Last year I did a major pantry overhaul. It was a disaster prior. I shared the before (close your eyes) and after, along with 7 tips to building a minimalist pantry. It’s been a whole year, and we’ve stuck to it. We’ve made some improvements too. But before I get into those, check out the original post. For a comprehensive guide to creating and cooking in a minimalist kitchen, check out my cookbook, The Minimalist Kitchen, and take the in-depth course here.]
This post is an ongoing series on practical minimalism. Minimalism is typically marked by living with less. I also like to think of it as living intentionally and efficiently. Minimalist living is on a spectrum. We’re a family of 3 (two adults and one 3 year old). This is how we’re trying to live a leaner life.
When I look back at the after pictures from last year, a couple of the shelves make me cringe a little. But I’m a believer in doing, even if the first go isn’t perfect. Because if I’ve learned anything about living with less, it’s this—it’s an ongoing process. It’s like changing your diet. It doesn’t happen overnight. You naturally and slowly acquire new tastes throughout the process. Cupcakes begin to taste too sweet. You get the idea. This process is no different. Throughout last year we made a couple simple edits to the pantry worth sharing.
Give yourself a little leeway.
When you slim down your pantry, it gives you room (literally) to break the rules here and there. Maybe you buy a box of Peppermint Oreos at Christmastime or maybe you decide to start buying cashews. A tidy pantry will give you space to explore a little. Notice your habits. Is this a one-time purchase? Cool, let it be. Is this an ongoing purchase? Then give it a permanent space in the pantry buy adding a new jar. We added several new containers and jars last year to accommodate new ingredients.
Swap out lids.
Ball Jars are some of my favorite storage containers, especially the wide-mouth jars. But the two-piece metal lids drive me batty. They’re great for canning but not so great as a high-use storage containers. I swapped out the metal lids for plastic lids. It’s a cheap upgrade that’s well worth it.
Add snack bins.
A problem arose in our system last year. We had puddles of random small things—like Hal’s snacks, liquid sweeteners, sprinkles, and baking powder. They all had a home, but they made the shelves look cluttered. Clutter welcomes clutter, so you can guess what happened. I finally added long bins to collect those items. My color rule for containers is typically clear (so you can easily see when a refill is needed), but in this case I wanted to hide the clutter. These cloth bins are $5 at Target. We have one for Hal’s snacks (located on a shelf she can reach), one for the leaveners and liquid sweeteners (like honey), one for the baking chocolates, and one for the sprinkles.
Download Wunderlist app.
We used the Reminders app on our phones last year to keep an ongoing grocery list. But Kev couldn’t link his list to mine. It was a faulty system. Shelley recommended Wunderlist app. It’s amazing! We’ve been using it for about a year now. We have a grocery list for each store we shop at (Co-op, Target, Costco, and Trader Joe’s). Kev and I share lists, so it doesn’t matter who’s doing the shopping. It also allows you to add an image, which is helpful in buying the right contact solution. Recently, I’ve started arranging our shopping list to the flow of the store.
Shop your list, not the store.
I don’t need to tell you what happens every time you walk into Target. It has that effect on me too. But typically my rule for myself is—shop the list. A list is no good unless you use it, right? It’s important to note, minimal pantries don’t start at home. They start at the grocery store. Be mindful of what you’re buying.
Finally, edit always.
I ended with this tip in the initial post too. Pantries require ongoing editing—partly because they get so much daily use and partly because things are always coming in. If you’re not good at attending to the pantry, set monthly reminders on your phone. Also, don’t be afraid to throw away things that haven’t been used in awhile. Throwing food away is the absolute worst. But this process will help you to be more mindful of the things you bring in to the pantry.
Hi! Lots of great inspiration here, thanks for the visual inspiration.
We have 2 overflowing cooking utensil crocks with so many spatulas, etc. Would love a post on what to keep, how many, and what to lose. (Potato masher? pancake spatula?) Also looks like Wunderlist is no longer around? Did you find another app that you could recommend for sharing grocery list between people?
Hi Mya! Since this post, I’ve published a book called The Minimalist Kitchen with a lot more guidance. I also run a course now too a couple times throughout the year! We’re in the middle of one now. I’m working on a sign-up newsletter so you can know when the next course is. It’s not up quite yet. I’ve switched over to the app Todist since they quit updating Wunderlist. It works in the same way!
I’m really curious if you have a stock list? Things you keep in your pantry at all times?
Hi! I have a list in chapter 1 of my book, The Minimalist Kitchen. So far, that’s the only place I have it. I may be offering more resources around this soon!
