Large Family Organization: Getting Started with the Pantry

I thought I had done a post on this but I wasn’t able to find it… there’s no telling what happened as our internet does some really crazy things around here. I know that ‘Getting Organized’ is usually at the top of many people’s New Year’s Resolutions and it is definitely one of our major goals for this year.

If you’ve been following our blog for any length of time you probably know how crazy the past several years have been. We downsized, with 6 kids, to a 600 square foot cabin. After saving up and getting things in order we decided to purchase a home to go next door on some property that Mr. Awesome had.

That turned into such a fiasco… you’ll have to read our posts here to learn more about that and see what we went through and are still going through. Eventually, we did get moved in but the nightmare wasn’t (and still isn’t) over yet. We’ve had many repairs to make and many still to do… our utility room is up next as it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. Last April, I spent over $1500 replacing the main electrical panel in the house as we were just days… maybe hours… from losing all power and having a possible fire! On top of all of that craziness, we also had a new (medically complex) baby during a national pandemic… but we have SURVIVED!

I just want to thank everyone who has supported us during this journey as we couldn’t have made it through without all of your love, prayers, and support! You are our angels here on earth and we thank God for each and every one of you!

Enough about all of that mess, we still have a roof over our heads and for that, we are truly blessed. We were in the process of making more repairs, as we had just found significant water damage in our master bathroom due to major leaks that the dealer was supposed to have repaired when we got Shyanne’s leukemia diagnosis. Our world came to a standstill and all of our energy was focused on keeping our family together and making sure that Shyanne got through this terrifying ordeal. That journey took a HUGE toll on all of us in so many ways and we are still recuperating but life didn’t stop around us and now we must try to get our lives back to normal.

It has been wonderful to be home now but the process of getting our house back in order has been quite an undertaking. When Momma wasn’t around many things were forgotten about or just ignored. I tried my best to clean and organize the house during our breaks at home for the first couple of rounds but it was just too overwhelming and I had to just focus on the most important things while I was home.

Our pantry area had been in the utility room when we moved in. I used a set of cabinets (the same cabinets I had in the kitchen at the little house) to hold all of our pantry items that weren’t in the kitchen. I used these cabinets in our previous home as well and they were located in the utility room then but the utility was right off the kitchen at that house.

Our utility is not located right next to our kitchen in this house so it wasn’t very convenient to have the pantry there. This was meant to be a temporary location as I have dreams of opening up the wall to our master bedroom closets to make a walk-in pantry there but before that can happen we need to redo our master bathroom and relocate our closets there… whew, lots of work to get done before I get my pantry!

The whole house really needed/needs to be organized but we had to start somewhere and the pantry was the most frustrating area to me at the time. While we were cooped up in the hospital I had plenty of time to make up some plans… maybe I watched a few too many DIY shows? I was prepared to start knocking down walls and putting up new walls when we finally go to stay home but I wasn’t sure if I’d really like my new pantry location or the design that I had come up with in my head. I decided to make a temporary walk-in pantry to hopefully allow better access to everything we had stored in our pantry area as well as to give me a better idea of what I might need to change for our permanent pantry location.

I didn’t get any before pics of the pantry or any of the ‘in progress’ pics but trust me, it was a mess. Our house was a total disaster for a couple of days. We had such a mess in the original pantry and there were so many things hiding everywhere that I couldn’t believe it! We had been blessed with many people sending us different food items while I was in the hospital but the kiddos weren’t putting them away properly because we didn’t normally buy some of the items and there wasn’t a designated location for them… that and my kiddos were being a bit lazy because they knew Momma wasn’t there to check up on them. I mean who hides green beans and spaghetti sauce in with the shoes? Sigh, my kids do… that and there were cans of food hiding behind the washer and dryer and various other locations as well. IT WAS A MESS!!

