Pantry Dreams

May 12th


I am an organization freak. I always have been. I can’t get out of a bed without making it (sometimes even at hotels). I wipe down the bathroom counter every single time. I have a google doc that tracks car repair and maintenance. (I once got two transmission flushes in a six month period because I didn’t have such a system.) My spices might be alphabetized.

Yeah. I’m nuts. For a long time I hid this, or attempted to, as to not have my OCD nature yet another point of critique. But recently I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all nuts. And life is just so much more interesting and fun when you let your freak flag fly. So, guess what? I love to clean. I love to organize. The Container Store? Better than a trip to Tiffany’s. Seriously. (No mining guilt!)

I have pipe dreams of having a side business organizing other’s spaces. There are some very specific tools and habits to keeping an organized home or workplace. And once these become routine, you are set. Plus, I look at these small daily changes in behavior as prevention.

  • Put in two minutes today to sort through mail, recycling every single bit of paper you don’t need, canceling catalogs, paying bills — you don’t end up with a pile the size of Everest on a Saturday afternoon with late fees and precious, sunny weekend hours wasted inside sorting.
  • Keep a “Goodwill” bag in your closet. Every time you add a new piece of clothing, you agree to donate. No one was infinite closet space. This limits shopping too; you only have so many hangers.
  • Make those hangers the same brand and color. Face your clothing all the same direction. You’ll be shocked how many new combinations you are able to create with the same materials.
  • Google docs and calendars are ideal for tracking birthdays and other important events. Make a plan on the 25th of each month to write out cards for the next month — with stamps and addresses handy. Then mail in two batches. Send thank you cards at this time too. I keep a running list. People don’t care when the card arrives; they want to know you thought of them. And a handwritten note might was well come licked by T-Rex, they are so rare.
  • Burn your CDs. Buy a backup hard drive. Buy another one. Get rid of your CDs.
  • Use the library. Clear your shelves of books you don’t plan on ever using again. Donate generously.
  • Clean out your wallet at least once a week. Face bills. Sort receipts. Keep a supply of stamps.
  • Minimize your cleaning supplies. Bleach, vinegar, coarse salt, lemon juice, a couple good rags and Magic Erasers. You don’t need much more.
  • Keep a trash bag in your car; empty it regularly. Keep a towel in the trunk. Wipe down your dash when things get hairy. This towel is also particularly great for the occasional $2 car wash. I run through these quarter car washes about once a month.


When a friend recently asked me for some tips on how to be more organized, I started with an especially tricky space. Organizing a small space is even more of a fun challenge. A pantry under the stairs? One with deep shelves? Bring it.


I started by pulling everything out and grouping like items. I spent $15 on two shelves (one long, to hold baby food and formula) and the other for canned goods, and one basket — for granola bars. Because in Colorado, one cannot have too many granola bars.


Some 20 minutes later — voila. Because the shelves are long, I organized like items deep. In other words, they are stacked behind each other to the very back of the shelf. Use one, pull the next one forward. But here is the trick about organizing: this will only work if the behavior changes too. You have to learn to work with a new system to make it a system.


If this were my pantry — I’d paint the inside of the door with chalkboard paint and keep a running grocery list.

And yes, I know. It’s nuts I took so much pleasure from this project. And yet? Better. Much, much better. Organization, cleanliness and frugality are the trinity of a smart home.

(Freak flag at full mast. )



Posted in
Domestic Art, Good to Great, Homebody
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25 Responses

  1. andrewkfromaz May 12, 2011

    “The Container Store? Better than a trip to Tiffany’s. Seriously. (No mining guilt!)”

    No mining guilt? This is why I love you, Kelli. Well, the whole post is great, but that’s the icing on the cupcake.

  2. Now, if we could just teach you to count cards…

  3. Mmmmmmmm…an organized pantry. I love it. And I have the chalkboard paint to prove it!

    Though, you know you don’t ever have to justify your OCD/perfectly normal organizing nature to me. Because we fly the same freakish flag.

