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Anyone have a minimalist kitchen?

What's the least a person can get by on, in terms of utensils and equipment? I've read the Chowhound link from the NY Times (I think ) article, but I love personal stories. They motivate me. I'm trying to declutter and streamline to the point of minimalism but there's a lot of stuff I take for granted in the kitchen, because I have room to store it.

Ok, motivate me please!

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  1. Start with a good sharp knife and cutting board. With good knife skills you can eliminate many utensils.

    A story that happened this past Sunday night. We had a dinner party for 20 people. My cousin and his wife stayed after everyone had gone and while looking at my kitchen said, "If I were to do it again I would have planned my kitchen different. More like yours. You have all your appliances out but I guess you use them. All we have is fake/pretty stuff on the counter. Well he didn't actually say stuff. We both had a good laugh because his wife is like a minimalist in that she wants nothing on her counter tops except art. Before we started our kitchen remodel project my wife and I had philosophical differences on even what a kitchen is. To me the kitchen is a work place and to her it is a show place. I got my stuff on the counter but she got to design her show place. Bottom line from my point of view. I don't like a lot of useless things but do want the essentials out and ready to use.

    1 Reply
    1. re: scubadoo97

      Over the past few months I've been on a counter-clearing mission. I have pretty much successfully removed almost everything from the countertop except a bread basket, a utensil crock, a drainboard next to the sink and some cutting boards. It's so much easier to work without a knife block, a flour canister, a coffee maker, etc taking up space!

      I have too much other stuff in the cabinets to qualify as a minimalist, but I am working on it :-)

    2. Yeah, that's a great point. I keep my counters almost totally clear because clutter freaks me out, but I think if my cabinets and drawers were emptier, I wouldn't feel as if my kitchen were so cluttered. I would love to keep my stand mixer and my other appliances out. I have somewhat limited counter space. I'll challenge myself to declutter the rest of the house and then maybe allow some kitchen appliance clutter on the counter.

      I just want that feeling like when you rent a house or villa on vacation, and you can mess up every utensil and pot in the kitchen and be done washing in 5 minutes, and how you have to get creative to get it all done working with what you have.

      1. At the agricultural research institute where I work, my office is in a U shaped "motel" of maybe 25. At the bottom are the two lavs and, in-between, a simple kitchen (with its door open to the outside like our offices) with a sink, counter with a two-burner electric, and some counter space. In two of my filing cabinet drawers I have: two pots, a couple of pans, a cutting board, some knives, some chopsticks and tableware, some plastic plates and some ceramic bowls, a blender, bunch of condiments, rice, spices, oil, soy sauce, dried mushrooms, and so on. I cook by either getting to the office very early and putting on something for slow cooking (beans, lentils, stew, braised meats) or can cook up something--almost anything--during lunch hour. Cook for many at times. The kitchen can fit in a suitcase.

        1. My kitchen is tiny; a true galley kitchen. I have found, through the years, that all I really need is my two cast iron skillets, (always on the stove), a medium saucepan, a good knife, a good cutting board, and my cuisinart. I have other appliances and cookware, but the prior are what I use 95% of the time. Oh also, if you do any baking at all, you need some kind of counter space to roll out, knead dough. I would suggest that you take a look at your kitchen "stuff" and decide if it has more than one use. Also, if you have used it in the past year. I have a pretty fast rule that if it only serves one purpose and I don't need that purpose more than once a month, I find a way to do without. In fact, I do not think I have anything besides my French Press and coffee grinder that only have one use; and I use those daily. If you have something that you do not use very often, but is essential to something you do occasionally, consider storing it someplace other than your kitchen.

          1. A few years ago, I spent a couple months in a "furnished" corporate apartment. The kitchen furnishings consisted of two place settings, a coffee maker, a stove, a microwave, and a large binder of take out menus. I bought some stuff, which fit in one box, for the most part, when I left. I ended up with:
            three knives -- a chef's knife, a 6" utility, and a paring knife
            a swing-away can opener
            a set of nesting mixing bowls
            measuring cup set (dry)
            2 cup liquid measure
            measuring spoons
            a skillet
            2 four or five quart sauce pans with lids
            two loaf pans
            a pie pan
            a couple cookie sheets (these days, I'd go for half-sheet pans)
            a rolling pin
            a pastry blender
            a handheld electric mixer
            coffee grinder
            a largish strainer
            some spatulas
            pancake turner

            I'm probably forgetting things, but nothing big. These days, I'd add an electronic scale, and maybe a mandoline, a couple whisks, cake pans. a lot of that depends on what you cook. If you never make bread -- which I make lots of -- you'd probably not need loaf pans.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dscheidt

              Great list - I'd add tongs - I use them for so many different things ....

