Uncomplicate your pantry: part 1

This month’s #uncomplicate is a series with the steps for you to uncomplicate your pantry one week at a time. Smaller steps are better anyway because we all have so much going on right now. I think we can all agree that taking a few minutes each day or week is certainly more doable than trying to get it all done at one time.

And the pantry needs attention year round due to its constant activity. We are constantly adding to and taking from it yet it’s frequently neglected because it just seems to take FOREVER.

This week I want you to focus solely on uncomplicating your expired foods in the pantry.

Take out each can, box, or package of food and look at its expiration date. The expiration date is typically 2 years after it was packaged. If you haven’t used it in that time, chances are you will not.

Look for the following:canned foodspastarice & other grainsmeal starters (Hamburger Helper, Rice a Roni)saucescondimentsteahot chocolatecerealoatmealnutsIf you can’t find a date, think hard about when you got it. If you’re struggling to remember, it’s probably time to toss it.

And speaking of tossing, that’s all you can really do with expired food. You can not donate it to a food bank or shelter. 

If the food is in a glass container, you can clean it out and recycle the glass. Or use it for storing other food once you’ve cleaned it out. Otherwise, just throw it away.

While you’re at it, throw away any packaged food like crackers, rice, pasta, nuts, etc. that has been opened and not securely closed. It is most likely stale and attracting critters. 😟

I’m going to give you steps in the coming weeks on organizing your pantry so you don’t have to deal with food waste in the future. Make a promise to yourself to do better about this and move on. 😉

How to Organize Food Storage Containers

Oh, the struggle! How to organize plastic (and glass) food containers and their lids? If I’ve heard this question once, I’ve heard it 1,000 times.

Where should I store them: pantry, drawer, or cabinet?

Should I separate the lids from the bottoms?

Do I need an organizer to keep the lids in order?

Should I stack them?

I have organized so many pantries and kitchens and while everyone’s needs and spaces are different, I’ve come up with an easy, simple way to organize and store plastic and glass food storage containers with lids.

  1. The first thing you want to do when you tackle this area is to match up lids and containers. If any of them don’t have a mate, toss them. You don’t need to keep extras “just in case.”
  2. Toss any lids or containers that are melted, stained, or otherwise unusable. These types of containers aren’t usually obvious until you take them all out of their current location and examine them. They just keep getting shoved to the back of the cabinet or drawer, NOT being used.
  3. Now that you have matched containers and lids, you can see just how much space you’ll need to keep them. There are no specific rules on where they should be kept except that they need to be easily accessible for when you do use them.
  4. I store them in a drawer or cabinet, WITH the lid attached to the bottom. Yes, this takes up more space but you can stack them and there is no searching for the lid. You can also keep them in the pantry on a shelf.

Keep your food storage containers and lids where it makes sense for YOU. If you use them frequently, you may want them closer in your kitchen in a larger drawer or cabinet. If they only get occasional use, the pantry or even a high shelf might be fine.

Remember that this space will get cluttered again. Because you will adding and removing containers as you use them and then wash them, there will be activity in this space so the order will change. That is ok! You just have to take a few minutes when you’re putting them away to reorder a little. It’s much easier once you have your basic system in place to tweak than it is to completely organize the first time.

Happy organizing!

Organized Food Containers

glass containers 2Do you dread putting away or needing to find a container for your leftovers? Have you been injured by an avalanche of plastic containers and lids? Do you feel like you are always buying new containers because you can never find the right size or lid to match up? I have the answer to your food container problems right here!

Invest in glass containers with lids! I just picked up some new ones from IKEA but you can find them in many locations such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond. I’ve also seen them sporadically at Home Goods and AtHome.

What makes this solution work is that you are investing in something that will last much longer, is more durable, and won’t overwhelm you. Plastic has all kinds of issues but my main concern is that it keeps you spending money on something that won’t last. They melt, get stained, lose their lids, and generally just fall apart. Because they are cheap, you just buy more and more and more until they take over your space.

Investing in something once, even if it’s just a food container, will save you so much money, time (another currency), and frustration (immeasurable). 

Most important, though is how you store them! Put them in a cabinet or drawer or shelf with the lid on the container. You can still stack them but you don’t have to worry about getting everything in perfect alignment. They will stack well by themselves.

I understand you may want to hang on to some plastic containers and that is totally fine. I just like these for the long haul. They are great for taking leftovers to school or work and can go from refrigerator to microwave. They can also go in the freezer or the pantry.

Because they’re clear you can see what is in them. No more mystery containers shoved in the back of the refrigerator.

If you need to label the contents you can use painters’ tape or frog tape and a sharpie.

While investing in glass containers will cost you a little more in the beginning, it won’t take long to reap the benefits. 

Happy organizing!

