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Friday, May 05, 2006

Pantry Makeover: Three Easy Steps to Organizing Success

By Nancy Peham

Are there items in your pantry that are no longer recognizable as food? Do the expiration dates on your canned goods take you back to the 20th Century? What surprises lie dormant in the deep dark recesses of the back shelves?

Consider the last time your pantry had a makeover. Makeover you say? Perhaps the term is a bit strong, but if you haven't cleaned your pantry recently and gotten rid of stale, partially used, or unpopular purchases, now is a great time.

Step 1

Start by removing everything. As you do, throw away items that have reached or exceeded their expiration dates. If you're concerned about the environment, your city's recycling program accepts them. Don't forget to recycle plastic, glass, and certain metals.

Next, get rid of anything you'll never eat. It's good to experiment with new foods, but some just fail the taste test.

If you've left cracker boxes, chip bags, or sacks of flour open, the contents are probably stale. Throw them out.

Dieting? Here's your opportunity to start fresh by getting rid of high-calorie, over-processed, and unhealthy foods. Who needs the temptation?

Step 2

Before you start putting things back, clean the shelves or line them with one of the great products you can find in the house wares department of your grocery, home improvement, or local superstore. That sticky-backed, hard to position product that dominated the market for a generation has seen a lot of competition in the past few years, so consider the options before you buy.

Next, begin sorting. I like to group my pantry items into the following general categories, which are similar to those in your local market or grocery store:

  • Canned goods
  • Dry goods
  • Baking Supplies
  • Boxed Foods
  • Beverages
  • Condiments
  • Snacks

Other items that may find a place in your pantry include pet food, paper plates, napkins, plastic cutlery, paper towels, lunch bags, aluminum foil, clear plastic wrap, and storage bags.

If you are fortunate enough to have a very large pantry you may even store your seldom used electrical appliances, serving pieces, cook books, or picnic supplies there.

Step 3

Now that you've sorted the contents of your pantry and eliminated the excess, it's time to consider where you'll put everything.

If you buy in bulk, take into account the amount of space you'll need when you bring home the next big load, or decide on an alternate location for the overflow. Perhaps a nearby closet or laundry room cupboard will work for you.

Consider putting grains, flour, sugar, and other items which are not individually wrapped into clear airtight containers. In addition to immediately seeing what's inside, food will stay fresher and maintain a longer shelf life. Before purchasing containers measure the depth and height of shelves to be sure they'll fit.

If you have movable shelves, don't be afraid to rearrange them to meet your needs. If you lack sufficient shelving there are many options to choose from. Consider wire mesh drawer units which are available at specialty retail and home improvement stores. These units can be rearranged as often as necessary using drawers of varying depths to store almost anything.

To maximize space add door mounted racks. If you have deep shelves and can't see what's in the back, purchase expandable tiered plastic shelves which sit on top of your permanent shelves. They're especially popular for holding spice jars and canned goods.

Because of their considerable combined weight, store canned goods on sturdy shelves. The same holds true for glass jars. I recently dropped a bottle of olive oil on my tile floor and spent the next several minutes cleaning the mess. If you want to add a touch of hominess and minimize the risk of breakage you may even decide to place a small rug or mat on the floor near a particularly vulnerable area.

As you refill your pantry, remember these tips:

If you have young children in the house, you can influence smart snacking choices and promote independence by keeping foods they're allowed to eat on lower shelves in containers they can easily navigate.

Allocate "prime real estate" to those items you use regularly. These are the areas that are at or near eye level, and easy to reach.

If you decide to use mesh drawer units, consider putting them on wheels so that you can clean easily behind and underneath them. You may also keep similar items together like breakfast foods, snacks, or baking ingredients so when you need several items at once they can be wheeled to another area together, allowing you to make less frequent trips to retrieve what you need.

To keep packets and individually wrapped items from slipping, sliding and falling off shelves, use small wicker baskets, clear plastic drawers, or even decorative canisters, boxes or bins to keep them organized and in place.

When you're all done, stand back, look around and take pride in your beautiful and functional pantry!

Copyright 2006. Nancy E. Peham All rights reserved.

Nancy Peham, professional organizer and owner of Helping Hands Personal Services, a Dallas based company, works with her clients to create order, relieve stress and improve their lives. In addition to residential organizing Nancy stages homes for sale, is a speaker, writer, and frequent contributor to the media. Visit her website and sign up for her free monthly newsletter.

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