Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ For Advanced Declutterers



Today’s post is geared toward the advanced decluttered. If you’re a beginner, don’t try this at home…or anywhere else…it can lead to discouragement, a big mess in the hallway, and a complete lack of improvement in your situation. But if you’ve passed the beginning stages of decluttering, if your friends call you The Decluttering Queen (that’s what mine call me, at least), or if you’ve been at it for more than a year, then today’s post might be for you.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to start all the way over.

Yes, all the way over.

That’s what I did last week. My pantry is decluttered. There is no food that no one eats nor out-of-date cans, and like food was stored with like food, but it wasn’t working for me. I have a pretty great pantry that is wide but fairly shallow. I don’t want to have to reach around and knock things over, and I want to be able to see everything at once. The very top shelf had food stacked on top of food, and the snacks, cereal, and other dry goods seemed to be sorted wrongly.

I was sure that I was going to need to take the whole shelf of baking goods (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.) and find another place for it; there was no way everything was going to fit the way I wanted. But I was wrong.

First, I took everything off the first two shelves, which are pantry staples – canned goods, pasta, dried beans, etc. Having everything out allowed me to sort it a little bit smarter, and I got it back into the same space it had been in before but without being double stacked.

I just straightened up the next shelf. It’s the one I use the most, and the stock there is always rotating.

The next two shelves are snacks, nuts, and cereal. Again, I removed everything. Because my eldest daughter is diabetic, she eats a lot of nuts, which do not raise her blood sugar. I literally have an entire shelf devoted to nuts. Snacks of various kinds were organized on the next shelf. Since it’s summer and since my eldest and all her friends are teens, the amount of snacks that can be consumed is fairly amazing. I try to keep a large variety of healthy choices. Dry cereal, granola bars, oatmeal and grits were clustered on the shelf below that.

The next shelf is the baking shelf. Amazingly enough, with the re-organization and sorting that went on above the baking supplies, I didn’t have to move them any where.

Last, I got out my label maker and labeled the shelves that I thought would most easily fall into disarray – the ones that are used by the most people. One shelf is labeled NUTS, another CHOCOLATE, CHIPS/PRETZELS, DRIED FRUIT, CRACKERS,  and the last one is DRY CEREAL, OATMEAL, GRITS, BARS (that is, granola bars).

I was surprised that after years of use, there was a way to fine-tune the pantry, to make it that much more functional. And, as is so often the case, I had all the room I needed; I just needed to use it more efficiently.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a dust collector that someone gave you. I have a little elephant pie funnel that was given to me by a very dear friend who has now passed away. I remember her often enough without needing to keep this item as a reminder. Also I have seen this exact item sell for in excess of $100 on eBay and wouldn’t mind a piece of that action. ;-)

Eco Tip For The Day

Stop using fabric softener, some experts say that it is a waste of money and not that good for your clothes. Try using white vinegar instead. Not only will it remove chemical residue in your fabrics but will also help control mould and mildew in your washing machine. If you like to add a nice scent to your wash load add a few drops of essential oil.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Decluttered Kids’ Parties Cindy's Weekly Wisdom Clutter and birthday parties, especially children’s birthday parties, fit together like a hand and glove, don’t they? They don’t have to. My youngest, […]


  1. Good advice Cindy! I frequently will pull everything out of an area and start over. Not only might it help find one or two items that got missed in previous declutterings, but it is nice to reorganize an area to make it more functional.

    • My mother has teased me about straightening my pantry every couple of months, but unlike at her house, a lot of people use my pantry. Of course it needs attention!

  2. I find that I enjoy cooking more when everything is organized, easy to find and knowing that there isn’t anything in my cupboards that is expired or unwanted. I have slowly gotten rid of extra items that I don’t use or need and we are down to basics in the kitchen now. My next task is to stop buying and replace plastic with glass or stainless steel in my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint. Doing things a step at a time is much easier then everything at once. One cupboard, one shelf, one area. It is amazing how quickly things get done if you just do a little bit consistently. Each time I go through the house, I find something here or there, but it is so much easier to do and so much easier to clean. It is so much easier to keep things up than to fall behind. Starting out, it seems like it goes on forever, but you get to a place where you feel it is the right amount and then just need to do the fine tuning to keep it that way.

    • It amazes me that after living in this house for 11 years, I still sometimes think of a completely new and better way to use a certain space.

