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.
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!