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I had received some gift certificates for Christmas so I used them to buy some plastic shelves from Target and Walmart… yeah, basically I bought myself a pantry for Christmas. I really LOVE the metal shelves from Walmart and the cubby shelf from Target… I now wish I had bought two sets of metal ones and another cubby set but maybe in the future, I can expand on my idea. I couldn’t find the exact shelves on anymore but I linked to something similar.

First, I had to relocate EVERYTHING that was in the small dining nook off the kitchen. This little area has been a number of things since we moved in but I’ve never really liked the flow of it for any purpose as much as I like it now. I do have a number of things I plan to change about this area in the future as I am seeing it as more of an extension of the kitchen and maybe more like an open butler’s pantry area… I’ve got a plan in my head but I just haven’t had the time or energy to work on it yet.

We also did a pretty thorough cleaning of the area before moving on to the next step of our missions!

Second, I put together a TON of shelving. I also got it arranged in the area and started formulating a plan in my head of where everything needed to go. I wrote scribbled it down on a piece of paper that made absolutely no sense to anyone other than myself. I usually write down/draw out my plans as I go because I come up with so many ideas that I forget what my original vision was or what I was thinking when I make certain choices in layout.

I also measured some of my larger appliances as I knew that I wanted to store a few of them in the pantry area to allow for more cabinet space in the kitchen for other items. I was able to adjust some of the shelving to fit the appliances and save a lot of headaches later on.

This was also when I brought out some old screens that we had and made a temporary wall from them. I sandwiched them between the fixed bookcase in the dining/homeschool area and the cubby shelf which ended up being used for homeschool supplies.

Third, we had the kids bring EVERYTHING out of the pantry area… I initially had them bring one section at a time but soon learned that they had no rhyme or reason for the way they had been putting away foods. Things were so mixed up and we had overwhelming amounts of some items that we rarely ever used.

As they brought the foods we had them place them on the table and the counters… there were cans and boxes of food everywhere. We sorted them and checked expiration dates. Thankfully we had very little that had actually expired. The kids also wiped the cans and boxes down as many of them were very dusty as the cabinet doors weren’t shutting and some of the canned foods had been mixed in with dirty shoes and such… yuck!

I began at one end of the pantry and asked them to bring me one type of food at a time. We did have to rearrange a few times as some of the smaller shelves just wouldn’t accommodate the amounts of certain items. I also found that the smaller plastic shelves would bow under the weight of the canned items so I had to carefully choose what went on them. I would love to replace them with some of the metal shelves at a later date.

After a couple of days, we finally had everything cleaned and put back together. It’s not perfect but it is so much more functional and organized than what we had before. After getting everything put together I did a pantry challenge and I was able to come up with some meal plans to use up some of the ‘overstock’ that we had and to use up some of the items that would be expiring soon. I also made a grocery list for a grocery pickup order for the items that we needed to restock… this is so much easier than it has ever been now.

This project was harder than I had anticipated but it has been such a wonderful blessing to have it completed. I know it isn’t permanent but it gives us a start and allows us to learn what works and doesn’t work so that when we build a more permanent pantry it will be even better!

We have made a few changes since we first arranged the pantry. Things have been arranged and rearranged a few times to allow for new items and some bulk storage. We had our kombucha in the pantry for a bit but eventually made a home for it on the counter.

Here’s a look at it right now… you can see that someone has just thrown some things in here as they were putting away stuff earlier. It needs a little TLC but nothing major right now. I did add a blanket over the window to keep things a bit darker and cooler in here. I’ve also added some buckets for bulk storage and one is used for our second ferments for our Kombucha and KefirsI’ve read about some exploding bottle horror stories so hopefully, we can contain any explosions, if they happen!

I’ve also been buying a few storage containers at a time for some of the staples that we are currently buying in bulk and a few other things that just don’t have packaging that will sit up or stack well. I had some chalkboard labels from something I bought at some time or another but masking tape has also been used to make easy labels on some shelves and containers to help keep the confusion down… these also help cut down the ‘I didn’t know where it went’ and ‘I couldn’t find it’ excuses.

I’ve tried to be creative with some of the solutions I’ve found like hanging my new Pioneer Woman pan and lid on the wall to keep it from getting damaged. (These are just some small hooks I had on hand from my coffee mug project. I securely attached them with some screws to hold the lid and the pan.) We found another shelf in the house to use for the cookbooks and small appliances. This shelf also holds the bulk wraps and a few other items we need on a regular basis.

Some of our Mason jars are being stored on top of the shelves and you can see that we do have some baskets and miscellaneous boxes being used for storage of other items until we can find something better. I have a couple of boxes of various containers/baskets in the shed but just haven’t had a chance to look for them yet. That liquor box in a previous picture is actually holding our glass swing-top bottles as it has the divided sections that keep them from banging against each other. I don’t remember where it came from but it is definitely being very useful right now!

The key to organizing your pantry is not about having all the ‘matchy-matchy’ containers or fancy labels although they might make it look a bit nicer. Having a functional pantry is so much more important than one that looks pretty. You just need to start somewhere… one shelf at a time. Once you get it organized in a way that works for you and your family then you can start making it look pretty, if that’s something you want. Our pantry is definitely not going to be making the cover of any magazines but it works for us and it has relieved a lot of stress from me.

Here are the simple steps we used to get our pantry organized:

  1. Start with a PLAN. Purchase any items that you need/want ahead of time so that you have them when you are ready to get started. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get started. Just do what you can and get a little bit here and there.
  2. CLEAN out the area. Take out EVERYTHING and give the area a thorough cleaning from top to bottom. WIPE your cans and boxes before putting them away.
  3. Stay HYDRATED and have a snack whenever you need it to keep up your energy! Take a quick break if things get overwhelming but don’t stay gone for too long because this won’t put itself back together!
  4. TOSS out expired items, consider DONATING items that you won’t use to a local FOOD PANTRY.
  5. SORT like items together. I try to keep baking items together, condiments together, canned vegetables and canned fruits together, pastas/rices together, etc. My system is similar to how you might find them grouped at the grocery store but you need to use a system that works for you!
  6. USE CONTAINERS to hold small or irregular shaped items. LABEL ITEMS as well! Try to use similar containers to make the best use of space. Lazy Susans can be pretty helpful too, especially for hard to reach corners. Clear containers usually work best but use what you have.
  7. USE ORGANIZERS to make use of forgotten spaces as well! Use walls to hang items or use an over the door organizer to hold small/light weight items. You can use inexpensive shoe organizers to hold small items.
  8. STAND BACK and APPRECIATE all of your hard work. Not only will this reduce you stress levels but it may end up saving you a ton of money in the long run as you can find the food easier and you should have less waste.

You can use these basic steps to organize almost any area of your life but the key is just to get started. I know that it can seem overwhelming but many times I find that getting started is the hardest part and once I start working on the project I can find my motivation to get it completed.

Having our pantry organized has definitely saved us money and allowed us to have less waste with our food products. I’ve also been able to start stocking up on foods that will keep indefinitely as many areas have been experiencing shortages and who know what the future will hold for us. We plan to have a garden this year and hopefully be able to can some foods to help save on our grocery bill as well.

Also by having everything close by and easy to find, I have been able to start using our sourdough on an almost daily basis as well as picking up many other new skills. We have been making more fermented foods and experimenting with many other food-related items. I’ve started meal planning a lot more and I can easily see what we have on hand… in the event that the grocery store is out of something I am able to make changes easily. This has helped us to consistently make healthier choices and we all are feeling much better.

We hope that maybe our post has helped to motivate you in some way to help organize an area that is causing you to stress or just isn’t working for you. We can think outside of the box sometimes to find easy solutions to our everyday problems… like turning an unusable space into something useful, even if it is only temporary.

God bless!

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