Before and After: This Family’s Pantry Goes From “Chaotic” to Calm in 5 Hours

published Nov 29, 2022
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Before: floor to ceiling pantry shelves
Credit: Jenna Nelson

The principles of categorizing items, gathering them together, and making sure that everything is visible and accessible have the same impact regardless of how large or small the space you’re working in is. And when it comes to organizing the pantry, these principles can be particularly crucial, as seen in this project by Jenna Nelson of Top Shelf Organizing.

Previously, the pantry was “chaotic and my client and her family had no clue what they had food-wise and what they didn’t. Plus, there was expired food that needed to be thrown out,” says Jenna. “She felt stressed when she walked into her pantry and there was no blueprint for her to follow after grocery shopping.”

Whenever new groceries came into the home they were stored in random places and older food was often overlooked or untouched. So when the client’s husband got a new position and was often gone for work, they decided to “streamline her life as much as possible” and “make things easier for her and her children.” 

The pantry “impacts the entire family on a daily basis,” shares Jenna, so she needed to get it organized so that everyone could see what was there to eat and where to put things away.

Credit: Jenna Nelson

First, Jenna pulled everything out of the pantry and categorized it as she went. She checked expiration dates and tossed out expired items. Next, she began sorting bins and deciding on the layout of the now-empty pantry. 

“I thought about what worked in the space layout-wise previously,” she adds, “and asked my client several questions about what she wanted her kids to have access to and what she wanted out of reach. I also asked what she specifically wanted kept in boxes and what she wanted decanted. Because her life is busy she wanted most of the items left in their boxes and only a few things put into OXO containers.”

Finally, everything made its way back to the correct place. Jenna also removed product labels to add her own. She used iDesign bins and OXO turntables from Walmart and a large Expand-A-Shelf from The Container Store for the pantry overhaul. Aside from the research and shopping that took place, the project was completed in five hours.

Credit: Jenna Nelson

Jenna admits that “the hardest part of this job was figuring out placement.” Since the client’s children’s ages range from three to 12, the fact that “little hands can make a mess where older hands can be trusted” posed a particular challenge. 

Through this undertaking, however, Jenna learned the importance of generalization. “I’ve learned to keep labels more general for families because so often snacks and ingredients can change so instead of having specific bins [for] one snack or one ingredient I just labeled the bins ‘snacks’ or ‘dinner,’” says Jenna.

To others who wish to undertake a similar project, Jenna offers this advice: “Don’t get overwhelmed by the process.” She assures you that if you stay the course, you too can tackle a disorganized pantry.

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