Why Your Pantry Needs Decluttering

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


My mother is more tidy and more decluttered than I am, by far. Yet one day when she saw me tidying my pantry, she kind of laughed at me and said, “Are you straightening up in there again?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I am. And you should too.

Why does your pantry need decluttering? Two main reasons

  1. Unless you live alone, it gets rummaged through more than any other cupboard or drawer in your entire house and
  2. There’s surely something (probably more than one something) lurking in there that needs to be eaten, thrown away, or shared. The pantry is the perfect place for Use It Up decluttering.

Besides, if it’s messy, things are hard to find. Who needs that?

I personally recommend, as I so often do, that like be stored with like. I am blessed with a wide but not ridiculously deep, pantry, so it’s easier for me not to lose cans or bottles in the deep, dark back of the cabinet. Very few items are doubled up where something has to be removed before something else can be seen or reached.

My pantry is arranged like this:

  1. Top shelf: grains, legumes, pasta and the occasional truly oversized item. (Right now, a long package of smoked salmon.)
  2. Next is a narrow shelf that’s the most miscellaneous: drink mixes, a few packet mixes, and a box of ramen (which technically should go on the shelf above, but the child who likes ramen can’t reach that high).
  3. Next are all canned and bottled items, crackers, peanut butter, and a few items waiting to replace condiments that are almost empty in the refrigerator. I maximize space here by using an expandable can riser.
  4. Next shelf is nuts (many kinds, since they’re Clara’s #1 snack) and granola bars. All of these are in storage containers, rather than their original packages, so they fit better and stay neater.
  5. Next down is breakfast cereal, oatmeal, and grits.
  6. The next shelf is devoted to my little cook Audra’s kitchen wear, some of which is play stuff and some of which is real, including her stock pot, which is bigger than mine.
  7. And at the bottom are baking items: sugar, flours, cornmeal, and a lazy Susan (spinning circular tray) with vanilla, cocoa powder, baking powder, etc. on it.

The other reason you need to declutter your pantry is that there is food in there that you are ignoring and need to eat. Find that food and make a plan to eat it or use it in a recipe. Or there’s food in there that you shouldn’t eat (hello chips and packaged cookies!) and should get rid of by taking them to the office, giving them to a friend, or just throwing them away. It’s much easier to eat a healthy diet if the food that you have at home is healthy. If you don’t have chips, it’s a lot less likely that you’re going to give in to the chip monster when he comes calling (“eat me! eat me!”) while you’re watching TV or reading a book.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something your children no longer want saved for them.

Today’s Declutter Item

This belonged to my son but he is past caring about it. He allowed me to donate it to the thrift store. That’s one less thing that requires dusting in this house. Yay!!!

Basketball Souvenir

Something to be grateful for today

 A good cup of tea. Especially when someone else makes it for me.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

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

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  1. I mark the dates on my cans and packages with a sharpie that is much easier to see instead of having to look at the top of the can to find the date. I can see at a glance what needs to be used because the dates are large and clearly marked. I put the oldest in the back, so I know that the older things that need to be used first are in the front and know when they need to be used by. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I am providing a link to show what I am talking about: http://www.spendwise.org/2011/09/simple-savings-organize-your-pantry.html

    I also have found that we need to adjust how much we buy depending on how many people are in the family. As we lose kids to college and marriage, we don’t need to buy as much food!

    • Your last sentence is interesting to me. I’m reading The Power of Habit right now (can’t wait to write a review of it) and it says that people tend to buy the same amounts at the grocery store every time. That makes it hard to adjust for changes in the number of people.

  2. I have a kitchen that is well packed with all sorts of food. I usually have every basic ingredients at home, because I made it a habit to always write everything down on the chalkboard as soon as I can see I will run out of it soon. I am able this way to host even unannounced guests, and live off my kitchen if the month turns out a bit tighter than I planned. My basics are pasta, chickpeas, lentils, couscous, a veggie burger mix (just add boiling water and then fry in pan – delicious), potatoes, onions, garlic, canned fish, nuts and seeds, bread, milk, soy milk, eggs, tomatoes, beans, other baking and cooking ingredients (flour, spices, sugar, etc)… around once a month I check what I have and what I would like to eat and then plan ahead.
    I dont have much space so I often have to search through some items, although I found a way to arrange it quite ok. I know whats in there.
    I dont buy often new stuff, but I started to try the “fast-food” offers of my supermarket. that usually turns out ok, but if I dislike something, I offer friends. that usually works for me.