Loved this post so much Mellisa! I strive to keep a minimalist pantry, I’m a terrible meal planner always trying to find a way to be better at that. Love the suggestion about Wunderlist. Going to get that now. I have been meaning to switch over to the oxo containers…no more excuses.
You’re amazing and I can’t wait for those ball lids. I hate how rusty and gross the metal ones get. Thanks for the rec, pretty lady. Looks beautiful per usual.
I have only recently admitted I definitely have a problem with overbuying and sadly find myself throwing away way too much food.(totally sinful) I get crazy attracted to new ingredients or brands I haven’t tried and then find my refrigerator and cabinets overfilled and overwhelming. I needed this inspiration! We don’t have a pantry 🙁 which means I REALLY need to bump up my minimalist attitude towards food! Are you going to do a refrigerator minimalism post?! …talk about panty drawer status…I blush when people see inside my fridge 0_0
THIS IS THE BEST. I just moved into a new house with an actual pantry – and right now it is totally overloaded and trashed. I really needed this inspiration. Can’t wait to overhaul the pantry!
Inspiration overload (!!). This detailed post makes the task of reorganizing and minimizing a lot less daunting. I’m planning minimalizing my pantry this year, but as much as I’d like for it to be an overhaul, I think it’s going to end up being a process. Thank you for posting! xx, Jess
I think doing it in phases is so smart! It gives you enough time to notice your habits and alter as you go. And to figure out what containers you like and which ones you don’t. I think we’re always going to be in an ongoing process of refining the pantry over here. I will say, it’s so much faster to clean and organized now that it’s in a pretty decent place!
this is such perfect timing! thanks for sharing. are you still doing spices on a shelf or do you do in a drawer? any tips in that department are welcome. i’m going crazy with all different shapes and sizes of jars but i also know i could go buy new containers and blow it out. i just haven’t taken the plunge!
My spices are on the shelf right now, but I’m transitioning them to the drawer this weekend. I’ve been using the Archer Farms glass spice jars to keep the symmetry but over the years, I’ve had to buy some different ones because they don’t have what I’m looking for. I just bought the stuff to do this: http://almostmakesperfect.com/2017/01/18/spice-drawer-organization/ . I’ll report back soon!
please do! this looks v.promising 🙂
Thank you for sharing all of this, it’s so helpful and inspiring!! I’d love to know how you guys use Costco. As a family of three with a whole foods focus, I think I struggle to find the deals there. Also, any minimalist beauty tips?? I read in your last post your focus on your hair (which looks amazing in all your Instagram stories!!) and wondering if you have any advice in that department. Thanks again, your website has become one of my most favorite to visit!
Hi Meggie! Thanks for writing! I’m blushing over here! I’m going to do a post on shopping for a minimalist pantry soon. Costco seems so counterintuitive! We buy oats, avocados, hummus, milk, San Pellegrino, cans of black beans, tomatoes, and chickpeas, pita chips, sugar, olive oil, nuts, maple syrup, eggs, butter, and bread. We buy mostly pantry stable things here. We go through so many eggs and avocados, I think that alone pays for our membership! I only shop my list there. I have a handful of aisles I go to and skip the rest so I don’t leave with an overflowing cart. We buy a couple other pantry stable items from Trader Joe’s to keep grocery cost down. And then we splurge a little on good produce from our co-op a block over. We go to Costco every 2-3 weeks. Trader Joe’s about once a month. And the co-op and Target a lot. I feel so out of my league about the beauty tips. Ok, this is kinda gross, but I hate to shower everyday. I wash my hair twice a week. I’ve found that if I do a really good job drying my hair, it looks great for a couple days. I have super thick hair so it takes a bit of time to dry. I use talc-free baby powder around the temple area and part on day 3-4 to freshen it up. Somedays I don’t dry my hair and let it go wavy. It seems to work best when I wash it right before I go to bed and sleep on it. In the morning, I’ll straighten just the ends and sometimes around my part to calm it down slightly.
So you buy a bag of flour, fill your container, but you have extra. Where do you store all the partially filled original food containers/bags?
I use the 5qt oxo containers that hold one bag of flour. When adding containers, I’ve tried to get sizes that would accommodate the size of whatever ingredient I’m stocking so I’m not left with tons of extra packages. We shop at Costco so I definitely have some overflow. I use the bottom shelves to hold all the overflow, and I shop from there first before buying more. Since doing the pantry this way, I’ve started shopping from the bulk bins more so I can get exactly the amount I need. Let me know if other questions come up!
