Curating the pantry

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I am blessed with a pantry so large it could be, as some readers have told me, a legitimate bedroom in some places (yes, it has a window! but not a closet, that would be strange).

BEFORE: We’re going to do befores and process, so here’s the before! Tidy-ish but with a lot of things in there that don’t belong.

Now, I don’t have a useable basement, as many of you probably do. I can’t put my unused appliances or long-term storage in the basement, even though it’s huge, comprising the whole footprint of the house — but it’s fieldstone and dirt and not at all dry. The Chief is hatching a plan for a root cellar in one area, but it would require a major overhaul of the path down there, which at the moment is dark, forbidding, and scary.

Anyway, you can see how I’ve used the pantry over the years, for food storage as well as for my sewing; I have a highlight on Instagram with a “tour,” and you can also see it here.

Just before Christmas I made the decision to move the crafting component out of the pantry and up the back stairs which are off the kitchen, to the room that has heretofore been used as a sort of rec room and overflow guest room. Since we now have no need for the former and plenty of guest rooms without it, it seemed like a good call. More on that when I get to re-organizing up there.

But a principle that I will talk about more when we get there is this: you will always need to spend some time on resetting a space, visualizing and curating it, and the more creative you are, the more so. That’s because creativity, including using your talents to maintain a home, generates disorder, simply because you can’t do two things at once, the task at hand and organization. It’s important to make time for the latter and to accept it as part of the process, even though it seems like it should be done once and then just be done. But, no!

Things that need a new home for sure.

I thought you might like to see some progress on making the pantry just a pantry, in the spirit of last week’s “visualizing curated abundance” post. If I want to have abundant (but not excessive and wasteful) food stores and items I need for the two of us with the thought of possible interruptions in the supply chain and our ability to get out in bad weather, as well as for generous hospitality, I have to revisit this area and get it in order.

Left to right notes: I got some little organizational metal stacking racks from Aldi; such items make me anxious because I am not ever sure how I will use them and I hate wasting money.
I don’t know that I need three waffle irons.
My new books are going to need a place (some are on the shelf, and that box is more).
Christmas things got put in here, as did the beeswax candles that I ordered ahead of Candlemas.
Up on the right there is a basket with “rag towels” — so handy in case of spills. But… this many may not be necessary.
The other baskets hold paper goods like plates and cups for big gatherings — of which we have many!
Christmas tins drive me crazy. You need them when you are giving away delicate cookies, but storing them is impossible! These are going up to the attic with the decorations now that cookie season is over, to be faced again next year.

I already began visualizing before Christmas and did the part where I pulled everything out and cleaned from top to bottom. That is always the first step to real, deep de-cluttering: you can’t do it “in place,” although tidying is always going to be a daily necessity. Starting off with the way you want it to be is the key to getting somewhere and not just shuffling things around — and the key to being able to tidy easily after you’ve done this part.

However, Christmas intervened and the process got interrupted. Even though these during pictures are not shockingly disorderly, a lot of things got shoved into this undeniably handy space for shoving.

PROGRESS: Tidier. But — Here is a wall (needs repainting, more on that below). That poster is of a ship I actually was on when I was a teenager. I got it in an art store where it was significantly marked down, about 30 years ago. It’s impossible to hang! I need a little shelf for it to rest on. Sigh.
Can you see that I’ve put those Aldi organizers on the right-hand metal shelf, in the middle? They are holding various cookie cutters and Springerle molds etc, one kind per basket. The basket of candles will sit there until it’s time for the blessing.

The back wall is all the food! My jars from canning this summer, jars and non-perishables from the store, and so on. Well, on the left are the blue bins that hold potatoes, onions, and other roots that do fine here in this cooler room.

I have gone over each thing and assured myself that it’s wanted and needed, discarding the rest or putting it in the more immediate kitchen area for using in a timely way.

Items that I access frequently are at chest height. Less-used things are lower or higher. I think most people have more storage for food in their actual kitchens; I have very little cupboard space. So here’s where it all hangs out.

On the black rack are extra jars and, on top, my medicinal herbs. I plan to have a bigger herb garden this coming year, so I anticipate more jars on the wooden shelf. Some remedies I buy in bulk; those are in the baskets and will get transferred to jars as they are opened and the contents are used. Since I do freeze produce, I don’t want to throw away/recycle my extra containers, but I did rationalize them to be all one size; those are stacked on the bottom shelf.
On the wooden shelf you see the basket with “rag towels,” now more compact.
This is a somewhat dead corner. I am storing things here that are not accessed often, but I do want and need them. My books will stay there for now. The bins have flour or grain and are easily slid around. Behind them is a basket holding large shopping bags which I find I do want handy. Above is a homemade sleeve for plastic grocery bags, batteries in a super organizer, so unlike us! and my mop and broom. That rack is actually for an ironing board and I may move that upstairs when I get the sewing area up and running.

So here I am simply doing more to ensure that only pantry items remain here. To do this and avoid getting distracted, I require of myself that I not leave the room to put things in their new homes. My method (inspired by the Sidetracked Home Executives’ observations of their own distractibility that I’ve written about here) is to go ahead and allow things to pile up just outside the door or in this case, since just outside here is rather narrow, actually in the middle of the room!

This shows you the rationality of my method! I know just what needs to be taken out when I’ve gotten everything that Stays In, in its place. I couldn’t think of a place for my books, as you will see below.

Long ago I decided not to tire myself out by running around, even if I could prevent myself from getting sidetracked (unlikely). I hated leaving a space I was working on — it always seemed like then the kids would run and and really wreak havoc, and I find that running up and down the stairs is one of the tiring activities that makes me dread these tasks. If I take care not to do that to myself, I’m more likely to tackle them.

I can only do one thing at a time; the task at hand is to organize this space as well as I can, given the limitations, which include that I can’t paint here even though it needs it, because there is a repair to the radiator pipes in the laundry room above here, which will necessitate pulling down part of the ceiling. So while I’m waiting for that, I’ll set aside the decorating aspect and concentrate on making this space functional and pretty as best I can.

I spent some time when I was done re-homing/discarding/putting in a donation bag many things — all accomplished on this level, no stairs.

What’s left here on the radiator, below, is waiting for me to take it upstairs when I go! Not too bad!

So, for now, done! I have abundance, but not excess. I’ve visualized it the way I want it (for now at least), and I’ve curated all the things! I’m tempted to do a video of it all… what do you think of my pantry?

bits & pieces

  • The other day I saw a post on Instagram from a young mom insisting that children learn nothing — nothing! — by the rote method. One of my purposes here is to stand athwart such resurrections, periodically attempted, of progressive nonsense — nonsense that I’m not predicting the failure of, but that has demonstrated on the backs of several generations now its tragic error. Ah well, here is a thoughtful defense of memorization — of poetry — from Dan Hitchens, along with a little advice on how to go about it oneself, even as an adult (I am so bad at it and maybe I will try his method!): Learning by Heart. For children, I recommend starting a tradition of recitation on Sundays as we’re relaxing after dinner! I wrote about a sweet essay on the topic here (the link about Penny Candy).

from the archives

  • I’ll just keep posting my thoughts on how to dress children in cold weather until I stop seeing pictures of kids in short sleeves while mom informs us of the -30 wind chill… (spoiler — I don’t really recommend sweaters for young children so don’t tell me they don’t like it — just read the post!)

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