{five minute friday} The #1 Key to Maintaining My Organized Pantry

Friday, September 18, 2015

As I was putting away groceries the other day, it occurred to me how differently I approach that mundane task now than I used to. For years, putting away the groceries meant simply finding a place for everything on the pantry shelves - a box here, a box there, making room or just shoving a box in even if there wasn't room. 

Finally, I buckled down and spent several days completely emptying the pantry and fully reorganizing it from scratch. And that time investment paid off! When I stood back and admired my newly organized and pretty pantry, I promised myself I would keep it that way. And you know what? For once, I did! The pantry has now stayed organized for nearly two years, and there is one simple habit that helps me keep it that way.

The 5 Extra Minutes that Keep My Pantry Organized All the Time

So, how have I managed to keep the pantry organized for nearly two years when I can't seem to keep my bedroom closet clean for a month? Much of the credit goes to the fact that I took the time to put a well thought out, manageable plan in place for the pantry {which I definitely can't say about my closet...at lest not yet anyway}. But after that - week after week - the #1 key to maintaining the pantry organization is the fact that I now spend five extra minutes after every grocery trip doing one simple thing... getting rid of all those boxes!

When I come home from grocery shopping, I immediately empty everything from the bags, sorting by fridge, freezer and pantry. The fridge and freezer items get put right away, and then I'm left with a counter top that looks like this ... covered in boxes!

And this is the moment when I have to stop myself from reverting to my old habit of opening the pantry door and just shoving all the boxes inside where ever I can fit them. Instead, I force myself to dedicate an extra five minutes to this grocery-putting-away chore that I really don't enjoy. But it's those five minutes that has kept our pantry organized for the past two years, so I sigh and just do it.

I open nearly every box, remove its contents and flatten the boxes for recycling. 


A few months ago, I shared my 5 Steps to an Organized and Pretty Pantry, and step 3 is to use appropriate containers. I talk a lot about the benefits of using baskets and bins to group like items together and keep them organized on pantry shelves. But boxes are bulky and they take up a lot of space. Just a couple of boxes can quickly fill and entire basket just like that. And that's why very few boxes ever make their way in to my pantry at all.

Most boxes are typically much larger than their contents, meaning they take up more space than necessary, right from the start. And then, as soon as you start to consume the contents, you quickly end up with half empty or mostly empty box - which is an even bigger waste of space. If I were to keep my food in these bulky boxes, I wouldn't be able to fit everything neatly into my labeled pantry bins, and very quickly I'd be right where I used to be, just shoving boxes in here, there, and everywhere, and the organized pantry would be a thing of the past. The last thing I want is to wind up back at this scary before photo...

Not only do boxes take up a lot of unnecessary space, they also make it hard to know, at a glance, what you're running low on. You can't glance at a box of cereal and know if it's mostly full, or nearly empty. I make a shopping list throughout the week {I keep clipped up on our pantry bulletin board}, but I also like to be able to quickly glance in each of the pantry bins before my trip to the grocery store to see if there is anything else I need to add to the list.

Pantry door grocery list

Before I started removing our food items from the boxes, I would find myself staring into the pantry, basically trying to guess what else I needed to put on the list based on my recollection of how many granola bars I thought were left, because it took too much time to check every box. Then I'd wind up coming home from the store with duplicates of some items and without some of the items we actually did need. Doh! This was not only super frustrating, but also made it harder to stay organized, because I just don't have room to store those unnecessary duplicates in our small pantry.


Ok, so that's the why. But now you're probably wondering about the how. How do I keep the pantry organized without the boxes to contain all the loose food items?

Let's start with the large drawers on the floor of the pantry. I use these for the items that are just for the kids, like the fruit and veggie and apple sauce pouches that they love, and snacks in individual serving sizes.

Pantry drawer organization

Pantry drawer organization

By storing the kid specific items in these drawers, the kids have easy access to independently choose snacks {although I still control their access with a child-lock on the pantry door, so they can't over indulge}. Removing the snack items from boxes before putting them in the drawers makes it much easier for the kids to find what they want and for me to know when we are running low.

These drawers work great for the bulkier kids items, but when it comes to smaller items, they could quickly become disorganized inside the baskets on our pantry shelves. To solve this problem, I use smaller bins to contain loose items inside the larger baskets. For example, within our breakfast basket, I have a smaller bin that I use to hold individual granola bars and packets of oatmeal.

Pantry organization tip

When it comes to foods that aren't individually packaged, I had to decide {when I planned the pantry organization} whether to leave them in their original containers, or to transfer them to reusable containers. I knew that, realistically, if I planned to transfer too many items, it would be hard to keep up after each grocery shopping trip. To maximize storage space in the pantry, while still keeping the system manageable, I chose to only transfer those staple items that I have in my pantry at all times {like flour, sugar, rice and certain pastas}, and those items that are otherwise hard to store in their original containers {either due to inconvenient size or packaging}.

Pantry organization in clear containers

For example, our pantry shelves are just a bit too short for cereal boxes to stand upright, and when I used to turn the boxes on their side, the contents often ended up spilling out. Therefore, in my pantry, cereal is another item that I always transfer to reusable containers as soon as I bring it home from the grocery store. I have three plastic jars designated for cereal that stack right in front of one another on the pantry shelf. I make sure to never buy more cereal than will fit in these three containers.

Pantry organization jars and baskets

I use the same containers to transfer the goldfish crackers and pretzel fish crackers that we buy in bulk for the kids, but other types of chips and crackers that I don't buy consistently generally stay in their original containers. There are no hard and fast rules about what to transfer and what not to, it's a matter of finding the right balance for your pantry.

Pantry organization using clear containers

So there you have it - the why and the how.  It took an investment of time to get the pantry organization system set up in the first place, but now that we have all of the baskets, bins, and reusable containers organized in place, it only takes me about five extra minutes after every shopping trip to take the food out the boxes and to collapse them for recycling. But that five minutes makes the difference between the pantry staying organized and falling back into the chaos that it once was, which makes it time very well spent!

Still Looking for More Pantry Organization Tips?

In this post, I've hit on just a couple of the highlights of my organized pantry, but you can read much more, including my 5 Steps to an Organized and Pretty Pantry in the original pantry post. 

And if you are looking for even more pantry organization ideas, be sure to also check out my printable pantry labels, my pantry wall spice organization, my pantry door bulletin board, and the DIY chalkboard clipboards that hang on the pantry wall to keep track of school notes.

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  1. Amazing. I have to think about whether or not I could pull that off or not and let the info roll around in my brain for a while, but I am dying to know how you made those fabulous labels!

    1. It seems daunting, but once you have the baskets and bins in place, putting everything away is so easy, and the time I spend removing things from boxes is easily made up for when it comes time to make my grocery list! Here's the link to the tutorials for all three types of labels in the pantry: http://www.blueistyleblog.com/2015/05/PrettyPantryLabels3Ways.html

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  3. I soooo need to do this, but I've been dreading it. Hopefully your encouragement will remind me how AMAZING it will look in the end ;)


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