Published: 12:00, 28 July 2017
Take a deep breath, turn the music up, and just do it. I wrote an Ideabook a few months ago about organising the kitchen cupboards, but my attempt to follow my own advice was somewhat half-hearted.
So, after several big celebration meals, my cupboards needed another big (and better) sort-out. An old friend staying for the weekend helped me after being shocked at the mess in them, so I thought I would share some of her tips with an easy-to-follow, nine-step plan.
Plan your reward
Some people I know like to begin these sorts of tasks with a large glass of wine and their favourite music pumped up really high. If that sounds like your kind of thing for getting you in the mood to clean, go for it. It doesn’t work for me, though – I would just fall asleep. I’m more effective if I plan a big treat at the end of it – a nice bottle of wine for after - the insides of my cupboards resemble this photograph.
Take everything out
You’ll need to start early in the day, because it’s likely you’re going to need to stop halfway through and go shopping for new containers.
Don’t do it by halves, just shifting a few things around, throwing out a jar of mouldy jam and thinking you’re done. Get everything out – yes, every last thing – and line it up on the kitchen worktop so you can see everything you have, ready for the big cull.
Once you’ve done that and can see exactly what you have to deal with, go through each item. If you haven’t used it in the last 12 months, simply chuck it in the bin. (More ruthless cupboard-cleaner-outers would say much less, but I’m a hoarder by nature.)
While it’s hard to waste food, there’s no point in hoarding packets with use-by dates that have a 19 in front of them! And following these steps will help to reduce waste in the long term. Even things such as spices, rice and flour have a shelf life. More than a few years is really too old.
Clean the shelves
Get back to the wherever it is that you store your pantry food, whether it’s a walk-in, a pull-out or some open shelves in your kitchen. Really clean every surface. Get in there and get all those horrible oily bottle and old spice stains out with a good cleaning solution. Diluted eucalyptus in a spray bottle is a great way to give it a last, hygienic clean. Bicarb is effective in reducing any lingering odours.
Learn how you can make your home smell amazing
Now turn your attention back to the stuff on your worktop. Think about what you have and what you need for storage. Go through every product – nuts, flours, cereals, beans, crackers – they’re all better off out of their packets and in containers. They’ll stay fresher, you’ll know exactly what you have so you’ll know what to shop for, and you won’t have lots of bags everywhere messing things up.
Invest in useful storage
Now consider whether your current storage systems – if you even have any – are currently working for you. Would it be better to simply start from scratch? Do you need new, airtight canisters for products, wire baskets to group things in, baskets for vegetables you keep in the pantry?
This sounds expensive, but having good containers is going to save you money in the long run, and doing this part well will make you more likely to stick with a clean and organised pantry or cupboard.
If you decide to opt for new storage, or at least some new containers, go shopping in advance of putting everything back. Before you hit the shops, figure out exactly what containers you’ll need and how big they should be, and write a shopping list. Large containers are useful, but measure your shelves to make sure they’re big enough to take really tall ones.
When you return, start filling up your new jars. This is the fiddly and time-consuming part – moving everything into the right containers – but believe me, it’s worth it for how much easier it will make the shopping/cooking/ eating process. And you can save time – and money – on this process by buying items you use a lot of in bulk.
Label your containers
I’ve often wondered whether labelling is really necessary. I mean, most of us can tell by sight the difference between basmati rice and arborio, a cashew nut from a peanut, a lentil from a kidney bean, and so on.
However, if you’re storing all your flours in jars, you won’t be able to tell the difference between plain and self-raising, and there’s something quite nice about having everything labelled. You can use chalkboard paint, or a really easy way to label, if using glass jars, is to buy a paint marker in your favourite colour and write it straight onto the jar.
Create a logical system
Most organisation experts will tell you that one of the key aspects of any organisational system is having a place for everything. Nowhere is this more important than in the pantry, or wherever you store your non-refrigerated food, where, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be rushing to find things as you cook (I’ve never quite got into the habit of preparing it all in advance). If everything is a big mess and you can’t find anything, cooking will be harder.
So put like products together – canned products; condiments; breads; crackers and biscuits; oils and sauces; baking products; cereals. Even label your zones if you think it will help.
Once you’ve worked out where all your goods will go, and have a place for everything, carefully put it all back in its place. You might find you need to move things around if they’re in bigger containers. If you have a large pantry, store things you use often near the front.
OK, that’s it. Sit back and reward yourself
Enjoy your newly organised pantry or cupboard. Try to keep it up by putting everything back in its rightful new place, and write lists before you go shopping so you don’t over-buy. That way, you shouldn’t need to sort it out again for another six to 12 months – depending on how neat or messy you are!
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