Uncomplicate your pantry: best organizing tools

This is it! The last week of June and the last in my 4 part series on uncomplicating your pantry. I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the tips and found them helpful. 

If you’d like a recap, here you go: 

part 1:  Get rid of expired food
part 2:  Create zones
part 3:  Decant

Which leads us to the final week 4:  best tools to create a beautifully organized and uncomplicated pantry. These are bins, lazy susans, and other tools to keep your pantry in shape and looking its best.

Remember every pantry is different and you don’t necessarily need to rush out an buy anything. While I think it is important to invest in tools to help you stay organized, you can always try to repurpose baskets and bins that you already have if that is what your budget requires. 

Clearly, (get it 😉?) I like clear bins. If you can see it, well, you haven’t lost it. Being organized is all about knowing what you have and where it goes.

These links are for your information and browsing pleasure. I do not receive a commission or even a thank you for recommending these products. These are just the ones I buy and use repeatedly with clients and for myself.

Clear bins

Lazy susans

Can stacker shelf

Containers with lids for decanting (you saw some of these last week)

Jars with lids for baking supplies, nuts, oatmeal, etc.

There it is! My favorite organizing tools that I get for clients all. the. time. They work and are worth the investment!

Uncomplicate your pantry: delightful decanting

decanted pantry food

I hope you enjoyed part 1 and part 2 of the #uncomplicate your pantry series. Between tossing out expired foods and creating zones, you are well on your way to a beautifully organized and uncomplicated pantry. 

The next step for organizing your pantry is to maximize the space you have and create a beautiful space by decanting your food. What is decanting you ask? It is taking foods out of their original packaging and putting them into containers so that you can find them more easily, see your inventory on hand to know exactly what you have.

This is where form and function meet by taking your pantry zones to the next level of organization. When you decant, you remove the excess packaging so that the food can better fit on your pantry shelf. You are determining the location for that food item (its ZONE) whether you put it in another container like a glass jar with a lid or a plastic bin or basket.

You become pantry designer when you decant! Here are some examples of decanting we’ve done for clients. They love how they can see exactly where everything is and how much is on hand. This is especially helpful prior to grocery shopping so you’re not over or under buying.

Do you need to decant EVERYTHING? No, this is YOUR pantry so you get to create the pantry of your dreams by deciding what you want to decant. However, here are my suggestions of what you should definitely decant:

  • Foods that you buy in bulk like flour, oatmeal, other grains, nuts, and dried fruit
  • Food purchased from retailers like Costco or Sams. The packaging for selling isn’t conducive to pantry storage.
  • Foods that are packaged into individual servings
  • Drinks that are in boxes or packaged with plastic rings.

The above is a good example of a breakfast zone with the bulk foods in clear containers.

Drinks stored in your pantry or refrigerator are perfect for decanting, even tea bags.

Take a look at the food in your pantry and see what could be better stored in a container. Remove any excess packaging around individually wrapped items like bars or fruit cups. You’ll be amazed at the space you save and how much prettier it already looks!

Stay tuned to my next post on favorite pantry organizing tools!

Uncomplicate your pantry: toss expired food

Pantries NEED to be organized. It is very hard to function with a pantry that is in disarray. If it is not organized, you waste time and money doing 1 of 2 things:

1. over-shopping because you didn’t know you already have 6 jars of pasta sauce
2. eating out due to frustration in not being able to find what you need to make your meal

I am giving you tips to organize your pantry, one step at a time. Smaller steps are better anyway because it can be very overwhelming to tackle it all at once. That’s why people hire pros to do this!

And the pantry needs attention year round due to its perpetual activity. We are constantly adding to and taking from it yet it’s frequently neglected because it just seems to take FOREVER.

This week I want you to focus solely on decluttering your expired foods in the pantry.

Take out each can, box, or package of food and look at its expiration date. The expiration date is typically 2 years after it was packaged. If you haven’t used it in that time, chances are you will not.

Look at the following foods in your pantry:
Canned foods
Pasta, rice & other grains
Meal starters (Hamburger Helper, Rice a Roni, Tacos)
Sauces & condiments
Tea & hot chocolate
Cereal & oatmeal
Baking ingredients like flour and sugar

If you can’t find a date, think hard about when you got it. If you’re struggling to remember, it’s probably time to toss it.

If the package is open, see if it passes the smell test. You’ll know if it smells off, especially with rice, nuts, and oils.

Unfortunately, all you can really do with expired food is throw it away. You can not donate it to a food bank or shelter. 

If the food is in a glass container, you can clean it out and recycle the glass. Or use it for storing other food once you’ve cleaned it out. Otherwise, just throw it away.

