A Purposeful Pantry


I’ve been working on my pantry for a week or so now. I’m not sure when I’ll finish. (This weekend, I hope. I’m close.) I’d like to be finished already, but my magic wand isn’t working. If it was, I would be using it on the whole house. We’ve lived in our new farmhouse for two years now. Things were hectic when we moved in, and they’ve been hectic ever since. I’ve never gotten things as well organized as I’d like them to be and I never seem to have time to do it. It finally occurred to me that part of the reason I don’t have time is because my house is disorganized. I waste time searching for things, picking things up that tumble over when I’m finding something else, and repurchasing items I already have but can’t find (which is also a money-waster). It’s frustrating and stressful. Sometimes you need to spend time to make time.

Back when I was writing books full-time, often when facing a deadline, I would quit writing completely and spend days, sometimes a handful of weeks, cleaning my house. This wasn’t mere procrastination. When I had the house spic and span, I would go back to my book and finish it quickly, freed by the uber-tidiness of my surroundings to work efficiently. I’m more creative and productive in an organized environment. Clutter is distracting.



How old are these Cheerios (below)? How am I supposed to get to those egg cartons? That blender’s gonna fall on my head when I get it down and kill me. (That’s one of those fabulous old-fashioned old blenders that is made with all metal parts, not cheap plastic. It will last forever and it’s incredibly heavy. It doesn’t belong on a top shelf.)

More mess. Yes, my microwave is in my pantry. I rarely use a microwave so it’s stashed out of the way.

In deciding where to get started, I looked around at my mess and had the epiphany that it was all about the pantry. The pantry is just one small room (though we have a big pantry by most standards–it might be about 6′ by 8′ or something like that, it’s not a closet pantry but a walk-in small room, which makes up for the limited cabinet space in the kitchen). So why start there? A neat, well-ordered, and functional kitchen is the heart of the house to me, but the wind beneath the kitchen’s wings is the pantry. My kitchen counters were piled up with too many things because I couldn’t fit things in the pantry. Or I was afraid if I put this or that back in the pantry, I’d have a hard time finding it again. Or getting it down again. My dining room table is periodically piled with stuff because the pantry is such a mess. This even spills over into the living room. And so on. I’m sure if you played seven degrees of separation, you could make a connection between why the chicken house hasn’t been cleaned out lately and the pantry being in a mess. In order to organize the rest of the house, the pantry has to be organized first, and the organization moves outward in concentric circles.

And so in a slightly backward-appearing move, I made the rest of the house even more of a mess by unloading the pantry into the hall and the kitchen and the living room. This disaster was then, of course, so egregious that I had no choice after that other than to actually organize the pantry so that it could all be put back–and put back better.

Well, and not all of it as some of it didn’t belong in the pantry to begin with, which was part of the problem in the pantry. A place for everything and everything in its place. Things should also be stored in ways that are accessible–easy to get out, easy to put back, nothing packed in too closely.

Making progress.

Small appliances on a mid-level shelf where they are easy to get out–and put back.

The only money I spent was on some containers to wrangle stuff. These plastic baskets came from the dollar store (one dollar each!). I’m using this one to corral candy cookie sprinkles.

I got several of those. I also got a couple larger buckets to corral smaller plastic containers.

I have all shapes and sizes of plastic containers. I go through periods when many are used at once for various storage purposes, then other times when they all seem empty at once. They sometimes end up in dysfunctional piles where I can’t find what I want with the right lid and teetering stacks of them fall all over the place. I wrangled them into a couple of big containers–lightweight enough to put on an upper shelf, accessible yet out of the way. No more toppling piles of plastic containers.

I moved items like heavy iron pots to short shelves to store them in an accessible, usable way that also saves space.

I had a bunch of other iron skillets piled on top of my big iron pot, which was making it impossible to access. Now I’ve got it on a shelf by itself with just an old colander I’m using as an onion basket on top. Much more usable!

I threw away bags and bags of trash, clutter, junk, gave all the old marshmallows to the goats, and set some stuff aside to go to the Salvation Army. I got rid of anything that looked remotely too old, and moved quite a bit of my baking stash to the new second-hand fridge on the back porch, where I can extend the life of various items by keeping them cool. (Stuff like nuts, chocolate, baking powder, and so on.)

