I am, indeed, happier.
Saturday morning, our pantry looked like this:
You may think that that is not so bad, and in some ways it is not. Certainly it could be worse. But in addition to general crudiness (and do, please, examine this close-up, below), there were other problems. The children couldn’t reach the crackers and cookies they typically snack on after school (or on Saturday morning while their father and I sleep). The microwave (no counter space) could only be used by moving a basket of nuts and bars and coffee filters (because there’s a grouping that makes sense) out of the way. And we had lots of stuff I had no idea we had. Note to self and husband: we simply don’t need to buy any more ketchup. For years.
It was ugly, it was unpleasant, it was a constant annoyance. Every time I opened the doors, my heart sank. And you know, I open those doors a lot.
For months, I’ve been spending quality time with pantry porn in the form of Williams Sonoma and the kinds of magazines with headlines like “control your clutter” and “10 clutter-busting strategies!” And we’ve been distantly planning a kitchen remodel, so I like to draw my new pantry, which will have room for dishes and appliances and, I dunno, mops or something. Also, laundry, which is right now in my bathroom.
But distant plans and colored pencils are no substitute for immediate action. So Saturday, I opened the pantry doors, and I took everything out.
I had to get a folding table. I had to use the stairs, and the floor, and the counter. It was astonishing, the amount of stuff that fit in those two cabinets.
And once it was out, I sorted. I tossed (after the third time, the nearest available child began to refuse to taste-test any more crackers for staleness. It’s been a very, very damp summer.) I collected for a food pantry (no, not the stale stuff! I briefly had a babysitter who would grocery shop for me, and the food pantry will benefit from the continual misunderstandings that led to my not having a babysitter who would grocery shop for me any more. Grits; they’re getting lots of non-instant grits. Also, spaghettini, which is not at all the same thing as spaghetti. Actually, I don’t have a regular sitter at all anymore, but that’s another post.)
And then I replaced. Gently, slowly, with labels for the backs of the too-deep shelves. I moved shelves. I wiped, I vacuumed, I moved shelves again. I tried things out in a few places that didn’t work; I finally used a set of matching containers I bought ages ago in the hopes of doing just this; I scrounged baskets that were being misused in other rooms; I labeled, I thought, I dumped.
The result is beautiful. I didn’t spend one penny. (I’m not going to count those three extra plastic containers because I bought them months ago.) I didn’t order anything new from the Container Store. I didn’t do anything except what I should have done in the first place: think about the best place for stuff and put it there, and not shove anything into the back without making sure there was a way to find it again.
When I open the pantry doors now, I still want to cry … with happiness. I’m delighted, I’m relaxed, I’m happy to cook and happy to put away the groceries.
Will it stay this way? I think so, in part because I used another “Gretchen-ism:” I left empty spaces. (She says “Leave an empty shelf.”) We’re not always going to have exactly four boxes of crackers or two boxes of spaghetti (although we will always have exactly no boxes of spaghettini). Things will get used and replaced and bought–but in addition to going shelf by shelf in the pantry, I found myself thinking about a new resolution: the resolution not to stock up.
No more buying in bulk, no more getting five cans of coffee to save grabbing another on the next trip to the store. We don’t have room for ten boxes of macaroni and cheese no matter how much it’s on sale, and I pay a price in coping with all the excess, not to mention the price of losing it in the back of the cabinet, or watching it expire. It’s false economy, and false security. We need two boxes of macaroni and cheese. When one is eaten–or even, should we decide to live life to the fullest, when BOTH get eaten, we can go to the store and buy another.
Doesn’t that sound profligate? But we can. Should the apocalypse arrive, a stock of macaroni will not save us (I’m going for a stock of bourbon, actually). Should a flu epidemic prevent our shopping for weeks, some system will surely arise to allow us to get food. If it doesn’t: if systems fail and bourbon proves useless in the zombie economy, well, we have bigger problems than a few boxes of macaroni would have solved, and at least I got to enjoy my clean pantry in the meantime.