Anatomy of a Pantry

Last weekend I spent some time with my parents working on their in-the-midst-of-a-remodel-kitchen. One of the new features is a walk in pantry that has just a few more steps until completion. I was considering the lack of organization in most kitchens and decided to discuss my own methods.

Rule #1: A place for everything.

I hate wasting time, especially when it comes to searching for something I need NOW. When it came time to fill the various nooks and crannies of my kitchen I considered how and where I cook, clean and prepare meals.My places are not static and change on occasion but only if a new location makes more sense.

I asked my parents for their old mail holder and when they couldn’t find theirs they picked up this one (I think at a thrift store) for me:

It’s great for holding scissors, my keys and labels for the kitchen.

I hate climbing up and down to get things from the top shelf so I tend to put up things I don’t need very often. Here above my fridge I have summer cups, squirt bottles for the grill and empty egg cartons.

And tucked right next to the fridge is my step stool.

Next to the sink I keep scrub brushes for the dishes and drying cloths in a basket and under the sink I have kitchen towels, cleaning supplies and gloves for dish washing. Just recently I moved this big collection of kitchen tools next to my stove top – it’s the perfect location and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.

Rule #2 Make Room for Food

When it comes to food storage I have shelf stable food and cold storage. Aside from my fridge/freezer combo (a $40 garage sale find), I have a mini deep freezer outside ($99 on sale at Target). You can see my canned storage here in the outdoor pantry which is perfect because I hate stacked cans.

Inside I’ve recently reorganized my pantry into sections. I have baking,

breakfast,

sides, pasta & beans,

alcohol,

dessert,

and appliance storage:

Each door has a simple list of what I have and I update it as I use up stock. And since I tend to collect but not eat a lot of snack foods I’ve been keeping these items out on the counter here:

It really helps to have dedicated areas for food. Mine are divided by type and in a few places – not pictured is my cabinet for spices and a drawer with tea, lemonade mixes and hot chocolate mixes.

Rule #3 Find Appropriate Storage Containers

Currently, I’m refinishing a china cabinet I bought so I can properly store my collections and random pieces I’ve picked up. Once that is painted and installed in the kitchen I’ll begin to figure out new homes for the snack collection, my hot pads and other assorted linens.

My knives are a modge podge mix and currently sit in a drawer. I’d like to find a better home for them but will probably wait until I invest in a better set.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to storage because we all have unique needs and kitchen items. The trick is to identify what you have, what you need and what you use most often and plan accordingly. In the spring and summer I have smoothies 3 to 4 times a week so my blender lives on the counter. During the winter I’ll use my crockpot regularly and right now I can return it to the cabinet in place of the blender.

Rule #4 Keep What You’ll Use

If you find yourself running out of room it may be that you’re holding onto food you’ll never eat or use in a recipe. There are a few solutions:

  • Donate to a food bank (be sure to check expiration dates)
  • Advertise on Freecycle
  • Give to a friend or family
  • Suck it up and use it up
  • Throw it out

Obviously wasted food is not the best solution so if you find that you’ve thrown out or given away something over and over again I suggest a “Do Not Buy” list. This can go right along with your shopping list and include things you *think* you’ll use but never do.

Even if you use some of an item consider the unit cost. Eating just a handful of Super Dense Fiber-O cereal at $4 a box is a very expensive breakfast. Either pick up the smallest possible portion size or cross it off your grocery list. Of course that cereal usually tastes stale when it’s fresh so you could keep it for emergency stock!

Rule #5 Be Ruthless

If you own a chopper and it gathers dust: donate it.
If you buy Pampered Chef out of obligation and never use it: stop (and send it to me!).
If you’re constantly looking in the fridge, sighing and calling for pizza: change your habits.

Shopping sales, keeping a well stocked pantry and cooking at home can save you hundreds of dollars.

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