Hi Melissa, I love your blog and your site (and your scones!).
A note about meal planning – I’m not kidding when I say it’s the most stressful part of my life. Something about all the decisions and the need for healthy, delicious, and manageable meals EVERY SINGLE WEEK…it does my head in. About a year ago my daughter suggested repeating meals each week for a month…spaghetti on Monday, stir fry on Tuesday, pizza on Wednesday, etc, repeating each week for 4 weeks. I tried it and it’s been life-changing for me! I thought my family would get tired of each meal after eating it four times in a month, but they don’t! And I always know I’m going to use up leftover quantities of ingredients (no more half Jars of condensed milk going to waste). Now I only have to plan meals once a month, which is not nearly as overwhelming.
Thank you for this! I’m sitting down to meal plan for February this weekend (wish me luck) and am going to try this. Someone was telling me the other day they do something similar, except they repeat in two week chunks.
Aww thanks for the shoutout Melissa! Glad you’re finding the app as useful as I am! Love this post, and only wish I could have shallower pantry shelves to avoid “loosing” things at the back. Oh and that I lived somewhere with a Target.
Shallow is sooo helpful, which can’t be easily changed, especially if you’re low on storage. We went with a counter depth fridge too. I love how shallow it is. Nothing goes to the back of the shelf to hide and mold. Also, thanks for changing our list-making lives!
I’ve been eyeing those oxo containers at Costco! Great ideas!
Oh yes! I saw them there this week. I bought that starter pack last year to kick off the pantry cleanse. The only downfall are those two tiny containers it comes with. The storage is so tiny compared to the container. I ditched them.
On a whim I recently cashed in some credit card rewards for a set of the Oxo pop containers and I’m hooked. I’m not the cook in our family but the mess that is our pantry drives me crazy! We also use Wunderlist — not just for grocery lists but for things to do around house and even packing lists before trips.
Yes! Team OXO and Wunderlist ?
I love the idea of having a minimalist pantry.
You would cringe if you saw our pantry right now. I’mma send you a pic. ;)))))) But first I’m going to download that app because HOW LOVELY to be able to share the grocery list.
I love that you sent me a pic of your pantry! Isn’t that app amazing. I can’t walk into a store without it now. I was visiting my sister last week. We went grocery shopping and every other second I was like, “Can I please write that down for us and make a list?” It’s made me crazier too.
You’re just the best! What do you with you spices? They just look so haphazard in my pantry!
Hey Al! I’ve been using mostly the same Archer Farms glass spices to keep the symmetry for the last couple years (and refilling with spices from the bulk bins) but it’s not a perfect solution. I thought about adding risers so I could see all the spices at a glance, but I’m not sure I trust myself using that solution. So! I’m making over the spices this weekend actually and moving them to the drawer like this: http://almostmakesperfect.com/2017/01/18/spice-drawer-organization/ . I’ll report back!
this was so good. i needed this! wish me luck. also, hi lady!
Hi ya! Loving all your snowed-in posts. Good luck! Send after pics and snow!
Love the idea of bins, how do you keep them clean? We do our best to keep jars, bottles, and canisters from leaking or spilling, but occasionally I’ll pick up a bottle of vinegar or oil and there’s a little ring on the counter. Do you just give a cursory swipe with a clean washcloth after use? We’ve been using washable plastic trays in the cupboards, so that helps. Also: we’ve used the bell jars with plastic lids for years and LOVE how much it minimizes clutter.
I keep only dry ingredients in the bins to help keep them clean. Though I do have honey in one bin. In general, I try to catch drips before the make it back in the pantry (or the fridge). Aren’t those plastic lids amazing? It seemed like such a futile change and expense, but oh my goodness, it’s just one piece instead of two. Life changing!
I love this blog post and meal planner that zero waste chef did. It makes me shop my freezer and fridge before buying more stuff.
Thanks for sending this along! Sounds brilliant!
Great tips! I’m pinning for future reference when I have a pantry but this advice is even handy without one.
OMG! I was totally drawn into this post because I KNOW your minimalist ways and want to make them my own now that we’re redoing our kitchen (again), and THEN I scroll down and discover your mention of my Nourished Planner. Melissa, you’re too much. Thank you for the sharing of ALL OF THIS! XOXOX
Thank YOU for inspiring me! My brain is far more cluttered than my pantry which is why im so bad at meal planning. Not this year thanks to you!
So pretty! I have the nourished planner as well and I absolutely love it. Thanks for sharing.
We use Wunderlist too – I love that I can shares lists with my husband. Total game changer!