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Kitchen pantries can be a wonderful boon to your homemaking experience or they can be a repetitive nightmare. You may be blessed with ample room, plenty of shelf space, and lots of shelves that are just the right height. Or, you may be maintaining a pantry in the end cupboard of your small apartment kitchen. No matter your circumstances, there are certain principles which will make your pantry work better each and every day.
1) In the near future (hopefully sometime this week), set aside an hour or so to organize your pantry. This should be a time with minimal interruptions, no answered phone calls, no TV, and no visitors (unless you have a good neighbor who is even better at organizing than you and is willing to help).
Clear and wipe off your kitchen counters and table, if necessary. Pull everything out of the pantry (yes, everything) and place in stacks on your kitchen counters and table. Group items of similar types together as much as possible: the cold cereal, the chips, the canned goods, the pastas, the bottles, and the soda cans.
2) Wipe down all the pantry shelving, top to bottom. Sweep and wipe up the floor. If you are going to all the trouble to have an “organized” pantry, might as well have a clean one, too.
Return Items with Order
3) Return the items to your pantry using the following principles:
a) Only return items to the pantry which logically belong there. Often items are initially placed in the pantry because it is a very convenient, “I will put this here, FOR NOW!” Do not return any items to your pantry unless that is their proper home. For the time being, group them together for later storage elsewhere.
b) Return the items using the A-B-C storage concept. Put items which are least used in the least accessible areas. This means the upper shelves, those you can only reach by using a stool or chair. It also means any inconvenient corners. These are “C” areas and should hold “C” items (i.e. those not needed very often).
Put items which are used infrequently in the lesser accessible areas (i.e. places where you have to stretch, bend, or reach). These are “B” items and should be put in “B” areas. Put items which are used most frequently on shelves which you can reach without stretching up or bending down. These “A” items go in “A” areas.
Like Behind Like, Unlike Next to Unlike
4) However, even as you are returning items to the pantry, as much as possible understand two further principles.
a) Put like items behind like items. In other words, if you have a dozen cans of tomato soup, you put them one on top of each other and one behind the other on the shelf.
b) Put unlike items next to each other on the shelves. For instance, if you have a variety of soups, but several cans of each, you would group the same kind of soups one behind the other, but you would put different kinds of soups next to each other.
In and Out Sections
Finally, save certain areas of your pantry (mostly shelves which are easily reached by most family members) for the “in and out” items. These are foods which are retrieved every day: cold cereal, chips for school lunches, and afternoon snacks. In other words, have areas which are available for these foods whether or not they are currently in the pantry. This allows you to easily fill these areas up when you return from grocery shopping. You may even want to label the shelves: cold cereal, lunch foods, afternoon snacks.
I know that it sounds like a lot of wasted space, but the trouble with over-stuffed pantries is you have to remove half of the stuff to get at what you want. That just doesn’t work for the harried cook. She or he needs to get what they want conveniently. It is better to “under” store and make retrieving items more convenient than to “over” store and make it a constant mess to even get into the pantry.
Now, it is important to understand that a pantry is a high-maintenance creature. If you neglect it, it will come back to haunt you, every time you open the door. So, set up a maintenance schedule and stick to it. Many homemakers find that a quick “spiff up” before they go grocery shopping each week works well. You not only see what needs replenishing, you can bring order to the pantry again. This will allow it to give the best and most convenient use.
Some day they will built all kitchens with adequate and roomy pantries, but for now, no matter your pantry situation, give it a cleanout, reorder the items as you return them, and see what a wonderful difference it makes in your “kitchen” life!
Find more helpful ideas in “House of Order” Handbook.
Photo from sxc.hu. Used with permission.