How to Organize a Bulk Pantry
This is something that I have been wanting to share on our blog for some time now, but it's one of those life situations where it just never feels ready. You know what I'm talking about? Our pantry is never fully organized, not everything always has a place. As much as I love how much our lifestyle in both waste management and the kind of food that we eat has changed, much for the better, there are still times when we come back from the grocery store with graham crackers and pretzels in hand. Still, we're getting better about it and have switched about 90% of our diet over to organic! How awesome is that? It's really made such a difference, and we have not welcomed any meat into our home since the beginning of June. Pretty fancy!
What feels like a long time ago, I wrote about living a waste free lifestyle. And for seven months now, we have been upholding the changes, which include recycling, keeping plastic bags of all kinds to bring into the grocery store, composting, using reusable bags and food storage including beeswax wraps, making our own cleaning products, purchasing less of everything, trying to use as little plastic as possible, and purchasing our food in bulk. Someone asked us how buying in bulk was necessarily being waste free, as you still have to purchase the product in something. Well, yeah, that's true. There's really no way around it, unless you can find a store that allows you to bring your own containers, which is actually becoming a lot more common these days. In fact, one of our sponsors, Lucky's Market allows you to bring in your own containers.
But, we also have a few other bulk places that we love shopping that already prepackage their goods, like Stringtown Grocery. I have talked about this place fairly often; it's an Amish owned bulk store that sells just about every weird thing you could think of in bulk. We love it for that, and that's where we purchase a majority of our herbs (that we can't grow ourselves) and flour and other things like that. And it all comes in plastic containers or bags. The containers we recycle or reuse as our Tupperware. It actually works extremely well because we don't have to purchase anymore plastic storage ever again. Ha! As for the bags, well, we have to store those to recycle them somewhere else since city recycling won't take bags. This article is actually a really great resource for figuring out what to do with plastic bags.
Here is our pantry in all of its glory. I have also been avoiding to take photos of this place for the blog because, as you can see, there is absolutely no way to get a photo of it with natural light. And as a photographer (not a professional one), I hate artificial light. Bah! It looks terrible, but it's something that I think you will all enjoy seeing. Our pantry has been photographed and shared on Instagram a few times, even Martha Stewart (or her Instagram team) liked and shared it once! That was really cool. Dream status. But it's one of those things where I'm not quite sure the best way to explain to you how to do it, you know? Maybe I'm just really bad at explaining home decor and why I like certain things; the same goes for clothing and personal style. I just like things, and I get obsessed following other blogs who can talk about it so well and feeling sooo connected to them. How do they do it?! I'm going to try my best to walk through our bulk pantry journey with you and why it works so well. Okay? Okay!
Take Stock of What You Have
It took a while for us to figure out the best way to supply the storage of all of our spices and other dry ingredients like flour and pasta and rice. We have come to learn that cooking is much better with added spice, and I cook so much more often now that our pantry is arranged this way and that we have access to so many interesting and unique flavorings. I also bake almost everyday, so storing those ingredients in a way that was easy to access was important. In my dreams, we would have a prepping station inside of the pantry so I didn't have to bring everything out, but that's just not what we have. Be sure to take stock of what you already have and what you are hoping to add. What do you go through the most of? For us, that's flour, sugar, vanilla, cooking oil, salt, and a few other savory herbs. I always have these on rotation, so I make sure that we are always stocked with them! It's also smart to take account of the space that you have. Can you picture our easily accessible bulk jars in your space? The way our pantry was already built was with these strange short shelves. We realized that when the house was built in the 1930s, they were built specifically for mason jar storage. You know, when people just canned their own food all of the time. Glad we are returning to that type of lifestyle!
Give Yourself a Budget
When we realized that our shelves fit 8 oz Mason jars perfectly, it dawned on us to use those jars as they way we should store all of our spices. It turned into a mad dash to fill them all with the contents of the plastic containers we had been collecting. I tried looking into where you can find Ball/Mason jars the cheapest, and I really couldn't come up with a straight answer. On the Ball Jar website, they do sell them in packs of 12! You can also find them on Amazon, but we tend to either purchase them from the Amish store or from Walmart. Walmart always seems to be the cheapest option. We are currently using 5 types of jars for storage: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 24 oz, and 32 oz. This was not an intended purchase, it just happened to be what we already had on hand and worked out accordingly. I think that all of these sizes work well for storage of different things. As you can see, we keep the things we use the most of in the largest jars, like salt, in a 32 oz jar. That size is also where we store some beans and fluffy marshmallows. The 24 oz jars has bulky dry goods like beans and grains, cornstarch and ground flaxseed. In the smaller sizes we keep herbs and spices. The 4 oz jars are perfect for smaller or seasonal things that we hardly use but still like to have around. There are also some containers with lids that are not Ball jars that we use for flours, rice, and sugars. We found these at Walmart! Now, with all of that information said, don't go crazy. These can add up! I am not sure if going with mason jars is the best option for someone on a budget, but I do think they are the best option for someone wanting to steer away from plastic. Plastic is so much cheaper, but does not last, and I am just done with using it. These glass jars will last forever, and I love that I can see through them while I am cooking. It really does make a difference in my mood to get cooking!
Get a Label Maker
This is probably the number one question I get whenever I share a photo of something with these embossed labels on them! Oh my goodness. This thing is absolutely everywhere on Instagram, and I totally get it. I love using my label maker with all of my heart - it's so fast and easy. The process of printing out a label or even handwriting it sounds awful to me, so this tool was well worth the purchase, especially considering it's incredibly affordable. This is the label maker that I use. It's the black one for around $20. There is a similar option that is blue and green for around $8. Don't get that one! That was the first label maker I bought, and it was broken upon arrival. It didn't emboss at all. The black one works much better and has been working out for us for about half a year now. Don't like the trendy label maker? Maybe try using a glass paint pen! You could hand write your labels or even try using a sticker. Whatever you do, just make sure you label everything, and maybe even add the expiration date as well.
Find a System
For us, that looks like alphabetical organization and size organization. We have the frequently used items in larger jars that are easy to find and grab. The flour jar is always pulled out; we do have a large flour and sugar jar on the kitchen counter now and out of the pantry! But I am constantly reaching for the rice and whole wheat flour. All of our spices are organized alphabetically on the shelves. This just works better in my brain, especially when I am on the hunt for something odd like cayenne pepper or milk thistle seed!
Take it Slow
This entire system did not happen overnight. In fact, the process is still happening. We introduce new ingredients all of the time and have to find a place for them or purchase more storage jars. Don't go out to the store and buy everything you need. Take account of what you already have and start with a slow move. Buy one package of jars and go from there! There is absolutely no race to get this done, and I find that working on a project like this for an hour or two a day for a while works so much better than taking apart my entire day to organize a space! Doing it like that also gives you some room to make improvements.
I really cannot imagine our pantry the way it used to be, when it comes to storage and even what is inside. We now have ingredients inside that I used to roll my eyes at, like Agave syrup and organic coconut sugar. I mean, who needs that stuff?! But we somehow have incorporated it into our lives and are seeing major changes in how we feel on the inside. Some outside changes are happening, but I am not expecting anything drastic. I do, however, just feel happier, more energized and full of clarity every single day. There's nothing better than that, well, other than having a happy gut. I am starting to believe that all healing starts there!! Cooking is so much more fun with our food prepared and stocked like this, and it actually makes cleaning up so much easier as well. Never going back! What do you think?