            2. We have two homes - the kitchen in Mexico is minimalist and the kitchen in Denver is ultra-minimalist.
              In Mexico I had a large dish pantry built off the dining room. There are two floor to ceiling cabinets for dishes and baking pans. Also there is a large stainless steel rack that I got at Costco to hold the kitchen electrical appliances. There are no cabinets on the cooking end of the kitchen. Counters are granite and hold the knife block and 2 utensil holders. Under the counters are 5 arched openings to hold cookware, wine and under the sink cleaning supplies. I had two big rectangular baskets made to tidy up the cleaning supply area. On the other end of the kitchen there is a large food pantry and a built-in storage-display cabinet. This area is not minimalist at all. My pottery collection is displayed there.
              When we built the house in Mexico, we moved most of our kitchen "stuff" to Mexico and left the Denver house furnished for our 4 visits per year. I have dishes for 4, stainless for 4, 2 skillets, 2 saucepans, a stock pot, 1 pie plate, 1 cookie sheet, 2 knives, 2 cutting boards, a few plastic spoons and a few wooden spoons. The only electric appliances are my stick blender and a crock pot. The only things on the counter are a bowl of fruit and a jar filled with daffodils.
              When we go back to Mexico, I'm having a sale to get rid of most of my kitchen stuff. If you only use it once a year, why keep it.

              1. Well, I made a good first pass today and eliminated some things (we've having a big living estate sale in a month) and identified some other things to move to storage in the garage for large-scale entertaining. We only do that about 1-2 times per year but since I have storage in the garage there's some stuff I'm just reluctant to let go of - giant catering-sized platters, an oversized crockpot, etc.

                I hope to make another couple of hard efforts at letting go before the sale, and then any extra money can go towards something "of quality" in the kitchen when it comes time to replace something.

                1. When I first got a kitchen in grad school I bought a basic set of gear:
                  - Joy of Cooking
                  - 2 qt sauce pan, Revereware like my mom's
                  - 8" iron skillet
                  - 1 1/2 qt pyrex baking dish, with lid that matched the skillet
                  - 7" chefs knife
                  - cutting board
                  - paring knife
                  - a few wood spoons
                  - flat grater (which also worked for spaetzle)
                  - set of measuring spoons and cups
                  - odds and ends of tableware and plates

                  My current set of camp cook gear isn't much more elaborate
                  - 2 sauce pans in the 1-2 qt range, mostly for boiling water
                  - nonstick skillet that doubles as lid
                  - nonstick aluminum wok (9" GSI) - for stuff that sticks
                  - assorted spatulas, wood and plastic spoons
                  - lightweight plates, bowls, cups, and tableware for 2+ people.
                  - 5" Santoku knife

                  While I have owned a food processor and blender in the past, currently I am happy with a Braun 4-in-one hand mixer, immersion blender, and food chopper.

                  My home kitchen is minimalist when it comes to appliances, but not when it comes to pots and pans. Still I like ones that do double duty, such as the 10" aluminum dutch oven that works well with coals while camping, and on the stove or oven at home.

                  paulj

                  1. As a recent student and international nomad (six kitchens in four years!), I had to streamline pretty intensely. Now that I'm more settled, I've really enjoyed buying things for the kitchen, but I've tried to be pretty disciplined about it. I think there are very few truly minimalist kitchens where there's nothing extraneous - since the average cook's cooking style changes with time and trends (yesterday's crockpot is today's wok is tomorrow's sorbettiere for too many of us!), there's always a cupboard somewhere stuffed with unused cookie cutters, pasta machines and fondue sets!