      • Cindy, I just love this comment. I’m going to see if my cupboards need some reshuffeling. 😀

      • I agree with you cindi, one place in particular that this true for me is my craftroom. It’s a continuing journey. which I am in the middle of today. Have like Marianne taking things out of boxes( I know she is changing from plastic to glass) and into plastic boxes which I can see through and take up less space.

    • I’ve found a local community free market, where anyone in need can “shop” through the donated food. Because it’s informal and not regulated by any agency, I can bring anything from the pantry that I don’t feel I need, even if it has been opened. I live in a group house, and I have a very specific diet, and when roomates change, we often end up with cupboards full of food that no current roomates eat.

      • Hi Julia and welcome to 365 Less Things. I love the sound of this free community market and especially the fact that you can donate anything. I always feel it is such a pity that other similar organisations are so fussy about what they accept. Not to mention government regulations that take health and safety a little too far at times. At our thrift shop we can’t sell baby gear ~ baths, prams, cots etc ~ because they may not meet health and safety regulations.

  3. This is very good Cindy. I am in a struggle to find the right things to eat for all my issues. This means buying things to try and see if they will work. I am not fond of this because there are times when you have to buy a big package of something and then it doesn’t work. We went through the pantry and reorganized and decluttered not long ago. It has helped to have nothing in there that we aren’t using and to have it placed in a way that is easy to use. My doctor would like for me to get to where I don’t use anything that isn’t fresh but I still have digestive issues with that. Her idea is that someday I won’t need a pantry because there will be nothing in there I should eat. HA! That will be the day.

    • Deb,

      Have you tried using the bulk section for things you need to try to see if they work?

    • I think you’ll always need a pantry. After all, that’s where you’re going to store your healthy beans, right? Whether dried or canned, they’ll still be in the pantry.

  4. I’ve been rearranging my kitchen in a similar way lately. Now, one cupboard is rather crammed, while the others are rather sparse, but it’s working better that way for me. The utensils, bowls, pots etc. – really, all that I need for cooking – are easier to reach now. That means unfortunately that the cupboard that holds glasses, cups, plates etc. is a little crammed – but my kitchen is only so big. I like it way better that way, as I can cook easily. I think, I might declutter some more of the plates, cups and glasses in the long run

    • You know, of course, that I was going to suggest some decluttering of the plates an cups, right? Or perhaps you could keep a reasonable number for daily use in the kitchen and store the extras that you’ll pull our for company in a different, less convenient location. For a long time, my mother had all her extra china stored right next to the toilet paper – in a long, long cabinet in the guest bathroom!

      • I did the clearing completely with our bookcases today and boyfriend and I got rid of a stack of books and DVDs about my height before putting things back in again. That might be one of the most effective methods ever. 😉 (but also time consuming and exhausting!)

  5. This is a good post, Cindy. It seems that the kitchen is just a haven for clutter. With all the cooking shows on TV and magazines to buy in the store about cooking, I’ve been guilty of buying things that I think are going to make me a better cook and guess what? I still cook the same old, same old. But I have been incorporating a few simple tasty recipes in my cooking and then I feel like I’m making something special. 🙂

    • I really think that there are few gadgets one needs in a kitchen: some pans, skillets, baking tins and pans, a couple of good knives, some spoons and spatulas, plates and glasses. The rest – mostly I’m thinking about gadgets large and small – are mostly not necessary.

  6. Hi Cindy, thank you for yet another great post.
    Aside from the empty bedrooms the one thing that is obviously different now that the kids have left home is the amount and variety of food in the fridge, freezer and pantry. Liam is finally starting to not look in the pantry or fridge when he visits because he knows he won’t find any snack foods in there. The fridge only has fresh fruit and vegetables, some condiments, dairy products and maybe a bowl or two of leftovers. The pantry has the basic dry ingredients and and cereal oats.

    Needless to say it is no effort for me to keep these areas organised. As the dry food runs down and needs replacing I am buying the smaller quantity so I am constantly doing a canister reshuffle and may need to palm off some more unused larger ones to Bridge sometime soon, if it appears they won’t ever be used.

    • I have downsized my containers as we have children leave our home and have given them to someone with a larger family to use!

      • Marianne – I have this plastics cupboard and honestly, the plastic containers breed. Every year I have a clear out and within 12 months without buying more, I have the original quantities back. I suspect my son using them as lunch boxes and containers finally surfacing from the freezer is a better explanation but anyway, I recently took half of them and put them in a box and offered them to my sis-in-law who has young children and takes in emergency foster children and she was very grateful for them.

    • Colleen – I too am doing the canister re-shuffle and looking at what has been sitting there for some time, time to use it up and ‘delete the line’ from my pantry, much like my supermarket does when something isn’t a consistant seller.