While you’re at it, throw away any packaged food like crackers, rice, pasta, nuts, etc. that has been opened and not securely closed. It is most likely stale and attracting critters. 😟

I’m going to give you steps in the coming posts on how to organize your pantry so that food waste doesn’t happen in the future. For today, make a promise to yourself to do better about this and move on. 😉

Organized Food Containers

glass containers 2Do you dread putting away or needing to find a container for your leftovers? Have you been injured by an avalanche of plastic containers and lids? Do you feel like you are always buying new containers because you can never find the right size or lid to match up? I have the answer to your food container problems right here!

Invest in glass containers with lids! I just picked up some new ones from IKEA but you can find them in many locations such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond. I’ve also seen them sporadically at Home Goods and AtHome.

What makes this solution work is that you are investing in something that will last much longer, is more durable, and won’t overwhelm you. Plastic has all kinds of issues but my main concern is that it keeps you spending money on something that won’t last. They melt, get stained, lose their lids, and generally just fall apart. Because they are cheap, you just buy more and more and more until they take over your space.

Investing in something once, even if it’s just a food container, will save you so much money, time (another currency), and frustration (immeasurable). 

Most important, though is how you store them! Put them in a cabinet or drawer or shelf with the lid on the container. You can still stack them but you don’t have to worry about getting everything in perfect alignment. They will stack well by themselves.

I understand you may want to hang on to some plastic containers and that is totally fine. I just like these for the long haul. They are great for taking leftovers to school or work and can go from refrigerator to microwave. They can also go in the freezer or the pantry.

Because they’re clear you can see what is in them. No more mystery containers shoved in the back of the refrigerator.

If you need to label the contents you can use painters’ tape or frog tape and a sharpie.

While investing in glass containers will cost you a little more in the beginning, it won’t take long to reap the benefits. 

Happy organizing!

Organizing Your Pantry for Your Healthiest Year Yet

You may or may not have seen the Facebook live that I did with Health Coach Angela Brown last week about how to have your healthiest year ever by getting your kitchen & pantry organized. Here is a link in case you haven’t seen it. Organize your pantry and kitchen for your healthiest year ever

Here are our tips that we shared that will help you meet your healthy living goals this new year.

  1. Toss expired, old, stale food from your pantry. You’re not going to use it because you haven’t used it yet so get rid of it.
  2. Toss tempting, holiday leftovers. This means candy, sodas, sweets, and other foods that are unhealthful. Leaving them around for the kids isn’t fair to them and you don’t need the temptation. 
  3. Put a bowl on your kitchen counter for fresh fruit. This is a much better snack option. Having it visible makes it much more likely to be chosen at snack time.
  4. Clear your kitchen of unused appliances. If you never used that bread maker/ pasta maker/ coffee grinder, give it to someone who would like to have it. If it’s not used regularly, store it in the pantry. Your counters will look much better cleared off and clean.
  5. Match the tops & bottoms of your plastic containers. Toss any unmatched pieces. Also toss anything that is permanently stained or melted.
  6. Or, better yet, make the switch to glass containers.
  7. Clean out your refrigerator door of old or expired condiments. These typically have a lot of unhealthful ingredients so now is a good time to let them go. After you’ve cleaned off the containers you’re keeping, group them together by type before putting them back in the door. That way you have mustards, pickles, dressings, etc together.
  8. Put kids’ snacks on a lower shelf or drawer that they can access easily. 

Try these tips out and let me know how it goes. Organizing your pantry will do you a world of good in eating more healthfully and cooking more easily. Meal prep and shopping are easier when you can see what you have and know where it goes. 

Happy organizing!

Summer is a great time to…Get Organized

Summer is a great time to get organized

Get a tan? Go on vacation? Yes and yes but Summer is also a great time to tackle some looming organizing projects that you’d like to finally mark off your list.

Memorial Day weekend signifies the beginning of Summer even if the calendar says it isn’t for another 20+ days. School is out here which is usually some combination of thrilling and terrifying if you have kids but it does make for lighter traffic here in Atlanta which we all love! Even though we are adults and no longer get an official summer vacation off, it is a magical time where we all tend to relax and enjoy life more. Some businesses even implement a less strict dress code and office hours which helps in the heat and humidity.

Because it is a new season, it’s lighter later in the day, and we seem to have a little more energy, it’s prime time to tackle some fun or niggling projects around the house. I’ve put together a list of some of the organizing projects that are prime for summer time. Maybe not today but in the dog days when it’s 95 degrees outside with 80% humidity!