                    I think the trick (which I'm trying to master) is not to hang onto things you really don't need. Rather than put something in a deep dark cupboard, convinced I'll use it one day or once a year, I try to imagine if someone else might get joy out of using it and certainly more wear out of it than I do. Spring decimating (rather than cleaning) is a good opportunity to have a party; I put out all the stuff I'm not using, have friends and cousins and sisters over for coffee and let them pick out stuff they'd like. My sister and I do this with our wardrobes too (it's amazing how much pleasure a new shirt/frying pan can give someone else). Then if you really think you'll need that pot once a year, you can borrow it back for that big dinner party.

                    I find there's always a younger relative or cousin or friend moving into his/her own flat who would be glad to get a set of pyrex dishes. It's become a bit of a joke among our friends; who next gets the ugly retro 70s baking dish which is nonetheless useful when you're starting out?

                    And anything that no one wants? Charity shops. It'll make you feel good.

                    1. I rent a studio apt., so I have had to become much more of a minimalist than I was when I first moved in here. Here's how I keep at least 65% of my counter top clear:
                      I got rid of the microwave b/c I wanted to see more "open" space. I do not own a coffee maker, since I make my coffee on the stove (the moka pot sits on the back of the stove at all times) and I keep my coffee in the fridge. I only own as many plates, bowls, glasses and measuring cups as I can fit in my tiny cabinets, and as many cooking utensils as I can fit in one canister (which doubles as a pitcher) on the counter. Those utensils are:
                      wooden spoon
                      flat wooden spatula
                      rubber spatula
                      tongs
                      stainless ladle
                      whisk
                      two microplane graters
                      large plastic strainer spoon
                      I keep my mix-n-match knives in the drawer with my cutlery.
                      I keep a toaster and combo food processor/blender on a small side shelf, a cutting board under the sink, baking pans in the oven and skillets, enameled cast iron dutch oven, sauce pots and pasta/stock pot with insert are all carefully stacked in one medium-sized cupboard.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                        Specialty items, such as a fondue set, cupcake transporters, cocktail shakers, cookie cutters and who knows what else, are in a storage crate one shelf in my utility closet. I know that some of these things don't pass the "have I used this in the past six months?" test, but whenever I do look for them, I am glad they're there.
                        I'd keep a lot more "stuff" around if I could...

                      2. I lived on a small sailboat for 18+ months and cooked quite well in my teeny galley. Floor space was 6 square feet, counters on either side were just under 2x3 feet; one side included a small pump sink and the other, a two-burner alcohol stove (and no refrigeration). I maximized counter workable area by fitting cutting boards over the sink hole and stove. Essentials were a good set of knives (stored flat in a thin wooden rack against the wall), good cutting boards (doubled as serving dishes), cast iron griddle for making tortillas, flatbread, naan, toast, etc., and my mixing bowls nested, pans nested. I also had a pressure cooker.

                        My kitchen now is not much bigger but I don't have that much stuff. My appliances are a coffee grinder, an immersion blender, sink, small fridge, and 4-burner stove with oven. The only things on my counter (ahem, under ideal circumstances, that is) are a fruit bowl (a colander actually), can with utensils, and dishrack. All pans hang over the stove and all knives are stored flat on the wall.

                        1. You really can't minimize without limiting your cooking capabilities in one way or another. It all depends on what you like to do, as other's have said.

                          Maybe divide kitchen items into things used (on average) daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. I say a minimalist would forgo the things used yearly. A nomad would forgo the monthly items, while a vagabond or survivalist would only carry the daily items.
                          Here's my breakdown for example:
                          Daily: coffee grinder, electric kettle, melitta manual coffee cone, chef's knife, bread knife, cutting board, 5 qt sauce pan, 2 skillets (cast iron and nonstick), tongs, mixing bowl(s), big spoon, thermometer, scale, measuring cups/spoons
                          Weekly: blender, stand mixer, sheet pans, corkscrew, whisk, grater/microplane, cooling rack, rubber spatula, toaster, can opener
                          Monthly: food processor, electric griddle, george foreman (for panini's and waffles), lime squeezer, pizza cutter, peeler, stock pot, dutch oven, wok, pie pan, salad spinner, crockpot, rolling pin, fry basket/spider
                          Yearly: roaster pan, bamboo steamer, spring form pan, electric carving knife, cupcake/muffin pans, cookie cutters, hot plate, hand mixer, toaster oven

                          I'm considering the foodmill/sausage maker attachment for the stand mixer, but that would probably go under the "yearly" catagory. This would be more of a hobby I guess.

