It's January and time for me to dig into closets, cupboards, and pantries and begin my annual organizing, purging, and clean up! We are experiencing record low temperatures and wind chills and since I am cooped up inside, it is the perfect time to set about these tasks.
I sat down to read a few blogs one morning with a cup of coffee in hand. I started coveting the look of organized pantries, with beautiful containers, and pretty shelf paper. My first thought was, my pantry could never look like that, and then, do "these" people really use their pantries? Next thought, "I want...I "need" to go buy all matching beautiful containers"... I "need" to purchase fun shelf paper!"
Then, reality and practicality set in. I had to slow down, and be true to my philosophy of first, use what I have. Secondly, IF, I were to purchase beautiful, new, matching containers, I needed to measure my spaces first, and take stock of what I really needed. I admit, I have purchased containers recommended by other bloggers or Pinterest boards, only to bring them home and have them be a little too, big, or two wide, and in general, not fit my space. So, I decided to begin with the task of cleaning up, organizing, and assessing what I already have, before running out to get "new" containers--that I might not need and might not work.
I decided to tackle one shelf at a time. Items would be checked for expiration dates, and grouped on my kitchen island by categories. My goal was ultimately, to shelve like items with like items. (I am notorious for "squirreling" things away that are "overflow" items. I find an oh so perfect, second little spot and totally lose track of the "overflow" items. Then, I can't find them when I really need it.) Another goal: Shelve like things together, all in one spot.
I also, decide to make an inventory of each shelf, so I could locate items and take stock of them, prior to making my grocery shopping list. I have never done this before, but there are many home organizers who recommend this, so I thought I'd give it a try.
I began with shelf #2 that holds many baking supplies. I emptied the entire contents of shelf #2, and organized them in categories. For this shelf it went something like this: flour, sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar canisters, and 5 lb. bags of flour and sugar; cake mixes, Bisquick, Gingerbread Mix; various syrups: agave, Karo, molasses, maple syrup. If you look closely at the before photo, you'll notice, that some of these items were not housed on that shelf. After I emptied the contents of each shelf and organized the items into categories, I took another look at the whole pantry. I looked for items that should be placed in the categories I had placed on the island. Once again, my goal was to keep like things together on the same shelf.
After clearing the shelf and organizing like items together on my island, I wiped down the shelf. (I'm still dreaming about new shelf paper, but I'm willing to wait until I find something that I really like. After all, the current shelf paper is about 20 years old. I liked it then, I like it now!)
I admit, I like pretty things, even if they are hidden behind the doors of my pantry. Several years ago, I spotted these lovely canisters in TJ Maxx. I purchased them. If I had the counter space, I would display them. They make me happy. I don't have the counter space, so they replaced some bright, yellow, Tupperware canister circa 1970's in the pantry. They do take up more space than other, made for 5 lb. bags of flour and sugar containers. At one time, I had considered, replacing them with something more practical and space saving. I couldn't do it. Pretty trumped, practical in this case.
I came up with a solution for keeping my pretty canisters, while being more efficient with the space. My pantry shelves are 12 inches deep. I decided, I could store the extra 5 lbs. of flour and sugar bags, behind the flour and sugar canisters. The bags would be easy to access when I needed to refill each canister. Before, I had my canisters lined up flush with the wall, and put the refill bags and other items in front of the canister (or on another shelf) and it meant moving the items, every time I wanted to bake.
This idea was one of those, "I can't believe I didn't think of this before!" ideas. I was able to continue to use this same space saving idea, with the cake mixes and gingerbread mix. I stored them behind the smaller canisters. I know that the space behind the canisters will vary as we use and add other food stuffs. I envision, Jiffy Cornbread mixes replacing the gingerbread mix, as Jiffy Cornbread is a common food stuff to accompany winter soups.
I was so pleased with the organized shelf #2, that I continued on to shelf #3. (I was saving shelf #1 for last, as I saw this as my greatest challenge. I was hoping that as I organized the other shelves, ideas would percolate and solutions for the top shelf would come to mind.)
Shelf #3 wasn't, too bad. I had done a quick organization of spices in the fall. We purchased this ferris wheel spice rack several years ago. I loved the novelty of it, and have replaced the spices over the years to reflect the ones we use most. That said, I do realize, that it may not be the most practical use of our pantry space, but I've decided to keep it.
Shelf #3 involved throwing out a few expired items, wiping the shelf down, organizing the categories on the kitchen island, and perusing the other shelves to see if there were like items to add to this shelf. I wanted to stay true to my goal of keeping like items together. All Pam cooking spray products are lined up in a row, followed by vinegars, followed by olive oil and the like.
I tackled shelves #4 and #5 and the floor of the pantry all at one time. I had purchased the green bins with handles from the Dollar Tree several years ago. I use them like pull out drawers to contain canned goods and food stuffs by category. I relabeled some of my categories for our current use. Once again, each family's categories will be different. My husband make great pumpkin bread and pumpkin pancakes. I like to make the muffins that require a cake mix and can of pumpkin. (Depending on your preference, spices, an egg, or water can be added to the mix.) Therefore, we always have a green bin labeled "PUMPKIN". That works for us.
