19 February 2014

In which I take the first steps toward a picture-perfect pantry

Whew, yesterday was a ton of words, right? Let’s back off the long-term aspirations goals for today and take a breather. Let’s focus on something small, like the sad state of our pantry. Not to be confused with the previously neglected butler’s pantry – rather, the closet where we keep our food.

I feel fortunate to even have a pantry in this apartment, even if it is a little odd (the lower half is all original wooden drawers that I’ve filled with extra cooking tools, vases, etc.). But I’ve squandered my fortune with its haphazard organization. The bottom shelves are not too awful, thanks to meal planning and constant efforts to only buy what we eat and eat everything we buy. But that top shelf is kind of a disaster. It’s supposed to be baking supplies, but I wouldn’t really know, as it’s quite literally way over my head. My point of view is really more like this:

It’s quite possible there are multiple containers of cocoa, an opened and forgotten bag of rock-hard brown sugar, various seasoning packets, and an entire family of Keebler elves up there. I’ve never climbed up to investigate.

Not all our baking supplies were there, though. I kept some flour and sugar in canisters, crammed in a cabinet with the spices by the stove.

But maybe you’ll notice that the brown sugar is not actually in a canister. That’s because the canisters don’t even hold an entire bag of flour, or sugar, or brown sugar or powdered sugar. I was constantly refilling them... and then letting the remainder of the bag dry out in the no-man’s land of the pantry upper shelf. This time, I left the bag of brown sugar in front of the canisters in the cabinet, for fear that putting it back in the pantry meant it would never be seen again. Because that totally solved the problem OH WAIT no it didn’t.

And with that back-breaking straw, I decided I’d had enough – enough of refilling the flour canister practically every other time I used it (it held maybe six cups), and enough of the sugars going off because they were stored loose in the bag. It was time to upgrade our pantry storage.

Now, the internet has turned a well-organized pantry into a fine art – just search for “pantry” on Pinterest if you don’t believe me, or check out the House of Smiths pantry for one of the more famous pantry makeovers. I admit, I’ve rolled my eyes over pantry porn for years – why spend so much money and time buying new containers when the food already comes in containers. But I finally had to admit: they aren’t just pretty, they serve an important function.

So, reasoning I had a bit of birthday money to spend, I went out to Target and came home with a shopping cart full of THESE:

Ten total, which is what nearly a hundred dollars worth of pantry storage containers looks like. Yikes.

If you’re looking to upgrade your pantry storage, know that you should really go to the store with a few key facts: first, the dimensions of your pantry (particularly depth); second, the number of items you want to store in secondary containers; and third, the full-size volume of those items. That’s key – my whole problem was that I couldn’t fit a whole bag of flour in the storage container. Don’t get storage containers for what you have now, get them to hold what you will have... even if they’ll be nearly empty at first.

Also, be prepared to buy different sizes, as much as your eye will twitch at the lack of perfect uniformity (oh, is that just me?). I really wanted to get all the same containers, but I realized there’s just no way we’d ever have 21 cups of popcorn kernels like we would of flour. These Rubbermaid containers at least let me purchase a set that would be the same height when stacked in the pantry!

Since I had already planned what would go in the containers, I made simple labels (in Illustrator, but really you could sketch them in Powerpoint or any graphic editor):

I actually tweaked them a bit more (and added labels oatmeal and spices, which I’d forgotten) before printing, but you get the idea! I just cut them out and affixed them to the properly sized containers with double-sided tape.

Then it was just a matter of filling them up with our foodstuffs and placing them in the pantry. And whoa, what an after!

I didn’t really set out to create an impressive before-and-after – I figured I was just organizing and making a dysfunctional system into a functional one. Who knew those containers would be so pleasing to look at, too!

Bonus: everything is within reach now! Nothing is hiding out in the back of the shelves anymore. And for the record: there were multiples of cocoa brown sugar and spice packets, but no elves. That I could see.

I admit, this pantry organization business is a slippery slope. I’ve already been in an organizational mood, but making just one improvement is causing me to see the potential for more. Those beautiful pantries are starting to seem less ridiculous...


Rachel C said...

Ah, pantry porn. My guilty pleasure. I don't even have a pantry but I could drool over pantry porn and pantry porn items for hours. Forget fancy master closets, it's all about the pantry to me. Maybe on day...until then, I'll continue living through you. And trying to figure out a way to pornify my cabinets and laundry room.

Janice said...

Love the new look. While it might seem pricey initially, you'll have those containers until you're tired of looking at them. It's a great investment and look how purdy your pantry appears now! Yep. I'm jealous.