                          In my experience (from friends and family), things that collect dust are ice cream makers, rice makers, bread makers, counter top rotissere, juicers, electric hot pocket makers (ie GT Xpress), and miniature food processors (ie Magic Bullet)....hm, basically the stuff being advertised on those 3 am cable tv commercials.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: jtpeters

                            Once you get past the very basics, it doesn't take much equipment to make nearly anything. There are, of course, some things that require specialized equipment -- it's hard to make waffles without an iron, for instance -- but not really that many. Lots of things on your list are utter luxuries. There are very few things that you can't make without a stand mixer. There's little a food processor does that you can't do with a knife. Yes, it may be more work, and yes, you may not do them by hand because of that, but it's not that you can't.

                            1. re: dscheidt

                              That's true. I used to make bread dough with a bowl, spoon, and my hands. We got the stand mixer as a wedding gift, and I haven't looked back. I just based my list on my own cooking habits and how often I use certain items in the kitchen. I should've mentioned that I'm a far cry from being minimal.

                            2. re: jtpeters

                              I can't imagine using a thermometer or a scale in my daily cooking! (I only use a thermo when roasting large cuts of meat, and I bake pretty well even without the scale). I use my toaster oven (on your "yearly" list) every single day. So personal cooking style definitely matters in naming the "essentials."

                              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                I use a scale pretty frequently, but that is in part because I cook from some non-US cookbooks, and it's a lot faster than doing the conversions. I also feel more secure baking with a scale. I rarely use a meat thermometer though.

                                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                  I guess it does sound silly, but I do use my scale and thermometer often. I'll admit it's not necessary all the time - It's not like I'm temping a bowl of noodles - but it helps me be more consistent.

                                  1. re: jtpeters

                                    I should add - I don't cook large cuts of meat very often, and can handle roast chicken w/o a thermometer, but when I do, a thermometer does come in handy.

                                  2. re: Hungry Celeste

                                    I use my toaster oven almost daily too. Couldn't imagine doing without it. It's a terrific supplement to my range, and for heating smaller things, beats the heck out of heating up the much bigger oven in the range. (I do have a microwave but there are lots of things I don't like to heat/cook in there - tastes funny to me, especially meat.)

                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                      I was going to mention I use my peeler at least on an every-other day basis. For cheese, choc, and of course veggies!

                                      And my salad spinner about every two to three days for floating and swishing greens!

                                2. Sorry, I can't. If there were a support group out there for kitchen stuff-aholics, I would be at the weekly meetings. Nope, the older I get, the more great stuff I want. I just enjoy it so much. However, in all fairness -- my kitchen is huge, and I have tons of storage space with acres of countertops to leave appliances on. When I lived in a small apartment with a galley kitchen, I had less in it, so clever storage was key. Pots had to nest, I hung things up on a wall with hooks, and I only had one of most utensils.

                                  I guess I understand. Sometimes I do find myself admiring the empty countertops that some of my neighbors have, save for a few art pieces and dried flower arrangements. But that is not for me. Good luck.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: RGC1982

                                    Yes, this is exactly how I feel. I have a fairly good sized kitchen and I love kitchen stuff too. I'm careful about what I buy in terms of utility and design (hate to waste money) but I really love my stuff. And especially since I bake a lot I have a ton of stuff just for that. (This is of course all in addtion to my cookware - that's a whole other story...) All kinds of cookie cutters (from huge ones to a full collection of miniature cutters) all kinds of cake and tart and tarlet pans, brioche molds, bread pans, muffin tins, popover pans, decorating tools, revolving cake stands, etc. etc. etc. (Never mind the exploding personal library of cookbooks and baking books that is threatening to take over the house.) It is glorious abundance and I revel in it. I feel very fortuante to be able to have the stocked kitchen that I have and wouldn't have it any other way.

