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9 Tips for Using the Food in your Pantry {Part 4 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

9 Tips for Using the Food in your Pantry {Part 4 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

Now that you’ve Found the Pantry You Didn’t Have and spent time deciding What to Put in the Pantry and Organizing it, how do you make sure none of that neatly organized food goes to waste? Isn’t that the ultimate problem with having staples on hand? Here are nine tips for actually using the food in your pantry.

Pantry Inventory

1. Start by making an inventory. Post the list with check boxes for when people take items out of the pantry. (ProTip: if you hang a white board you can list your staples in permanent marker and use dry erase markers for the check marks, then you can simply erase the marks when you re-stock. Permanent marker will come off of a white board by tracing over the lines with a dry erase marker followed by Windex and a paper towel, if you ever need to change the list.)

When you shop, be sure to rotate your “stock” when you unload the new groceries. Oldest items should always be in the front, so they get used first. (No, you really won’t remember to grab a can from the back. Take the extra 30 seconds to do it right every time you put away groceries.)

Once per quarter, double check your inventory. It’s a great time to plan a week of use-up-the-food-on-hand meals, which does double duty of refreshing inventory and giving your grocery budget a break.

On a regular basis:

Make your shopping list

Shop from pantry first – marking things off list as you go

While you are “shopping” check pantry for items to replenish and add them to your list

Watch for sales and/or big box stores for bulk purchases of items you use regularly

Don’t buy specialty items in bulk unless they don’t ever expire AND you have room in the pantry (or if the sale/bulk price is lower than the price of a smaller amount, but then buy it and give away the excess)

Be sure everyone knows to let you know when they open/use the last of anything in the pantry. We have an electronic list and all of our children who cook plus my husband and I have access to the list to add things as needed. We always put the date added in parenthesis after adding it so the shopper knows it’s a recent addition. You can do this on paper, in a to-do app, in a shopping app, on the calendar – but make sure it’s someplace to which everyone has access.

6 Steps to an Organized Pantry {Part 3 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

6 Steps to an Organized Pantry {Part 3 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

So, you’ve found your pantry and decided what to put into it, now the real fun begins! Let’s organize it!

First, let’s take a page from the grocery store book. Stores arrange their shelves from top to bottom based upon what they want you to see. When it comes to your pantry, you want to be sure the middle shelves are filled with the things you use most often. There’s no need to bend down low or get a stool to reach up high for regularly used items.

6 steps to organized pantry

1. Place rarely used items in the harder-to-reach places.

  • On the top shelf of our pantry sit serving dishes (platters, punch bowls, large baskets, etc.), large vases for entertaining, roasting pans, and canning supplies – things I only use periodically.  I also have a box up there of items we only use at Christmas which we may need to use before the Christmas bins come down from the attic.
  • Use saran wrap, old t-shirts, or pillow cases to cover the tops of open dishes to keep dust off.

2. Use the floor for heavy items and/or things you want your kids to reach.

  • Large baskets hold unopened bags of chips, boxes of crackers, and bags/boxes of cereal. (once we open a package, it has a home in the kitchen cabinets – no one wants to invite pests into the pantry!)
  • Large bottles of juice, sodas for entertaining, and cases of bottled water.
  • Rolls of paper towels.
  • Milk Crates full of snack packs or drink pouches/boxes.

3. Group remaining items: Again, think grocery store. 

  • Baking items and spices usually make sense together. Flour, sugars, oils, pudding mixes, dressing mixes, dip mixes,
  • Canned goods – veggies, tomato products, ingredient soups, soups you’ll eat, canned milk for recipes, canned juices. There are lots of organizers for canned goods which may help contain them. We just set them on the shelves like the grocery store – oldest cans to the front.
  • Dried foods – rice, potato flakes, pasta, beans
  • Fruit
  • Breakfast foods – toaster pastries, smoothie mixes, protein bars, you get the idea
  • Beverages
  • Party supplies – paper plates, napkins, cups, plasticware
  • Food storage items – plastic bags, extra rolls of plastic wrap, foil, wax paper, freezer paper, vacuum-sealer bags, disposable containers for delivering meals
  • Trash bags of various sizes for all the cans in your home

