This is a result of the pantry being so unorganized you cannot see where things are. As a result you end up spending more money, so perhaps this article should have gone in MindYour Pennies, but then it’s about organizing your food in your pantry, so maybe it should have gone into Patterson’sPantry.
I choose to put it here with links over to it from those blogs because the Princess Plan is about decluttering and organizing my family’s entire life. So here goes.
The pantry has been a source of frustration for me as long as I can remember. I purchase groceries and household use items in bulk, on sale and with coupons whenever I can.
Every six to nine months I find I need to completely empty the pantry, wipe down the shelves, throw out food and re-organize it. Since I purchase groceries in bulk this can be a major under taking. The reason for this need is because we don’t keep it organized after I organize it. It’s no one person’s fault, all three of us is each as guilty as the other about not putting things where they belong.
A lot of that is at the time I usually do the “pitch and destroy” mission on the pantry, which is usually at low inventory and I tend to put things back in the pantry based on what is on hand. Then as I restock I find I’ve not allowed enough space and have to stack on top of the existing cans and products that are already in there, often mixing products and thus covering up foods we previously have on hand.
This also creates a problem about proper food storage rotation. While I do normally try and remember to write the expiration date on the front of the can with a permanent marker as I stock I’m not always real good about it, and the men seldom do. The result is unmarked cans being assumed as newest and left in the pantry when they are actually older than the can I pull out.
Even worse is the fact that we, as normal human beings, tend to take out the item that is the easiest to grab. Which means the item on top and if groceries were put up in a hurry and the person doing it was tired the stacks are not shifted to where the oldest is on top. The result is food that has to be thrown out later. This is very wasteful. It is something that drives me nuts.
There is also the problem of I open a can of dried food and need to put the vacuum sealed jars somewhere and those get shoved in. The guys have no idea where something came from out of the pantry when helping with the nightly kitchen clean-up, so they put it where ever it fits and six to nine months later we have a pantry that looks like this:
Pretty bad huh? What’s bad is by this point I have no clue where anything is or how much we have and will often have the guys stop to purchase a “couple of things” to go with that night’s dinner even though I’m pretty certain I should still have some of the product. I just can’t find it. So extra money is spent because instead of using the foods I stock up on when on sale and I have a coupon for they are picking the item up at full price. Even worse is if this happens too often the food item goes bad in the pantry.
Worse yet, we often end up going out to eat and that takes money away from our gazelle feed. So a pantry that is not only organized but stays organized is mandatory to stay on track with the Princess Plan for 2013.
The pantry actually wasn’t on my monthly schedule for a few months yet, but after thinking I had cracked bones in my feet from a half dozen cans collapsing on them last week I decided now was the time. Luckily it was just bad bruises, but it definitely reminded me that it was time to grab hold of the horns of this bull of a pantry and tame it.
Another determining factor was Gary finding me what I consider to be an excellent grocery ap for my phone called “Grocery Tracker”. It has all sorts of features that will help tame any grocery bill if you use them. I’ve written a review about it for Mind YourPennies and if you follow the hyperlink by clicking on the highlighted words either Grocery Tracker or Mind Your Pennies it will take you right to it.
In order to fully utilize the Grocery Tracker I needed to do a complete inventory of our food stuffs. What better time to organize the pantry.
Only this time I wanted to do it differently, I wanted to do it so it would stay organized and all my foods would be rotated properly. Enter can rotators. A cruising of utube will find many home made versions of this system made out of a variety of materials, or if you aren’t handy with making things there are numerous commercially versions available.
We started out looking at all of the above and weeded out different types for different reasons. The end result was the one my husband designed then he and my son built. They are working on designs that we will eventually sell that anyone could adapt to fit their pantry. Thus began our long project of cleaning out and organizing the pantry.
Day #1. My husband and I spent hours looking at various styles of can rotators and shelf organizers on the web. We cruised utube, followed links, and discussed the pros and cons of each style.
The two men were in the middle of a project building an easel for the drafting board to be used by my son at his work station in the office, which is coming along nicely on its path to being completely decluttered. In fact it is pretty well down to the pretty up stage, which I can work on during the week while the men are at work, now that we have some air conditioning in that room.
The two men finished up the easel and started discussing what materials we had on hand to make the items I wanted for the upstairs pantry shelves that evening.
Day #2. More discussion was followed by action. Gary took some basic measurements and then went upstairs to the office to draw out the designs for the can rotator.
I started this blog post and then went to the pantry to start making more of a mess than was already there. I was intent upon emptying the pantry entirely of its contents, one item at a time.
I started by clearing the dining room table of its center piece and other items and then one can at a time started taking things out of the pantry.