Organizing Your Pantry for Your Healthiest Year Yet

You may or may not have seen the Facebook live that I did with Health Coach Angela Brown last week about how to have your healthiest year ever by getting your kitchen & pantry organized. Here is a link in case you haven’t seen it. Organize your pantry and kitchen for your healthiest year ever

Here are our tips that we shared that will help you meet your healthy living goals this new year.

  1. Toss expired, old, stale food from your pantry. You’re not going to use it because you haven’t used it yet so get rid of it.
  2. Toss tempting, holiday leftovers. This means candy, sodas, sweets, and other foods that are unhealthful. Leaving them around for the kids isn’t fair to them and you don’t need the temptation. 
  3. Put a bowl on your kitchen counter for fresh fruit. This is a much better snack option. Having it visible makes it much more likely to be chosen at snack time.
  4. Clear your kitchen of unused appliances. If you never used that bread maker/ pasta maker/ coffee grinder, give it to someone who would like to have it. If it’s not used regularly, store it in the pantry. Your counters will look much better cleared off and clean.
  5. Match the tops & bottoms of your plastic containers. Toss any unmatched pieces. Also toss anything that is permanently stained or melted.
  6. Or, better yet, make the switch to glass containers.
  7. Clean out your refrigerator door of old or expired condiments. These typically have a lot of unhealthful ingredients so now is a good time to let them go. After you’ve cleaned off the containers you’re keeping, group them together by type before putting them back in the door. That way you have mustards, pickles, dressings, etc together.
  8. Put kids’ snacks on a lower shelf or drawer that they can access easily. 

Try these tips out and let me know how it goes. Organizing your pantry will do you a world of good in eating more healthfully and cooking more easily. Meal prep and shopping are easier when you can see what you have and know where it goes. 

Happy organizing!

Organizing Recipes

Do you cut recipes out of magazines or print them from Pinterest? Wouldn’t you love to be able to find that delicious recipe your mom wrote down for you? The one that’s in the kitchen….somewhere?!

Have no fear, your solution for Recipe Organization is here!

I always get recipes from magazines or from Pinterest and love trying new ones on the regular. Like you, I needed a place to keep them but also a way to organize them so I could find the right one when I needed it. I didn’t want to have open a box and go through each piece of paper to find the recipe I needed.

So I created a recipe notebook. Super easy. Super functional. It’s perfect for storing all of my printed recipes and I can find exactly what I need when I need it. Win. Win. Win.

  1. Get a 3 ring binder. The size you should get depends on how many recipes you have and how many different categories you have. Mine is 2″ wide.
  2. Get tabbed dividers with pockets from an office supply store. Mine are from Amazon and came in packages of 8 so get as many tabs as you have categories.
  3. Go through your stack of recipes and sort them by type of dish. Everyone has different tastes so you may different categories but you can always start with: Appetizers, Side Dishes, Pasta, Seafood, etc.
    I love baking cookies and breads so I have a category for Breads & Muffins and another one for Desserts.
  4. Print or write out the category labels and insert into a tab.
  5. Put your recipes in the appropriate pocket.
  6. You’re done!

One trip to an office supply store or 15 minutes of online shopping can give you the tools to create your own highly functional and pretty personal recipe organizer. Get creative with the type of binder you use or decorate the cover like you did in high school (or was that just me?).

Happy organizing!

Do you decant?

Decanting isn’t limited to making wine taste better:  it’s a simple way to make your food storage prettier and take up less space, and keep you from overbuying.  Decanting, which is a fancy word for removing packaging, isn’t for every type of food (such as bread) but it’s perfect for food stored in your pantry, counter, cabinet, or in a drawer.

When you remove the packaging that food comes in, such as boxes of canned or bottled drinks, boxed cereals, individual snacks in boxes or bags, you remove the limits that the box sets. Now you can stack the cans or bottles, lay them on their sides, or put the snacks in their own container. You aren’e limited to that box’s particular shape or size.

More importantly, you keep lone servings from  hiding in the box. When food is decanted you can see exactly what you have so it’s easy to check quantities prior to buying groceries.

IF you buy in bulk foods like baking supplies, nuts, dried fruits, or snack mixes, you can put them in their own container to reduce waste and have a pretty display.

Decanting means you’re also being more purposeful in what your keeping and how you display it. Instead of blindly tossing food into the pantry, you’re more careful with where food is stored, how much you have, and what you’re actually eating.

Try decanting today if you haven’t already. A good place to start is with your flour and sugar. Get large containers with wide mouths so you can scoop measuring cups in them. Make sure the top seals or screws on to keep out bugs.

Happy organizing.

Organizing Your Pantry: Canned Food

We’re celebrating National Canned Food month at the end of the month by sharing with you the best ways to store canned food in your pantry. Modern technology is great that it allows us to store food without refrigeration but you still need to create a system to keep track of what you have and not waste time buying duplicates.

