Does your kitchen pantry look like a pantry? Or does it resemble a post-tornado disaster scene? Like the guest bedroom storage closet and the kitchen junk drawer, pantries tend to go from tidy and organized, to a big jumbled mess, faster than you can say, “Hon? Have you seen the rice vinegar?”
Kitchen Pantry Update 101: How to Achieve a Sustainably Organized Pantry
Sustainable is a buzzword these days and I’m going to use it here in terms of organization. It’s not just about “organic,” “green,” or “eco-friendly.” The definition of sustainable is, “able to be maintained or continued.” When thinking of it that way, all re-organization projects should strive to be as sustainable as possible.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if closet and kitchen and pantry organization didn’t have to be annual events? Instead, you would come up with a sustainable system, one that’s easy for you to maintain or continue. When you achieve that lofty goal – ritualistic, wide scale, weekend-long organization projects become a thing of the past.
Does that sound appealing? I thought so – let’s get started.
Remove everything and set it all out on the counter
The first step, as you probably imagined, is taking everything out of the pantry and getting it out on the counter. Once everything is cleared out, it’s time to wipe down the shelves. If your pantry is old, grimy and just plain gross – you may find it worthwhile to repaint the walls and shelves using leftover paint from your kitchen cabinets or the most recent paint project you’ve tackled.
While the paint – or the freshly sudsed and scrubbed interior – is drying, begin going through the contents on the counter.
Get rid of anything that’s expired or just plain gross
Now it’s time to toss anything that’s expired or just plain yuck. If your pantry is in desperate need of reorganization, you’ll find a fair amount to get rid of. If you find you have an overabundance of pantry items, donate unopened items to your local food bank. Our local grocery store has a bin out front that accepts items year-round, and homeless shelters are usually receptive to unopened food donations as well.
Re-envision the pantry space
Contemporary cabinet and drawer designs have come a very long way in a short period of time. Pullout shelves, spice-racks, custom-designed drawers – all of these have made kitchen spaces more functional and better organized than the kitchens we grew up in.
Take some of these same cues for your pantry project and evaluate where pantry-specific tools – available at big box stores and organization-centered retail shops – will be helpful. For example:
- Forget about cutesy wicker baskets – you can’t see what’s in them unless they’re over-full. If you like the idea of removable containers, opt for clear, plastic containers so you can see what’s inside at all times. Plastic organizers are also easier to clean when needed.
- Purchase affordable wine racks to keep your back supply in the pantry in space-efficient and wine-happy, horizontal stacks. You can put a smaller, higher-end version out on the buffet to display a few bottles for show.
- Are there certain staples you ALWAYS carry “in stock?” Things like 32-ounce boxes of broth, 15-ounce cans of tomatoes, cans of soup, etc.? All of these are pretty darn standard so establish reasonable, product-specific widths and divide shelves into cubby-like spaces using vertical dividers. This keeps dry goods in their own, designated spots. It also makes it easier to do quick inventories before heading to the grocery store.
- I also recommend installing pull-out, stainless steel wire racks and bins to hold potatoes, onions, fruit and other items that prefer a little air circulation. I use mine for bags of chips, bagels, rice cakes and other items that slip around or get squished when they’re stored on shelves. Pull-out drawers also work for paper goods, like paper towels, plates, and napkins.
- Use wire helper shelves to divide tall pantry shelves into more efficient spaces. These allow you to use up more of the available air space and prevents cans from being stacked into towers that block the view of what’s behind them.
Organize it in a way that’s logical and accessible for your household
Now that you have the right equipment, you have the opportunity to install it all – and replace pantry items – in a way that makes the most logical and accessible sense for your household.
- Have younger children? There’s no need to be their servant. Foster independence and put kids’ go-to snack items, fruit, easy-to-prep foods where they can easily reach them.
- Put things you use the least at the way-top, the way-bottom, and back corners. Likewise, things you use most should reside in the front-and-center spots.
- Evaluate the lighting – is it bright enough? Too bright? Change the light fixture(s) if you need to and replace light bulbs with energy-efficient versions, bright enough to allow you to read labels, but not so bright that it’s harsh or glaring.
If you spend the time on the front-end, re-thinking how you use the pantry and what additions make the most sense, you’ll wind up with a pantry that is organized, neat, and stocked with just enough – but not too much. Finally – make a vow to cleanse the pantry on a regular basis, throwing away stale, old or expired food items monthly – instead of annually.
When all’s said and done, your newly organized pantry will be a joy to use and should never require any major re-organization ever again.