One can of each type of item was measured for diameter and height. This I recorded onto a piece of paper for my designer husband. I kept track of how many different rotator slots I’d need for each size can as I went by making columns on my spiral. Once the can was measured and entered I placed it on the dining room table. I sorted the cans by what they were putting like items together, ie: vegetables on one end of the table, fruits on the other.
I also put all of the same product together as I went. So green beans were all put together, and so forth. This would make putting the groceries back in the pantry easier when the rotators were installed.
I also used a permanent marker on each can as I withdrew it from the pantry to put the expiration date boldly on the front of each can. This would make putting the inventory into grocery tracker faster in the future.
I don’t mind telling you it was slow going. I quickly saw this was a project in itself that was going to spread over several days.
The layout of my pantry is pretty much that of many pantries. Originally it was a series of three deep shelves. This we changed when we moved in to a system I had in my previous home to a series of four full shelves and a half shelf up near the nine foot ceiling. We narrowed the depth of the shelves to help keep things from disappearing never to be seen again in the back . The wood from these shelves we used to make a small narrow shelf on the wall at the end of each long shelf. Thus forming a square “U” of shelving.
At that time we had planned on stacking cans four deep and three high, thus the height spacing on the shelves. Later that turned out to be a mistake of sorts. It allowed us to conveniently lay foods on top of other foods which created chaos in the pantry. This was one of the things I wanted to remedy.
Our plan, when we started this endeavor, was to put can rotators on three of the four shelves and a stair step tier system on the fourth shelf. This was of course doomed to be changed when the reality of what storage I truly needed set in.
If my rough estimate had been right the height of the current shelves would work to make the rotators two segments high and there would be room on top of them to lay flat boxes, such as purchased on sale with coupons things like cake mixes, dried potato mixes and such, on their backs with the top facing out so it could be read easily. While I prefer to cook from scratch sometimes it is far faster, and cheaper to use these items when purchased as stated above, so I usually have at least a few of each on hand. Therefore I need to make allowances for them in my food storage. Generally I place them in the grain pantry, but right now the grain pantries are subject for another post and these items are being stored in the house pantry.
By double layering the rotators and adding the boxes to the top I would basically be tripling my storage space on those shelves. Even more wonderful is that space would be completely organized.
Once the can rotators were actually designed it became apparent that there would only be one set of rotators per shelf due to height requirements to provide the needed slant to make the cans roll down the rotator properly. Instead of flat boxes I opted to use the additional head space to put sealed large Ziploc rectangular storage bowls for things like pasta and small various shaped containers. This not only took care of corralling these odd sized packets and cans, it took full advantage of the space.
The stair step tier shelf would be for my vacuum sealed jars of dried foods and home canned foods to be stored on. Stair stepping would not take any space from the storage, but if I placed my labels high on the half gallon jars it would allow me to see at a glance that the dried celery was directly behind the quart jar of another dried food in front of it. Which had a home canned pint jar in front of it. All became very visible. When placing these jars I took this idea from my commercially purchased in cabinet spice rack shelves. The half shelf was currently being used mainly for storing tubs of gelatin and other small packages that tend to get lost in the shuffle. These are all in large plastic Glad square lidded bowls to keep them all together . Seldom used kitchen items were also on this shelf and on the small plastic shelves I had placed in the floor of the pantry previously.
In addition the two liters of soda pop were also on those floor based small shelves. In the remaining floor space under the shelves were plastic tubs to set cooking oils and chips in.
Gary wanted to change the storage for the chips and oils to something more convenient and less cluttered looking. I was all for that.
Because we planned on running the rotators and tiers from wall to wall that created a problem about what to do with the short shelves on the sides. Anything we placed there would block the ends of the units. Our decision was to place items least used, but needed in the upstairs pantry in the end units of each shelf. Then on the short shelves place only a few items, such as cereal boxes. These could easily be removed when we needed say a can of pumpkin to make muffins once every four to six weeks from the end rotator and quickly replaced.
One thing we both agreed on was each different food item would be assigned a permanent place in the pantry and that place would be LABELED. That way no matter who was in the pantry looking for or putting up something they would know exactly where the item went.
I have to admit this sounds a little bit uptight, but my feet were still bruised as we discussed this and I never wanted to suffer such an avalanche again.
As I worked sorting that first day it quickly became abundantly clear to me that I had many, many odd items that would not work in the can rotator. Some things, I could see we actually didn’t need to have because the dates on the cans, jars and boxes were far past expiration date, which told me they had been either given to us or purchased on a whim and no space needed to be allowed for them. They went to the proper trash bin. Others could be repackaged to canning jars for the tiered shelves. But that still left items to deal with and allowances would need to be made for them as we designed the pantry.
