I’ve been asked many times how we’re surviving without a kitchen. I have to admit, there were a few weeks of adjustment for us, but now things are humming along relatively easily. We have a makeshift kitchen and a dishwashing set up that works for us. But, living without a kitchen is a bit like being on SURVIVOR. Come on in and I’ll show you the behind the scenes peek into our lives and share some tips to help make your kitchen remodel a little easier should you choose to take on the challenge!
First, before emptying your kitchen, plan a spot for your alternate kitchen. A room that is large enough to accommodate a small table and chairs, your basic dishes, the refrigerator (optional) and some counter space is the ideal. For us, the perfect spot was the dining room, which normally didn’t see a lot of use. In fact, my sons remarked that it felt like it was a holiday when we first started living out of our dining room because we only ate in there on holidays before the kitchen renovation project.
Second, take time to think through a little space planning where everything will fit in this new space. Measure the fridge and see if you can fit it somewhere in that space. If not, find a location nearby that you can locate the fridge (the closer to your makeshift kitchen the better.)
Third, collect all your daily necessities from the kitchen (dishes, pots, pans, small appliances, etc.) Be brutally honest when it comes to these necessities. You really want to have the bare minimum in your makeshift kitchen. This is not the time to have your specialty pans and spices at hand.
Fourth, box up all the non-essentials from your kitchen and label the boxes with the contents on the sides.
Fifth, move everything out of the kitchen, except the range (more about that later.)
Dishwashing and water - Living without a sink is definitely the hardest adjustment. Having a convenient location to wash your dishes is key. Also a location to stack dirty dishes until you can clean them is a huge help.
We have a tray that sits in the makeshift kitchen. During and after mealtimes we can fill the tray with dirty dishes and then transport them to the dishwashing station to eliminate multiple trips.
We washed dishes in the bathroom sink for a little while, but that proved a huge pain in the butt. It just wasn’t deep enough and it took forever to wash them. Plus, there was very little space for a drying rack and frankly there was something a little gross about going to the bathroom next to your clean dishes.
A step up from the bathroom sink is what I call the DIY Farmhouse sink. I discovered that a Coleman cooler makes a really fabulous farmhouse sink! Fill the cooler with warm soapy water from inside the house. Wash your dishes in the cooler and empty the soapy water by pulling the plug. If you have a garden hose nearby, you could spray the soapy water off the dishes and then stack them in the drying rack to bring inside. This worked for a while until the weather turned cold or it rained. Then I moved the cooler indoors and put it in the bathtub. If the weather stays mild you could set up a cooler on a folding table on a covered porch for a more semi-permanent solution.
If you have a utility sink in your laundry room, you can set up a dishwashing station in there. This has proved to be the best solution for us. No more bending over, and the sink is large enough to set a small plastic dishpan inside to wash and rinse dishes.
I also set up a small ladder and some scrap boards for a larger drying rack.
After the dishes are dry, we can carry the drying rack with all the dishes still in it back to the makeshift kitchen and put them away.
Water Dispenser – This isn’t a necessity, but having water accessible in your makeshift kitchen is a bonus. A water cooler with bottled water has been a huge convenience during our renovation. If you ever wanted one, use this as an excuse to buy one while you are renovating.
Countertops and Prep Space - Not having a space to spread out your meal preps is another inconvenience. But, you can set up makeshift counters by utilizing the moving boxes you filled. While you have most of your kitchen packed up, you’ll have to store the boxes someplace anyway. Stack them up and use scrap boards or folding tables for the tops of the counters. Make clean up easier by covering the boards with plastic or oil-cloth table cloths. Have one or two cutting boards set up for chopping and food preparation. If you need to access any of your specialty cooking items that you packed away, you can find them by looking for the labeled box. Just keep in mind that taking apart your makeshift counters means you have to disassemble everything.
Cooking - Ahhh, the biggest question everyone has is, “How are you cooking?” In the beginning while we were still in shock, I did accept offers of help from friends in the form of meals. This was huge, because neither of us could think clearly (especially with all the HEPA filters running 24/7.) But, as the meals dwindled, we became more resourceful and were ready to get back to being self-sufficient.