    I decluttered my mums pantry last year and I told her that I will do this every year and if she keeps stockpiling like back in the days, when she had to feed 2 children and one husband, I will force her to eat all of it, (muharharhar). I just hate wasting food so much, and the older she gets the less she eats. So I really have to make a point there.

    • Sounds like you have it well planned out Lena. Not so sure about your Mom though!

      • well for 25 years she was feeding a family of four and within 3 years everybody was gone and she was alone in the house. I guess to change shopping habits you have to be so aware of your situation, which means that she would have to constantly remind herself that she is alone now. that would be quite painful and torturing herself is just not her nature, which I am really grateful for. Her optimism is one of the factors that makes it easy with her sometimes, but with my constant reminder of being eco friendly, she is getting better though.

  3. Pantries are one of those black holes in the house if you aren’t careful. We have a deep pantry and that means “losing things” if you aren’t careful. So, I bought two rolling out wire drawers to put all of the small stuff in like cans and things. It has been a big help. I’m working on the idea of you don’t buy anything new until you have finished what’s in the pantry when it comes to canned goods, etc. It’s beginning to look good in there.

  4. I ruthlessly decluttered mine about six weeks ago and its been efficient ever since. One of the 365’ers suggested on refridgerator week to wipe out the fridge shelves before the next load of groceries arrives, that was a brilliant piece of advice. I expanded it to my pantry as well. I run the feather duster (which isn’t feather but nylon) around the shelves and tops of the cans and cannisters. And the main shelf where the most debris accummulates I wipe down. Takes about 2 mins.

    • same here. this tip was priceless. my fridge is suddenly clean, and the little wiping before I put the groceries in is just easy work!
      Whoever that person was that came up with this tip – THANK YOU!

      • That’s a great idea. I shop at the farmers market every Saturday morning and I think that wiping down my refrigerator’s shelves on Fridays would work well.

        I also mark my freezer bags of leftovers or large batches of beans which I cook in quantity and then freeze in 2 cup portions. That way I make sure I’m properly rotating my freezer stuff.

        • Hi Willow – I don’t have to worry about left overs, I have a teenage son who has the left overs for “2nd dinner” – I don’t know where he puts it all but it does reduce the amount of food containers in the fridge. 🙂

  5. It feels weird to speak of a pantry in my case. It’s just one drawer. And a little “chest of drawers” with spices. (similar to this one http://crozot.ch/pic37.jpg )

    It’s more than sufficient for our 2-persons-household and easy to declutter. 😉

    • That’s your whole pantry? Where is the flour, can of vegetables, or pasta? Are you buying daily or eating out a lot?

      • That and one drawer additionally, as I mentioned. There’s usually 1kg buckwheat, 1kg flour, up to 5kg rice, 500g pasta, 500g canned tomatoes, one can of tuna, oil, vinegar, onions and potatoes in that drawer, as well as foil and baking sheet.

        • Wow. That’s lean. Then again, I’m feeding 4 people and 5 animals, so what do I know?

          • Haha. It is lean, that’s true, but it’s never cluttered and I don’t have to through things out or do “use it up challenges”. The supermarket is only a 2 minutes walk from my home, so that’s another point.
            However, of course if you’ve got a big family, you need more than that. Especially if you have animals and children who need (want) snacks.
            I grew up in a household with 3 children, a dog and a cat as well and of course the pantry has been MUCH bigger.
            The only problem is that the pantry there is still as big, although it’s a 1-person, 1-cat household now. I think, my Mum is having the same problem as Lena’s Mum.

  6. I’m on a little mission to use up obscure or hardly ever used or “one off”ingredients in my pantry – and I’m sure I got this idea from this blog anyway – by making something just once a week that uses whatever this ingredient may be. This week it was risoni pasta – so I googled” recipes with risoni and pumpkin” ( I always have pumpkin on hand) .It was a delicious meal and very similar to a risotto.I’m doing this to try and simplify what I keep in the pantry.For instance I dont think I need 6 or 7 different pastas – macaroni and spaghetti will probably be enough for our needs . And I really want to avoid buying expensive “one off ‘ ingredients that then just sit there taking up space.

    • I do that similar to you. Because I get a vegetable/fruit/salad box each week and sometimes I really dont know what that stuff is, that I got. so I have to find out how to prepare and cook this item and then get along with a new recipe that I found online. That way I always get new input and I am actually often searching recipes because I want this item to leave my fridge/pantry. I have to admit, though, I also like to buy special ingredients for special meals.