4. Set your shelves and arrange contents. Remember to put frequently used items in prime locations.

  • Canned goods are typically around the same height. Depending upon the width of your pantry, set a number of shelves at can height, with a little room to slide cans in and out easily.
  • Baking items tend to be a little taller – so set that shelf with enough clearance to move bags and boxes easily.
  • Dried foods are similarly sized to baking items, so maybe they share a shelf
  • Party supplies are bulky, but generally light weight. Put them on a spacious, high shelf.
  • If you have a lot of large bottles on the floor, perhaps part of the shelf above the bottles could contain other beverages – canned drinks, drink mixes, cocoa mix, coffee, chocolate syrup.

5. Get creative with storage. Don’t be afraid to look in other departments for storage solutions.

  • Shoe bags with clear plastic pockets hold things like Pam, vinegar, oil, cooking wines, bulk spices
  • hanging shelves contain paper products
  • tool caddy for plastic silverware
  • automotive cup holders to organize stacks of cups
  • picnic basket for table linens
  • soda sorters for canned goods
  • milk crates for recycling grocery bags
  • wire bin to contain canning jars (light weight, easy to see, carry, etc.)
  • baskets to contain bags of rice, beans, etc.
  • silverware trays for small boxes (pudding, jello, onion soup mix, icing)
  • Lazy Susan for bottles of dressing, oil, spices
  • A pamphlet organizer for seasoning envelopes (sloppy joe seasoning, french onion soup mix, italian dressing mix, etc.)
  • A CD or cassette rack for small packets

6. Label. Label. Label. If it’s not labeled you’ve wasted your labor.

  • Labels can be as simple as marker on painter’s tape (which is low-tack, making it easy to remove without residue later and to rearrange as needed)
  • Label makers print crisp, easy-to-read labels. They can be applied directly to the shelf or to a card attached to the shelf.
  • Print labels on card stock and cut apart and attach to the shelves with tape.
  • As you empty shelves, you’ll forget what you stored there if you don’t have a label.
  • Kids, husbands, even visitors can easily stock and/or find items in a well labeled pantry – which means it will stay organized.
  • Labels help you maintain inventory – as you empty a spot, you know to add it to a shopping list.

All this organizing will leave you with a great looking, efficient space, but if you don’t have a good system for using this new space, you will have wasted your time. Tune in next week for tips on using your pantry well!


Got Pantry! Now What? {Part 2 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

Got Pantry! Now What? {Part 2 in the Organizing Your Pantry Series}

Okay! So now that you’ve found your pantry space, I’m sure you want to get it organized! Not so fast, though! We’ll start organizing next week, but first we need to figure out what should fill it. Once you know what you want in your pantry, you can adjust your shelves to accommodate the height of the items you will store. Then you can start filling the shelves!

Got Pantry! Now what?

So what should go in a pantry? Well, it really depends upon how much space you were able to find.

You might consider:

  • Non-perishable foods – pasta, rice, beans, canned goods, chips, crackers, and snack foods, cereals, overstock of sugars, flour, salt, baking soda, unopened yeast, beverage mixes, coffee beans/grounds, oils, cooking spray, unopened bottles of salad dressing, seasonings and herbs, vinegars, sodas, mixers, bottled fruit juice… you get the idea. Pretty much anything that does not require refrigeration and has a long shelf life. We don’t store anything down there that has the seal broken, since our pantry is nowhere near the kitchen. We stock our kitchen food cupboards with open packages and the food we need for the given shopping week, and leave everything else in the pantry. By doing this, we have only one lower cabinet and one upper cabinet in the kitchen devoted to food – leaving lots of other cabinet space for dishes, appliances, etc.
  • Large or infrequently used cookware – roasting pans, buckets for brining, baskets for berry/apple picking,
  • Vases
  • Coolers
  • Party sized platters, bowls, pitchers, and punch bowls
  • Extra baggies and wraps – snack, sandwich, quart, gallon bags, and trash bags for each size trash can you have; plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper, wax paper, freezer paper… whatever you use
  • A vacuum sealer and bags
  • Paper products – napkins, paper towels, even toilet tissue and facial tissues could go here, if you have enough room
  • Disposable dinnerware – plates, bowls, platters, plastic forks, knives, and spoons, styrofoam and plastic cups
  • Disposable storage containers – I like to keep sour cream containers, margarine tubs, deli meat containers, and foil pans on hand for when we need to deliver a meal to someone else – then there are no dishes to return!
  • Table linens – extra table cloths or placemats
  • Canning jars and supplies, if you do any canning or preserving
  • Cleaning supplies – especially if you buy in bulk

