My Pantry Makes Me Cry

For months (oh, who am I kidding? It's probably been a year now) my walk in pantry has been nagging the crap out of me. It's an absolute hole. I couldn't even get in the door to throw one more jumbo pack of spaghetti sauce in there. I'd like to blame my neglect on the fact that I've been working long hours on my next book, but it was actually a pit before I even started the manuscript.

Betty might be able to get in, but she would never be able to get out!
It all came to a head the other night when I was sitting at Gomer's soccer practice and I got a random text from a number I didn't recognize, "Hi. Can I borrow a cup of flour?" 

Say what? Am I on Leave it to Beaver? Or possibly a low-budget porn? (Don't pretend you've never seen that Skinamax episode where the sexy neighbor who enjoys baking in the nude needs a cup of sugar.)

I wrote back, "I'm sorry. I'm not sure who this is."

The reply came quickly, "Oh sorry. This is Betty. From next door."

Oh, so it wasn't a low-budget porn after all. I guess people really bake and really run out of ingredients and really call/text their neighbors for a cup of whatever. Who knew? Maybe I would if I baked more often.

I was going to be at the soccer fields for another hour or so, but the Hubs was home with Adolpha. I could tell Betty to just go over and ask the Hubs for a cup of flour. 

Except ... my pantry.

I'm not normally concerned if anyone sees me at my worst, but my pantry is another thing. For some reason the state of my pantry really bothered me. Even worse, I couldn't guarantee my flour was weevil-free. I'm not a baker and my flour doesn't get the turn over it deserves, so it isn't always feeling its freshest.

The Hubs is so damn lazy he'd probably let Betty in and tell her to get the flour herself so he could get back to watching Real Housewives of New Jersey. I was petrified that the Hubs would let Betty try and wade through the jumbo boxes of Oreos and multi-pack jars of applesauce (yes, I do the bulk of my shopping at Sam's Club and Costco, go ahead and judge) in my pantry only to discover my container of flour had become the home to a family of overfed weevils.

I couldn't take the chance.

I texted back, "Sorry, Betty, but I'm at the soccer fields. I could give you a call when I get home and bring you some flour." Meaning, I would stop at the grocery store on the way home and buy brand new flour so I could bring her a cup.

A little while later she wrote back, "Oh, don't worry. Reggie is going to the grocery store for me. Thanks anyway."

Phew. I dodged that bullet. But who knew when the next bullet would come? I had to tackle my pantry.

The next day I asked one of my favorite overachievers if she was on Pinterest.

"Why?" she asked.

Most people go to Google to search for answers to their problems. I go to Pinterest. Pinterest is an amazing resource of information and it's prettier to look at than Google.

"Because I need to organize my pantry and I wanted to look at your Pinterest account. I figured you'd have some good ideas."

"I don't have 'ideas', Jen. I have 'systems.'"

"OK. I need a 'system.' What's your Pinterest name?"

"I'm not on Pinterest, Jen. I'm busy making systems," she joked. 

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Pinterest. I usually pin funny things or I go down rabbit holes to blog posts that are supposed to teach me about SEO, but really just try and sell me a $3.99 e-book that will have all the "secrets."

While I troll around Pinterest I try not to shame spiral about how disorganized I am, how much I hate to work out, how poor my style is, and how damn hungry I am (I think I have at least three boards dedicated to food).

If my friend didn't have a Pinterest account, I would have to make due with stranger's advice. I got on and I started searching pantries.

Holy shit, you guys. There are a lot of people out there who have more money tied up in bins, baskets, and buckets in their pantries than I have in cars.

When I brought this fact to the attention of Facebook, my overachieving system making friend said, "Go to the Dollar Store." Brilliant. This is just one of the many reasons why I keep her around. She's always thinking, that one!

I took her advice and went to the Dollar Store, but the bins they had made me cry - even more than the state of my pantry. They were awful. I could smell the petroleum and the scent of the despair and hopelessness of the workers who made them. Also, they were hot pink and purple. That's really where I drew the line. I'm not a fashionista, but I just couldn't outfit my pantry in hot pink and purple bins!