      I have a friend who is a chef and she does a lot of baking, but she says she only ever buys the small jars of baking powder and soda. Yes not the most economical way of shopping, rather than the big 1kg packs that I pour into my cannisters, but she says it is better to keep turning over fresh stock. (Colleen, I realise that you use baking soda a lot for cleaning – I have access to 20 litres of citrus base cleaner at work that is eco friendly and no cost to me, so I’m happily using that for now). So I will probably go that path when my current stock eventually runs out.

      • I have a few canisters in reserve. When I buy certain types of snacks or a special ingredient, I may pull out one of these canisters and use it while the item is in the pantry. When it’s empty, the canister goes back onto a high shelf.

      • Hi Moni, I know that to buy larger quantities is more economical by the gram but like your friend I like to keep these things turning over for the sake of freshness, simply because we so little of them these days.

        That citrus base cleaner sounds good.

  7. Good post Cindy – first off, can you tell me what grits are?

    I have been fine tuning my pantry a bit lately, but nothing quite so dramatic. Sometimes just pulling everything out and starting from scratch is a way of making sure the job does get done. But yes, not for the faint hearted.

    • Grits – a Southern United States favorite dish for breakfast, a hot cereal made from coarse cornmeal. Similar to polenta.

      Pulling everything out of the cabinet is not for the faint of heart … or for the beginner!

      • Cindy – we don’t have polenta either! We have porridge if there is any Scots in the family tree.
        I call this the Hurricane Method. Cause it looks like a hurricane hit.

      • Grits – oh I have fond memories of having them on our travels to Louisiana. Not really a thing in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up or in Colorado. Occasionally I can find a Creole restaurant that will have grits, but it’s not the same as when I’m in Louisiana. 🙂

  8. Great post today, Cindy. I try really hard these days to use what I have up before I make a run to the grocery store, therefore I haven’t had too much of a problem wasting or forgetting that I have something. I keep things to a minimum in the fridge and pantry so that I make sure leftovers and such are used up in a timely manner. It is probably just my imagination but I have a newer type of refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom, and it seems to me the upper portion does not hold as much as my old side by side fridge. Therefore, since not as much seems to fit in there, I don’t lose track of much in there. The labeling is a great idea.

    I decluttered a dust collector today. It was a tough one, but it was time. I had enjoyed it for many years and it is now time for someone else to enjoy it.

    • Jen – I re-invented my kitchen/meal planning to follow this method earlier in the year and I loved it. I had this print out of the month and when I did my big shop, I’d write it on the calendar and then if I had to go back to the supermarket during the week I’d write on the calendar what I went back for, what I ended up buying and the amount. It was quite interesting. Some return trips were justified but there quickly was a trend coming thru and it highlighted areas that I needed a “go-to” plan ie if I had unexpected dinner guests what is a dessert idea that I can make out of the pantry ingredients rather than running out buy dessert.

      My whole master plan went pear shaped last month, a friend who is a butcher turned up with several chilly bins of meat to repay a favour to my husband. I am grateful and the freezer is very full. But for some reason it seem to throw me off kilter and everything I’d put it place stopped happening and my grocery budget blew out horribly and I couldn’t find anything in the freezer so I’d buy more. My friend has ADD and she said watching me prepare a meal was a bit like when she’s all hyped up. I think for me, I don’t do well with quantities and I rely heavily on a meal plan to write my shopping list. I know it sounds crazy but its been a bizarre exercise, and I will be very happy when we have eaten our way thru all the meat and get back to my old system.

      • I hope that you soon will see your way through and be back on track. Once you start with a system that works, it is difficult when something throws things out of wack, but I am sure it won’t be long and you will be back to what has been working for you.

      • Love the idea of tracking the frequency/reasons for off-schedule grocery runs, and planning to find a better choice to the situation. If only I could teach my SO and offspring to adopt the same technique…..

        • Hi Kim and welcome to 365 Less Things. Off-schedule grocery runs are usually guilt free for me, as when this happens I just walk to the local shops. There is a butcher, a green grocer and a bakery just down the street which covers most anything I would need in a hurry. Anything else can wait.

    • Not that I’ve had very mane refrigerators, but I’ve found that when I switch from one sort to another (say top freezer to side by side), it takes a ridiculous amount of time to get oriented to the new arrangement.

  9. This is all very relevant to me at present.

    About two weeks ago I decided I had too much STUFF in my fridge, freezer and pantry, so I took an inventory. This took longer than you might think! I then put an asterisk next to the items which were not being eaten but were still OK. Next step I am methodically finding recipes etc to use them all up.