I followed the same procedure as the other shelves: empty shelves, organize categorize on the kitchen island, add additional items that may have been placed on other shelves to the categories, and washed the lime green bins.
I labeled all unlabeled bins. I chose to put the bins in alphabetical order.
Shelf #4 and the Floor--AFTER! The clear bins are generic plastic bins. The bottom bins should be labeled, "ONIONS", "PUMPKIN", and "POTATOES". (I know they are out of alphabetical order, I read somewhere that onions and potatoes should not be stored together. I had the "PUMPKIN" bin separate them for any infighting.)
The organization of these shelves pleases me. The bottom shelves are actually an old laminate shoe organizer that I repurposed for the pantry. There was this large amount of space and I really needed shelves, so this was my solution when we moved into our home over 20 years ago and it has worked. Maybe one day, I'll actually add "proper" shelves....maybe...
Breakfast cereal was relocated to the far left on the shelf. I relocated the peanut butter and almonds right next to the cereal. Sometimes, I have peanut butter on toast for breakfast. Other times, I might have a handful of almonds or put slivered almonds on my cereal in the morning. It's all about what works for your family.
At this point, I was feeling quite pleased with my pantry organization.
Finally, it was time to tackle the dreaded top shelf! The problem with the top shelf is things get lost on the top shelf. I have repurposed another laminate shoe rack for the top shelf, so there are actually three levels. The very top is awkward to access, but there is so much space. It goes to the ceiling, and I was determined to use it, but in a more functional manner.
I repeated the same process for the top shelf: empty all contents, organize by category on the kitchen island, wash down the shelves, and give serious thought to the use of the very top shelf. As I cleaned up each shelf, I kept asking myself, how can we best use the space? There is limited real estate in this pantry. Items have to be "used" to have prime location in the pantry. (For example: Plastic drinking cups are used for big gathering and buffet type entertaining. They are not an every day item. They were relocated to the pantry in the basement.)
We seemed to have an abundance of crackers. (Some of them were a little buried and on various shelves.) I used containers I already had to corral them in one place. There are nights when supper is cheese and crackers and a fruit and vegetable tray. Even so, I think we need to pare down the cracker containers and make room for other food stuffs.) Then, it was a matter of opening the bags of chocolate chips, white morsels, cinnamon chips, and putting the various morsels into the containers that I had already established.
I think moving the teas and teapot to two bins on a lower shelf makes so much more sense. I know the teapot will get much more use.
I looked around to see what items had not made it back into the pantry. I had various bottles of flavored vinegars: red wine, white wine, champagne, and a few others. We don't use them that often. I decided to put them on the top shelf in a clear plastic container. I like using these rectangular containers. They can keep like things altogether and can act like a drawer. You can pull it part way off the shelf to access the items within it. I moved the Marsala wine to the same container, as it falls in that "used for cooking-not often" category.
Now, to tackle the tippy-top shelf. It extends to the ceiling, but with my current arrangement, it is awkward to access. Whatever is on that shelf should be something that needs to be stored and is used on occasion. I decided to store some large decorative bowls and serving pieces to my Romance dinnerware collection. My mom gave me quite a few of these pieces. I love getting them out in the fall and using them as part of our decor and having them for special dinners. I also have a large bowl and pitcher from a collection created by Susan Winget. I use these in the fall, too.
This isn't a great photo, but you get the idea. I have 4 large serving bowls, a square flat serving plate, a divided serving platter, and the large pitcher stored on this shelf. It took some doing, and yes, I did have to remove the bin of vinegars and 2 containers of nuts to place these large pieces in this space. I think it is going to work. The pieces are now in one place and they are pieces that I use in the late summer and fall. I had one other large platter to this set. I was trying to keep like things together. The platter wouldn't fit on the top shelf, but I was able to store it on another shelf.
The shelves in the pantry are fairly wide. I decided I could store the large serving platter behind the cereal. The platter was one item that didn't make it on the same shelf as the other serving pieces from this collection, but I am pleased that all of the pieces are located in the pantry, and not some in the corner cabinet in the kitchen, others in the armoire in the living room, and so on. Now, in the fall, I know these items are altogether, and I can easily retrieve them.
Here's a quick recap.
This post wouldn't be complete without sharing one of my favorite organization tools: Command Hooks!
I made use of some of the narrow, side walls of the pantry to hang vanilla beans, coffee, and more coffee on Command Hooks, with the help of some clamps and binders.
At the end of the day, I didn't buy one new (cute) container. I like seeing my pretty canisters and the Dollar Tree green bins give the pantry a pop of color, as well as organization. The clear containers I've had for years fit the space. It all works.
Yes, the shelf paper could be replaced, but I haven't found anything that I really like, yet. Admittedly, the pantry itself, could use a coat of paint and maybe I should install some proper shelves to replace the laminate shoe organizers. All of that can be for another day--or not. Today, I'm pleased and proud of my pantry. I met my goal of arranging items that we use the most in convenient places. I arranged like items together, instead of here and there and everywhere. I used what I already had. As for the pantry inventory--I'll keep you posted on its merits.
I hope I've given you some ideas that might help you organize your kitchen space. I encourage you to adapt these principles to your family's needs: use what you have, organize like items together, label everything, and plan to place items that are most used in the places that are most convenient for your family. It's all about what works for your family!