                                  2. Well I don't know about "least", because that would be a really small list- my wooden spoon, a knife, a board, a cup, a saucepan, a heavy bottom pot, and a fork (to whisk). However, I keep it to a minimum. I have 3 pots- a saucepan, a high sided skillet and a heavy bottom pot. For tools I really like tongs, a spatula and my seasoned wooden spoon. I could live without the food processor (use it mainly for salsa and pizza dough). One cheap cutting board works. A measuring cup helps if you bake. I have a lovely rice cooker, but I can cook rice without it. I am in the "minimal on the counter" camp. No appliances reside up top except the kid's blender for his protein shakes. I have a Wusthof knife block, but I could do with the Forschners and cheapos in my drawers. It really depends on how you cook and what you like.

                                    1. We have just re-done our kitchen, and one of the great pleasures is being able to free-up counter space by having a large storage closet in the mud room adjacent to the kitchen. Because we had to pack-up and re-pack everything in the kitchen, we did do a lot of throwing out, but I don't think I could be truly happy with my kitchen if it were truly minimalist. I love not having to make do and I love having the right pan for everything I need to bake or cook.

                                      1. It is worthwhile, I think, to pull out all the pots, pans, and small appliances from the cabinets and note which get used and what just gathers dust. I did this a while back and rid myself of a number of items. I then felt free to reorganize what was left and even to acquire a couple of new pans, namely a Viking saute pan and a CIA saucier. Let's be honest, over the years our cooking styles and needs change. I would urge anyone with a wok or fondue pot from the 80s to rid themselves of the clutter.

                                        Another approach, of course, is to imagine all one's pots have been lost in a cross country move. If you were starting over, what exactly would you buy? What brand(s), sizes, types of gear would you buy today, starting from scratch?

                                        Bottom line, in my not so humble opinion: I'd rather have half a dozen quality pieces of cookware than two dozen mediocre ones. I would much prefer three good knives to a dozen cheap ones.

                                        Anyone weighing these concerns should consider the dishes they make regularly. If you sear steaks twice a week, a cast iron pan may be your most treasured bit of cookware. If you make pasta three times a week, the pasta pot is your baby. And if you saute fish often, that 12 inch nonstick pan is number one in your kitchen.

                                        1. I now live in an apartment that may have the smallest kitchen I've ever used (though I otherwise like the place). I have exactly one counter, on which I keep the dish drainer, leaving me enough space for one cutting board. Since I'd rather use that space for other things, I have a cutting board whose length is exactly right to form a bridge across the top of my sink. I cut and chop over the sink, and sweep peels and what not into the produce bag the vegetable in question came in. I'm very organized about this.

                                          What I can't do in this apt. are (a) bake and (b) make pasta. I don't want to do anything with flour in the living room, so I've pretty much given up on these things for the time being. I let a friend borrow my pasta machine on a very long term basis, and his husband has gone to town making pasta (he's a BIG Marcella fan). So it's worked out well. I get to eat fresh pasta without making it myself (I do miss doing it, though).

                                          I have two tiers of Metro shelving in the adjacent hallway/dinette that hold my cookbooks, my three sets of dishes, and most of my cookware (whatever isn't sitting on the stovetop at the moment). I keep a kitchen drawer filled with the batterie de cuisine items I use most, and what doesn't fit in the drawer sits in a box under the sink.

                                          I think I've made truly good accomodations to my now minimalist cooking style. The only thing I miss is having my Cuisinart right on the counter where I can use it without shlepping in in from its place on a shelf.

                                          My next kitchen purchase will be a 42" round Jens Risom dining table, which will actually go in the LR. My kitchen may be small, but I've made everything look nice.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: Jay F

                                            Thanks for sharing your circumstances. Sometimes we forget that we can make things a lot better by thinking, planning and executing. I agree that you've made a good accommodation to your situation.

                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                              Thanks, Sue. It's always nice to hear from you.

                                            2. re: Jay F

                                              I have two tiers of Metro shelving in the adjacent hallway/dinette that hold my cookbooks, my three sets of dishes, and most of my cookware
                                              ~~~~~~
                                              do you have any space over there for a small prep cart? you can wheel it over to use while you're cooking, then stash it back in its place once you're finished. and if it's one with a drawer and a shelf or two for extra storage, that's a bonus.

