Organize Your Pantry and Laundry Room

This week, you can
• Clean out your pantry
• Organize your pantry for ease of retrieval and maximum use of the space
• Streamline your laundry room or laundry area
• Create a shopping list in Excel and post it
• Discuss the chores that will keep these areas organized

WHEN IT COMES to food stockpiles at home, people seem to be divided into two groups. The first are what I’ll call the “fly by the seat of your pants” folks. They wing it in the kitchen and pretty much in life. Why spend time making a shopping list, they muse, when you can live dangerously and never know exactly what’s in the pantry? They find themselves at the grocery store several times a week. “Gosh, I hope I got everything I need” is their mantra. You hear them chant it to the cashier at checkout. Later you can hear their screams as they discover that the missing ingredient for tonight’s impromptu pasta primavera is . . . pasta!
In the other group are the “I gotta be prepared” guys and gals. They shop once a week with a list and they never, ever enter a food store when they are hungry. Frequently, they are recipe collectors. The world is full of food adventures they hope to have one day. There isn’t much to say about this group. They are rather dull, really, always saving money, time, and energy. The latter have an easier time in the world in general, and certainly when it comes to eating at home. However, membership in the former group is huge. Which group are you in?


For our purposes, I’m going to help you organize a walk-in pantry. I realize not everyone has one, but you can easily adapt the tips and tricks to your situation. Even a small area devoted to food storage should be an orderly space. In fact, you’d think it would be easy to organize and maintain. But there is a pantry gremlin who routinely invades the space, making it almost impossible to find anything. If you create and maintain food categories, however, the gremlin is guaranteed to move on to a new home. He’ll think yours is a big bore.

Let’s start with another speed elimination. Depending on how you are feeling at this moment in your pregnancy, you might have to enlist the aid of a friend. Again the key in choosing your assistant is that he or she be someone willing to do your bidding. They can offer an opinion but they are not welcome to take over and run the show. I’ll let you decide if your mother-in-law is right for this assignment.

Set a timer for twenty minutes. Peer into your pantry and pretend you’ve never seen it before. Going shelf by shelf, I’d like you to look for items you can discard: food items that have expired, items you know you will never use again (you might be able to donate them to a food bank or shelter depending on the packaging), and items that don’t belong in a pantry. A good example would be your cleaning supplies: Chemicals shouldn’t be stored near food. Even in the supermarket they have their own aisle. Another example: Do you keep kitchen equipment or serving pieces here? If you don’t have any other place to keep these items and they aren’t robbing you of food storage space, you get a pass. OK, ladies and gentlemen, start your speed elimination engines and meet me back here in twenty minutes.

I don’t want to continue until you clean up any mess that was created during this activity. Bag or box the expired food and take it out to the trash. Bag or box any food items you wish to donate. Place them in your car or call a friend and ask him to make the delivery for you. Do you have to move any items to the dining room or the garage? When you organized the kitchen, did you make room for some of the cooking tools you had stored in the pantry? Be sure you tend to any items that need to be moved at this time.

The next step is a bit tricky because I can’t see the size of your pantry or how much counter space you have in your kitchen. But it’s rare not to be able to take the next step with ease and a little elbow grease. I’d like you to take out what’s in the pantry but not in a wild frenzy. Please organize the items into categories on your counters. You need to know how many cans of soup you have, how much pasta there is, and whether you need any tomato sauce.
After that phase is complete, the pantry needs a good cleaning. This poor area usually gets swept and wiped down on move-in day and then ignored. Take a damp cloth to the shelves and clean the floor. Clearly your helper has to be a good sport to do this for you! While she’s doing that, I have an assignment for you.
Kitchen Tools to the Rescue

Once you see your food in categories on your counter, you may be amazed. Who knew you had twelve cans of chicken soup hidden in the debris? Did you remember those lasagna noodles you got a month ago at the gourmet food shop? And what about that Texas hot sauce you picked up in the Dallas airport last Christmas when you were changing planes? I’m going to give you the tools, tips, and tricks I use to organize a pantry. You won’t lose track of food ever again. Read through this list. If you’re near a computer, check the items out online. Create a shopping list so you and your helper can head to the store right after lunch. It doesn’t take long to put the puzzle back together when you have the right tools.
Remember the shelf dividers I suggested for your closet? They can work wonders in a pantry. You want to be sure the categories stay divided.
To that end, label the shelves. No one needs to remember the setup; all they have to do is read. When relatives come after the baby is born, you want them to know exactly where to place things; otherwise today is an exercise in futility.
There are wonderful containers called grid totes at The Container Store that work well to hold different types of food. I suggested you research them when we were looking at the area under the kitchen sink. They are easy to grab, come in two sizes and many colors, and are easy to keep clean.

