Several years ago I read Marie Kondo’s book and didn’t put a single thing into practice. It didn’t help that I had just given birth to our 3rd child and after discovering that her method, if executed as extensively as recommended, could often take a year to complete, I tapped out and decided to live like Monica Geller for several more years. But I can definitely feel the pace of our lives shifting a bit, with kids getting older and our pulling away from so many activities that kept us busy with practices and games throughout the week. I can also say that I’ve grown increasingly less patient with digging through drawers and cabinets to reach the crucial items I always seem to need but can never easily access, as well as wasting food by buying multiples of items I didn’t realize we already had.
So several weeks ago I completely revamped key areas of our house, including the kitchen pantry, cabinets and drawers. I also overhauled all the bathrooms, both kids closets and the final thing on my list is to hit up is my own closet and drawers, which luckily aren’t that bad so I am getting to them last. Since the primary focus of my blog is to inspire my readers to cook more, I wanted to share a couple of posts on my complete kitchen reorganization project, starting with the pantry, since they have made working in the kitchen 100 times more efficient and enjoyable.
And as you can see from the photo above, I didn’t get too Pinteresty by purchasing tons of matching organization containers, but instead opted for mason jars when needed. I know the uniformity of all those matching containers looks amazing, but to be honest I’ve used them before and found that unless you were buying all your foods in bulk, they were actually a bit impractical. This makes for less pretty pictures, but more realistic living. Hopefully you’ll find some helpful tips that you can easily enact at home without having to run out and invest in a ton of containers.
So the first thing I did after removing everything from the pantry, was sat down and really gave some thought to how we use the pantry. Keep in mind that this pantry is rather small, so I had to really make the most of the space I have. I jotted down a few key categories of things we reach for and use on an *almost* daily basis and they included:
Smoothie making ingredients – between Art & I, one of us makes a smoothie every single day.
Nuts & seeds – I eat salads pretty much every day and always toss in 1-2 tbsp of nuts, plus we add them to smoothies, oatmeal and of course snack on them.
Breakfast items – we make oatmeal and pancakes quite often, so that could use its own little category.
Kids snacks – we pack a school snack for each kid to eat during their nutrition break, and they have to be nonperishable since the break is so short they don’t have time to dig out their lunch from their backpack (little kindergarten hands aren’t so quick), or they have to be able to carry it with them in their backpack since their cooled lunch pail stays in their locker till lunch time. So bottom line, we need to have a good amount of dry snacks on hand.
Pet food, snacks and accessories – pretty self-explanatory
Beans, grains, pastas & other dinner making necessities like tomato sauce, tomato paste, chicken broths, etc.
So once I nailed down my key categories, I began putting things away in their own separate bins. These containers are from Target, and I already had them on hand from my initial reorganization project after we moved back home post-remodel. I used a total of 6 large, 8 medium and 2 long rectangular containers for my pull-out drawers that are 30″ wide and 20.5″ deep.
If you want to use try a similar organization system at home, I highly encourage you to get all the dimensions of your drawers and shelves, write them down, and take your notes along with a tape measure to the store. Take your time laying out the bins you want to purchase in a sectioned off space at the store (this is where the tape measure comes in). Simply lay out a couple of bins or pieces of paper to signify your space, and see how the containers fit in the space. When I did this, I discovered that my drawers would most efficiently fit a combination of 2 different sized bins, so there’s very little wasted space.
I love my new smoothie bin since now I can just pick up the container and take it over to my blender instead of making a couple of trips. It also saves me time since I’m not digging around for the items I need. A categorized bin section also makes it so much easier for Art and the kids to put things away after each use and unpack groceries, since they aren’t as familiar or particular with pantry organization. 😉 So the biggest change I made to the pantry was designating an entire pull out shelf as a snack area. Previously, I kept a few snacks out down below, and kept everything else in the single upper cabinet that was pretty high above. I mistakenly thought that if I kept the extra snacks out of my kid’s sight until we had finished what was already out, they wouldn’t eat them. But kids are funny that way! They are old enough and smart enough to know where the extra stash was, and despite my best efforts, they continually snuck into the more appealing snacks housed in the upper cabinet haha! So bags of chips & crackers would often go stale because we had 5 bags open at a time and there was a lot more food waste.
Now that they can see everything we have, they’re a lot less interested in opening up every bag of chips. They finish what we have since it’s front and center and easy to get to, and I’m noticing there’s a heck of a lot less food waste. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but isn’t that often the case with our success stories as parents?
The bottom pull out was previously a mish mash of pet food, plates & napkins and a bunch of other random stuff. I found a more logical place for the paper plates & napkins, and now I just have a bin of pet food & snacks, and 2 bins of *extra* food that we often rotate through, such as rice and beans, as well as random cans of things like pumpkin puree and coconut milk, and all the condiments & sauces we own. I am not allowing myself to buy anymore sauces and condiments until I go through these! I have 1 large bin for grains, pastas and soup, and 2 smaller bins for beans, which we eat 2-3 times a week at least.Being this organized has made the need for food storage space in the upper pantry (not pictured) almost unnecessary. The only thing we are keeping up above are a couple of tall boxes of cereal and a few extra stock large items that won’t fit below, like the Costco size jug of olive oil and coconut oil. We also throw our extra paper towels & paper plates up there, and have a shelf for alcohol and mixers, but that’s about it.
So to recap, the main strategies and lessons for optimal pantry organization at home are:
First, take some time to sit down and think about how you use your pantry, including the most used foods you reach for, what frustrates you most about your current set up, and the “bad habits” your family currently falls into, and how you could hopefully fix them with the right strategy. For it was continually jamming foods into any corner in the pantry, eventually getting lost and either going stale or unnecessarily buying multiples.
Map out your space and buy appropriate sized bins to make the most efficient use of your space. Take a measuring tape and dimension notes to the store with you when you purchase your bins.
Use uniform bins to keep similar food items clustered into key categories, but not necessary to use uniform food storage containers. No need to get fancy & cute, but having foods compartmentalized definitely keeps you more organized.
Mason jars work great for random bulk foods since they serve multiple purposes and are a snap to clean. Ours double as drinking vessels, and when I need a jar to store nuts, seeds or beans, I just grab one from the shelf and pop on a lid.
Dedicate a snack area out in the open so you can easily assess stock levels and kids can make choices for themselves. And as a side note, if you currently “hide” snacks or keep them out of reach, I recommend instead talking your kids through appropriate snack times and amounts. Better for them to learn young than to try and teach them when they’re old enough and big enough to reach for the snacks on their own.
Lastly, commit to not buying additional items in your key categories until you’ve gone through what you already have. This to me is a very Marie Kondo rule, in that if you bring something new into the house, you must either already have room for it or you have to get rid of something old to make room for the new thing. With stores like Costco and BOGO/stock up sales that markets often run, it’s easy to very quickly wind up with more food than you have space for. For me, I have to remind myself as I often do with clothes, “just because it’s on sale or a good price doesn’t mean I have to buy it.” 😉
Overall, I think I’ve created a system that would make Marie Kondo proud. I may not be using all her methods, but my space is functional and uncomplicated. It reduces waste and increases efficiency. It’s also easy to keep clean and organized, which is key, and the rest of my family can also follow along. I think I may have finally hit the pantry organization jackpot.
How do you all organize your pantries? Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share with me? I’d love to hear them!