  1. Check expiration dates

Foods going into a can are marked with a “Best By” date upon packaging. Typically it is 2 years from the package date. Past the expiration date you’ll notice color and texture changes in the contents.
While it technically probably won’t hurt you, I don’t recommend taking any chances.
If you’re cleaning out your pantry, check all of the dates and only keep the cans you are going to eat that haven’t expired. Unexpired food that you’re not going to use can be donated to a food pantry.

  1. Group like foods together

The easiest way to keep track of the canned food in your pantry is to designate a specific shelf or two to store them and grouping like foods together. The categories I group together for clients are: beans, vegetables, fruits, meat, and tomatoes. You can further subdivide if necessary like grouping your white and black beans together or your crushed tomatoes with your tomato sauce.
When you have them grouped together you most importantly know where to store them. When you are checking your inventory, it’s easy to take glance at one or two shelves to determine what you need prior to heading to the grocery store.

  1. Make them visible

Your pantry is like your closet: you should be able to see what you have when you open the door or walk in. You want to limit the amount of digging around you have to do in order to find what you’re looking for. Deep shelves are great for storage until they’re not; food can get lost in a dark shelf.

Use stair step shelves to stagger the height of your canned goods. Wire shelves on existing shelves allow you to double the usable space. Use lazy susans (turntables) , especially in corners, so you can take advantage of deep shelf space. What to use all depends on how your pantry is configured and what your specific needs are. Measure your shelves before you buy anything to make sure a potential solution will fit.

 
Here are some of my favorite pantry organizing tools, especially to help with storing canned goods.

Organize your spices like a boss

spices

When you are cooking whether for yourself or a crowd, are you filled with dread when the recipe asks for different herbs or spices? Ugh, that means I’ve got to open THAT cabinet or THAT drawer and I have no idea if I have whatever the recipe requires. During the rush of mixing and blending and seasoning it is very easy to just shove them all back in the cabinet and close it quickly however, you are back in the same quandary the next time you read the words “cumin” or “ginger” or “cinnamon.” Can Neatsmart make it all go away, a la Calgon? Yes, we can and it’s so easy a 5 year old can do it!

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Summer To Do List

Can you believe summer is officially here as of Friday and that half of the year is over? Me neither. So how is your New Year’s resolution to “get organized” panning out? Do you feel like you’ll never get there? Do you start an organization project just to abandon it after a few frustrating hours or minutes? Even if ‘getting organized’ was not on your resolution list, I would be willing to bet that you’d like parts of your home or office to have fewer stacks and piles, to be more clean and ordered so that you’re not wasting time looking for things and wasting money buying what you already have. Fear not, it is never too late to get started. Here is a list of suggestions for quick, mini- organization tasks you can do right now to get closer to your goals of calm, reduced stress, and more time to do the things that you want to do:

Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don't waste energy poking around looking for food.
Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don’t waste energy poking around looking for food.

When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Can you identify what’s really in that old takeout container? Take less than an hour and toss out the bad stuff, clean out the shelves and drawers, and put the good stuff back where it belongs. Here is a link for detailed instructions on how to store food in the smartest spots.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.
One example of a kitchen-based command center.

What is the state of your command center? Do you know what a command center is? Learn more about why it’s essential to your sanity to have this part of your home in order.

Get some type of box for storing tax documents

Do you have a place for gathering tax documents for 2013? Designate a folder or box now for storing receipts, car tag statements, donation receipts, medical statements or whatever it is that you’ll need to locate next year to file your 2013 taxes. Also, don’t completely file away 2012. You’ll need to refer back to it if you do your own taxes or your accountant may need to review it as well. (no IRS jokes, please 🙂 )

Don’t store clothes without cleaning them first.

Did you put away your winter sweaters without getting them cleaned or washing them? Food and sweat is what attracts moths and other bugs so make sure they are clean and not stored in plastic. Wool and cashmere need to breathe. On that note, take your winter coat(s) to get cleaned. Don’t forget scarves, hats, and gloves if they are not leather. Just take them out of the plastic bags when you get them home.

Get your OWN filing system.
Get your OWN filing system.

How is your personal filing system? Do you know where your mortgage statements, bank statements, EOBs, and appliance warranties are? Set up a personal business filing system in a desk drawer or file box with labeled hanging files and folders. If you have kids, how are you storing their school papers? Put together a file box for saving report cards, certificates, school pictures, programs, etc. Or ask Neatsmart about creating a “Box of a Lifetime.”

Another example of a car filing system

Have you ever cleaned out your glove box in your car? Are you the kind of person that just shoves your insurance card in there with your repair receipts and takeout napkins? In less than 30 minutes, you can separate and file your car’s paperwork into a document wallet so you can find all the necessary documents when necessary. Hopefully you don’t have to show that proof of insurance frequently.

 

All of these tasks are a good jump start to propel you towards more order less clutter. When you’re ready to go all the way in getting your life organized or you want to continue with the momentum you’ve started with this list, give Neatsmart a call. We’ll be there to take your home to the next level of organization so you can live more efficiently, have less stress, and more time to spend doing what matters most to you.

Happy organizing!