The Great Pantry Makeover

Cooking, cooking cooking, day in, day out, that's what I do. I don't actually mind, mostly, and I want to do it  (actually, I want to do it much better, but that's a topic for another day); I want to use up all that good garden produce, and bake from real ingredients - and the children, well, they bake as a recreational activity, which I feel is so much better than tennis lessons. The thing is, my pantry is a terrible, non-functioning mess. The Man, who runs a business, is all about systems that function properly, and continuous improvement of those systems for maximum efficiency (see, hon, I listen, I really do). Well, considering all the time I spend in the kitchen, I am thinking that maybe this system should get a little more efficient.

At the moment, what we have is a basic structure of where to put things - although some things live in at least two different places - but there isn't quite enough room, so it is too tempting to just toss items...somewhere. This has been not working properly for too long, so now is the time to change. I consulted the efficiency guru. He said there was too much in the cupboard. I said, I know that. Der. I need a plan. He said, get rid of the recipe books. Two layers of anything, he said, is one too many. (Can you see the recipe books on the second shelf up, behind all those jars of coffee and tea bags and crackers? Can you imagine how annoying it is to get a book out?) Well, I said, where to put them? There is, as you can see, no room at the inn. He said, they are books aren't they, put them in the bookshelf. I said, but the bookshelf is all the way down the hall way. He said, but now the books are all the way behind the coffee. We had a competition, and lo and behold, it was quicker to get a book out of the book case down the hallway, than to get the coffee, the crackers and the teabags out of the cupboard, and then the recipe book. OK, sometimes it takes a different perspective. So, I severely curtailed my recipe book collection (we all know I don't cook new food anyway), and then I decluttered a few more books from the bookcase (the scary thing about decluttering is it becomes ridiculously easy after a while. It doesn't even hurt. I can see how people become minimalists...). Easy as that, two feet of clear space in the pantry.

Then I took everything out of the pantry and put it all over the floor...

...and cleaned all the shelves. Ho hum. And started at the top. Only stipulation - only use what I have already for storage. No new stuff. Luckily, our shed was filled with enough old wicker baskets to start a high-end green grocer's shop, and not an inconsiderable number of plastic crates I have bought over the years and been unable to part with.

Originally, this top shelf was full of little plastic pots of tiny amounts of ingredients for things like muesli, or dried fruit for school lunches. They took up lots of space, and I could never find anything. Then I had an efficiency moment of my own! Everything in a big tub, in little bags.

Which left room for the cake box (v. imp), and a mini crate of muesli bars (still trying to wean children off those, with variable success). A mini wicker basket of spices, and another wicker basket of obscure items like walnuts in the shell.

Now the other side. The shelves of this pantry are very deep, and I have a lot of food, so I couldn't avoid two layers of  'stuff', efficiency expert notwithstanding, but I made it as simple as possible. The tubs behind are all the same family - pulses and grains. And my most used, rice and lentils, are super easy to get at. Next to the pantry is a little slice of bench space to park stuff like the olive oil on so that I can pull out the dried  chick peas. Should I need them. Ever.

Next shelf is all about baking.

This hasn't changed much. Behind there are two big tubs that hold 5kg of flour each, plain and wholemeal. In front are all the sugars. They were originally scattered around a bit, now all in one place. I do have to lift them out to get at the flour, but pulling the flour tubs out is a two hand job anyway. And really, I mostly need sugar when I need flour... I love my flour scoop, by the way. The Man put it in my Christmas stocking, years ago when we thought we still needed extra stuff at Christmas.. It's great to scoop flour into the scales.

And on the right, all the rest of the baking gear.

At the back, oats, coconut, cocoa, next to that, choc chips and other indispensable baking aids in the plastic crate. Right at the back, the dry goods I don't use often - semolina, cornflour, rice flour, and in front of them, another plastic crate with sugar substitutes - golden syrup, treacle, molasses. In the wicker basket, baking additives, vanilla, baking powder etc. I tried to get all the like things together to make baking easier. In fact, I often take the whole basket out, and the crate behind, and just sit them on the bench while I'm baking.