      • I recently made this mistake of buying specialty ingredients. I bought teriyaki sauce, and I bought hoisin sauce, ginger, plus a few other items only to realize that what I was making with the hoisin etc. was homemade teriyaki sauce, which I already owned. Oops.

  7. My pantry I am pleased to say is in pretty good shape. I do a grocery shop every Sunday and my local stores are only a five minute walk away so I don’t need to keep big stocks of anything. I also have Fred two doors down who has lots of obscure ingredients should I need something for a one off recipe and he grows lots of herbs.(Thanks Fred you are wonderful).

    At the moment though I do have dried beans that need using up. I keep buying cans instead and the dried beans just sit there taking up space. Perhaps if I got back to being a little more organised with my meal plan I would know in advance to soak the bean and therefore use them.

    • I’ve pretty much given up on dried beans, too. A chef who is a mother in Clara’s class was telling me about her latest purchase, which she loves: an electric pressure cooker. She says it’s “life changing.” Beans, roasts, etc. can be completed in 30 minutes. I must say, I’m tempted. This woman was a chef and now own a local farm delivery service. If she thinks it’s “life changing” and not a gimick, it must be worth a look. It’s big though. http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-CPC-600-1000-Watt-Electric-Stainless/dp/B000MPA044

  8. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a clutter free pantry! I can see exactly what I have and I no longer stress out when I open the door for something.

  9. This is a topic close to my heart. I sat eating breakfast watching my pantry and it’s organisation this morning! I have seldom used spices, and heavy crockpot on top shelf, middle shelf for cans, spreads, mid-bottom is all baking stuff, including an ‘in tray’ for my smaller things (sultanas, cocoa, baking powder, little nut packets etc), so I can slide it out easily, and the bottom bottom has grains/pasta etc.

    When I was cooking at home (for 5), I’d often have ‘challenge’ items to use up (mainly polenta, powdered milk, maple syrup!). Even now, I still keep an eye on things that aren’t moving and won’t without a clear plan!

    Now that I don’t buy ‘normal’ milk, and don’t live with anyone, that milk powder actually gets used! Yay!

    I’m also a HUGE believer in not having what’s not good for you in the house (I have NO idea how people buy chocolate boxes ‘just in case’ as future gifts, I’d always crumble!). I do have choc chips, but I always buy the ones that taste horrible by themselves so I’m not tempted.

    Sanna – I love your little drawers, wherever did you find those!

    • 😀 I can only encourage everyone to get a bit creative with their food. 😉
      Given we have a minimal pantry, we always do. E.g. today I was cooking something Japanese but have run out of ginger – and just substituted it with a quince-and-port-jam that is lurking in my fridge and did its job well to add some fruity and spicy taste – and I had to use some fennel before it got bad, so I added fennel (unknown in Japan) to the radish stew. It turned out really tasty – and really not that much different from the original taste.
      I also made cake in which I substituted almost every ingredient with something else – it’s really not that difficult if you know which ingredients taste and work alike.
      I try to keep things rather minimal and try to work my way through unusual ingredients (like that jam that was a present but I don’t like it on bread) by adding them to things I regularly cook instead of waiting for the rarely occuring day at which I intentionally cook something I’ve never eaten before.
      By Friday we’re usually down to the bones and happy to stock up on Saturday. We’re going to a market where we buy vegetables and fruit cheaply in big amounts and plan the following week’s meals on that basis. (Like: “we’re going to eat radish at least twice, fennel at least twice, bananas for snacks and make rhubarb cake”) Then we stop at the supermarket and gather potatoes, pasta, flour, meat and dairy products to complete the week’s shopping.
      Our stock is always a little short – I plan only for about 5 days, because sometimes we just get a spontaneous invitation for dinner, go out for lunch once or simply don’t eat as much at one or two days (e.g. if it’s particularly hot or for whatever reason). If we need to stock up before the next weekend, we’d just stop by the supermarket once again and get supplies for one or two meals or make some “pantry food” like spaghetti or potato pancakes.
      We often have the same veggies two or three times in one week that way, but as we buy a different kind of veggie the following week, we’re still having quite different meals overall.

      @snosie: You get them on ebay or flea markets rather cheaply – both antiques and new items in antique style, though mine isn’t really an antique, it’s a little different than the one in the picture (I have wooden drawers, maybe I’ll upload a picture tomorrow), the size is about the same though, so I chose that picture.