I’ve always been a believer in organization. I’ve usually kept a pretty tidy house. I’m one to lean more toward throwing something away than keeping it, unless I’m absolutely positive it has a real function. An item’s purpose might be sentimental sometimes, and I would never throw out anything with emotional or vintage value, but sometimes some things are just….junk. One of my favorite old TLC shows used to be Clean Sweep. The guy on the show was always pressing a point I believe in: Get rid of the clutter so you can enjoy the things you truly love and use. Clutter stands in the way of functionality, efficiency, and even freedom. When everything around you has purpose, it’s easier to move through daily life with purpose. Sometimes I have to really push myself as I go through things. Do I ever see myself using this again? When was the last time I used it? Do I love this? Do I really need ten reindeer cookie cutters? (Don’t forget that one man’s junk is another’s treasure, so things you don’t want/use anymore that could be useful to someone else can go to the thrift store.)

If you’re only going to stock up on one thing, dried beans would be a good choice.

Dried beans stay good for years, take up little space, and can be easily cooked in power outages over camp fires, wood stoves, gas grill burners, or in crock pots hooked up to generators, and you don’t absolutely need much more than water and salt. And they’re good for you, too.

I store beans, rice, homemade mixes, and all kinds of things in glass jars. I don’t like the mess of little baggies with twist ties that just add to pantry clutter and piling. That’s a 12-bean mix on the left, “salad beans” (chick peas and kidney beans) in the middle, and “chili beans” in layers on the right (kidney beans, red beans, black beans). Whatever’s leftover from a bean bag and doesn’t fit in the jar goes into the homemade bean mix jars.

I don’t can dried beans in advance, by the way. It saves space to store them dried. I work at home, so putting a pot of beans on the stove in the morning works fine for me.

Gallon-size jars worthy of pinto bean service.

I buy very few store-canned or packaged products, so my pantry is mostly filled with staples, basic ingredients, and homemade mixes.

I can be a big stockpiler when it comes to certain items, in the interest of being prepared for our winters here, and I do love to rescue and repurpose lots of things. But even there, I can be more organized, more hard on myself when I choose what to keep and what to give away or throw in the trash, and what to stock up on or save.

Before (left); after (right).

Note the empty spaces. It would be a mistake to fill up every nook and shelf and cranny. I periodically stock up on various things. I need room to do that. Note that this is very late in the spring. Full-blown stocking up for winter, not to mention high canning season, is not yet upon us. (Behind some of the full jars are empty jars, FYI, so canning space is built in already to some extent as those empty jars act as placeholders. But, depending on how much I can this year, leaving extra empty space isn’t a bad idea. I also have some space downstairs where I can store canning also.)

I want my home to feel free and efficient and easy to work in. Not to mention relax in. And who can relax surrounded by clutter?

For me, it all starts with a purposeful pantry.

How to Conquer the World in 5 Easy Steps:

Step 1. Organize your pantry.

Steps 2 through 5 forthcoming.

I shall keep you posted!


  1. Karen Anne says:

    Looks great!

    What’s in the jars with the white lids?

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Karen Anne, do you mean the pint jars over the skillets? That’s coarse ground mixed peppers (I buy the mixed peppercorns then grind them all at once so it’s quick to use as needed in recipes) on the left, homemade ranch dressing (the green one), dried chick peas, and the green jar that’s almost gone on the right is dried parsley from my garden last year.

  2. Kathy in KY says:

    I buy my cooking herbs and spices in bulk since they’re cheaper that way. But they’re all in a grocery sack in small plastic bags. And I have a ton of small containers I plan on putting the spices in to better find them when needed. It’s just taking the time to do it. And I also have a ton of home canned items that are over 3 yrs old and need to be tossed, the pickles are getting a little soft! LOL – And I may be moving soon, so it’s time to get some of this stuff organized. I think you’ve inspired me, Suzanne! :smilerabbit:

  3. Melissa says:

    Wow! I want to do that. Actually I don’t have a pantry, so I can’t do that. I do have a crawlspace though and it’s a very nice crawlspace just that it’s getting cluttered for basically the same reasons. Thanks. It’s going on my list! Yours looks fabulous! I love all the jars of beans.

  4. Johanna says:

    Like a breath of fresh air! Wish I had a pantry. You can store so much there!

    Now go spend some quality time with Beulah Petunia!

  5. Barbee' says:

    How impressive! Yay for you! :woof:

  6. country gram says:

    A job well-done! I can’t even rest well when the kitchen is a mess. I work better and rest better in a tidy space.

    I do envy you the separate room. My pantry is a wall of cabinets on one end of the kitchen. It works but my little nest (the easy chair and table) are in front of part of it. It makes getting odd pans and other things out difficult or awkward.

    I do love the pull out pantry shelves in the food storage area.

    Here is the real issue: I clean it and then find it in total disarray a few weeks later! Why can’t I just keep it neat as I go.