                                              also, re: the cookware that's sitting on the stove, have you considered mounting a ceiling rack?

                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                GHG: "do you have any space over there for a small prep cart? you can wheel it over to use while you're cooking, then stash it back in its place once you're finished. and if it's one with a drawer and a shelf or two for extra storage, that's a bonus."

                                                I could squeeze one in, probably, if I move a bookcase. I think this is a great idea, btw, and I'll look into it. It could be where I keep my Cuisinart.

                                                "also, re: the cookware that's sitting on the stove, have you considered mounting a ceiling rack?"

                                                The cookware on the stove is there simply because I'm going to use it again soon. There's room on my shelves for all my cookware--it looks nice, even. I'm just being a little lazy in keeping a few things on the stove (usually my 2 qt. AC saucepan, a 4.5 or 5.5 LC, and always the teakettle). Thanks for this suggestion too, though, GHG.

                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                  you know i'm always happy to help if i can! i've done the teeny kitchen thing before - both my NYC apartments had that wonderful layout where there wasn't enough clearance for me to open a drawer, or the oven, or the fridge, if i was standing directly in front of it :)

                                                  the cart i used to have was terrific because it had leaves that laid down flat on either side, and you could just raise one or both if you needed to expand the surface area. (in fact, when i moved to a place with a big kitchen and a breakfast nook - out in Los Angeles, of course - i bought a couple of simple stools that matched the finish, and used it as a little dinette/bar set.)

                                                  it was similar to this:
                                                  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Tuscan-Wheele...

                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                    That's very nice. It would also give me pasta making space.

                                            3. For twenty years, my entire batterie de cuisine was: 6" Sabatier chef's knife and steel, cutting board, 9" cast iron skillet (1930s), 4-qt enameled cast iron Dutch oven, 2.5 qt saucepan of heavy anodized aluminum, 2-qt enameled cast iron casserole, quarter-sheet baking pan, pyrex pie pan, loaf pan, and 9x13" baker; mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, whisk, wooden spoons, rubber spatula, box grater, peeler, pastry cutter, and a pepper mill. Oh, and a blender, and a cast aluminum crepe and omelet pan -- graduation gifts that were put to constant use.

                                              Never felt deprived, and could probably get by today with the same equipment if I could also have my 11" saute pan with lid, a silicon spoonula, and a pair of tongs. [Several pieces of that original batterie are still in regular use here: the skillet, Dutch oven, and small casserole, and the pyrex pie pan.]

                                              1. Should probably add my direct answer to the original post, which is that I don't have a minimalist kitchen. But it's a lot closer than it was just a few years ago.

                                                After merging my own fairly complete cooking setup into the kitchen my mother cooked in for forty years, I took the Apartment Therapy "Kitchen Cure" a couple of times, most recently this spring when a new kitchen sink and faucet required emptying the lower cabinets. After streamlining and upgrading the quality of some basics, I can honestly say that the kitchen contains nothing that isn't used at least several times a year -- and that there are only one or two items in the formerly vast "Kitchen Siberia" in the garage.

                                                1. Nice subject; glad it got resurrected. My kitchen counters are meant to be inhabited by only a few things. Food processor, mixer, blender and storage containers are housed in appliance garages, which is to me the ideal way to store them. They are handy, but they are hidden.

                                                  I keep 2 small electrics out: a coffee maker and a convection/toaster oven. I have a small chest of drawers in one corner, to balance the appliance garages in the opposite corner. A keep a couple of pottery canisters out and that is it. I have a lot of counter space. If I only had half as much, I'd have even less out. I like having only functional items out on my counters. I don't want tchotchkes in the way of my cooking.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                    In full agreement with :: having only functional items out on ... counters ::

                                                    Half the counter-height workspace here is a short stretch between the stove and sink. The rear of it (against the wall, under an overhead cabinet) holds utensil jars, oil, salt, pepper mill, and butter crock. On the similar rear edge of a lower worktable are the toaster and microwave. Other than those, everything's in cabinets, drawers, and shelves, or hung.

                                                    Occasionally, there will be fruit or veg in mixing bowls, which can be as annoying-though-decorative as any tchochkes if they aren't used right away.