What would you store in these totes? All of those wonderful food packets people collect like instant salad dressing, mix for Sloppy Joes and instant soups can be tucked into a small, square tote. Otherwise they tend to pop up on every shelf like weeds. Do you have small packages of food? The long grid tote will hold them nicely. Very often multiple food items like Ramen noodles come packaged together. Once the packaging is torn open and one is removed, it becomes a free-for-all to keep the others intact. Your grid tote will prevent that from happening.
Many types of pasta come in bags rather than boxes. If you don’t corral them, the spirals, the shells, the bow ties, and the tubes will have tumbled on top of each other like puppies in a dog pile. You get the idea!

If you have a large pantry and prefer the look of baskets you can use them instead. Or simply integrate them holding items like onions or garlic.
Shelf creators give you different levels so that your cans of soup or vegetables are easier to spot. They come in different materials and different widths. Baby food (should you elect not to make your own) works perfectly on these shelf creators, as do cat and dog food cans. It’s the handiest tool in the pantry!
If you have items like flours and sugars that languish on a shelf after you open them, do invest in airtight containers to keep them fresh. If they are used infrequently and you have a pantry, this is the ideal place to store them rather than a countertop, unless of course you have designer canisters and feel they add a decorative touch to the room. The Container Store as well as the kitchen department of your local home store will carry a variety of types and styles. Rubbermaid makes many of these containers.

Foods like flour and nuts are ripe for pantry moths and other pests, even in sealed packaging. Keeping these foods in glass containers will prevent this problem. Transfer the inviting items to glass the minute you get home from the store and those moths won’t be your new tenants! Trust me: It’s very tricky to evict them once they move in. Another trick is to place flour and bread in the freezer for 15 minutes; that kills any potential moths. In fact, if you have a large separate freezer, you can store the items in the freezer rather than on a pantry shelf and take them out on an as-needed basis.
Design Your Pantry

It may not be decorative in your mind, but a well-organized pantry will not only look different, it will feel very different from a tossed-together one. You’d be surprised how attractive, restful, and enticing the space can be. (By the way, do you have a light in the pantry? Be sure the bulb is bright enough for you to see. Very often I’m in a home where the bulb burned out and no one bothered to replace it.) Here are the most common food categories I see:

• Pastas
• Tomato products: cans of whole tomatoes, sauces, paste, and others
• Soups
• Vegetables
• Flavor enhancers like olive oil, vinegar, salad dressings, mustards, salt and pepper (large containers), and those packets I discussed above
• Side dishes or items for garnish like olives, chutneys, capers, and salsas
• Cereals and pancake mix
• Snack items like popcorn, chips (be sure you have a supply of clips to keep those bags closed; otherwise the contents get stale), crackers, and candy
• Fish (cans of tuna, sardines, and salmon are common)
• Water
• Sodas
• Paper products like paper towels and napkins (Keep toilet paper in the bathroom area or the linen closet if you don’t have a shelving unit in the garage. TP isn’t the right visual for a pantry, if you catch my drift.)

What categories would you add from your personal stash of food items? And which would you eliminate as not being a part of your diet?
As you look at your categories, which are the ones you most frequently use? Those should go toward the front of the pantry shelves. You want to be able to reach in and grab. Items that are less frequently accessed can live in the back or on the shelves behind the door. You’d be surprised how much time you can save over the course of a year if you can just reach in and grab what you need!

Keep sodas and water in separate areas on the floor. Liquid is heavy and you don’t want to tax a shelf and hear a big crash in the middle of the night, above all after Baby arrives.

The top shelves, especially if they are very high, are great for party items you rarely use, like the Fourth of July margarita mix or the large bag of holiday cookie cutters that were clogging up a drawer. You can tuck your new two-step step stool in the pantry or kitchen corner (traditionally there’s a space between the refrigerator and the cabinet closest to it) to keep these items at your fingertips.

Once you have your battle plan and a list of organizing tools to pick up, you’re on the home stretch. If you can’t shop today, put items away in the spot you wish them to reside. It will take a second to pop them into or onto containers in a few days when you have made the purchase. Placement is the most important end result for today’s endeavors. Unless you have a palatial kitchen with a huge walk-in pantry, you should be able to accomplish this task in one or two days max.
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