  4. I wish you could come here and organize parts of my house!
    Adding to your hint on hanging clothes the same way…face all your hangers the same direction at the beginning of a season. After you wear something, put it back facing the hanger in the opposite direction. When the season is over, you’ll be able to tell what you wore, and what you didn’t wear…and if you didn’t wear it, put it into your Goodwill bag.

  5. Love it! Even more so last night I put “before” and “after” shots of my “great pantry redo 2011” on facebook – my freak flag flies high as well. Love your list too!!

  6. Madelyn May 12, 2011

    Kelli, you rock! jes’ sayin’ :-))

  7. Spring is when I want to get organized….I’m dying to get into our pantry, if the hubby will let me (it’s his domain). Organizing is so so satisfying.

  8. Okay, you lived in AZ for how many years, within a few miles of me and never let this information out! I could have made your “business” a very big success with my house alone. I have been looking for someone to do this very thing to my house! I am a regular at The Container Store, but I never put it all to the correct uses! Let me know when you’re moving back! I could keep you busy for quite a while!

  9. Whatever you like girl!

  10. Debbie May 13, 2011

    I love The Container Store even though I have never been to one…only online shopping. I feel calm in an organized space and right now, home and work spaces are not as organized as I would like…will you be in Illinois any time soon???

  11. Wow, I would love for you to come to my house and organize! Looks great, glad CO is treating you well. Let me know when you rollout the organizing business, I’ll be one of your first customers.

  12. This is cracking me up because I’ve recently come to the decision that I should embrace my own nature regarding things like this as well. Only I’m the polar opposite. I have no desire to be organized or particularly clean, for that matter, and while I’ve spent most of my life feeling guilty for this and that I should really try harder in these areas, I’ve finally decided that it’s just not who I am and that’s ok. I would like to work towards being more systematic about certain things, but if it’s not happening right now, well that’s ok. It’s just not at the top of my list of priorities right now. I probably should have married someone like you so that at least one of us would clean the house, but clearly that didn’t happen. So, messy and cluttered is going to have to be ok for now. πŸ˜€

    • I did marry someone like that. Love the guy, but I want my stuff disorganized! Hands off! πŸ™‚

  13. Can you please fly to Texas to organize my house?!?!

  14. I’m obsessed with every single thing about this post!! I happen to live by (most of) the rules you wrote. Let that freak flag fly, you organized girl you!

  15. Freak flag? Perhaps. But I can trust anyone with that much green chile in their pantry.

  16. Alaina May 13, 2011

    I love your freak flag phrase – and I have the same flag. I so get the satisfaction out of havimg things organized. It makes life much easier.

  17. Maria Paz May 13, 2011

    Loved this post! you should seriously think about being an organizer coach.

  18. I second Maria’s comment–you should be a life coach (and I’ll be standing in line as your first customer!)! So what’s your trick for organizing emails, AmazinGirl? I’m usually good for about a week, and then entropy takes over once again. Love your tricks and tips!

  19. I’m the same way with organizing stuff. I actually had to let some stuff go a bit even though it’s hard. Otherwise I’d be yelling at the husband and kids all the time for messing things up!

  20. The freak flag is flying high at my organized house too, my soul sister! πŸ™‚

    I bought a label maker for my house the other day after having one at the office. I haven’t made it to the spices yet, but the joy that that little piece of office supply heavy brought me was so crazy good! πŸ™‚


  21. Brittany May 14, 2011

    We are so much alike it frightens me! However, I may have OCD worse than you because I noticed at least two upside down cans in the newly organized pantry…have you never seen Sleeping With the Enemy?!

    The only point I would fight you on is getting rid of books. I cannot do it. Thus…no Kindle, Nook, etc. I love my books.

  22. Doin’ a little happy dance! I’m the lucky owner of that chili laden pantry. Don’t think we can let Kelli leave πŸ˜‰

  23. Wow, this post is like reading my own thoughts! I have always been the same way and this year I decided I should be proud of it… I’m uber clean and organized and I love my life that way πŸ™‚ Yay for efficiency!