Once you know what you would like to keep in your pantry, you can adjust shelves to the right height and begin to think about what can contain and bring order to the items you want to put in there.

If it’s not organized and contained, you may end up discouraged by the clutter and wasting a lot of food because you simply cannot find it before it expires (yes, non-perishable foods do eventually “perish”).

Next week we’ll begin the task of bringing order to this space and thinking about how to make your pantry use efficient and cost effective.

What is Hiding Under Your Bed?

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents asked you to clean your room… how you quickly stuffed everything in the closet and under your bed and then ran off to play?

Do you remember what happened when your mom looked under your bed? Do you remember the guilt and shame of getting caught?

Maybe I’m the only one who obeyed the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law when it came to “cleaning” my room, but somehow I doubt it.

The thing is, for a long time living with the memory of having cheated by stuffing things under the bed kept me from recognizing the under-bed space as a legitimate storage space.

If you are still stuffing things under the bed to get them out of the way… if you still carry a negative weight when you put something else under the bed… let me liberate you today.

ANY area of dead space is a great candidate for storage – even the space under the bed.

But it feels a little more legitimate if you intentionally plan how to use the space. There are those who use their under bed space for things like table leaves, gift wrap, out of season clothes, and shoes. There are people who still hide their money under the mattress, too.

And yet, there are so many more interesting options.

Lets take a few weeks to explore them together. While we are at it, we can teach our kids how to clean their rooms by making effective use of the space under the bed, rather “cheating” by jamming things under there!

Break Out of Your Box

So there are likely any number of things in your closet spilling out of bins, refusing to hang on hangers, and falling off of shelves. Some things simply don’t lend themselves to typical storage methods, and when we try to stick with “closet organizers” we end up with a mess. Or, we have to give up precious hanging or shelf space for a bulky solution which simultaneously decreases our existing storage for things that could go on a shelf or hanging rod.

These are situations when I like to explore storage options intended for other spaces. Maybe it’s time to break out of your box.

I use an office drawer organizer to hold small items on a closet shelf – change and small items I’ve collected through the day go in one spot as I undress at night, with a standing commitment to deal with the items the next morning when I am not tired and ready for bed. I have a bottle of lotion in there, small jewelry that doesn’t hang on the hooks on the wall, a list of combinations for outfits, in case I can’t decide what to wear…., a spot to keep the medical tape I need for my knee when I run. Since we have wire shelves, little things would fall right through, if I didn’t have something there, and the low edges keep small items from rolling off the edge.

I have a multi-use hanger from Ikea (KOMPLEMENT $7.99) which contains my growing scarf collection and belts.

I use office bins with labels to hold my clean pjs, slips & hose, “unmentionables,” socks, and running clothes.

We upcycled a popcorn bin as a trashcan in the closet (you wouldn’t believe how handy it is to have a trash can in the closet!).

I use a paint liner tray to keep sweaters from getting snagged on the wire shelves.

The point is, you don’t have to limit yourself to closet organization products to organize your closet.

Go to the hardware store and look at tool organizers if you need something for small accessories.

Head to the office supply store to see what options might work for containing stacked shirts or piles of athletic shorts (they can be slippery sometimes and refuse to stay in a neat pile!).

Go to a kitchen store to check out utensil bins, silverware trays, even tea storage chests, all of which make great potential storage for closet items.

Craft stores have a great selection of decorative knobs which work well as hooks that don’t leave a little dimple in items hung over them without a loop.

You never know what you’ll find!

Canvas lined fruit baskets make great containers for delicates.

Old pillow cases are great dust covers for out of season shoes and boots. You can even store clothes in them, on upper shelves, if you keep your out-of-season clothes in the closet.

