The Neat and Realistic Pantry: Part 1
The Sustainable Pantry
My pantry here is both a good example of a solution that maintains itself and one that has lasted without much need for reorganization. It has worked for three years now in a household with three children and two busy parents (even during the preschool years). This is the pantry for someone that doesn’t have the time or will to take all of the food out of their original containers in order to put it into pretty Mason jars. I love those beautiful pantries, but they’re just not practical for me. A quick sort after you get home from the grocery store is all you need here.
Once completed, this pantry stays neat with only basic upkeep. Occasionally, I will need to spend a little time to clean a bin or remove items we’ve carelessly placed between the bins on the shelves. This typically happens when an item doesn’t belong to any of the categories listed or we’ve over-purchased a particular item and there’s no room. Other times, it’s just because we’ve just gotten extra lazy. Even when it’s bad, however, it’s really not that bad.
The Pantry for Stocking Up
This pantry also works well for those of us that like to stock up on sale items or to shop at warehouse stores like Costco and BJs. I find that stocking up on non-perishable items in this way is not only cost-effective, but also lessens the likelihood that I will run out of necessities. I can always find something to throw in the kids lunches or turn into dinner even when we’ve been too busy to get to the store. I also won’t do a face palm the next time I find that I’m completely out of brown sugar after getting a sudden urge to give the kids a childhood experience via baking.
The Pantry that's Attainable
Lastly, I believe this pantry is more attainable than a lot of the other beautiful pantries out there, because it’s fairly inexpensive and extremely easy for anyone to put together. You could probably even have your kids or grand kids “help” you put it together for a little extra family time, and give them a sense of accomplishment and sorting practice. The only areas that are more difficult, and that I would do on my own, include hanging the door shelves and labeling.
I stocked up on containers over time, but most of the bins and shelves here are inexpensive enough so that almost anyone can jump in at least partially budget-wise.
Why it Works
I’ve used quite a few of my organization rules here:
- Keep it simple (easy to assemble and easy to maintain once in place)
- Store it where you use it (there is usually enough room for all of the food in certain categories even if we’ve just stocked up)
- Avoid excessive sorting/Use broad categories
- Large, (mostly) open bins
- Little or no stacking
- Keep it visible
- Label everything
- Everything has a place/category for everything
- Make it attractive/Hide it in something pretty (Okay, maybe plastic containers aren’t technically pretty, but these certainly give that clean and neat look. The lack of spilled food from knocked over containers helps a little too.).
So if your pantry has been driving you nuts, don’t wait! A neat pantry is within your reach.
Problems SolvedProblem 1: Available Storage Space
I had a small pantry in the last house and no pantry in the four homes before that one, so I was pretty excited when I got this one. In those homes, I used kitchen cabinets for our food. Eventually, however, I noticed that this home didn’t have that many kitchen cabinets or drawers, so my focus really had to be on the pantry (which makes up a little less than half of our kitchen’s available storage). Aside from dishes and cooking utensils, we have just about everything you might need in a kitchen in the pantry: nonperishable food, drinks, seasonings, food wraps and bags, party supplies, supplements, headache medicine, cookie cutters, and more.
I’ve taken advantage of most of the usable space in here, including the doors, floors, and even space under the shelves. I could add more shelves to the door if necessary. The large bins also take advantage of all the vertical space that was left empty between the shelves when anything shorter than a cereal box was placed on one before.Problem 2: Looking Messy Even Right After Organizing
Perhaps I overreacted, but this big pantry almost always looked terrible, and it really stressed me out. I found myself wasting a good amount of time trying to get it to look nice. The perpetual messiness issue was solved mostly by hiding the contents of the pantry in large, mostly open storage bins for the following reasons:
- Visually, large containers look neater than many tiny containers.
- Food containers come in varying colors, shapes, and sizes. Lots of monotone bins just look better than the usual jumbled mess of colors and shapes found in pantries.
- Bins keep everything contained. Unless we haven’t put something away, we don’t have to worry about loose items.
- Individual items have a tendency to tip and get knocked over on these types of shelves with gaps. Large bins slide over them easily without getting caught in the cracks and tipping over.
- Bins keep spills contained. My kids aren’t always careful when closing cereal boxes and the like. I found spilled cereal all over the floor almost every day before.
I should stress that having labels makes a big difference also, so try not to skip this step. They make it more likely that individual items won’t just be placed on shelves between bins, which would completely negate all the good you’re trying to accomplish.Problem 3: Running Out of Necessities in a Pantry Full of Food
Having designated spaces that are open, clear, or otherwise visible makes it easier to see when you’re running low on a particular item. There is also little doubt when you’ve run out of something, because there’s less chance it could be somewhere else.
In Part 2 of my pantry reveal, I’ll let you know about the specific products I used and their safety. I’ll also dig a little deeper into the benefits and risks of using plastic.