitchen that felt very seamless and didn’t have ‘visual busyness’, so I wrestled with how bold to go with the feature tile. I looked at hundreds of tiles online, and bought many samples. When I saw this tile in the store, I felt so drawn to its rustic unpredictability.
It took us three months to complete the reno, and we are still hoping to do a feature wall behind the banquette area. You can see a peek of the chairs we have around the table. There are four of them, and they were my grandparents. I love to see them every day and it makes me think of all the times I visited them and saw these chairs at their home.
What I have learned over the years from my kitchen
1. You don’t need all the storage.
We gave up that wall of pantry units and I don’t miss the storage. Now, I try to buy less of ALL THE FOOD, and because we have decluttered other areas of the home, we were able to move stuff that was kept in the pantries into those areas (most craft supplies, cleaning supplies). I also decluttered a lot when we emptied our kitchen for the reno.
2. Declutter your kitchen to understand the purpose of the space
Decluttering my kitchen allowed me to see what I DID want to use my space for. This gave me permission to keep things in there that allowed me to have people gathering often and kids getting messy
3. Do the work, and appreciate it
I know it sounds naive, but as you DO THE WORK of decluttering and creating a space that works for your family, don’t lose sight of that. Look at your space through eyes of gratitude for the hard and intentional work you have done. Look for the ways this space serves you and your family. (Related, the episode on loving your home)
If you spend time, energy, and intention on decluttering and creating a space that can be used for the life you want, you won’t need to spend a lot of money ‘making over’ your space.
4. Make it a space you love to look at
It is easy to just do what everyone else is doing, but make sure you bring things into your home and make changes to your space that make you feel joyful. One of the best compliments I’ve had is that my house feels ‘like me’. I love to look at unique spaces where I can see someone’s personality shining through, even if it isn’t ‘typical minimalist’. (Something yellow always makes me happy).
5. Always make room to sit and gather
Our table was the gathering spot in our home. And as we did our renos, I knew I wanted to bring in space to gather. My husband teases me because I have been talking about a ‘dining nook’ since our very first home. I am obsessed with dining nooks, and now I think we have a pretty cozy, hygge one. (I talk more about gathering spots and kids hanging out at home with you in this episode)
And for those of you who are wondering what we did with our beloved table, we kept it in the family. I passed it on to my older sister, her house is the default gathering place. So we all get to gather around it for special holidays.