Have you ever caught an episode or two of Chef at Home on Food Network? Chef Michael Smith has the single most amazing walk-in pantry I have ever seen. It’s like heaven. Funny how my idea of heaven includes rows upon rows of alphabetized mason jars on back-lit shelves. I have a major case of pantry envy. Not unlike my envy of Carrie’s closet in the Sex and the City movie. It also included back-lit shelves and rows upon rows of, not dried pasta and walnuts but, shoes.
My pantry is far smaller than a fabulous closet and houses less designer shoes. It’s cluttered, it’s disorganized, it probably looks a lot like your pantry. It makes me die a little bit inside each time I open it and an avalanche of dried pasta and spices hit me. Upon further inspection I realized I had three bags of peanuts, two of pecans, two open bags of pene pasta and a really old mickey of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
I decided it was time for a serious overhaul. Forty-seven preserve jars, six pasta containers, two Ikea boxes, six Tupperware containers, sixty hand-punched labels and one wall decal later my pantry is born again. She may not be the biggest, most impressive pantry out there, she may not be back-lit or able to accommodate a sports car, but she keeps my spices safe and warm.
To help you organize your own pantry, I’ve made a list of simple rules to live by.
1. De-clutter and de-stress.
If you don’t know what that dusty old labeless can is in that’s been in the back of your pantry since the War of 1812 then I think it’s safe to get rid of it. Nobody is going to thank you for your cream of botulism soup. You’d be surprised what you might find once you start digging in there. Stale potato chips and desiccated mini marshmallows are just taking up precious real estate. Check expiry dates! Probably half the junk you have in there is either stuff you’re never going to use or stuff that never should be used for the sake of public health.
2. Bigger isn’t better.
One of the most common mistakes people make when analyzing any cluttered space is that they need more. Instead of seeing a space for its potential they are blinded by the mess. Even if your pantry is busting at the seams like mine was, after an inventory of its contents and a new organizational system you will be surprised how much space you really have. When I started organizing my pantry I didn’t even store all my different sugars and flours in there. There just wasn’t room! After getting rid of expired or forgotten stock and organized the rest, I found I had freed up an entire shelf for my sugars and flours.
3. Think in 3D.
Many people think of a pantry as a series of shelves and simply line those surfaces with things. This isn’t wrong, just very one-dimensional. You need to utilize all three dimensional space. Vertical space is the most underutilized dimension. The best way to go about doing this is to categorize everything in order of size. If, like me, you have a plethora of short spice jars try to put them all on one shelf. If your pantry has shelves that can be moved up or down that’s even better! Why waste all that space above the jars when you can move the shelf up to store taller canisters below?
4. One of these things is not like the other.
While categorizing by size you should also organize things by type. Keep all the boxes together, all the cans together, all the pasta together and so on. This will make it far easier to find everything. You don’t want to stumble downstairs in the wee hours of the morning only to fix yourself a big bowl of fusilli flakes and milk. Choose a system that feels natural and allows you to find things blindfolded. Consider how often you use things and keep them accessible, either brought to the front or on a higher shelf.
5. Fronting and facing.
Breezing through a supermarket that’s clean, well-lit and organized with all the products within reach and easy to read is a joy. Think of your pantry as your own personal store. If, to save space and keep the product fresh, you decide to store things is jars or other containers you need to make sure to label them. You don’t want to waste time fumbling through your unmarked spices wondering if that reddish-brown stuff is chili powder or cayenne pepper while your home fries are burning. Make a system! Either organize your spices alphabetically or by frequency of use.
6. Seal in the freshness.
Make sure to maintain, not just the organizational system but also, the freshness of your pantry. A good rule of thumb for dried spices is if you don’t remember when you bought them or the last time you used them it’s time to throw them out. Generally they last six months to a year and then start to lose their potency. I’d suggest shopping for spices from a bulk store, not the grocery store. You can buy as much as you need instead of being stuck with a big bag you’ll never use and it’s way cheaper. As a side note, it’s best to store spices in a cool dry place and not above the stove. Light, heat and humidity cause spices to loose their flavour faster. For that reason, the pantry is the best choice.
7. Pretty personalized pantry.
Sometimes it’s not enough just to organize a space, you also have to make it your own. While a series of identical spice jars and colourful rows of perfectly lined up boxes are enough to make the OCD maniac inside me squeal with joy, I also feel the need to make it pretty. You could make labels with a paper punch like I did, paint chalkboard labels, cut labels out of frosted vinyl, print your own colour coded labels, or stick waterslide decals on there. The possibilities are endless! There’s also a whole world of contact paper and decals out there. I adore my chandelier decal! It add a little whimsy and makes the pantry fancy. You can even accessorize the top of your pantry with a lovely painting, a collection of milk bottles or some simple boxes for extra storage. The bottom line is, you shouldn’t cringe when you open your pantry, you should smile. You shouldn’t be met with a mass of confusion and disarray, but a prime example of modern organization and, above all, a reflection of who you are. A happy cook is a good cook!