Robe hooks mounted under a shelf are great for holding purses.

A file box on wheels could slide under a low shelf to contain winter scarves and gloves.

Really, the options are endless, just break out of the closet-organization aisle and get creative! (Likewise, closet organization products can work wonders in a pantry – think shoe bag + pasta bags OR hanging shelves + paper products. Don’t worry, we’ll get into the kitchen and pantry soon!)

Let It Go

Today I’d like to revisit the idea of actually getting rid of things to make more room in the closet. C’mon, you had to know this day would come. You had to know you’d have to let it go!

Here are several quick tips to help figure out what should go.

1) Hang your hangers backwards.

At the beginning of a season, hang all your hanging clothes up with the hangers backwards, so the hook part of the hanger opens to the front instead of the back. After you wear an item, when it comes out of the laundry (or home from the dry cleaner), hang it up the right way, with the hook facing the back. At the end of the season, when you go to switch wardrobes for warmer/cooler weather, any clothes still hanging backwards are shoo-ins for the give-away bin. (Pro-Tip: bag them quickly and put them in the car, so you can’t talk yourself into another 12 months of space-wasters.)

2) Make outfits.

Again, at the beginning of a clothing season, go through the clothes, try them on, and make outfits.

Any items which don’t fit or don’t have a partner are great candidates for the give-away bin. Some caveats: If it’s central wardrobe item you wear with many different outfits, obviously it stays.

Also, if you know exactly what to buy to make it part of an outfit AND you have the money to and a place from which to buy it, hang it backwards in the closet until the partner arrives.

And, finally, if you are actively losing weight (like you weigh in every week and the numbers on the scale are actually going down, which is not the same as planning to lose weight) and the item will fit when you reach your weight goal AND it is still a current fashion, go ahead and keep it. You may not be able to afford an entire new wardrobe when you get to your new size, but PLEASE distinguish between hoping to lose weight and actually losing weight before you keep a lot of clothes that don’t fit. Here’s a helpful thought: if the smaller clothes sitting there seem to accuse or shame you when you see them, get rid of them. No space needs to be take up by items whispering condemnation.

3) Test it.

If you just really want things out of the closet, use the 5-second test. Hold up an item and ask yourself, “If I were in a store, would I buy this?” If you can’t say an unequivocal “yes” within 5 seconds, give. it. away. No caveats. (By which I mean, you don’t get to keep it because someone else bought it for you and you feel badly because you never wear it, or because you spent money on it and aren’t wearing it but should, or because you’d like to like it, or…). Seriously, if you wouldn’t buy it now, why keep it now?

4) Get help.

For the extravert (or really desperate introvert): invite a friend to go into your closet and help you choose clothes that make you look good. The trick here is to (1) pick someone who knows you well enough to be honest, (2) pick someone whose taste you like and can help you look your best, and (3) commit to following their advice/suggestions. It’s not helpful to ask someone to help and then argue with them about every suggestion. If you can’t make the decisions, get advice. And listen. to. it. So when they say, “These pants haven’t been in style since the late 90s,” you don’t get to remind them of 30-year fashion cycles and point out there are only 6 more years until that style is back. 🙂

5) Let it go. Now.

Once you’ve ruthlessly sorted and eliminated a host of items, throw away all the things that are torn, broken, or missing parts. Yes, I really mean throw it away. As in, use the trash can. Those pants have lived a good life. In the words of Ilsa, “Let it go.”

And don’t hang onto the “trash items” to upcycle them like you saw on Pinterest last week unless you have a scheduled day to do the upcycling. Throw them all away, take the bag to the curb, outside can, put the egg shells and coffee grounds in the bag, add a messy diaper. Do what you need to do, but throw them away. Now. You’ll thank me later. 🙂

Pack up the rest for charity, and put it in your car before you can change your mind. If you are really bad about these things, take it immediately to your favorite donation spot.

6) Enjoy!

Now go look at all the space you created in your closet. That should bring a smile to your face! (Unless you left all the things that fit laying on the bed and still have a mess to clean up… hypothetically speaking, of course!).