A (sort of ) Serious Guide to Organizing the Pantry

I really believe that there is a spiritual transformation that takes place when you throw away fennel seeds that expired in 2012. I don’t recall buying fennel seeds. And I don’t recall ever making a recipe that would require me to use fennel seeds. And yet there I was, dumping out a jar of fennel seeds that expired in the June of 2012. We have moved a lot over the last five years and, apparently, I have moved expired fennel seeds with me each and every time. That means that, at the very least, I have stood in no fewer than three kitchens and grabbed that same jar of fennel seeds and intentionally wrapped it in paper, put it into a box, unwrapped it, and put it away. And it has been expired the entire time. 

And it wasn’t just fennel seeds. I threw out expired marjoram (I don’t even know what that is), Mrs. Dash Seasoning Salt, a container of cajun seasoning, dill, and so many more. I emptied jar after jar after jar, cleaning them out, and recycling so many of them that I completely lost count. 

And as I write this I can’t help but acknowledge the fact that my mom is reading this right now and she’s having one of those moments you wait for as a mother. One of those moments you pray to happen when your kids are older. One in which you get to say, “See????” Or “HA!” when you catch your adult children doing the thing they spent a childhood teasing you about. She is recalling all of the moments in which Ryan and I would visit their house in Hilton Head and I would send pictures of expired food (with super old expiration dates for evidence) to our family text string. She’s certainly thinking of the time that I couldn’t speak for a few minutes, due to all the laughing, when my brother and I discovered how many open bottles of vanilla she had in her cupboard at one time (it was more than ten). And she’s undoubtedly remembering all of the times that I have made comments about the current state of her refrigerator and all of the mysterious Tupperware contents, the volume of mustard varieties, and how there is no possible way that mint jelly is still good. And so I will also acknowledge that perhaps it is easier than I probably appreciated to acquire a collection of expired food products and that maybe I underestimated how crazy life gets and how inconsequential organizing your fridge and spices can become. But also… Mom, please don’t buy any more vanilla. (I would also suggest that they not purchase any more mustard, but it has simply become an accepted truth in our family that my parents consistently possess enough mustards at any one time to round out charcuteries for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives. It is the makings of the most posh bomb-shelter of all time.)

Last week I cleaned out my pantry. This is why I know that I had purchased fennel seeds sometime before the year 2012. I am on a mission to declutter some things around here and after writing down a list, I started with my pantry. 

I’m not really a How-To Girl… mostly because I’m pretty sure that everyone else is doing things better and more efficiently than I am. But I do appreciate a good before and after. And sometimes it’s helpful to see how other people manage to organize a piece of their lives. So here we go.

The Before Picture

Here is our smallish pantry, before. We have lived in a house that had no pantry (we were just expected to use the kitchen cabinets) which really wasn’t a super fun experiment, so I am grateful that we have an actual pantry. But I’m still reserving my right to complain that it feels smallish. To be fair, though, it probably feels even smaller when it is cluttered and stuffed with too much crap.

I started by taking every, single thing out and putting it all on the counters. This is good for a few reasons. It lets you see everything that you actually have… although, I’ll warn you that you will be faced with how many multiples of the exact same thing that you have open at one time. You can scrub all the shelves. And then you can organize everything as you put it back in. I also found it easier to toss the stuff you don’t want or need. In addition to the startling number of spices, I also parted with a bottle of sherry vinegar that expired in 2010. I am clearly a champion at pantry upkeep and also at packing expired, barely used items.

Almost done. And it smells so good. But even empty, it’s still kind of small though, right?

I scrubbed all of the shelves, the walls, and even the floor with hot, soapy water. Let me pause here for a moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have cleaned and organized a pantry this way in my entire, living life. This probably includes the times we’ve moved. My usual form of pantry organization is a visual once-over or a Tetris-like form of rearranging and that typically does the trick. I am not prone to big acts of overhaul-type organization or giant fits of cleaning. But, for whatever reason, I have been inspired to get rid of a lot of unnecessary crap around here that is weighing me down and I’m leaning into it. All of which to explain the expired fennel and also the soapy water.

Like I mentioned earlier, one of the things that I had to contend with during this organization process is just how many of the exact same thing we had open at the same time. As if I needed additional proof that my children don’t listen to anything I say, I now have evidence from my pantry. Which is a delight. Here is a little gallery of laziness in which our daughters have opted to spend less than one full second checking to see whether an open item already exists or, worse, decided that they wanted to open a fresh something regardless.

Don’t let that pasta fool you into thinking that was me. My kids make pasta for themselves routinely. The only person we know for sure isn’t responsible for the pasta is Ryan. Since he doesn’t cook. Not shown: a Dorito bag tightly rolled and chip-clipped, the contents of which were simply a sprinkling of nacho-cheese flavored crumbs. Enough random candy from Christmas and Kate’s birthday to fill an entire grocery bag. And two bags of open pretzels, but since one was pretzel sticks and one was waffle-shaped, I’m giving this person the benefit of the doubt. But really it’s right on the line.

Eventually everything was finished. The pantry shelves were washed, the multiple bags of stuff were consolidated, and all of the old and expired things were tossed. I even put similar things back together on the same shelf. The After Picture isn’t quite what I imagined. I kind of expected there to be glass containers, white bins, labels made with a label maker so that it would be more visually appealing. But I didn’t buy any of those things, so I’m not sure why I expected them to materialize. So this reorganized version of the same pantry with all of its mismatched colors along with moderately disheveled appearance remains.

Despite not having clean, white bins and my cereal in labeled, glass jars, it still feels like a lovely piece of work. Like a relief… another release of something sitting in the back of my mind. Once it was finished I considered padlocking it, knowing as soon as the first kid opened the door it would be kind of ruined. And I wished there was some kind of pantry alarm that would go off if you broke a commandment like leaving empty containers in the pantry or when you open up a box of cereal like you are a wild raccoon. But that feels excessive probably. But… out of curiosity, does that even exist? Seriously, I’m just asking.

5 thoughts on “A (sort of ) Serious Guide to Organizing the Pantry

  1. Omg, cant catch my breath from laughing!!! This is the best!! Dad read it aloud to me and i knew when i heard ‘expired lables’ that I was going to be in this blog, but I don’t think it was 10 bottles of vanilla!😜 Dad just said our mustard selection is very low! (5)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I’m sorry (not really) that I’ve totally exposed you. Five mustards is shockingly low. I’m not sure what we’ll eat with our sausage & cheese at the dawn of the apocalypse.


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