Last week I spoke with Allison Flinn of Reclaim Professional Organizing. Allison walked me through the process of how to organize your pantry.
A couple months ago Allison came to my home and did a whole home organization project. She started in the kitchen, dining room and kids bedrooms and then finished up in my laundry room, garage and master bedroom. It was honestly the best money I have ever spent.
But even after she had done my organizing, doing this interview with her really helped me even more because I understand the concepts behind what she did and it is helping me to keep things in order.
The first thing you want to do when organizing your pantry is to remove every single thing in the pantry. It should look like the day you moved in with nothing in it. Wipe down the shelves really well. And move all the pantry items onto a large surface…your dining room table, or living room floor if you need that much space. Once you’ve got it all out there, you’ll move onto Step #2
Allison says there hasn’t been a single pantry she has organized that hasn’t had some expired food. Usually there are a couple bags but she has seen up to 8 bags of expired food! (She says that was not my house and I’m going with believing her.)
Really, expired food can creep up on you. When your pantry is a mess, it’s easy for stuff to get shoved in the back. And then you don’t know where things are and so you buy more stuff. It can get out of control quickly. So dump that mess like an old boyfriend. Just get rid of it and move on.
Once you’ve tossed your expired food (don’t you feel lighter now??) you can sort what’s left into categories. Allison says the categories vary by family but usually it looks something like this:
You should think through how your family uses the pantry items as you’re sorting. You don’t want to make the categories too specific because then you’ll have a million little bins lined up in your pantry and that’s not helpful.
When creating your zones you want to think about which items you want most accessible. Which things do you use most frequently. Which things need to be on lower shelves for kids or *ahem* short people.
You’ll have your baking zone, your canned foods zone, etc. In my pantry I have a section for root vegetables and a section for pastas and things the kids cook (mixes, etc.). Just think about how you live and eat and create sections that make sense.
Before you put anything back into your pantry, you want to measure the shelves. The most important part of keeping your pantry organized once it has been done, is never, ever, ever putting anything directly on a shelf. Everything should go inside a bin or basket that is meant for that particular food. If you use bins or baskets, stuff won’t get shoved to the back and lost in the clutter.
The coolest thing about having our pantry organized like this is I no longer overbuy. Because everything in the pantry has a place, if there isn’t a spot opened up for that thing, I simply don’t buy it.
My son used to be terrible about opening up 5 different boxes of cereal at a time. Now we have 3 cereal containers. I shop once a week. I immediately toss the packaging of the cereal and put them into the clear containers. Nobody forgets which box we are on or if it’s time to open a new one.
So many of the items we buy come in single serving packages inside larger boxes. Think oatmeal, snack bars, baby food or kid food pouches, controlled portion chips and crackers. If we leave these inside the original packaging we never know how much is there and when we need to refill. This can lead to overbuying or items getting lost in the back of the pantry as we buy more and shove things back. Always remove these items and store in bins that will allow you to see the contents.
This was one of the areas where I found having a professional organizer the most helpful. I had dozens of bins lying around. I had tried so many times to sort things into the appropriate sized bins and it never seemed to work. Allison has a few choices that she uses for specific types of food.
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You can use a shallow lazy susan for small bottles of things like oils & vinegars. On our lazy susans like this, we have some medium sized spice bottles, peanut butter (we have several different varieties, because of course, nobody likes the same thing), Nutella, that kind of thing.
The deeper, divided lazy susan is great for snack bars, granola bars, juice pouches…things that might get buried in a bigger bin.
Canisters like these glass canisters or these extra tall canisters are great for keeping foods fresh, but Allison warns that you should only use these if you are going to be good about refilling the items when they are low. If you don’t see yourself keeping your canisters full, they’ll just add more clutter to the pantry. A basket might be a better option for example for pasta boxes, rather than a canister.
I really love the water hyacinth baskets. They are so pretty! I have all my sweaters on the shelf in my closet in these baskets. They can be used in the pantry for medium sized boxed items like pastas or breakfast items. But Allison says that if you are the kind of person who forgets about things that are out of sight, you might want to go with a clear bin instead.
These clear and deep baskets can corral baking supplies, breakfast items, pasta boxes, cereal boxes or other larger sized like items.
Ellen is the founder of Harmony Realty, a socially conscious realty company. Ellen believes in empowering her clients through education and open communication. Ellen is a number-cruncher at heart and takes great pleasure in following and analyzing the trends of the housing industry. She loves communicating the big picture to her clients and helping them to understand how the market affects their sale or purchase. Her honest and down-to-earth approach allows her clients to make informed and intelligent decisions to get the most out of their offers and negotiations.