It’s time for dinner, so you walk to your pantry in search of ingredients to throw a quick meal together. The only problem? You have no idea what’s in your pantry because it’s a disorganized mess. It’s almost as though the cans and boxes rearrange themselves at night. Nothing is ever where you put it, and who knows when that can of okra expired.
If this sounds like your pantry, then you’re probably ready to tackle the challenge of getting it cleaned out and organized so you can find what you’re looking for. As winter approaches, the time to get your dry goods cleaned out and secured is now. Here are the steps you need to take so you can throw dinner together without all the aggravation.
1. Stay Focused
Our brains aren’t built to multitask, but it’s tempting to go through a shelf, run to pick up the kids, forget what you were doing, go back to the same shelf and so on. In one university study, researchers found that switching between tasks reduces cognitive function. When you’re juggling a busy schedule, this means bigger projects need to be carefully planned.
If your pantry looks like it needs a major time commitment, make sure you give it your all. Set aside a block of an hour or two and focus solely on cleaning out your pantry. Don’t allow any distractions to creep in during the time you’ve allotted, and you’ll get more out of your project.
2. Pull Everything Out
Most organizational gurus suggest emptying a drawer or closet. Emptying forces you to go through everything in your space and make a decision about whether to keep, throw out or give away. For a pantry, you can empty one shelf at a time.
Section out your pantry goods for a quicker project. Sort through items with an expiration date. Throw out anything that is expired. Next, consider which items you don’t use and donate to a local food pantry or give to someone who will use them. Finally, place the items you plan to keep to the side.
3. Invest in Sealed Containers
One of the best reasons to clean out your pantry is to reduce the risk of unwanted visitors. Pantry pests love dry items that aren’t sealed, such as cereals and flour. However, they also eat dried fruit, cookies, chocolate, and pet food. Pests often arrive in the packaging you buy from the store, so it doesn’t mean you’re a poor housekeeper. There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of pests and get rid of them if you already have them.
Inspect all packages carefully before bringing them into your home. Thoroughly clean your shelves to get rid of open crumbs or spills. Invest in containers with an airtight seal for cereal, flour and other goodies pests love. Choose clear containers, so you can easily see what is in them.
4. Group Like Items
Want the ability to grab what you need quickly for a meal? Group items you frequently use together in the same area. For example, store pasta and jars of sauce next to each other. Put cans of soup in the same area. Group canned fruit and vegetables together. Meal planning can be a breeze when you know exactly where to grab your ingredients.
5. Use the Back of the Door
Are you running out of space? Utilize the back of the pantry door with hanging organizers for things such as extra plastic grocery bags, aluminum foil and packets of seasoning. In most pantries, the back of the door is wasted space. Adding storage here allows you to see what you have at a glance and offers a place for extra odds and ends.
6. Label Everything
Adding labels to containers shows you what is in that container at a glance. You can also hang tags or add labels to the spot where an item should be returned. If you live with other people, labels allow everyone to return the item to its proper place and keep things organized.
Plus, labels can add some extra flair to your pantry organization. Chalkboard labels on containers and baskets are trendy and flexible options, and if you’re feeling very crafty, you can print color-coordinated labels that will inspire you to keep your pantry looking cute.
7. Add a Lazy Susan
Do you have a corner that things just shoved back into? Add a lazy Susan. You now have a way to store multiple items and see what is there with a quick spin of the device. A lazy Susan is perfect for storing bottles of mustard, ketchup and salad dressing, for example.
If you’re particularly handy, this could be a DIY installation once you purchase the shelving. If that’s too daunting, you can always hire a professional to make sure the lazy Susan fits right into your available space.
8. Tuck a Basket Under Shelves
Do you have unused space under your bottom shelf? Add a basket or bin and use this area to store rolls of paper towels or extra dish towels. One of the keys to an organized space is using every spare inch with a few clever storage additions.
9. Place Items in Order of Expiration
If you have more than one of an item, stack them in the order they expire, with the thing that expires first in front. As you buy new items, place them in the back of the stack so they are the furthest away and items that expire sooner are in front.
Taking a cue from grocery store standards will help you manage your food before it spoils, saving you from dumping expired food down the road.
10. Reduce Your Stockpile
You got a great deal on that okra we talked about at the beginning of the article. They were almost giving it away at the store. However, if your family doesn’t eat okra, the item just takes up space in your pantry and eventually gets thrown away. Instead, donate these items to your local food bank.
Once you’ve done the hard work of organizing your pantry, spend a few minutes each day keeping it organized. If an item expires, toss it. If you use something and it’s the last of its type, make a note to pick up another. A few minutes a day will give you a pantry that will be the envy of the neighborhood.