In front are the self raising flour and the icing sugar. I've worked out I can store 12kg of flour on this shelf, and about 4kg of sugar!

Down we go again. Next stop, a bit of DIY.

I have always stored my breadboards here, for about two years since the kitchen was put in, and they have constantly fallen over onto the scales, and I have constantly mentioned how much I would like The Man to come up with a solution. Well, after two years, it took him about 15 mins to knock up this divider shelf from some left over melamine in the shed. Thanks, darling. In the past I have had big plastic boxes, shoved somewhere, full of the baked treats that the girls make. But I have decided that less is more. I found these two jars in the shed, and that will be all the sweet treats available, with the rest in the freezer. You think twice  before you take the last macaroon.. at least, you should...

Are you getting tired yet? Have a cup of tea.

Yes, there is a lot of tea here. But I need it all. I rather like this basket. I wonder where I got it?
Coffee, tea, crackers. One of the reasons I need some wiggle room in the pantry is that when things are on sale, I buy a lot at once. One of the problems in the past has been that I have shoved things in the bottom shelf at the back, and they have disappeared, so I go buy more. But now they are found, and I don't think I need any more coffee beans for a while.

Nearly there now. Sauces and condiments all in a basket on the left. They used to be all just stood about, loitering with intent, and I couldn't see what was at the back (the naughty ones always stand at the back). Now I can pull the basket out a bit and find what I'm after.

Two more baskets, one in the back corner, full of pasta and crackers.

One full of cans of tomatoes and chickpeas and baked beans.

And pineapple chunks which Posy likes to eat for breakfast..
Now, oils at the back, the onions and garlic at the front. Need more onions.

Whew, last shelf now. Well, the floor really. When we had the kitchen built I asked for the bottom of the pantry to be floor boards so I could just sweep it out when I swept the kitchen. Until now though, there has been a big wicker basket in this bit, full of all the things that didn't fit anywhere else. It has now been banished, and I brought down an old garage sale wine rack from the shed.

And last of all, the potato basket. This can hold 10kg of potatoes, although it doesn't feel like it today..

The giant breadboard, and the grill tray, and we're done. What a mammoth effort that was. But I can reveal to you now, that this exercise in efficiency actually took place about three weeks ago. And it is working out well. We are putting things away. The fact that everything similar is grouped together means that the children can put away the grocery shopping without creating chaos, and it is really easy to see what we are running out of, or not..

I love it! I can't believe it took two years in a brand new kitchen to work out how to make some cupboard space work. Hey ho, I'm a bit slow, but now I am thinking about all of the other cupboard spaces in the house...


Well I am exhausted just reading about your pantry adventures- and I am desperate to get my hands on your wicker baskets and give them the old Frantic touch xx
Anonymous said…
Beautiful job! I have done bits and pieces like this with my pantry. I put all the baking stuff in a big plastic box. But I suffer from your husband's assessment - too much stuff.

I looove the wicker baskets. Your pantry looks very upmarket.

I would worry the baskets would get all sticky or have flour and stuff mucking them up or my cans would bust them. But my family are somewhat rough and slipshod. And at least the baskets are being used and not just stored in your shed.
Heather said…
I get frustrated with my pantry space, too. Every couple of months I rearrange it and make a vow to keep it nice and organized, but it always quickly ends up in disarray. Your pantry looks great. I hope it keeps working out for you.
Jo said…
Mrs Frantic, your wicker basket makeovers are magic - I wouldn't want to get flour all over them, though..
Lucinda, I'm hoping the baskets will be up to the job. They have survived so far. I have also been known to vaccuum my pantry baskets, and they respond well to a spray of dilute vinegar. I did choose the tough ones, so here's hoping. Also, yes, they weren't being very useful in the shed.
And Heather, I hear you. As I said, here's hoping....
Good Work! It's time for me to get into the pantry and reorganize!
Jo said…
I wish you all the best Nathalie! It was a task I had been dreading for so long, and it certainly took a while, but was much more fun than I had anticipated!
GretchenJoanna said…
I hate to say this, since your pantry is new, but those dark corners in the back - ! They would drive me nuts. Are they too short to fit turntables in there?
When we remodeled our kitchen there was still nowhere to put a real pantry, but at least we did away with the darkest corners of cupboards that I used to have to crawl on the floor to access. Just in time, too, as I am too old for that.
The new cabinets turned out to be slightly smaller than the old ones, but I have a lot of space in the garage where I store many food items on shelves and racks.
I am really impressed with your labors and improvements and resourcefulness!
Judy said…
Hi Jo,

Good job! It is amazing seeing how similar the ingredients in your cupboard are to mine, despite being the other side of the World! I do like the wicker baskets, which seems very practical for cake ingredients, or spices.