  7. CindyP says:

    I feel the same way! It seems when the pantry goes, it’s when the kitchen just can’t be kept clean for anything…there’s just nowhere to put things! For the most part, I have made new areas for appliances and dishes out of the pantry….that has made things a lot easier on the pantry. Before canning, I always had tin cans, my shelves were customized for tin cans and boxes….that needs to be redone…pints and quarts just don’t fit the same.

    Real curious to see step 2 – 5 😉

  8. Linda says:

    I love those wire racks for making space on shelves. I wish I could find more of them.
    Your house sounds like ours. If I clean a space my husband fills it with something. ugh, haha.
    Your pantry sounds like it’s about the same size as the one in the house we’ll be moving into eventually. My husband wants to redo the shelves. We’ll see how it goes.
    Congrats on getting your pantry organized!

  9. pam says:

    Well, I just added organzie pantry to my list. Will wait for further instructions for conquering the world.

  10. Leah says:

    Very nice pantry redo. Cleaning up a mess usually isnt as impossible as it seems once you start on it. Like Mom says, there comes a time you have to do something! haha! Then you have a sense of accomplishment and get to enjoy the results.

  11. BethieofVA says:

    Looks great!!

  12. Karen Anne says:

    Yes, those are the one, thanks, Suzanne. Green ranch dressing?

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Karen Anne, that’s a ranch dressing mix, lots of parsley in it! And dill. It’s not so green once the dressing is made and it’s mixed with the milk, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or whatever you’re mixing it with.

  13. ML says:

    “Spend time to make time, the wind beneath the kitchen’s wings is the pantry”, I love it! And yes, clutter is very distracting. A big task like reorganizing and cleaning out your pantry is like opening up a can of worms at first. Looks great, good job! Love this post Suzanne and thanks for showing us your pantry. I see lots of yummy things in the future!

  14. I Wanna Farm says:

    I couldn’t have said it better! If it’s not useful or I don’t appreciate it, out it goes. I have the same problem of ‘stacking’ things everywhere when the place they really go is overflowing until my whole house is cluttered, and I can’t think straight. Then it’s so overwhelming I don’t know where to start to fix it! I’m a firm believer in ‘a place for everything and everything in its place, so why does my house look like this!? lol

  15. The Retired One says:

    I did the same in my kitchen a few years ago…probably should sort out one of the cupboards already again…I, too ..am a big believer in small containers and stacking containers you can see through and in special shelves to hold appliances instead of stacking them…it really makes life so much less stressful!!! Great job….and you have inspired me to look one more time to see if I can streamline a little more.

  16. Rhubarb Rose says:

    Wow is all I can say!

  17. Yankee Gal says:

    Bravo Suzanne! Your pantry looks wonderful. Makes me want to start tidying up my “junk drawers” in the kitchen. There’s some scary stuff in there…I may need one more cup of coffee first! :sun:

  18. Dorothy says:

    :shocked: I need you to come & look at my craft/sewing room, Suzanne! I have to do a strange little dance step to walk through it (kinda sideways, little steps). I try to do a little, then it’s worse…

  19. Suz in the Tules says:

    Good job!
    I also store big bags of flour and sugar in my ‘fridge or freezer.
    It keeps them from getting bugs and the ‘fridge doesn’t run as often.

  20. IowaCowgirl says:

    I am so with you on this project! You are so right in that clutter is so distracting. I also work at home (on books and the farm), and I have 3 huge deadlines for indexing, then I will be on a pantry and larder organizing binge.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. Gini says:

    I have been NEEDING to clean out my pantry and kitchen shelves for awhile now– it’s gotten so I can’t close the doors. (The “pantry” is just a two-door collection of shelves. So little!) Once I drop off some baby opossums to a new volunteer tonight, I think I just might get crackin on my own mess! Thanks for being inspiring today. 🙂

  22. lavenderblue says:

    Oh, crud! Now I gotta go do something about my kitchen.

    No pantry. What was supposed to be my pantry had the hook-ups for the washer and dryer in it plus a toilet, which is sometimes a working toilet, sometimes not. Something about storing dried parsley and beans next to a toilet disturbs me.

    Speaking of beans, does anyone know why I can’t find dried chickpeas in Western New York? We do have a small Middle Eastern population, so I would think the stores would stock them. No chickpeas, no yellow cornmeal, this part of the world is inherently disordered. :no:

  23. Brenda In AZ says:

    Boy I wish I had a pantry that size. All of my home canned jars of goodies are in my cupboards along with my dehydrated foods. I am running out of room and it’s going to be time to can some more. My motto for clutter is: if I haven’t seen it, touched it or used it in 1 year I don’t need it. Now if I can get my husband to follow that rule we wouldn’t have anymore clutter.

