I've been inspired by The Simple Dollar's "Out With The Old, In With The New" series this month. It is focused on "specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011." If you haven't been following this series, I would definitely recommend it. While I haven't fully embraced all of Trent's suggestions, I did draw inspiration from his posts to do two specific things before the end of the year - clean out our pantry and get our finances in order.
Today I'll share a little bit about the pantry clean out, and I'll save the financial clean up for tomorrow.
Let me start by telling you that I believe in having an organized pantry. We try to do a lot of cooking at home in order to save money on food, and I've found that if things are too hard to find in the pantry, I'm just not going to cook. I've also learned that you have to organize your pantry the way that it makes sense to you. If it doesn't make sense to you, you won't keep it organized. While I may keep oils in three different places, it makes sense to me that each one be in that place because of the way that I use it.
I've also learned that if you're not really feeling like cleaning out your pantry, don't do it. Wait for a day that you feel inspired and motivated. Otherwise you'll start, run out of gumption, and end up with food strewn all over you kitchen. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.
I had been living in this house for about 2 years before I realized my pantry system wasn't working. There is probably a reason why it wasn't working, because my version of "pantry system" at the time meant "throw everything in." Our house was built in the 1940s, and unfortunately, it has very little storage space. The pantry area is actually the underside of the staircase. Since there isn't a light and its in the hallway, it was often too dark to find what I was looking for. A few years ago we painted it white, and that helped open it up tremendously. I also got a label maker for Christmas around that same time and inevitably ended up making labels for everything I owned. I found that I appreciated being able to see into containers to know how much of something I had, so I made the switch to tupperware and mason jars. I absolutely love using mason jars for everything from beans to nuts to spices.
So, if you've decided you're ready - start by pulling it all out. Everything.
Thankfully, there wasn't much that had expired or that we didn't use, so I didn't have a whole lot to get rid of. However, I will say that the first time I did a "pantry clean-out" I got rid of a lot of stuff that we didn't actually use. There is no sense keeping it if you aren't going to use it. Now when I am at the grocery store, I think carefully about whether it is something we'll actually use.
I wiped down all containers, filled containers that were getting low, and make a list of things I was out of. Before putting things back in the pantry, I gave it a really good wipe down.
On the bottom shelf I keep all of the canned goods, miscellaneous baking supplies, and any random items. These are things that I don't use on a daily basis, so it works well for them to be on the lowest shelf.
The next shelf up contains all of the flours and sugars. I keep the things I use most frequently in the containers, with refills and things used less frequently behind the containers. I always keep at least one refill of flour on hand so that I have no excuse for not making that pizza or bread.
Next up are the store bought canned goods, grains and beans. We go through diced tomatoes at an unbelievable rate, and although I canned quite a few quarts this year, they're already gone. Anytime I'm at the store and see some on sale, I try to pick them up. I love having the grains and beans in mason jars. It makes it so easy to find what I'm looking for or draw inspiration for a new meal. We buy most of this in the bulk section, so I can get as much or little as I want. I've found that doing it this way keeps the food more fresh. We also keep the granola on this shelf. We love eating granola for breakfast, and I'm made some yummy additions since I last posted the recipe.
This is a system that we've developed, based on our unique needs, over the past few years. I encourage you to take the time to clean our your pantry and find a system that works for you. I can almost guarantee it will make cooking that much more delightful!
*Update: I had several people ask about the white lids I use on my jars. They are made by Ball and are called plastic storage caps. They can be used in the freezer or just for storage. I have found mine at several stores in the late summer/early fall during canning season, but they are usually available online during the rest of the year. You can purchase them from Canning Pantry - make sure to note that they sell both wide and regular mouth styles.