I had to go and photograph all my cupboards after reading this! Now I can plan a better system. It is spring here (although it doesn't feel like it) and there was some de-cluttering due to take place in any case. Just like you, it is a nightmare trying to get at my recipe books which are buried behind junk, at the back of some deep shelves, in a dark cupboard that you have to duck your head down to access.

I am rather proud of my pull-out larder though. The whole door pulls forward with two shelves attached, and there are 5 further drawers inside for easy access. It is brilliant as it has no dark corners and holds tons of stuff. A few years back I collected a whole load of clear round food tubs from 'Innocent meals' and they have a deep sunken lid, making them perfect for stacking. They are ideal for holding teas, nuts, beans, couscous etc. and you can see what is in them clearly. This has kept orderly for years and looks quite attractive. I just need to tackle the recipe book cupboard in the same way!

Might do a post on my blog to show photos too once I'm done.

Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, I completely agree, it was quite stupid to have that corner pantry put in with those deep shelves - however we had a very small space to fit the kitchen in, and I needed lots of storage, so that's what we came up with. I did think of lazy susans for those corners, but wanted to see if I could make it work without spending any money! Lucky I can still climb into dark corners. That sporadic yoga is paying off!

Hi Judy, it's funny how we all seem to eat the same stuff, isn't it - globalism again. I can't believe how long I lived with such an annoying layout in the cupboard I use multiple times a day. So inefficient! And it works so much better now. I didn't mention in the post, but in the new breadboard space my husband made, I keep a blue binder with all my most frequently used recipes, so that is on hand for our'daily bread'. I only have to sprint down the hallway if I want something different; ie, not very often!
Good luck with your sorting project! And I hope you get some Spring soon!
veggiegobbler said…
There is nothing more satisfying than a good pantry clean out. Actually mine's probably just about due.
Jo said…
That is the trouble with cleaning out the pantry.. it is not something you can only ever do once...
Unknown said…
Dear God you're good. I've been promising to do this for MONTHS (years?) always knowing that it's NEVER going to happen. On thrifty pantries, though, we've just starting bulk buying dried goods wholesale with a group of friends. It saves a FORTUNE (but doesn't help you streamline your cupboards...)
jo, love love love this post! but then i am the kind of person who likes to declutter and reorganise my pantry ... i think your husband may be my soulmate, too; mr efficiency!!
i did my own re-sort of the pantry over easter and i kept going back and re-opening the doors to admire my good work. sad, i know.
can i offer you a tip? i have deep cupboards so i need to store things behind one another, but it can be a real &^%$#!! to get the behind-things out.
i have put things on cheap baking sheets - so i can slide the sheets in and out to reach the behind things. this also helps with heavy appliances, they slide in and out of the cupboards easily.
i'm going to re-read and view your pics. a bit of pantry p*rn!!!
Jo said…
Hattie, I'm hearing you on the bulk goods - I do the same, mainly because I have hordes of children. But storage is a problem. There are 10kg of onions in the shed right now, because they are so fresh they were making our whole downstairs living area smell like an onion stew when I had them stored in the cupboard under the stairs.

e, love the baking sheet idea. I am finding the baskets work quite well that way, getting a whole bunch of small things out of the way at once, but I can definitely see the application for trays there as well.
The big kitchen declutter has been on my to-do list for days now...i so much prefer reading about other people's decluttering successes than doing it myself! Great job on your cupboards! Maybe I'll get round to it today.
Jo said…
I can relate. Theory, so much better than practice, because it's always perfect in your head! All the best with the cupboards. I have to clean mine. I have very sticky children..

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