I compromised and went to Wal-Mart where I could get something less offensive. Sure, they cost me ten times as much, but organizing is expensive, you guys. Systems don't come cheap. At least not in my house.

I got home and started cracking. I began by pulling every single thing out of my pantry.

"Oh, you're going to get started today?" the Hubs asked.

"Of course! Why not?" I replied.

"Because the day is half over. I'm sort of tired from shopping for those bins. Aren't you? I just thought maybe you'd do it next week."

"Nope! It's been bugging me for months. I'm going to get it done today!"

"OK ... because it's like one o'clock and tomorrow you'll be gone all day and then after that is the weekend and ..."

I knew what he was thinking. He thought I'd pull everything out and then let it sit on the counters for a week until I finally found time to throw it all back in there on the floor again.

I would show him!

I divided everything into piles on my counters and started going through expiration dates. I've lived in this house for 8 years. I had a muffin mix that was 10 years old. Yeah, that means I payed a moving company to ship it here so I could throw it away. (Please don't tell the Hubs. He just lectured me the other day, "Do you know what is the most expensive food we buy? The stuff you throw away!") I had a few cans that were all jacked up. They were collapsing in on themselves like a melting Wicked Witch of the West. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it can't be good. Those got chucked too.

As I worked on my pantry I realized that MY pantry could be pin-worthy too. I could give advice just as easily as any other site out there. Sure, my site isn't called "Happy Homemaker" or "Happy Wife Happy Life" or "Systems Work" or even "Organize the Hell Out of Your House," but still I could be helpful.


So, Tip Number One: Throw out anything that is expired and/or threatening to explode.

I had to sneak three bags of expired food out to the garbage can before the Hubs could see me. When your husband wheels the trash can out to the curb and moans and groans about how much heavier it was than last week, just do what I did: pretended like he was getting older and weaker.

Tip Number Two: Get rid of random items that don't belong in the pantry.

For some reason, my pantry is becoming the giant junk drawer in our house. For example, I found a bottle of lotion (perfecting timing, I was just running low), a sippy cup lid (all of the sippy cups have been gone for years), several batteries (dead or alive is the question now), all of my Tupperwear that has been "missing" for a year, an extension cord, a sock, and two step stools (surely one is all I need in there).

Tip Number Three: Group like items together:

Paper products

Canned goods








Tip Number Four: Fill your bins. Woohooo!

I bought two really big suckers. One is black and one is red. The black one I filled up with all of snack stuff that my kids can put in their lunches. They help me make lunches and this way they can grab something out of the bin. The other one is all of the snack stuff they can take to school for a snack or have after school. I know what you're thinking. Jen, aren't those the same stuff? No. They're not.

This is where you're going to see how weird and cheap I am. I buy individual applesauces or puddings or canned fruit for lunches only. Those suckers are expensive and I don't want my kids gobbling them down two at a time after school. And the school snack needs to be something they can eat without utensils. So, all of those are in one bin.

The other bin is full of granola bars, protein bars, 100 calorie snacks, etc. that they can have during snack time at school and at home.

It's weird, I know, but it's my system - go make your own!

Tip Number Five: Use your common sense.

Items that you don't use on a daily basis should go to the top shelves. I want my kids to help me and help themselves, so I moved the things that they eat on a regular basis to the lower shelves so they could reach.

For some reason, my cookbooks have always been in the prime real estate spot - eye level, just inside the door. That's ridiculous, because I never use my cookbooks. All of my recipes come from Pinterest. Duh. Those suckers got moved to the back.

And finally Tip Number Six: It will never look like the ah-may-zing pantries you see on Pinterest, but at least you can walk in the door.

Yeah, that's a chevron clothes hamper holding bags of chips. I'm an organizational genius and I'm finally coming around to liking chevron, so it must be time for it be passe.

I got cray-zee and put my soups by TYPE. I also put the bread WITH the PB&J! I know. Mind. Blown. Right?

Can we talk a minute about K-cups? I got a Keurig last year for Christmas and my dad went wild with ordering me K-cups. I finally put them all together in one spot. Holy crap. If you're ever at my house and I don't offer you a hot beverage, please be sure to ask for one, because as you can see I have plenty.

