Pantry Priorities: Part 2

As I wrote the previous post, Pantry Priorities: Part 1, I kept feeling the pull to explore why someone would organize a pantry, or why someone who doesn’t want to organize should consider it anyway.  Since I am chronically verbose, I knew I’d fail to keep the post under an acceptable length of 900-1K words if I tried to do both. So in Part 1, I went with how. But today, join me on an adventure into the subjective landscape of why.

Waste less; share more.

As I went through the process of organizing that prompted the previous post, I was struck by the thought that both the need and the ability to organize my pantry is a “first-world problem.”  More specifically, a first-world middle-class problem. This isn’t to say I should feel guilty about my food or that organizing my pantry is a frivolous use of time. On the contrary, making time to organize is a way to manage the gift of food resources (and the money required to purchase them) well.

Organizing the pantry provides insight into what food I have. In this way, it’s a refresher — a fresh glimpse into previously forgotten possibilities or adventurous whimsical purchases I still need to make good on. More on this in point #3.

I also see what I don’t have. In the organizing process, I discover what may be missing that needs to be restocked and also what has expired. Noticing what is and isn’t being used provides insight to guide my future purchases. (PS — many expiration dates on non-perishables are intended only for the distributer to know how long to display them, so consider keeping those items past their dates, within reason. The 2005 jar of pasta sauce can go.)

In a related fashion, if there are pantry items still good but unlikely to be used, save those from future waste by hosting a pantry giveaway party.  What, you’ve never heard of a pantry giveaway party? That’s probably because I just made it up. But it’s a good idea, no? Grab a bottle of wine, snacks, and invite a group of friends to come ‘shopping.’ Better yet, ask each friend to clear their pantry, and host a “pantry potluck” where you swap each other’s unwanted/unused items. Donate any leftovers to the local food bank.

We’re privileged to have an abundance of food. This privilege shouldn't be taken lightly.  Organizing and using our food is a way to honor the abundance that we have and use it well.

Stress less; breathe more.

The return to simplicity has become all the rage lately. Best seller lists indicate that many have devoured resources such as The Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and I am continually hearing about people who have taken a simplicity challenge or enrolled in an online course on simplifying.  

The consensus among these resources is that congestion in our living spaces leads to indirect, environmental stress — the type of stress caused by a chronically chaotic area. This creates a weight on our mind and emotions that we likely don’t realize. Or perhaps we do realize it and just haven’t prioritized addressing it yet. In her book, Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin describes how decluttering can ease her mind: “After I tackled clutter, not only did our apartment seem more spacious…I also felt less hurried, because I could find and stow things easily. Having more order in my cabinets…made me feel as though I had more time in my day.”

The inefficiency created by an unorganized pantry can also lead to direct stress in the form of regular frustration i.e. “I know I have gluten-free flour somewhere,” as piled containers tumble to the floor in a frantic mid-recipe search.  

While the status quo seems painless, the reality is that built-up congestion anywhere causes unnecessary stress on the day-to-day, both conscious and subconscious. Decluttering the pantry is a decongestant that will clear space for us to breathe.

Stall less; create more.

The pantry is a particular paradox of both comfort and stress, providing reassurance that I do, in fact, have food in the house, but that I also have many unrealized meal intentions. Opening the door releases the floodgates of guilt, drenching me with reminders that I still haven’t made that thing, or tried that ingredient that I read about, etc, etc. Rather than continue to mentally drown each time the pantry is opened, the experience of an organized pantry is like a refreshing mist of possibility (okay, so I’m carrying the analogy of the flood a little far, but roll with it).

When we’ve done the work of organizing and mentally cataloguing what is in the pantry (or actually cataloguing it — put the smart phone Notes app to use!), we have a promising chance of being inspired by its raw materials. Just as a fresh set of pens and a journal can inspire creative reflection, so the contents of a pantry can become a springboard to culinary creation. Even the non-artistic among us find satisfaction in creating something. And cooking is most definitely a form of art.

Ready. Set.

Truly, the hardest part of this task is getting started, and ignoring a cluttered pantry does more harm than good. Making time to tackle this task promises ample rewards: commendable diligence, relief of congestion, and inspiration for creativity.

Don’t fall victim to “tomorrow logic.”  The you of tomorrow is created by the you of today. The place to begin is at the beginning, and the time to begin is now. Happy organizing!