For those of us who are organization obsessed there is nothing better than the feeling of looking at a recently decluttered, tidily arranged space. However, you may have noticed that even after decluttering and perfectly organizing, you feel that it won't last, or that things still aren't quite right. That unsettled feeling has been creeping into my home lately and I simply couldn't figure out what was wrong-- until I remembered the words of Marie Kondo-- its not about the things you are getting rid of, but about the things you are keeping.
So, when I recently decided to declutter my pantry, I did it in a totally new way. I looked at my pantry intentionally and made decisions based on what I wanted there, not what I wanted to get rid of. Below are the steps I took to create an entirely Intentional Pantry. Spoiler Alert-- I haven't had to reorganize or declutter since!
Preparation- This process will take from 4 hours to 2 days depending on how much food you have and how big your pantry areas are. I highly recommend eating through as much of your pantry stock as possible before you start. You can use you current pantry stock as a guide for your meal planning especially if you have a lot of rarely used items (Im looking at you sushi rice!).
Step 2- Remove all food items from your pantry and add anything that isn't on the list. While doing this, discard any expired items, empty boxes or items you know simply will never eat. If items are still good and sealed, you can put them aside for donation at a food bank.
Step 3- Without considering what is currently in your pantry, fill out the spreadsheet. For each item, decide-- is this something you want to have on hand at all times in your pantry. These are your hard working items that get used weekly and can be thrown together to make a meal in a pinch. For us, these are things like rice, dried black beans, canned kidney beans and oatmeal. Remember, most grocery stores have a bulk bin area where you can buy just enough of something for a recipe, so it isn't necessary to keep something you use once or twice a year on hand. Also, don't worry about what you currently have on hand. If you decide you don't want to keep something on hand but still have some in your pantry, we will work through how to deal with that later. Just focus on the future and what you want your pantry to contain.
Step 4- Once you have determined what you want in your pantry, you need to determine how much of it you want to have on hand. I did this based on the containers I already owned. I laid the containers out by size. Gave each size a number and then put a number in the spreadsheet. For example, black beans go in a size 2 container and pinto beans in a size 4. Don't worry if you don't have matching containers. They do make the space look organized, but now is not the time to go buy a bunch of containers. Just figure out the sizing to start. If you have extra Mason jars, that could work well, or you could just sort things into the container you have, or use a count (e.g. 3 boxes, 2 cans, 6 cups). Again, ignore the food you already have, the goal is to figure out the ideal.
Step 5- Filter your spreadsheet so you are only looking at the items you plan to keep on hand in your pantry. Sort those items by category. These will be your zones. Look at your space and mentally determine how much space you will need per category. If you are way over the space you have, you will have to go back and adjust your items or adjust your quantities. I found that after this project, I had way more space than I ever did before. Also, I kept one shelf for "Discontinued Items" and one shelf for "Dinner this week" items. More on those later.
Step 6- Grab some plastic containers, bowls and baggies as holding spots for your food items and start removing the food from any containers you plan to use in your new pantry. It can go anywhere for now. At this point, sort food that you don't plan to have in your future pantry into two categories-- I don't want to eat this (throw that away) and I would eat this, but don't want to have it on hand all the time (put this in a plastic baggie and use a sharpie to write the name on it).
Step 7- Wash and label whatever containers you plan to use. I didn't buy a single container for this project. Once I had sorted and planned everything, my current containers fit everything I needed. If you want, you can buy new containers, just be sure to do your research and get exactly what you will need. For labels, you can simply write on your containers, but preprinted AllSpice Pantry Labels are neater and easier to use.
Step 8- Replace any food items you decided to keep on hand in your pantry in the designated container and the designated zone.
Step 9- Don't worry if some of your containers are completely empty. We had items we always wanted to have on hand that we just never did. I simply added those items to my weekly grocery list and picked them up the next time I was at the store.
Step 10- At this point, when you open your pantry, it probably looks amazing. Then, when you turn around and see the pile of items that you would eat, but don't want to have on hand, your heart sinks. No worries! This is what we call "discontinued items". Throw all the discontinued items in a box or basket. I put it at the very bottom of my pantry. Because the basket is opaque, it doesn't ruin the tidy image of my pantry. Each week, when I do my grocery shopping, I try to use at least one item from my discontinued items. From time to time things get added, if I have to buy more than needed or if I get gifted something, but things are getting worked through faster than they are added, so we are down to about 4 items right now.
Step 11 and Going Forward- From now on, you won't need to reorganize your pantry or try to jam anything more in. It all has a place and it all deserves a place. When you go grocery shopping if you pick up things that are just for that week's meals, but it in a spot designated for that week's meals. This can be a shelf or a basket. We also have a snacks area. We rotate snacks, so for us this is a small shelf that usually holds a box of crackers, Tortilla Chips, Popcorn and Dried Fruit. We don't decant these items because they get used up fast and stay fresher in their own containers.