Cupboard Chaos

Friday, May 1, 2009

I wish I had a "Before" picture, but really it's probably best that I don't.  Picture a cupboard in such disarray that it was worthy of an Oprah-style intervention, where a trusted friend, accompanied by a camera crew, exposes your deficiencies on national television, all in the name of getting you the help you so desperately need.  

Happily, my supremely organized friend and neighbor, Catherine, is all about help, not exposure.  Her pantry is legendary.  Her ability to juggle domestic, professional and social demands, all while raising four children, is extraordinary.  If she wasn't so nice, I'd have to hate her. 

After watching me dodge falling bottles of oyster sauce and tinned tomatoes as I prepared dinner on successive occasions, she took action in the form of a text message:

"Are you ready to take our relationship to the next level?  Your pantry.  
1 pm Tuesday.  Catherine xo"

Was I ready?  I risked concussion every time I opened the cupboard doors.  I was ready.
So at the designated hour, Catherine came over, threw open the cupboards, pulled every last can, jar, box and packet off the shelves, dumped it onto my kitchen floor, and left.  Leaving me no way out, physically or metaphorically.  

Hours of sorting, three trips to the supermarket and $300 later, I had this.  

Catherine's Transformational Pantry Organization Tips

Before leaving me surrounded by my own chaos, Catherine threw me a lifeline in the form of the following guidelines:  

1)  Use square or rectangular containers only - no cylinders.  Why?  Because you lose precious space with round containers, as they do not sit flush against one another.  You will free up approximately 30% more space by switching to straight sides.

2) Chose one brand of container and stick to it.  This way, you are guaranteed that everything will stack neatly on top of and beside each other.  The uniformity also makes for a more streamlined look.  

3) Which brand to choose?  Consider how frequently you go through your ingredients.  If you expect to keep things like crackers and biscuits fresh for extended periods of time, then you probably want to go with a more expensive brand, such as Tupperware, because of its superior seal.  However, if you have a high turnover, as I do, you can get away with using a less expensive alternative such as Decor, which, for me, has the added bonus of being regularly available in my supermarket.  

4) Measure your cupboard before purchasing.  Consider what you use and buy accordingly.  If you shelves are shallow, you may need tall, skinny containers; if they are deep, you may be better off using short, long containers.  Also, consider what you are storing.  For example, when I buy self-raising flour, I usually buy a 1 kg bag, so the container has to be large enough to hold at least 2kg to allow for overlap, whereas cookies, which we seem to burn through, go in a much smaller container because even when I am refilling, it rarely holds more than one packet at a time.

5) Keep a small notepad and pencil near your pantry.  Keep a running shopping list and as you notice stocks depleting, jot them down.

6) Sort into categories.  All oils and vinegars together in an un-lidded box.  Asian sauces, vinegars, etc in their own box.  Baking items (cupcake liners, birthday candles, piping bags and tips, matches, etc) in a large "Birthday" box.  Cookie cutters have their own box.  Sushi mats, nori, and sushi rice go into a "Sushi" box.  

7) Most Used = Most Accessible. Pasta, flour and sugar should be placed within easy reach, ideally at eye level, while pantry exotica, such as tamarind paste, is resigned to the uppermost shelves. 

8) Stick to the system.  Transfer food from their original packaging into permanent contains as you unload groceries. Otherwise, you wind up with an overflowing mix of packages and containers.  Not good.  

Worth it?

I acknowledge, it was expensive.  Even my six year old, when he spied the bags and BAGS of containers in the car boot, said, "Why did you waste so much money on this stuff?"  Apparently my lectures on the virtues of thrift were backfiring on me.

I saw an opportunity to rehearse the little speech I had mentally prepared for his father as I drove home from the supermarket.  

"Yes, it did cost a lot of money, but it's going to save us a lot of money, too, because I'll be able to see what we do and don't need, so I won't make anymore duplicate purchases."  


"I had FOUR jars of oyster sauce and I didn't even know it."

No response.  

"I'll be able to find things easily, which will save time.  And I'll be able to see what we're running out of, so we'll never be surprised to find that we're missing an ingredient when we want to make, oh, I don't know - a cake! Or cookies!"

The baked goods ploy failed.
My charms, which are admittedly few yet somehow still enough to occasionally cajole his father, would not work on WB and, in view of the size of the expenditure, I couldn't risk noisy dissent.  

Luckily, I know his weakness for buttons.  

Put an electronic label maker in the hands of a child who knows his letters, and you have just bought yourself two hours of peace worth every penny spent on those containers.  True, the results were variable.  

The container labeled "Ground Giner" sounds more like something that would send you running to the gynecologist than the principle ingredient in gingerbread, but you can't expect perfection.

And as the last spice box was carefully put in place, I got all the buy in I needed, when WB stood back, neck cranked, and a emitted a long, slow "wooooooooooow" before pronouncing:

"That was so worth it."

Ditto for me.  


  1. Kate,
    I love it!! Your cupboards look amazing! Keep us updated. The ground Giner is the best part :) Kids say the darndest things.

  2. Kate, i am so impressed. I not only love your tips on organising pantries but I love your writing style as well.... I knew you had "the gift of the gab" but didn't realise you were such a talented and amusing writer! I must meet this friend of yours Catherine. Wow....she sounds amazing...too perfect to be true?


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