The first shelf I emptied was the one we had decided would be the step tiered shelf. Since making this shelf was a simple thing it was the logical one to start
That first weekend Gary cut scrap plywood to be wide enough to hold the half gallon jars and the length of the shelf. This he placed on small blocks of 2 x 4 to raise it at the back of the chosen shelf. It was secure, a free fix and as you can see it served the purpose. It is also a fix anyone can do for their pantry quickly.
When doing such a project it is easy to look in a pantry and go “Oh I just have a few basic vegetables, fruits and some soups” then to make all your rotators all the same size. This could be a major mistake for three reasons.
1. Wasted space
2. Cans won’t roll down the rotator properly if the rotator is the wrong size.
3. If you do make x amount of vegetable/fruit/soup size slots you may find you have too many of one type slot and not enough of others.
While measuring I found that we actually had fourteen different size normal every day grocery store size cans in our pantry. This did not include the #10 cans that I store in the basement.
Fourteen! I simply could not believe it. It definitely made how we divided the rotators a bit more of a challenge. Take just tomato products that most of us have in our pantries. You have tomato sauce in three different sizes, tomato paste and plain old tomatoes in two different sizes. Soups, the number of sizes on those cans equal four. Obviously I was going to need to rethink how much I kept in the upstairs pantry vs the downstairs food storage. We simply did not have the space for that many dividers. I also needed to re-evaluate whether or not I truly needed that many sizes of each product. Seriously, how often do I need the really large can of tomato sauce these days? Wouldn’t it be better to purchase extra small cans for a single slot in the rotator and use multiples of them. OR purchase those larger cans when I truly need them and use them immediately. OR store the larger sizes in the basement for the few times a year I do need them.
I made the executive decision to keep only those sizes I used the most often in my day to day cooking upstairs and move the other sizes to the basement. It was the only logical thing to do.
That still left the problem of varieties. I definitely did not want all my soups that were the same size in the same bin. When I cook, I cook swiftly which means I don’t want to take out and feed ten cans of mixed soup out of the bin when I need tomato soup. I want to go directly to the tomato soup bin and pull out the bottom can. So allowances would have to be made there. With only the used most often soups kept upstairs.
This meant, of course, that after the upstairs pantry rotators were made I was going to need another set on a much bigger scale for the downstairs pantry. I can hear my husband moaning now. It’s always that way, one project leads directly into another. Just as one blog post leads to another, and another….
Weeks Later: Anyone who reads my posts on a regular basis KNOWS no project ever gets done immediately in this household. Right after we started the pantry project I came down with a cold that segued into bronchitis, from which I am still coughing.
The men ended up doing overtime and traveling for work on and off and then when they were home it was either too bitterly cold to work outside to build the rotators, or it was pouring down rain, which then gave away to extreme heat and humitidity—only in Oklahoma! So the project that started in early February drug on with minor progress being made along the way.
It is now Memorial Day weekend, yes you read right, May. I tell you this because I want you to know that just because you are decluttering your home and have a schedule you would ideally like to keep it doesn’t mean the world will end if you don’t get it done right on time. Persistence is the key.
One rotator was installed in April and I love it. We decided on using them on only two shelves for many reasons.
My husband and son spent Saturday working on the second rotator and discovered they only had enough materials for one that was roughly half the size of the first one.
I adapted, and I think the adaption is a good idea. The remaining half of shelf will be another tiered area. This solved the problem of several items I hadn’t been certain where they’d end up before. Being adaptable as you organize your home is a very good thing.
In the interim of the beginning of this project and the end of it, as many of you know I did another Princess Plan Project and Corralledmy kitchen cupboards. This happened as a direct result of needing to get all my spices in one location for daily cooking. You can read all about how that was done by clicking this link.
The final steps in the pantry organization were minor ones. I needed to create my location labels and we had plans to add a light for this dark closet. Of course life got in the way and other projects had to be dealt with first. Such as dealing with New Life on the Ranch, one must set priorities right.
So here it is mid June and the project that was started in February is FINALLY finished. I have been working with it in this shape since Memorial weekend and it has been so convenient I can’t believe we didn’t do it earlier. It also now has the capacity to hold much more in an organized manner. I've already brought many canned goods up from the basement to put in the rotators.
Sean was standing in front of the pantry last week and made a remark that made all three of us laugh. He stated “I feel like I’m in the movie ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’” as he stood and looked at all the labels.
He then remarked how much easier it was to find things now and that when he finishes building his home it will include a similar set-up for his canned goods.
One drawback to it. Now I want all my pantries done in the same manner—isn’t that always the way.
Jan who is loving the way the household organization is coming together even if it is moving slowly in OK