After rearranging and filling my bins I was on an organizational high. Even my kids got excited. "Gomer! Look! You can see the floor!" Adolpha exclaimed.

I gave the family a tour of my new, beautiful pantry and I threatened them all within inches of their lives to leave it that way.

We're on day two of my new and improved pantry and so far, so good. However, I'm not taking anymore chances. I'm heading out today to buy a padlock for the door. It's the only way it will stay this way.

Pin this sucker, because it could save lives.
(Psst ... Now is the time to pin this post. If you've never pinned anything in your life, this is the time to do it. Open a Pinterest account and pin this so that every overachieving underachiever in the world can benefit from the knowledge.)

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Jenna said...

Awesome "system" Jen! My pantry has been making me cry for years. Yes, years. I too have items that were moved from our last house. And that was twelve years ago for us. Ugh. The only thing stopping me from tackling this (besides my lack of energy and the fact that my family will ruin any organization I do in less than 2 hours) is the lack of counter space in my kitchen because it's also a mess. But as soon as the kitchen gets cleaned-I'm on it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great job. I have learned the hard way that the whole Bin system doesn't work for me. Maybe it's because I have ADD--I do, really! I tried it in my linen closet where I store medications, cosmetics, hair appliances, ect. I tried to separate my stuff into 4 bins; Stuff to medicate myself with, Stuff to beautify myself with, Miscellaneous, and Hair appliances and travel items. The problem was I couldn't ever remember which bin half the stuff belonged in. For example, sunscreen, medicate bin or beautify bin???? I had to look through every bin on a pretty regular basis. And, my husband never put stuff back in the proper bin when he got it out. I do better with "regions" that way I can see more of the stuff. I am jealous of people who can do the whole Bin thing, I wish my brain worked that way. Oh well, at least I spray painted cardboard boxes rather than buying a bunch of nice decorative boxes.

Debbie said...

Well, I figured organizing my closets was a given in this post vacation, fresh BTS season, but really hadn't considered my pantry. Yet this is the second "warning" I've read about scary shit in one's pantry.
On a separate note, glad to see you get sucked into SEO rabbit holes. I'm beginning to thing SEO is made-up crap that will score some young folks lots of money and McMansions, until it busts, and then we'll have another round of foreclosures and stuff. Just a theory.

Debbie said...

I'm with you on this ADD thing! I can get a system, and then some new item creeps into the house that apparently didn't get the memo on "the system," and then the system is once again worth shit, and the mess goes on. Do the truly organized just thrown away and turn away stuff that doesn't fit the system (thanks for the present, but I'm putting it in the garage because it doesn't work for my bin system!) or are they constantly "re-system-ing"? If so, how does such organization help one out, as Pinterest and magazines would imply?

One Blunt Mom said...

I am in the middle of this exact same project!!

Design Lab 443 said...

The basement is the monkey on my back right now. NO one except my husband and kids are allowed in the basement. It's a reck!

Carol said...

::knock knock:: Can I borrow a cup of flour??

tatooine84 said...

Let us know how long it lasts! I "fix" mine every few weeks but it gets all messed up again the next time I go grocery shopping since my kids and husband are usually the ones that put everything away and it turns out that they don't care if like things go together. They don;t cook though and don't know how hard it is to find something like taco seasoning (should be with spices in the top) when it is shoved to the back of the bottom shelf.

Jenny said...

I just redid my pantry, as it was in a similar state as yours. I got all giddy about it, and started on a Sunday afternoon, not thinking about the work I had going on the upcoming week. So, most of my pantry crap was out and about in my kitchen for a week. It was even worse than my formerly unorganized pantry. But, it looks awesome now, and I am no longer mortified every time I pass it by, which is a vast improvement! Looks great!

onemusingmama said...

I'm incredibly jealous...that you have a pantry! I don't have anything resembling a pantry. I have a couple of cabinets overflowing and more stuff shoved in a cabinet below. And a basement closet that is half junk and half food that I keep wanting to make into a useable storage pantry for Costco stuff. I'll get to it...eventually...