  24. marymac says:

    Any time you want to come up and organize my kitchen you are welcome Suzanne, just let me know and I’ll put on the coffee!!!

  25. Lisa says:

    Looks terrific! I need to go through my pantry and food storage and figure out what I don’t have! Thanks for this though, very inspiring!

  26. Kathi N says:

    I highly recommend FlyLady for getting into a routine of cleaning and de-cluttering. It happens in baby steps that are highly achieveable. https://www.flylady.net. Click on “Beginner Baby Steps” to get started.

  27. Susan at Charm of the Carolines says:

    When I was in graduate school, my apartment was never more clean than the night before an exam. I could not begin to study until the bed was made and the dishes washed. However, my motivation may have been procrastination. I’m happy you’ve given me a better reason… a cluttered environment leads to a cluttered brain. How could I have studies otherwise?


  28. Rose H says:

    Your pantry is roughly the same size as my kitchen! :hissyfit: My ‘walk in’ pantry is the size of two shoe boxes – I’m on a constant battle to keep that tidy enough to put a foot in it!
    Congratulations Suzanne on a job well done – worth every minute spent on it!

  29. rileysmom says:

    Congratulations on a great job, Suzanne! I’m proud for you!
    I keep/use my microwave in the pantry (we planned it that way when building) cause I like clean counters. But, I’m a neat-freak!

  30. Runningtrails says:

    Beautiful pantry! I agree! I organized and cleaned out my spare/growing/craft room today. It felt good to get rid of some of that junk!

  31. Jo says:

    Suzanne, thanks for the bean tip! I live in Florida and with the hurricane season upon us they would come in handy!

  32. Deb says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! My pantry is similar in size and disorder. Mine also has a washer, dryer, and chest freezer in it. My husband has promised to build better shelving in it and this summer I will tackle and organize it……..I like the idea of before and after pictures! I will post them on my blog when I get it done. I also store everything in glass jars; I like being able to see it all at once.

  33. Mia says:

    i’m sorry.. i couldn’t even read the rest of the post after I saw that chicken deviled egg holder…

    I’ll go back and read the rest now and try not to covet.

  34. Mia says:

    Oh HEY! Me again… LOVE that idea for the canning jar rings! Such a pain they are and i never know how to store them. genius!!

  35. claudia w says:

    That was a lot of work! Very inspiring…I wish I could say I’m following along on your path to organization, but I know I will only get like a tenth of what you do done. Someday, I will catch up to you!

  36. jayne says:

    How funny that I should read this post this morning – cleaning out/reorganizing my pantry is my main project for today. Glad I stopped here for the unexpected reinforcement! Love your site!

  37. Anna says:

    All those wire shelves stacked on top of each other makes me nervous. Would you be able to add wooden shelves?
    I agree with leaving space to allow for the addition of items. I looooove empty shelves and I LOVE getting rid of things. Enjoy your reclaimed space! By the way, I really enjoy your posts–they are always entertaining in one way or another.

  38. heirloomfarmergirl says:

    Yipee! Finally a point of complete connection with our bloggist! I, too, am overwhelmed by a cluttered pantry (along with much of the rest of our farmhouse) and am beginning to make strides to release various things to their potential future owners. I, too, am blessed with a walk-in pantry room and it has caught various items over the last 4 years that are not suitable for an organized pantry. Thank you for your candor in sharing photos of your pantry space. And good luck with completing the project to your own satisfaction!

  39. Mariah says:

    I’m so with you on the clutter thing! There’s a need for storing stuff, but it’s GOT to be organized! I actually did a class for women at our church about the need to have an organized home and that if the home is cluttered the mind is cluttered and unproductive too. I believe a clear mind is, at least in part, a direct result of uncluttered surroundings. I, too, am unable to work if things are a mess. Now I am feeling the need to go organize my kitchen shelves…no pantry here, alas!

  40. Mokihana says:

    Extremely inspiriing. My pantry is pretty small compared to yours, but it could look as tidy. I just have to find time to do it!

  41. Melissa @ The Hard Times Kitchen says:

    I’m actually in the middle of cleaning out my pantry myself. What a big mess I have right now! Like you, I’ve now cluttered the rest of my house by moving my pantry items into laundry baskets and boxes I have sitting in the hall and kitchen. Still, though, it will be worth it in the end to have a usable pantry like yours!

  42. JOJO says:

    Your pantry looks so nice-I worked on our last week and it tooks days to complete, -it is just the 2 of us so I dont can anymore so I did store a lot of things in my old blue canning jars– but I like to keep a good emergency stock–just in case.
    You have plenty of room for f-o-i-l!
    Well done!

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