Last week, I decided it was finally time to organize my pantry. And by “organize”, I mean dig into the back corners of the closet and remove bag-fulls of expired food including a can of sweetened condensed milk from 2004. I kid you not. We moved that can from at least two different houses.
I’ve had “clean out the pantry” on my to-do list for a while, but, like most projects, I started it on a whim and in a flurry of activity. I had a morning to myself so I started pulling everything out of the pantry and stacking it on the kitchen counters and the island. I didn’t start with much of a plan and it was at this peak of chaos that I decided I needed one.
Enter Uncle Google. I started by searching for things like “How to organize a pantry“. I was looking for someone to tell me what to store on each shelf of the pantry. What should go on the top shelf? What should go on the floor?
Instead, I found pictures of the most beautifully organized and decorated pantries that you’ve ever seen. There were color coordinate containers for all the pastas and baking supplies. Labeled wicker baskets for chips, mixes and snacks. The pantries were painted, wallpapered and stenciled. The labels were beautifully handwritten, chalkboarded or printed on the computer.
I wanted to cry. For real. It took everything in me not to stuff everything back in my pantry and call it quits. My pantry wasn’t going to look like that. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on organizers. And I didn’t have the time or energy to make it beautiful. I just wanted to get rid of the food that might poison my family and have it organized enough to be able to find what I need.
I hesitate to link to any of these incredible, Taj-Mahal pantries for fear that someone will think I’m making fun. Trust me. I’m not. When I grow up, I want to have a beautifully decorated pantry with a crystal chandelier and matching wall sconces. For now, I just want to be able to find the cornbread mix before it sprouts real corn stalks.
So, after a few deep breaths and a pep talk, I got back to work. Here are a few tips that I learned along the way.
1. Touch everything once.
Some organizers say to pull everything out of an overloaded pantry and then organize and sort once you see what you have. For me, it worked better to sort and purge as I emptied the pantry. If it was expired, it went straight into a trash bag. If it was something we won’t eat, it went into the box for the Food Pantry. The only things left on my counters were the fresh foods that we’ll actually eat. I was slightly horrified that I got rid of 4 garbage bags of food. What a waste.
2. Put stuff where little people can reach it.
For some reason, I’ve always had the cereal and snack foods on the top two shelves of the pantry. That meant the kids had to climb on counter stools or, more likely, ask me to get everything for them. I moved those things down to the lower shelves so that the boys can get their own cereal and snacks. Next up? Moving the cereal bowls and drinking glasses to lower shelves too. I can’t believe it took me 8 years of having children to figure this out.
3. Dollar Tree is your friend.
As much as I would love perfectly mis-matched containers for all my pantry supplies, it wasn’t in the budget right now. Instead, I spend $5 at the Dollar Tree and got a few plastic boxes and baskets to help keep things organized. There are two lidded containers to corral drink mixes and hot cereal packets and three small baskets for baking mixes, bags of chips and other snack foods.
4. Give the kids their own spot.
I used one of my plastic baskets as a snack spot for the kids. It’s filled with raisins, granola bars and fruit cups. Now when they ask for a snack, I can say “Help yourself to anything in the basket!”. I feel like a genius.
5. Get a little creative.
If there was one thing I wanted to buy, it was some of those step-thingies you use to organize your canned goods. But they’re kind of expensive, so it wasn’t happening. Instead, I put a couple of shoe boxes on one of the shelves to stack things on top and in front of. Now I can actually see what’s in there. Yes, I know that creates a lot of wasted space, but that space is where I end up parking cans of condensed milk for nearly a decade anyway. If you’re looking for something a little more sturdy, Danny Lipford made a short video showing you how to use 2×4’s to make your own canned goods riser.
6. There’s not one “right” system.
You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. Every family uses their pantry in a different way. We all use different products too, so the way we organize is going to be different. Here’s what’s working for me right now…from the top shelf down.
- Top shelf: Baking mixes and pasta
- Shelf 2: Side dishes, chips and pretzels, oils and some seasonings
- Shelf 3: Condiments, dressings, sauces and peanut butter
- Shelf 4: Cereal, drink mixes and kid’s snacks
- Shelf 5: Canned goods
- Floor: Oversized items like jars of oil, vinegars and drink mixes
And there you have it. My mostly organized pantry. It’s may not be stunningly beautiful, but it’s good enough.
Tell me about your pantry? Is it beautifully organized, good enough or a total disaster?