If the longest journey starts with a single step, then the messiest pantry clean up starts with a single shopping bag.
That's right. It was the little shelf stuffed with shopping bags that got me off the sofa and into toss it/give it/use it mode. I literally couldn't jam one more shopping bag into the narrow vertical shelf most use for storing cookies sheets but I use for shopping bags. One weekend afternoon, I looked at it with exasperation and thought "Enough is enough!" I pulled them all out and piled them on the ottoman, then I sat down and got brutally honest with myself.
What exactly am I planning? To be nomadic, with all our possessions in shopping bags? I hope not, but the truth is even if we were, there's a limit to how many we can carry at one time. I love seeing the shopping bag from the duty free shop in the New Delhi airport, the one from the grocery store in Gilleleje, Denmark. Multiples from bakeries, chocolate shops, and cookware stores both here and abroad. They bring back memories. It would be one thing if I used them, but I seldom do. Ruthlessly, I cut handles off, recycled paper bags, and limited myself to just one or two of my favorites (Pierre Herme, Laduree and La Maison du Chocolat). The rest - gone. Bye bye.
The resulting look of order and restraint in that little slot in my big pantry was an epiphany. IF I DO MORE OF THAT, THE WHOLE PANTRY COULD BE TRANSFORMED!
So I did, and still am.
It's a work in progress, but everything is off the floor, unused serving pieces have a new home at the thrift store or Salvation Army, and like things now live together.
I did the majority Sunday evening of the July 4th weekend, and I stood there for about half an hour staring at the transformed space. Don't get me wrong, there's still work to be done, but I can easily get to things. I don't have to move the stack of bundt pans and a large serving tray to access the sheets of parchment paper.
Baking is now easier, packing lunches is easier and I'm not embarrassed any more when someone comes over and the pantry door is open. There aren't enough shopping bags to contain the great feelings I got from doing this.
Another benefit of my pantry epiphany is it carried over to the kitchen cabinets. I used to collect old Spode china, and I still had several sets that I never use because it doesn't go in the dishwasher, yet my formal china was still in boxes in the garage where it had lived since it was boxed up for the kitchen renovation. I felt ready to let go of this beautiful old china so it could be enjoyed by someone who would use it. That made enough space to bring in our formal china.
A few things I learned:
- I had eight shopping bags from some stores, mostly small or impractical shapes. I kept the two I was most likely to use and recycled the rest.
- We rarely entertain large scale because our home is small. The large serving dishes I had for that once-in-a-decade party were taking up valuable real estate. I can borrow from friends the next time we have 30 people over.
- Keep the things you use all the time in a convenient spot. I put my steel cut oatmeal (fabulous overnight recipe here) in wide mouth Mason jars, but stashed the jars way back in the pantry and frequently knocked them over when reaching for other things. They're now in a cabinet, directly over the spot where I prepare my oatmeal each week.
- Consider how you use your kitchen. I bake a lot, so having a variety of mixing bowls easily accessible is more important to me than a variety of sippy cups, but if you have kids, put the sippy cups directly over where you prep your child's drinks.
- If letting go of something you've collected is hard, keep one or two pieces that you particularly prize and let the rest go with love. Imagine someone's thrill at finding that perfect object they've been searching for. I kept one place setting from one of my sets, and a simple square luncheon plate from the other.
- When you're packing things up and letting go of something just feels wrong, allow yourself to keep it. Just don't feel that way over every single object. When I was boxing up my Spode, I couldn't make myself give up the third set. It turned out that was the favorite of the seven patterns (yes, seven) that I used to collect. I couldn't bear to let it go, so I didn't. I may at some point decide I'm ready but for now I look forward to using it on weekends when I don't mind hand washing as much.
Because I didn't acquire this stuff in a day, the pantry won't get cleaned in a weekend. This is a project that, for me, has to be done over time. I still have two ice cream makers and more containers for storing leftovers than any three families can use. Those things will change in time, but for now I am thrilled to open the pantry door, reach for something, and not have to cover my head. We'll revisit the pantry when it's done. And now if you'll excuse me, I want to go sneak another peak.
*******PLEASE NOTE: Lethally Delicious is on hiatus for the month of Ramadan. I will be responding to comments but not keeping up with my Google Reader or visiting bloggers other than those who leave comments. I'll be back around August 31st with a spirit refreshed by this blessed month of fasting and prayer. Peace.