- Grill – cooking outside on the propane grill is great for everything from the usual burgers and hot dogs to shish-kabob and grilled pizza (I’m seriously in love with this Corn Pesto Grilled pizza.) You can also use the grill like a regular stove top by leaving the lid open and setting your pans on the grate.
- Microwave – The microwave gets a daily work out for heating meals like soups, reheating leftovers and making scrambled eggs (put the scrambled egg mixture in a microwave safe bowl and stir every 30 seconds of cooking until they are the desired consistency.) You can also boil water for pasta in the microwave. We had the built-in microwave removed and moved into our makeshift kitchen instead of buying another countertop microwave. Here are 6 ideas for microwave cooked meals. And I’m sure you can find many more by googling “Microwave Meals”.
- Crockpot – I haven’t used the crockpot as much as I should, but this is the easiest way to cook when you are kitchenless. There are numerous crockpot recipes online. Here’s a link to a few in my Pinterest board of crockpot recipes.
- Toaster Oven – If you have a decent sized toaster oven, you can use it as a mini-oven. Ours is big enough to bake nuggets or reheat two slices of pizza.
- Oven/Stovetop – As soon as the subfloor was back in the kitchen, we moved our range back in and plugged it in. The oven sits all by its lonesome in the middle of the gutted kitchen, but I cover it with plastic when not in use. And although I still have to wipe off drywall dust from the top every night, it’s worth it to have an oven and cooktop again. If you are making due without the oven/stove, you can use a small plug in hot plate for frying or boiling water.
- Pre-made meals – While using a makeshift kitchen you want to keep meal prep and dishes to a minimum. Buying pre-made meals is a huge time and effort saver. Recently, I picked up a few pre-made meals like salmon, shrimp and stuffed peppers at Costco. Of course, TV dinners and freezer meals are also easy to make, but they aren’t the healthiest choice in the long run.
- Carryout – in the beginning we did eat carryout more than usual (2 times a week.) But, our waistlines and our wallets were being negatively impacted by all the restaurant food. We quickly moved back to cooking ourselves using the resources above.
Dishes and utensils - Before our kitchen was packed up, I grabbed 8 place settings (enough for two meals for each person in our family.) We also stocked up on paper plates and paper products, although we use our regular plates more now that we have a decent dishwashing area.
Pantry - Hopefully you have a separate pantry that you can keep stocked and accessibly during renovation. If not, plan on setting up temporary shelving for your food. If you have pets that might get into your food, pay attention to how accessible your food is to them or put up a barrier to keep them away. Wire shelves and small bookcases make a great space for pantry food storage. Big baskets work wonders to corral snacks and like items.
Dining – Set up a small table in your makeshift kitchen if you have the room. Taking the leaves out of a larger table can make it a more manageable size that will work in your space. This may sound like a no brainer, but turning the table so the chairs are diagonal to the walls allowed us more room to walk around.
Contain the mess – During renovation, set up plastic sheeting in the doorways of your kitchen while it is under construction. Things will likely get messy and you want to contain the dust and mess as best you can. In order to keep the rest of the house as clean as possible, change your air filter monthly instead of quarterly. And use higher quality and higher MPR air filters to catch the small particles.
Words of advice – Establish a routine early on so everyone gets used to it. Show children where to stack their dishes and where everything is so they can adjust. Bring your pet’s food and water into the makeshift kitchen if it was in the kitchen before. Show your animals where their food and water is to minimize stress on them. But, most importantly, be prepared to roll with the punches. Renovations rarely happen without a snag or hiccup here and there. And they almost never finish early. Make sure you take time to relax and de-stress. Get out of the house to clear your mind. And focus on the finished product.
I have been equating our experience to the SURVIVOR™ TV show. I have to put up with the less than desirable conditions and challenges of a kitchen renovation in order to win the kitchen of my dreams ;-).
Good luck to you and remember you are going to have a beautiful new kitchen when this is done!
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