Anna San said...

This is gorgeous. My pantry is always bare, because I can't stand trying to keep the pantry clean and organized!

Unknown said...

Ahh the pantry. I have a love-hate relationship with it. It's full of awful wire shelving and little annoying wire baskets hanging on the wall at heights that don't accomodate more than the squat little can of baking powder.

I just found a box of microfiber cleaning cloths in there. With only 1 cloth in it. WHY? Cleaning items go in the LAUNDRY ROOM. Also where the light bulbs live. Found two of those too. No idea why we are keeping eleventy-bajillion plastic grocery bags, but apparently we need them. No dog in the history of ever has pooped that much.

My boys like to "help" by reorganizing all of my canned goods. I don't have many, but I have a "system". Then they go in and crunk it up and I can't find anything and end up with 9 cans of spaghetti sauce because I couldn't find the cans I knew I had to begin with. I'm rambling. AGAIN.

I think I need to add this to my elephant list.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful! You did exactly what you should have done which is create a system that works for YOU. I'm amazed at how many people just go buy bins and other containers thinking that they'll magically organize themselves by osmosis. Every system will have to be tweaked as things change but modifying is a whole lot easier than starting fresh. Congratulations on a great project.

Bridget said...

Add a bay leaf or 3 to your flour. NO bugs! Really.....

Lucky Mama (Little Rock Mamas) said...

Well done, Jen. Can you come organize my room of shame? And maybe my basement too?

Unknown said...

Rock star! Love it. And hey, bread with the pb & j may give me hives to look at, but it works for your fam and that is what is important! Nice job.

Susan B said...

I'm just sayin... I WOULD pin it but I'm reading this in feedly on my iPad and since there is not a "pin it" button I can't. And by can't I mean I'm too lazy. But, hey, if you stuck some "pin it" buttons on your posts I'd do it. Because I think more people should read it. (I thought all those kcups were pudding btw)

Jankowski Family Fun said...

Ohmygah. It's so beautiful I could cry. The experts say it's too early for the nesting phase, but my love for your organizational cans (not a euphemism) is REAL.

hrhejc said...

You inspired me! I bought a drawer divider for my big utensils and organized the snot out of it. No more sexy-time for the spatulas!

Unknown said...

I totally get the difference between your two snack bins. I am a cheapskate like that, too! Yay for cheapness!

Looks great, Jen. Come on over and organize my playroom, will ya?

Mei said...

I found that having to go gluten free really inspired me to clean the pantry. Now to keep it that way...

Desperately-Seeking-Sanity said...

My kitchen is kinda small, and I don't have a lot of cabinets or drawers for things. I've found a lot of creative ways to organize though. Like those mesh laundry bags work really well for holding tupperware lids and the large plastic utensils everyone they have the perfect holes already included to hang them on the wall using those small plant/closet hooks that screw into the wall. I bought 3 wooden boxes at a yard sale a few years ago, and since my stove has no topper or vent thing, I put them on top of there to use as shelving/spice racks. Now if only the rest of my house was as organized!

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Unknown said...

Congrats on cleaning your where did that nutella go... I found it in the "before" pic. But it vanished

Unknown said...

I also LOVE the fact that the peanut butter stayed in the same spot in the EXACT SAME POSITION!!!!

Holls said...

Love this! Thanks for sharing. I attribute my well organized pantry to the TV show Hoarders. During the commercials I would dive into the pantry and organize, clear out and clean. I have no problem throwing out expired food and yes,thanks to my OCD all the labels are facing forward. I noticed yours are also (not that you have OCD, btw)
Nothing like a clean pantry to make life in the kitchen easier!

RainbowChazer's Reviews said...

My kitchen is my pantry - we don't often have separate rooms in the UK. We also have regular throwing out sessions in this house, usually items we have bought and never used, but also utensils we have replaced or that we have lost parts of. A lid without a matching box or boxes without lids are the usual recycling donations. Many food ingredients used once but never again are also binned, as well as the last piece of this, that or the other which we have not eaten before it went off. Glad to hear the issue is not just a UK thing though.

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