  • Organize your pantry. While this is something that can be done anytime, this is a great season because you will probably be entertaining and feeding more people. Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what is on that top shelf or where all of your plastic cups are?
  • Organize pictures. Whether you have printed pictures or digital ones, now is a great time to create some kind of system to find them quicker and keep them safe. An easy way is to at least have them organized by year and then create virtual or actual albums with the “events” that naturally emerge like “Dad’s birthday party” or “Spring Break Vacation” or even “Vacations 2016.” At least get rid of blurry, unfocused, and bad pictures.
  • Put away Winter clothes. You may have already done this but, if not, there is no time like the present. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote at The Southern C on how to put away your winter clothes and shoes. Your clothes and shoes will thank you come Fall.
  • Pick a scary closet. Pick the one closet that scares you most and vow to clean it out over the summer. That gives you at least 12 weeks to chip away at it gradually so it’s not so daunting. Start with 15 minutes and keep at it. You’ll be amazed at what all you can accomplish in 15 minutes a day!
  • Go through your papers. I guarantee that even if you have an outstanding filing system in place, you have papers in those files that you don’t need any more. You can create some space in there by getting rid of old, expired papers that are just taking up valuable space at this point. Take a folder at a time or follow the daily 15 minute schedule to go through those files. Shred anything that has your personal information on it and recycle the rest.

While I certainly think you should take time to enjoy the warm weather and have some fun in the sun (with SPF 50!), take advantage of the seasonal change and take care of YOU by tackling a task you’ve been putting off. I know you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Summer and Happy Organizing!

Beautiful & Functional Pantry Organization

organized pantry
Julie’s pantry before

pantry organization
Pantry side view before

Neatsmart had the pleasure of working on a fun and challenging pantry organization project. Julie Silber, owner of Décor Joy, a company that provides a turnkey system for running an interior design business, contacted me seeking organization help for her pantry, junk drawer, coat closet, and other storage cabinets. Her family had just moved into a gorgeously renovated home but had downsized significantly so were missing some closets. ;-0

Because all of these spaces were found in public areas of the home, she naturally wanted these areas organized but also to be aesthetically pleasing.

It was a perfect fit for Neatsmart’s philosophy of seeking, preaching, and teaching that organization should be beautiful. It all just needed to coordinate aesthetically since doors would be open and visible. We wanted to make sure it all matched with Julie’s design theme of “beachy and happy.”

Fortunately, Julie and I share a love of baskets which made our collaboration all that more fun. After discussing a few options, we zeroed in on these water hyacinth style baskets. These were great in the pantry because they were open on the top, came in a variety of sizes, and are built with a frame so they are sturdy.

While the pantry shelves were adjustable, it was important to have the shelves the same height so it would be easier on the eyes and a consistent view.  “Measure twice, cut/buy once” is the mantra to learn here. Also, it’s important to create the categories of food that work for the client’s organized pantry to function well. For Julie, it was “breakfast, savory snacks, sweet snacks” and so forth.

We needed to have a section for the dog food and treats to be grouped together, a section for coffee, paper napkins, and plastic ware.

They are big cereal fans and like a lot of variety on hand. So while we wanted to have the shelves all the same height, it made more sense to have a shelf below the counter dedicated to cereal storage. This now needed to balance the other side with the canned goods. We found a balance between function and appearance by using bamboo lazy susans for the canned good storage.  We also used one for storing cooking oils to keep them in easy reach.

organized pantry, baskets
Bread & snack boxes, bamboo lazy susans

Like me, Julie and her family like their snacks so we added the pop of turquoise with the bread and snack boxes. Placed within easy reach, they provide a place to keep snacks, like muffins and cookies, away from the dog, Rocco, a sweet Great Dane, but not completely out of sight where they might be forgotten.

Baskets with chalkboard labels
Baskets with chalkboard labels

And since we were organizing for a family, it was essential to have the baskets labeled with what was stored in each one. We used chalkboard labels, tied with baker’s twine, and paint pens to get the look that was not only easy to read but coordinated with the design. If everything just looks good but you can’t find anything or don’t know were things go, you do not have an organization system; you have beautiful chaos. We wanted everyone to be happy with the organized pantry plan and these tags were a big part of that plan.

Here are the products used for this project:

Container Store:  Water hyacinth baskets

Amazon:  Bamboo lazy susans

Amazon:  Bread & snack boxes

Julie did the beautiful styling of the middle section since this would be visible from the kitchen and other public areas. I especially love her combination of canned goods with mineral water bottles and cookbooks.Even though there is a pocket door that you can use to close off the pantry, in reality it would probably be left open. We were able to combine form and function and make it easy to maintain as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this pantry in the comments below. Do you use baskets in yours?

Happy organizing!