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Ask Maeve: My pantry is in desperate need of organization

The following ‘Ask Maeve’ was featured as part of the Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge. Hometalk bloggers from across the country used Maeve’s Method to tackle their most challenging trouble spots at home, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ results featured in this awesome 11 Unbelievable Spring Cleaning Transformations article.

Check out Brooke’s amazing pantry transformation below or on her blog, re-fabbed: Pantry Makeover {Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge}. Brooke, you did great, I’m so proud of you!

UntitledOh my goodness do I have a couple of spaces in desperate need! The first space is the pantry. You cannot move in it, and it is not laid out functionally at all. There is literally ‘stuff’ everywhere. I would love to have it organized and functional, but I will be honest, I have no idea where to begin. The second space is the master bedroom closet. It is a walk in closet, but you can’t tell because there is literally no floor space showing. Can you help? – Brooke in Kentucky

Hi Brooke!

Good news, I’ve got tips that will help you to organize both your pantry and your closet. I like to think of closets as extensions of the room they support. So, the pantry supports the kitchen, and the closet supports the bedroom.

To keep things simple, I’m going to guide you step by step through a pantry makeover. When you are done, you can try this same approach with your closet. Just replace ‘kitchen’ with ‘bedroom’ and ‘pantry items’ with ‘clothes’. It’s time to embrace these two neglected havens, and turn them into masterful working rooms and functional rooms. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!


Brooke's 'before' - a busy room with just a little bit too much going on

Step 1. Set a Clear Intention

Yes, I agree, the layout in your pantry is challenging (mostly that slanting back wall). But the shape of the room doesn’t need to stop you in your tracks. What grabs my attention most is that the room is serving as a catch-all for wide variety of items and it’s too much for this tiny space. I also see built-in shelves, standing shelves, and things tucked ‘behind’ and ‘to the right’, just because you can.

This tiny room is working too hard! Since you’ve got great cabinet space in your kitchen, the first question I want you to ask yourself is, what do I really need this pantry to be used for? Pantries are traditionally used for bulk storage of food, and ‘less frequently used’ or bulk kitchen supplies (like a seasonal blender and extra paper towels). If this is what you are going for, then let’s dedicate this space to that intention, and make it so!

Step 2: Like Things Live Together

Next, empty the contents of one shelf onto a clean and clear workspace. Pick up one item at a time and ask yourself, “What is this?” Your answer should tell a story. So, less This is a box of Ritz Crackers and more, These are the crackers that my daughter loves so I like to have a box or two on hand and easy to find at all times. Work to find the story that tells the purpose for each item, not what the item technically is.

As you work, make piles of like things in your workspace in what I call ‘categories according to you’. For example, you might have a pile called, ‘easy snack foods for the kids’, another called ‘health and nutritional supplements that my husband and I like’, and another called ‘bulk kitchen supplies”. The goal is to get specific about how these items function in your life. Be honest, and have some fun as you sort – these items have a story to tell about why they are in your life!

Do this shelf by shelf until you’ve cleared the entire pantry. Once cleared, make a list of your categories. This is important, as what you have determines where you put it back.

Brooke's 'after' - wow! clean, clear, bright and seamlessly integrated

Step 3: Create Dedicated Shelves

With your pantry cleared, give it a quick sweep. Next, take look at the empty space and ask yourself, how do I want to set this up? A good rule of thumb is: active and frequently used items on middle shelves, less active and bulk items on the floor (for quick access) or way up high and tucked out of the way. Essentially, think about putting things back according to frequency of use.

I’d say fill the built-in shelves to the left first, then move on the the small shelf on the floor. That said, if you find yourself reaching to place something on the smaller low set, trust your gut. Put things back in homes that feel natural and intuitive to you.

Step 4: Introduce Trays

With everything back on the shelves it’s time to anchor everything with trays. I love trays! Can’t get enough of them, and I think they will make magic happen in your pantry. Trays are going to visually and physically divide your shelves into zones. With them in place you’ll no longer have to worry if your ‘categories’ bump all up into each other.

For example, stick all ‘cereals my family loves’ on one tray, and slide a tray of ‘snack foods we keep on hand for guests’ right up next to it. There are tons of tray types to use choose from, so find trays that match your style and go for it – there are not wrong choices here! (here’s some samples to get your brain moving – low cube trays like this or this are my favorite, but for a pantry something like this more bin-like tray might work best, and much cheaper too).

Step 5: Replace & Repurpose The Back Shelf

I teach a lot of parents how to help their little ones become more independent in the kitchen by storing their plates, bowls, cups and favorite foods in easy-to-reach places. If this is something you want to embrace, then the area in front of the slanted wall is the perfect spot for an independent child to help themselves. If you want to keep a shelf there, just get a new, sturdier one, and considering only putting kid-friendly items on it. If you don’t want your child in the pantry, that’s OK, it can still be the kid zone (holding sippy cups, snack bags and lunch boxes). Who knows, in time, you may want your child coming in there – as it’s super nice when they can get their own things, and help themselves!

Step 6: Introduce Your Kitchen Decor

If you embrace trays and bring them into the space, this alone will help the pantry to look neat, tidy and welcoming. But, another fun idea is to introduce some design elements from the kitchen into the pantry, so it feels like an extension of the kitchen, and not an add-on. For example, do you have more metal backsplash panels? Why not place some in the pantry along the slanted wall? Or more of that fabulous blue paint? Put a splash of color in the pantry to match the kitchen, or hang one of your fun art items or pictures on the wall. It will draw your eye inward into the pantry, making it feel even more like part of the kitchen family, and also make going in there that much more fun.

Check out Brooke’s amazing pantry transformation on her blog, re-fabbed: Pantry Makeover {Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge}

Pantry Makeover {Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge} – Re-Fabbed

Who would have ever thought that a tiny little ole pantry would almost be the death of me? HA. I say that jokingly, but I am a little bit serious too! For months, I have watched this tiny room becoming an anxiety attack waiting to happen, but instead of tackling it, I just kept shutting the door.

Photo Credits:

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at [email protected] or @MaeveRichmond.

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