The Great Pantry Clean-Out

Every once in awhile, the inside of a pantry reaches critical mass—or mess! Either it’s bursting with too much stuff, or it’s so disorganized that every time you reach in, you can’t find what you need. This time around, you’ve had enough! Let’s clean out that pantry, one step at a time! A thorough cleaning should take no more than a half hour for small pantry or a full hour for a larger pantry—distractions aside, of course.

1. Empty it. Get everything out of there. Grab a spare laundry basket, empty box, or just some open countertop real estate, and empty out every last bit of your pantry, whether it’s a walk-in or just a few shelves in the cupboard. When you’re done, there should just be empty, open shelving. And a whole lot of pantry junk outside of it.

2. Clean the inside and out. Grab a clean dishrag and soak it in one part vinegar to two parts water (or just use a disinfectant wipe instead), and wring it out. Wipe down each and every shelf, nook, and cranny in your pantry. If using vinegar, go back over it with a water-only rag after the first rinse-down, and let dry completely. If you have a walk-in pantry, when you’re done with the shelves, take the hose attachment on your vacuum and have a go at the floorboards, the floor, and in the high corners you can’t reach, especially around the (turned-off) lightbulb.

3. Divide and label. Now that your pantry is sparkling clean, turn back to the pile of stuff you took out of it. Marvel at how much you managed to cram in there to begin with, and then start sorting through it. What sorts of categories can you separate them into? Spices, canned goods, and cereal? What about baking goods, bottled goods, jarred goods? Start jotting down some categories on a few post-it notes and stick them up on different points of shelves in the pantry. Rearrange until you have your perfect fit. Half the battle in winning every mess is actually having a location to put the accumulated stuff!

4. Put back and throw out. Next start returning items to the pantry in their new, designated spots—but not everything. Turn a critical eye on every single item you pick up. Is there only a quarter inch of paprika left in that bottle you got so long ago you can’t even taste it, much less remember buying it? Is that box of cereal down to multi-colored dust in a wadded up bag? Purge, purge, purge the old stuff. If you come across items like fancy, never-opened jams or things you know you’ll truly never use, either toss them or do a quick internet search to see if you can incorporate them into an upcoming meal.

5. Use it up. The other side of the purge-everything coin is to make some room overall by making a few dishes that involve pantry items! A few cans of beans and tomatoes, along with some stray onions, could easily be turned into crockpot chili with a few more ingredients. If you have veggies to use up in the fridge, chop them up and add to a casserole dish with that drained can of green beans and cream-of-celery soup for a casserole. Put them at the front of the shelf so you’ll use them quickly!

6. Restock. If you threw out some age-old ingredients that you know you’ll need again soon, or if you want to start adding different ingredients, add them to your grocery list.

7. Keep your ideas close. Use a length of tape to attach a sheet of paper to the inside of your pantry door, and on it, keep a list of all the things you did. Every time you run across that thought—wish I had a pinch of saffron, or argh, I keep meaning to pick up almond extract!—write it down on the list. Refer to it before you head to the grocery store to see if you can pick up anything extra while you’re there.

That’s that! Your pantry is now organized and cleaned out. Time to make something to celebrate and try out your system of organization to see if it works!

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