Go Shelf By Shelf and Snack By Snack: “Happier at Home” Week 2, in the Pantry

I am, indeed, happier.

Saturday morning, our pantry looked like this:

Most dispiriting.

You may think that that is not so bad, and in some ways it is not. Certainly it could be worse. But in addition to general crudiness (and do, please, examine this close-up, below), there were other problems. The children couldn’t reach the crackers and cookies they typically snack on after school (or on Saturday morning while their father and I sleep). The microwave (no counter space) could only be used by moving a basket of nuts and bars and coffee filters (because there’s a grouping that makes sense) out of the way. And we had lots of stuff I had no idea we had. Note to self and husband: we simply don’t need to buy any more ketchup. For years.

You can’t actually see the spilled popcorn and goldfish, but trust me.

It was ugly, it was unpleasant, it was a constant annoyance. Every time I opened the doors, my heart sank. And you know, I open those doors a lot.

For months, I’ve been spending quality time with pantry porn in the form of Williams Sonoma and the kinds of magazines with headlines like “control your clutter” and “10 clutter-busting strategies!” And we’ve been distantly planning a kitchen remodel, so I like to draw my new pantry, which will have room for dishes and appliances and, I dunno, mops or something. Also, laundry, which is right now in my bathroom.

But distant plans and colored pencils are no substitute for immediate action. So Saturday, I opened the pantry doors, and I took everything out.

Every Thing Out!

I had to get a folding table. I had to use the stairs, and the floor, and the counter. It was astonishing, the amount of stuff that fit in those two cabinets.

I’m all done, right?

And once it was out, I sorted. I tossed (after the third time, the nearest available child began to refuse to taste-test any more crackers for staleness. It’s been a very, very damp summer.) I collected for a food pantry (no, not the stale stuff! I briefly had a babysitter who would grocery shop for me, and the food pantry will benefit from the continual misunderstandings that led to my not having a babysitter who would grocery shop for me any more. Grits; they’re getting lots of non-instant grits. Also, spaghettini, which is not at all the same thing as spaghetti. Actually, I don’t have a regular sitter at all anymore, but that’s another post.)

And then I replaced. Gently, slowly, with labels for the backs of the too-deep shelves. I moved shelves. I wiped, I vacuumed, I moved shelves again. I tried things out in a few places that didn’t work; I finally used a set of matching containers I bought ages ago in the hopes of doing just this; I scrounged baskets that were being misused in other rooms; I labeled, I thought, I dumped.

The result is beautiful. I didn’t spend one penny. (I’m not going to count those three extra plastic containers because I bought them months ago.) I didn’t order anything new from the Container Store. I didn’t do anything except what I should have done in the first place: think about the best place for stuff and put it there, and not shove anything into the back without making sure there was a way to find it again.

When I open the pantry doors now, I still want to cry … with happiness. I’m delighted, I’m relaxed, I’m happy to cook and happy to put away the groceries.

Will it stay this way? I think so, in part because I used another “Gretchen-ism:” I left empty spaces. (She says “Leave an empty shelf.”) We’re not always going to have exactly four boxes of crackers or two boxes of spaghetti (although we will always have exactly no boxes of spaghettini). Things will get used and replaced and bought–but in addition to going shelf by shelf in the pantry, I found myself thinking about a new resolution: the resolution not to stock up.

No more buying in bulk, no more getting five cans of coffee to save grabbing another on the next trip to the store. We don’t have room for ten boxes of macaroni and cheese no matter how much it’s on sale, and I pay a price in coping with all the excess, not to mention the price of losing it in the back of the cabinet, or watching it expire. It’s false economy, and false security. We need two boxes of macaroni and cheese. When one is eaten–or even, should we decide to live life to the fullest, when BOTH get eaten, we can go to the store and buy another.

Doesn’t that sound profligate? But we can. Should the apocalypse arrive, a stock of macaroni will not save us (I’m going for a stock of bourbon, actually). Should a flu epidemic prevent our shopping for weeks, some system will surely arise to allow us to get food. If it doesn’t: if systems fail and bourbon proves useless in the zombie economy, well, we have bigger problems than a few boxes of macaroni would have solved, and at least I got to enjoy my clean pantry in the meantime.

9 Responses to “Go Shelf By Shelf and Snack By Snack: “Happier at Home” Week 2, in the Pantry”

  1. What marvelous motivation!!! I found you through Happiness Project, and although I haven’t gotten to the pantry yet in my book, OH! How motivating. I wanna send you a pick of my before. The hubs JUST said “There is too much stuff in here!” this weekend. UGH. Now I am SUPER stoked. Maybe….tomorrow? THANKS!!!

  2. Lori says:

    I am working on a similar project in my pantry. I need to clear the basement so we can refinish it and I am regretting all the bulk purchases. Luckily I don’t have much boxed food anymore since I’ve gone mostly paleo but I still have more than I need or can use in a reasonable amount of time.
    I will have to make a trip to the store for containers since i don’t have some sitting around but I definitely plan to use the “group like things together in a container” strategy.

  3. Zarah says:

    Your pantry looks great! I really need to do that in my hall closet. I love having such a big closet (the only large one in my whole house) but it becomes a catch-all for EVERYTHING. Flylady is doing a big declutter push this month too, so I’m hoping to get in the spirit.

  4. Scarlette Chapman says:

    Oh my God, I can totally relate to the joy you must feel every time you open your pantry. For months I’ve been telling myself that I needed to do this. Every time I’d reach for a bag of rice, or the ketchup, something would fall off a shelf because everything was so crammed in there. Then a few weeks ago I was forced to finally clean it out when I opened the flour and discovered some of those gross weevils in there. Ick!! Nothing like bugs to make me clean. I spent the afternoon purging, emptying, cleaning, disinfecting etc. I thought I was good at disposing of expired food and avoiding multiple purchases of the same item, until I had to take everything out and do complete inventory. It took me all day Saturday but now ahh,, it’s so nice to open our pantry and not have everything jam packed in there. It’s also made it easier for family members to put everything back in it’s proper place. Isn’t it amazing how just a simple task like cleaning out the kitchen cabinet can make such a difference? I really enjoyed your post. Nothing like a little validation that you’re not the only one.

  5. Love the new pantry. And let us be clear – bourbon is exactly what a zombie economy will require. Unless it’s mezcal. So I’m stocking both just in case.

  6. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    I hope you get in there! I went grocery shopping today, came home and ACTUALLY ENJOYED putting away the results. Bought less, too, because I know exactly what’s going to fit in there. I’m still happier.

  7. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    Bulk is evil for everything except toilet paper and paper towels.

  8. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    Yep. Mexcal is a good call.

  9. Kitty says:

    KJ. This is brilliant! I love your closing two paragraphs. I feel the similarly about bulk as we begin to declutter around here. I have not been to Costco in months. Turns out we can totally survive! Good luck with the rest of the projects. K