The pantry can be a veritable wasteland of expired goods, spilled grains, and something floating in a jar that you’re not sure you would ever eat. I find the bigger the cupboard or closet, the more likely things you will never use get pushed to the back and forgotten forever. In this island of misfit canned and dry goods, it’s important to remember to clean up, clean out, and utilize this often packed, yet forgotten, resource in our kitchens.
So I challenge you to clean out your pantry in 10 minutes. As with the Clean Bathroom Challenge, this may take more or less time depending on the size of your pantry but for a guide, I’m referring to a large, 5-foot cupboard’s worth of food. Let’s get started!
Set-up three bins or areas and label (or mentally remember) them as “Keep”, “Give Away”, and “Toss”. The “Keep” area will likely be the largest so a bin may not be necessary. For the “Give Away” bin use a sturdy box that can handle the weight of dry and canned goods and to be dropped off at your local food pantry. Finally, the “Toss” will be necessary for expired foods and could be a trash bin. (Extra points if you empty the cans and break down the boxes for recycling! Mother Earth will thank you even if it does take a bit of extra time (do it after you’ve restocked your pantry and closed the door). Also, if you’re wondering how to dump out expired liquid or canned goods without making a mess of your trash, most soups and liquids can be flushed down the toilet.)
Also, have pre-moistened wipes or an all-purpose cleaner and paper towels/clothes on hand.
Do a quick clean out of all of your pantry products. Yep, that’s right, remove EVERYTHING. Don’t leave that quinoa in the back because you know you’ll use it, pull it out and throw it in the “Keep” pile as you will likely rearrange it later. As you continue into the back of the pantry, be sure to start checking expiration dates (put expired food into the “Toss” bin) and putting any food you know you and your family won’t eat into the “Give Away” bin. Also, don’t linger here. Make a coin-flip decision (yes or no, heads or tails) and move on to the next product. Obviously the more food you have to go through, the longer this will take but challenge yourself to move quickly through this step.
Grab your cleaner of choice and get to cleaning. Make sure every shelf is wiped down, working from the top to the bottom so as dust and food debris is cleaned off it falls to the next shelf. If the cloth is still relatively clean, keep it on hand. Otherwise, grab another pre-moistened wipe or cloth so you can wipe down cans and jars as you put them back into your pantry.
Look at your keep pile and pre-arrange into categories. For some people, this will only take a minute or so because they have simple categories like sweet, savory, grains, and condiments (for example). For others, they may want to plan it out by ingredients that are used for frequently made meals. If you fall into the latter group, take the extra time to make your pantry work for you. Once you do this step, you’ll be able to load your pantry properly. If you, like me, don’t really keep ready-made sweets on hand, having a shelf dedicated to them is not practical. However, you may have a bunch of baking products so having a baking shelf would make sense.
Reload your pantry strategically and wipe down each container as you put it back into the pantry (you have the cloth there anyway so why not). If you need one shelf for savory canned foods, use it! If your grains can be combined with your condiments, don’t waste the precious space by taking up a whole shelf. Only you will know how foods fit into your pantry. Leave a bit of extra space on each shelf, especially if you know you’re restocking something next time you go to the grocery store.
This is also a great way to see if you need any organization tools to help you better utilize your space. If you have a small pantry but a lot of space between shelves, you may want to consider getting a smaller temporary shelf to make better use of the space. I’ve gotten mine from stores like T.J. Maxx/Homegoods/Marshalls, Target, and Amazon.
When done, close the cupboard. This will be a mental barrier between the things you’ve agreed to give away or toss and the things you know you will use that are safely and strategically placed in the pantry.
In 10 minutes you have cleaned out your pantry, donated food to those who need it, and disposed of potentially unsafe food products. Good job! Be sure to remove or recycle the toss pile (remember, extra points, mother nature’s love, etc.!) and put the donated goods directly into your car or by your front door so they won’t sneak back into your pantry. If you don’t know of a canned food drive going on, you can find a local food pantry by going to Feeding America which is not only a great resource for finding a food pantry but also has information about volunteering and giving back. After all, now more than ever, we need to support non-profits who bring hope, resources, and food to those who need it most.
Speaking of bringing hope, follow me on Instagram where you can see hopeful images of my own organization triumphs, cough *attempts* cough, and where I will notify you of new posts on the reg!