Thirteen years ago we moved into our house in Seattle. Within a few months, we started planning our “Dream BIG Kitchen” remodel. And big it was with an eat-in island, two sinks with two garbage disposals, and stretches of granite counter space to make a professional baker blush. Predictably, we augmented our standard size refrigerator with both a second beverage refrigerator and a freezer downstairs. Oh, and we designed the kitchen around the possibility of one day supersizing our refrigerator but only after investing a small fortune to upgrade our gas range. We moved to Europe soon after the range improvement, before I had even scratched the surface of all its’ high performance features or learned that the Europeans aren’t on board with the virtues of gas cooking.
Initially put off with the much smaller sized European kitchens, I have come to appreciate that small is sometimes better. We want our computers smaller, our class sizes smaller, and as it turns out – though we may not think we *want* our kitchens smaller, there are advantages to a smaller culinary footprint.
For starters, there are pluses for having a fridge with less than half the storage capacity of a normal American frig. (The advantages of not having a garbage disposal are slightly harder to tease out.) With bigger frigs, we buy more, eat more and waste more. Might there be a connection between our refrigerator and clothing sizes? Twenty two cubic feet of chilly means there is enough room for that gigantic tub of artichoke jalapeno dip and hidden nooks and crannies for expired items to go and die. With a smaller frig, saying yes to that taunting dip means saying no to tonight’s properly stored chicken breasts. While ten cubic feet isn’t dorm room sized, it does force you to make more menu driven purchases and consume food when fresh. Food simply tastes better when fresh, and I honestly throw a lot less of it away in exchange for more frequent trips to the grocery store. Wilty lettuce be gone! Frozen meatballs from 2012 – see ya! Pre-packaged stuff – seriously, how big is your container? On the flip side of all this intentioned wholesomeness, it also means that sometimes your OJ has to be at room temperature – and that is not ideal.
Second, while gadgets are a thrill upon first acquisition, a small kitchen requires that thingamajig be indispensable. Your microwave will not make the cut. Neither will your coffee maker, ice cream maker, electric griddle and very sadly – your standing Kitchen Aid Mixer. (Though this last one is open for review.) Leftovers will need to be re-heated on the stove, cookie dough will need to be hand mixed, and you’ll be expected to scrap the food off your plates into the garbage can just like the olden days. You’ll also need to dig out the coffee grounds from your French Press by hand and jettison your blender (a newly acquired gadget) to the floor for storage. Having ten plates means you’ll run the dishwasher (oh how I love thee) more often, but you’ll also know where every one of them is. When we scale down our gadgets or anything for that matter, the things that remain are the ones with the greatest utility and strongest personal significance. Turns out I CAN live without my Panini maker, but my mortar and pestle is more than worthy of counter space. It is so much easier to decide what’s important and keep things tidy when every inch counts.
Third, while I loved my open kitchen back home – there is a little bit of wonder in having a kitchen with doors that close. Along with floor to ceiling windows that let in natural light, a central light fixture that reminds me of our move-in week, if my kitchen back home celebrated communal living, the one here marks a quiet sanctuary. The separation from the rest of the apartment means that I can be quiet by myself or really listen to a podcast or a person who’s crossed the door divide. While there is less space for lots of helping hands, there is certainly enough room for a pair of them. Many of life’s great conversations happen near a sink of dirty dishes.
As I sway in the tighter grooves of my kitchen work triangle with proximity to everything I need, I am reminded that some of us are asked to live big and some of us are asked to live small. There are people, or perhaps seasons in certain people’s lives, where they are invited to spread their energy over a wide area. Those people are fun to watch. For most of us though, we are called to concentrate our effort in a small area – within a tight radius – but where our potential for impact can be great. Some great meals have come out of this small kitchen. Small businesses enjoy having a relationship with their customers. Small airlines fly to places that don’t make economic sense for the big airlines. Small talk opens the door for deeper conversation. Small means you are nimble enough to change, and while it might be hard to extend your footprint, there’s always more vertical space to explore.
“No one can do great things; but each of us can do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa