A Minimalist Bridal Registry (Part One): Some Guiding Principles and Items to Avoid

Putting together a minimalist bridal registry: suggestions for guiding principles, and a list of items to avoid.

(This post idea came from reader Laura. Congrats on your engagement, Laura! It started getting ridiculously long, so I had to break it into two parts. Who knew I had so much to say on bridal registries? Here, I offer some suggestions in what to look for when registering, as well of some things I don’t recommend. In my next post, I’ll share a list of the items I do recommend.)

When I was creating my bridal registry nine years ago, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was 20. I had never lived alone. I hadn’t done a lot of cooking, and I didn’t know what I would need.

I made my registry at Wal-Mart and registered for all the cheapest stuff I could find. I thought I was doing my guests a favour, and didn’t think there was any difference between expensive stuff and cheap stuff except cachet. I ended up getting a lot of things myself from the dollar store, thinking it was just as good as anything. I had no experience with that kind of thing and didn’t know what would actually be worth a splurge.

It’s been almost nine years since then, and I’ve learned a thing or two about what I actually find useful, and what’s worth the extra cash. I’ve also discovered what is a total waste of money, and just adds to the clutter.

I regret most of my registry choices. Most of it ended up being junk that needed to be replaced in a matter of  years. I’ve spent the years since replacing many of those things with useful, good-quality items that I hope will last the rest of my life.

So I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve amassed since then.

(Note: You’ll notice that I’ve chosen to focus on items for the kitchen. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, these items make up the bulk of most registries, and my list was already a mile long with just kitchen stuff. Second, the kitchen is the heart of my home, and I have the most opinions on the matter. And third, most of the other items you’d register for will be very specific to your particular home, lifestyle, and tastes.)

Here are some guiding principles I suggest when putting together a bridal registry:

  • Look for durable items. Have long-lasting in mind. Things like sturdy drinking glasses and reliable brands (e.g. Corelle for dishes).
  • Look for classic styles that won’t quickly go out of date. They might feel like the more boring choices, but at least they won’t look dated in ten years. (And I want my stuff to last more than ten years.) In other words, you might want to avoid aqua, chevron, and bird silhouettes. They look pretty now, but they’re the dusty roses and forest greens of tomorrow.
  • Avoid plastic. It will crack and melt. There are a few exceptions (like Rubbermaid storage containers), but plastic is generally not made to last. Plus, you risk leaching toxins into your food. Choose glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and wood where possible.
  • Avoid items that only serve one purpose. You can’t always do this (i.e. you probably want a butter tray to only store butter); but in general, try to think of a few good items that are multi-purpose instead of buying a hundred different things, each with its own purpose. How often are you really going to use a strawberry huller?

Before I offer my list of suggestions, I thought it might be useful to start  with the following:

Surprising items you won’t see on my list:

I’ve nixed the following items — even though they’re incredibly popular and can be found in most kitchens and bridal registries — either because they’re questionable in terms of toxicity; they’re not made to last; or they only serve one function (which would be better achieved with another tool).

  • Microwave. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I just don’t trust ’em. We reheat food either in the toaster oven or on the stovetop. It takes a few more minutes, but you get used to it.
  • Nonstick frying pan. Not only is Teflon kind of scary, but it’s way too delicate. All the nonstick pans I’ve ever owned are long gone because the coating chipped and flaked within the first couple of years. You definitely don’t want to ingest Teflon bits. I prefer stainless steel and cast iron for frying and stovetop cooking.
  • Stand mixer. You might find one of these useful later in life, or maybe you regularly bake in bulk. But I got a KitchenAid a few years ago and rarely use it. It takes up a substantial amount of counter space, and you can do most of those things by hand or with a food processor. A handheld mixer should suffice for making things like whipped cream. (I will concede that a KitchenAid is wonderful for its attachments — pasta maker, ice cream maker, grain grinder, etc.)
  • Knife block. You do not need that many knives. You need three. Most knives that come in a knife block, you’ll never use. And storing them on your counter takes up precious space that could be better used. More thoughts on knives in my next post.
  • Toaster. That’s a bulky appliance for only one function (toasting sliced bread). What a waste. We haven’t had one for years. Use a toaster oven.
  • Kettle. This might be different if you’re a big tea-drinker. But if you’re short on space, a pot on the stove-top works just as well and is much easier to clean.
  • Pizza pans. Again: these serve only one function. We make a lot of pizza, but we just use our rectangular baking stones (which we also use for almost everything else, too.)
  • Gadgets for grating, dicing, chopping, etc. These always sound great and I’ve owned my fair share but I never end up actually using them. I find a knife and cutting board more efficient (they’re always already out), and much easier to clean. (I find that any time you save using the gadget is more than used up with cleaning.)
  • Coffee-maker. I’ve omitted it simply because I don’t drink the stuff and therefore have no opinions on the matter. For what it’s worth, my husband loves his Keurig, which he uses with the reusable filter. (Please do not use K-Cups unless you hate money and your planet.)

So now that you have a few general principles to guide you, and you know what I don’t recommend, what do I recommend? My suggestions can be found here: A Minimalist Bridal Registry — Tools for a Lifetime of Fabulous Food.

Anything else you’d add to my avoid list? Do you think any of mine are crazy? What other guiding principles would you suggest?

Image courtesy of JD Hancock.

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  1. I’m intrigued by your toaster oven… I suspect that our microwave is about to die and that’ll make the second one in a year (we’ve had to go with second-hand ones because of cost, but as you point out it’s not very economical if you have to replace something more often). Since we switched to making oatmeal on the stove, we really only use the microwave for reheating and I’m thinking seriously about not replacing this one when it goes. But… should we just make do with our oven and stove for reheating? I’ve never had a toaster oven and wouldn’t know what to do with it. Would you comment about how you use yours?

    • Hi Adrienne! I was planning to go into more detail in my next post. I use my toaster all the time — for toasting bread, for reheating leftovers, and for baking small things like single pies, cheesecakes, etc. You just need to have some small glass or steel pans and containers for those things. Sometimes I’ll store portions of leftovers (esp casseroles, lasagna, etc) in glass containers with lids, and then for lunch the next day just pop it (sans lid) into the toaster oven to reheat. Does that help? I never, ever use the microwave anymore.

    • Oh my gosh. Our microwave died last February and we couldn’t afford/didn’t really want to replace it. I spent all year reheating and cooking on the stove or on the oven. For Christmas, I asked everyone for money toward a really nice toaster oven, and basically I have no idea how I survived without it. Because our oven is old and gas (as opposed to electric), it takes forever to heat and cooks very unevenly and inefficiently. The toaster oven cooks a beautiful pizza/small pan of whatever/dish of leftovers in less time than it takes the oven to preheat. And it’s much more energy efficient, too.

      We really don’t miss the microwave at all, but a toaster oven is now a MUST for me!

  2. I agree with most of these. I will say that I didn’t register for a KitchenAid when I got married, and it wasn’t until about two years ago that I really started to want one. Up until then I had always just used a hand mixer, but all of a sudden a KitchenAid started looking really attractive. Price was an obstacle, but lo and behold, my husband’s uncle got married. He and his wife each had a new KitchenAid, so one of them went to my MIL, who then gave me the KitchenAid she bought at a garage sale when she was married (35 years and still going strong!) It’s been amazing, and I will definitely replace it when it breathes its last. Honestly, I don’t even use it that much, but when I do, I love being able to walk away from what I’m mixing and focus on cleaning up the kitchen or whatever else needs doing. But it took me six or so years to get there, so I’m glad I didn’t register for it.

  3. I second everything you’ve recommended here. I always find it fascinating to look at people’s registries, although sometimes I become a little judgey because I just think, “That’s useless!” to so much of it.
    I use a toaster oven for all our reheating purposes, too. I’ll never go back to the microwave.
    My husband and I couldn’t agree on a dish pattern, so we didn’t register for any, and I’ve enjoyed amassing a neat collection of mismatched thrifted china (which is kinda wedding-trendy right now) but I frequently say, “I’m so glad we didn’t register for dishes because I would have just gotten sick of or regretted any one pattern we picked.” This is probably partly my dislike of too much matching, but I heartily agree on choosing a “boring” classic design over hip patterns (or shapes–square bowls???).

  4. Definitely agree with just about all of your list and your suggestions, especially about avoiding things with only one purpose- what a waste of space! I ended up getting a toaster when I got married, but looking back I do wish I had a toaster oven instead. When we registered we also ended up getting one of those Kapoosh knife blocks where you can stick your knives anywhere and that ended up working out pretty well so we could get whatever knives we wanted and weren’t stuck with what came with the block. It does take up a bit of counter space, however at the time we were in an apartment with limited drawer space and limited ability to make modifications- like adding those magnetic strips to the wall for hanging knives. I always love new storage ideas though, so I am looking forward to hearing your ideas about knives in your next post.

  5. Yay! I love you Kathleen! This is so perfectly timely. I was planning to work on my registry and get it mostly settled this coming weekend! I was already thinking along these same line for most things (things that serve multiple purposes, no microwave, cast iron/durable materials, few plastics, etc.) so this helps confirm that I’m on a good track.

    You make a good point about the stand mixer. I was unsure about that one because it’s so expensive and large, but we use ours at home a ton. There are also 9 of us, and I’ll be switching to cooking for only 2 once I’m married. We make all our own bread though and I was thinking it would be good to avoid a bread machine because of the non-stick baking pan and I figured a mixer could make bread and do other things as well. Ideally I would hand knead the dough, but I don’t know how realistic it is to expect that I’ll be motivated to make bread regularly if it takes so long. One of my thoughts is to visit home and bake my bread there once a week, which I’m sure my mom would love. I’m leaning towards not registering for one since the bread is really the only thing that makes me second guess that decision.

    I’m curious to see your suggestions on knives. That’s the one thing on the registry that my fiance said he wants to have a say in. Otherwise he said I can do whatever I want, but he wants to help look at knives. I don’t know yet what he has in mind though. We’ve always kept our knife block in a cabinet so it’s off the counter. I kindof like the look of knife blocks, but I don’t want a knife set so I don’t know if we’d be able to find one that would fit what we’re using, and we probably won’t have enough knives to even warrant one.

    The one thing on your list of things you don’t need that I will probably get is a kettle, I drink multiple cups of tea a day so it would be well used and I need that whistle to remind me that the water is boiling!

    We have lots of gadgets at home that have amassed over the years that I never use. I’m hoping that I have enough experience in the kitchen to know what I will and won’t use based on experience with what my mom has in her kitchen. I’m very much looking forward to the second half of this post!

  6. I agree with most of these things, with the exception of the knives, actually! We use almost all the knives in our block (6 steak and 6 other) all the time. In fact, I once told my husband that was one of the best gifts we got!

    So Carolyn, if your husband wants a big knife block, I say let him get it :)

    I have mixed feelings on the stand mixer. I do love being able to turn it on and walk away, being able to knead bread in it, etc. I don’t love the bulk or the fact that I think the Kitchenaid brand has gone downhill over the years. (My mom’s 25 year old one was still going great, but our brand new one had issues and had to be replaced, and even the replacement has a problem or two that bothers me). All that said, though, I don’t think it hurts to include it on the registry if you think you might want one in the next couple years, because you might have someone who really loves to get those for people. And if no one gets you one, then no biggie, because you know you can live without it :)
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    • Thanks for weighing in on the knife block. I really have no idea what types of knives my fiance is interested in. I think he has certain kinds that he wants, so I don’t know if he wants a set or not. We’ll see how that goes.

      My grandma loves SunBeam mixers and swears by them. She would be the one in the family who likes to give mixers, but she was appalled when my cousin registered for a KitchenAid and tried to change her mind several times. My parents got a SunBeam when they were married, and the motor finally went out just around their 25th anniversary. Grandma gave them a replacement and it’s nowhere near as durable. We use it sometimes to make whipped cream and light, small things, but it can’t handle the whole wheat flour we bake with so my mom got a KitchenAid a couple years ago and we use that most of the time. I’ve heard great things about Electrolux mixers but they’re even more expensive.
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    • A better knife set is the one thing that husband regrets not registering for! I picked it out and he really, really wished I had gone with his advice and registered for the more expensive and nicer knives. We use them all the time as well and the ones we got aren’t the type you can sharpen easily so, I wish I would have listened to him!
      I guess I’m weird in that I use our Kitchen Aid all the time. I got my grandma’s old one and while I appreciated it was free, it was starting to fall apart when a friend had to move at the last second and just gave me her professional one the other week. It was seriously like a gold block just fell from the sky, except more useful! So, I guess, know what you like to make in the kitchen. I have a feeling Kathleen makes more foods with nuts and dates, which need a food processor, which is something I THOUGHT was useless, but now that I cook healthier, I really wish I would have registered for!( (maybe that’s in Part 2!)
      Our electronic water kettle was a must too, as while a kettle seems to quaint and cheerful, the last thing I want waking up a sleeping baby is the tea kettle!!
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      • A food processor is another thing I’m unsure about. We never had one all while I was growing up and my aunt always told my mom how she couldn’t believe we didn’t have one because she uses hers for everything so she gave one to us last year and we hardly ever use it. I honestly forget that we even have it most of the time, I think I personally have used it twice. It seems so big and it has so many pieces to wash, I just haven’t been able to get into using it. But maybe I’m missing out on something awesome and I should be using one. There are so many things to think about!!!

        Good point about babies and tea kettles. I haven’t thought that far ahead with all this yet! I was planning on looking at some electric kettles, but since they’re significantly more expensive than non-electric kettles I wasn’t sure what would fit into the price balance of the registry. Just based on my initial thoughts, I feel like I’m going to end up with lots of mid/high-range price items and very few low-range things.
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  7. Electric kettles are popular in Europe, and I finally broke down and got a nice one. I use it several times a day, especially since my stove takes a very long time to boil water. I use the kettle, then transfer the hot water to the pot to speed up the process.

    I didn’t have a bridal shower or baby shower- mostly because we live too far from family, but one added benefit was not having junk we don’t want. I did register for wedding gifts, and there was pressure to add things just because they were in a certain price range, or that’s the only kind the store had. Luckily we also registered at a Tractor Supply/home improvment type store.

    • “there was pressure to add things just because they were in a certain price range, or that’s the only kind the store had.”

      Yes, this is what I’m worried about happening. I don’t want to look like I’m expecting people to pay more than they want to (or even that I’m expecting them to give a gift at all), but I don’t want to put less expensive things that aren’t durable materials or add a bunch of gadgets just because they’re in a lower price range. As a guest, I love looking at registries and I find them very helpful, but now that I’m making one I feel so selfish and picky and like I’ll be perceived as snobby because I registered for a stone baking pan and muffin pan instead of a more affordable aluminum one, like I expect my guests to pay for my higher budget tastes. I know that people will appreciate having a registry, but I’m worried about how it will come across sometimes. Maybe my worries are unfounded and as it comes together I’ll see that it’s still balanced and acceptable.
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      • I completely understand the guilt, or being percieved a certain way. We did have one instance that was the opposite of your worry- my husband’s uncle thought it was weird we registered at a place called “Fleet Farm” where we registered for things like a garden hose, extension cord, socket set…. I guess he’s still thinking every new bride needs a fine china set.

        We were surprised some of the items I though no way people were going to get we actually did. My cousin got us a $75 dutch oven, and my husband’s cousins all pitched in and got us a $400 duvet. These were all things I actually did want, and im glad i decided to keep them on the list…. at first I was worried they were to pricey or ritzy, but you have to remember there will be al sorts of people at your wedding. And if you dont register, people wil give you crap you dont want. We still had unwanted gifts that got returned or put in the goodwil bag. Its not that Im ungrateful, i just like to only keep things i find useful, and not because i feel guily.

  8. I couldn’t live without my tea kettle. It boils water so much faster than in a pot. I do drink a lot of tea and cocoa, and use it to boil water for things like oatmeal (sometimes I cook steel cut oats; sometimes I add boiling water to regular oats).

    I do prefer my KitchenAid to my hand mixer now that I have one. I registered for one and didn’t get it (I got very few items over $50 and none over $100; who are all these people with rich friends and family and whew can I get some?), and was sad but did without. Then my sister-in-law got married, and my mother-in-law bought her the fancy designer color one on her registry. I was seriously, legitimately angry about that, I hate to admit. So then my husband bought me a refurbished one in an ugly color because it was cheap. But hey, it works, and mixes dough while I measure ingredients.

    I hate knife blocks because they take up counter space, though I agree you should get a few good knives on the sizes you use and skip the block for that reason, too. I’m firmly in the magnetic strip camp now.

    I do kind of wish we had registered for stainless instead of nonstick pans, but the ones I chose have held up wonderfully for almost six years now and I don’t see needing to replace them anytime soon, toxic or not. I guess I care more about the possible toxicity issues now, which is why I wish I had gotten stainless, buy they’ve held up just fine so I won’t be replacing them anytime soon. They are nicer pans though, not Walmart ones.

    Also? Registering at Walmart? Que horror!

    I go back and forth on whether or not the food processor is worth it. I default to knives because it’s easier, but my knife skills are terrible and I’m always glad I used it when I do drag the fp out. It definitely is worth it for grating cheese; I wish I had another graying blade with a different coarseness.

    Ok, those at my way too long thoughts on the topic, ha!

    • Oh! And we didn’t register for china at all. We have my husband’s grandmother’s, which is a mashup of two different sets that still manages not to make a full table setting and is completely useless for actual meal-hosting. But, a, we have yet to host a fancy meal, and b, sentimental value and all that. We bought our everyday stuff at Target and it is square which is silly but hey, I still like it six years later and mine (and DH’s, of course) is the only opinion that counts. ;-)

    • But Walmart has Anchor Hocking glassware. :) I know some other places carry it, but they’re the only place I know of where people can go in person that has that wide of a variety. I don’t plan to register there, but there will probably be some Anchor Hocking things that I’d like that I can’t find elsewhere so I’ll buy them from Walmart.
      Carolyn recently posted..Silly Old Bear – February SpoilersMy Profile

  9. Kathleen down under says

    Ha ha square. We have duck egg blue Gordon Ramsay for royal doulton which is three years old and still trendy but will be the new square in three years. Methinks it is the aqua the writer was referring too. Also have a nice noritake white with platinum I got for a song (seriously – too cheap) second hand for dinner parties and special times

  10. I agree with quite a lot of this. However, I will say that I have a large, 18 knife block and I use nearly every knife on a very regular basis. It was not something I registered for, I actually bought it when I was 18, before I had even moved out of my parents house. And it was not cheap (even though I got it on sale). However, with regular sharpening I should never have to purchase new knives again. And while you can certainly do fine with 3 good knives, it is really nice to have the others available, especially when you’re doing a lot of cooking, or working with others in the kitchen. The only thing I would do differently would be to purchase knives individually rather than as a matching set so that I could get the knife I liked best for each type, regardless of manufacturer.
    I have a KitchenAid, which I really like and am glad to have, but I would agree it is not essential.
    I’m curious about your suggestion to not get grating/chopping/dicing things and what exactly you mean by that. I have several microplane graters that I find nearly indispensable. I could usually not get similar results with a knife. I also have a mandoline, which while not necessary, I find extremely helpful during canning season to achieve even slices much faster than I could by hand (and I have pretty decent knife skills). Another option would be if you’re registering for a food processor, make sure it comes with or has available additional disks for shredding and slicing if you think you’ll find those functions helpful but have limited storage (I also use my food processor for making small batches of bread dough, so if you think you might like to bake bread or pizza or the like but are only baking for 2-4 that is a good alternative to a stand-mixer).

    • When I say I don’t recommend grating/chopping/dicing things, I mean gadgets you plug in or crank by hand. Like, my mom-in-law has gotten me numerous Tupperware gadgets for chopping things (where you throw in the ingredients and then turn a crank or pull a handle), and they’re really great and all, but they often take just as much time to clean than if I would have just pulled out my knife and done it by hand. And then I have to find a place to store them all . . . I’d rather just use my knife, which is usually already out. I also used to have a plug-in gadget for grating and slicing. Same deal — the job got done just as fast with a box grater, because it’s so much easier to clean. And then the dang thing quit working and I had to throw it out.

      I agree a mandolin is really handy during preservation season, though!

  11. Strawberry huller is a single use item? ;) We use ours regularly during canning season to remove tomato stems and the seeds from pears. It makes our life much easier. I just have to smile and tease you a little as I personally find that tiny tool extremely helpful. Obviously everyone will have different needs and desires for their kitchen tools. I agree that it can be hard to know what you are really going to use in your own kitchen when you are starting out.

    I am a newer reader and I have enjoyed your ideas. Like many others, I found you from the homemade personal products (shampoo). I am pleased to report that my hair had absolutely no adjustment period to the change. It has been close to 6 weeks, and my hair looks and feels great!

    • Ha ha, okay, okay. I was given a strawberry huller and it just added to the clutter in my utensil drawer for years until I finally got rid of it. I guess someone had to find it useful, otherwise why was it invented? :)

      Glad to hear no-poo is working so well for you!!

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