    Interestingly, my fridge was pretty current; the freezer had a few long time lurkers and the pantry was the worst.

    My aim is to get down as low as possible in all three areas and have a few weeks of low shopping costs AND the joy of more space so I can reorganize.

    • Each year I try to rotate through all the food in the freezer so nothing gets lost in the shuffle when new things are put in. We have eaten frozen green beans for the last few days and have enough for another week or two eating them every day. If people don’t want to eat them, then I am not going to take the time to freeze them. I don’t like to waste food, and rotating keeping things fresh is the best way. The same goes with cupboards.

    • My girlfriend Holly eats her pantry down to just about nothing once a year or so. At first I thought she was being silly, but I’ve come to appreciate her system. I also think that eating down the freezer is important. Your freezer represents a significant investment – the freezer and the contents – and it’s easy to forget or overlook items. (UFO = unidentified frozen object! Label ’em!)

      • Cindy I have a friend who keeps so little in her pantry, the first saw her pantry I thought they must be having a money crisis, but no, she doesn’t believe in ‘dead money’ sitting on her pantry shelves. She only buys exactly what she needs to get thru the planned meals. I don’t think I could do that, but I do admire her philosophy.

      • Cindy – I read this article that said there is over $5 billion dollars worth of food stored in American freezers at any given time. I don’t know how they worked it out but I was impressed.

      • We eat our pantry freezer and fridge down to just about nothing every pay weeks which happen every two weeks.

  10. Thinking I would always be in the ‘beginners class’ at yoga and belly dancing , it’s nice to know I can say I am an Advanced declutterer :). Thanks Colleen and Cindy!
    I have loaned my Aldi coffee maker to a special friend ;). When I purchased it for my Hubby, it was used constantly and the aroma of fresh coffee was wonderful. For the last couple of months it has sat on the bench, not making coffee, but the occasional hot chocolate for my son. It was not an expensive machine , but the novelty seemed to wear off pretty quick. You can’t replicate coffee shop coffee even with the most expensive machines and the best coffee, because its the people that make it taste great.

  11. Colleen, what in the world is an elephant pie funnel?? Whatever it is, sell it is you can get $100 bucks.

  12. I redid the pantry a week or so ago. I was so chuffed that every single person who came to the house had to have a look, whether they wanted to or not. I also looked at some ingredients I had bought and never really used and fed them to the chickens or composted them. Cocoa nibs were one. They are lovely, but just never really fitted in to anything we cooked. They had been taking up space in their neatly labelled jar for far too long. Chickens loved them and I got an empty jar. win win 🙂

  13. I don’t find this “advanced”. This is how I’ve had to tackle most of what I want to declutter, and how I started the process.

    I’d been struggling with a closet for ages, and finally decided enough was enough. Everything came out. Most things went back, but I can find everything and it’s labeled boxes and not falling out. Has lasted months. Did the same with the pantry, and recently with the upstairs freezer and kids clothes.

    If I only get something partway done, then one-more-thing doesn’t look out of place and *BAM* it’s a horrible mess again. Also, I usually can’t figure out what item to start with or how to balance anything–so I just start with it ALL.

    I have to appropriately define my scope (one shelf or the entire closet? The kitchen table or the kitchen? Which is appropriate depends on the task) to keep it manageable, but whatever I’m doing pretty much gets torn out and redone.

    Maybe this is a beginner & advanced method. I haven’t gotten to the middle yet, so maybe there it’s not so useful.

    • Hi Kayote – I think it has been called advanced as Colleen advocates decluttering one item a day so folks don’t feel overwhelmed in an already overwhelming situation. Going all hurricane could be just too upsetting or overwhelming for some people. I use the Hurricane Method a lot, however, lately I have I’ve been content to just pick away at an area without causing chaos, so I think you just have to go with what works for you on the day. Often when I go the Hurricane method, it can take several days of chaos but then it is done and dusted, however it can be a stressful couple of days. I often get too impatient doing one thing at a time but I can’t always make a big mess or have such a time consuming project on all the time, so I like to mix it up a bit.

    • Moni’s exactly right. This is considered an advanced technique for two reasons. One, like a crash diet, generally fixed fast is un-done fast. Two, if your cupboards are disorganized and overly full, pulling everything out can lead to more chaos and a bigger, discouraging mess.


  1. […] Marianne explains the benefits of slow and steady decluttering in this comment. […]