      • hmmm fennel. love love love that. I also love how you do your cooking. seems very streamlined. I also often eat the same veggies during one week. Or I freeze things. especially now, with the season, I have to get the asparagus, rhubarb (I made jam with ginger the other day, amazing stuff), strawberries, etc often, before they are gone again…

      • Here’s a picture of my spice chest. http://img140.imageshack.us/img140/4066/spicen.jpg

        I like that I can exchange the lables easily.
        As you can see, it’s actually two chests next to each other. I have a thing for spices. They also hold baking flavours, seeds like sesame etc, really almost anything tiny I stock in small amounts. The tins on the side hold flour and millet (would fit into my drawer as well, but I just like the ceramic tins – I know, no empty counter…) If I own another kitchen at some point with a little more wall space over the counters, I want to mount these chests to the wall. In the current kitchen I could only mount them to the opposite wall and I prefer having everything right at hand when working.

        • Love your green cabinets.

        • So I was thinking – first, are the things inside the drawers loose, or still in a packet of sorts? If they were loose, you’d need well made drawers so nothing spilled anywhere (oh, here I am thinking they are wood, when they are ceramic!) And… I also wondered how big they are – see I bake a lot, so I usually have 2kg of plain and SR flour on hand, likewise sugars etc (the first picture you posted had labels for ingredients like this). So I’m not sure if these would work for me, but I certainly love the idea!

          • snosie, if you’re really interested, keep your eyes open. They exist in all sizes and in almost any material (glass and ceramics and wood and metal – whichever you like best). Mine are small and wooden, which suits me best at the moment, but I’m also tempted to one day get one of these old kitchen cabinets with included drawer systems. Like the one on this blog: http://ruth-bastelblog.blogspot.de/2011/08/alter-kuchenbuffet-oder-der.html
            My secret dream…

            I don’t know, these have been really common over here from the 1870’s to the 1970’s, so you find vintage pieces almost everywhere. You can still buy them new as well, e.g. the plain plastic version http://www.belhome.de/4-tlg-schuetten-regal/44527-334
            I’m sorry, I’ve got no idea what this is called in English though. 🙂
            Even IKEA had glass ones a few years back – my Mum got some. Hers hold about 1 litre per drawer.

          • yeah, those containers are really very common here, I like them, I think they are practical and easy, I would always prefer glass or ceramic… sadly I dont have them myself in my kitchen.

            This old buffet is beautiful. My friend has exactly the same, she also painted it white and it looks really nice. and you have so much more storage space.

      • Sanna – you are a cooking marvel. I consider putting some grated cheese on top of something to be going the extra distance with a meal. 🙂

        • *lol* Moni, these are just the results of years of being too lazy to either go shopping or look up a recipe, combined with a “healthy appetite”. 😉 You could also say, I’m a food junkie.
          I’m a fast cook though, always done in about 20 minutes – I guess, in cooking I have that “smart laziness” Colleen talked about when she posted about cleaning.

          • 🙂 My IQ halves as soon as food and cooking is involved, I have a friend who is a chef working with me on a step-by-step lesson arrangement, at the moment we are working on meal planning (which is my big downfall) – so I will add “garnishes” when I’m ready beyond items such as “remember to take the meat out to defrost in the morning, not at 6pm at night”.

    • ha snosie, I hear you! I just gave it a shot again to see if I turned into one of those persons in the meantime. Havent bought chocolate for ages, and yesterday I did. and then I ate 3 packs of chocolate in 24 hours. seems like I am not there yet. I mean its not like I enjoy it, I feel usually quite sick after half a kilo of chocolate. but hey, at least I know in order to save me from controlling myself at home with chocolate in drawers, I have to control myself in the shops, so that I dont buy that stupid crap in the first place. If I really need chocolate, my polish lady at the kiosk around the corner is happy to sell me icecream and chocolate bars in small amounts…

  10. For the first time ever, everyone in my family has decided they will eat soup! So it’s the perfect way to keep on top of my vegetable drawer in the fridge (which, in the past, often hosted slimy manky stuff that needed to be thrown away on a regular basis – wasteful). I’ve slowly been working my way through all the dried beans and obscure grains in the pantry too, and been marking the packets and jars with the date items are purchased to see how long it takes me to use them up.

    I also don’t keep junk food in the house. I’d rather eat a piece of cheese on a cracker for a snack (even though cheese before bed is supposed to give you nightmares!) Though I must admit, at certain times of the month I would kill someone for a piece of chocolate and succumb to raiding my husband’s chocolate drawer in the bedroom 🙂