It's time you tackle this problem. And there's no better time than before Thanksgiving. Now, now, now...don't roll your eyes like I'm being unrealistic. You can take your pantry from filthy to flawless in just 15 minutes with these easy to follow tips.
First let's lay out some basic, must follow rules:
1) KNOW WHAT YOU USE - Avoid the common mistake of filling your pantry with food you don't use often. Your pantry should be organized with things that you grab for on a consistent basis.
2) SHOP SMALL - Even if you're a Costco lover, you don't need a pantry that that can feed your family though next fall, bomb-shelter style. The idea is to keep your pantry stocked with items you constantly use.
3) UNWRAP - Most people don't unwrap excess packaging before putting away food. Take snack packs for example. Cut off the overwrap and you can fit the individual pack much easier. Ditto with soda, multipacks and paper towels.
Alright, let's get started. Here’s what you’ll need: garbage can, a dustbuster or vacuum with a hose, sponge, dishwashing liquid, Disinfectant Wipes, baking soda, paper towels, and a spatula.
Minutes 1 to 3: PURGE. Move the trash can near the pantry. Empty shelves onto the counter, tossing out anything expired or suspicious (old cracker boxes, stale cereal, ancient bags of flour, outdated canned goods). Split your items into two piles: stuff you use and want to keep, and foods you haven't touched in at least 3 months. If you haven't used it by now, you probably wont. Most dried herbs and ground spices should be replaced every six months (jot down those you throw away so you’ll remember to replace them); goods like honey and brown sugar can last forever.
Minute 4: If you’re overloaded with canned goods, make a bag for a local food bank (see feedingamerica.org for locations). Separate the “keeper” contents into two categories: everyday items and occasionally used items.
Minute 5: Wet your sponge with water and dishsoap and wipe down sticky jars and dusty cans. Let dry.
Minute 6: With a handheld vac, clear the shelves of crumbs, being extra diligent in the corners.
Minute 7: Sprinkle baking soda on any honey drippings, jelly spots, or other residue. Top each with a paper towel soaked in hot water. Let sit for a few seconds.
Minute 8: Lift the paper towels and use a spatula (or an old credit card) to dislodge the now softened sticky stuff. Then you can either wet the sponge again and wipe/dry down all shelves or use the Disinfectant Wipes to do the final wipe-down all the shelves.
Minute 9: Place items that tend to get lost—loose packets (oatmeal, Sloppy Joe mix), tiny items (bouillon cubes) - in a plastic bin. Or things that don't stack well like plastic bags of soup mixes, nuts, chocolate chips, coffee, or marshmellows into containers. If you are feeling ambitious, label the containers.
Some quick tips on picking the right containers:
- Square bottom containers take up less space, as do containers that nest up to one another.
- Clear is best. This way you know what you have. Although you can see inside, labeling is never a bad idea. I particularily like The OXO Good Grips Food Storage Pop Containers - they are both square and clear. (bedbathandbeyond.com).
- If you can't open it with one hand, find something else.
Minutes 10 to 11: Consider relocating. Your pantry probably has more than a few non-food items. Perhaps the mop & bucket. Serving platters? Rice cooker? Ask yourself - is there a better place for these? I personally don't think your cleaning supplies should be in with your food. If your cleaning supplies must stay, at least get the brooms and mops hung on hooks.
Minutes 12 to 15: Reload the pantry by creating zones. Group your pantry items by type - grains, baking, canned goods, soups, snack food, etc. And then group similar items within each zone. Meaning canned pineapple together. Canned corn together. That way you will always have a good idea of inventory at all times. Make sure to put everyday stuff at the most accessible levels. Light occasional items (spare paper towels) belong on top. Heavy occasionals (jugs of oil, big bags of rice) can go on the bottom.And there you have it! Your perpetually messy pantry is so clean you'll have room for all that extra Thanksgiving food and you won't be embarrassed to ask someone to grab something from inside. You can thank me later. :)