Lean Pantry: An Introduction

Like with our closets, a lot of us have a pantry full of food and nothing to eat! I’ve lived with two extremes of pantries: one sparse yet messy containing mostly expired food, and the other organized yet overflowing with one-off items. Essentialism helped me to rethink my relationship to buying and storing food… to drastically reduce the number of unnecessary items in the pantry.

Now my ideal pantry is one stocked with my favorites as well as a few basics to help get a quick meal on the table. It’s clean, organized, nourishing and takes little effort to maintain. I had to let go of the desire to have my pantry look like market shelves. Let the store store the food so you don’t have to! Embrace a Lean Pantry! If we keep too much, we forget what we have, items get lost in the back, and we end up throwing out food as it expires... if we even take the time to do that!

So, a Lean Pantry is similar to a Lean Closet. Although I don’t necessarily have a "capsule pantry", I have a similar practice of sorting it twice a year (in the summer and before the winter holidays) and that process has become pretty quick since I own less stuff.

1. Prepare. Before you've taken stock, think about what you want out of your pantry. What do you want it to look like? How do you want it to function? Also, be aware of old habits. Avoid accumulation of stuff that isn't serving you. What are you wasting? Try not to buy food in excess... buying more than you'll use = food waste. Instead, if possible, buy smaller amounts from bulk bins (more on this later!). What are you buying for "just in case" or because you think you should? You don't have to always own baking ingredients if you're not a baker. I thought about this and found a way to stop buying paper goods. Be realistic about your current lifestyle and not an impractical one.

2. Figure out your essentials. Before you even examine what you have, make a list of the items you want to have on hand. (I'll share mine on Friday.) You'll be less biased and more realistic. Focus on the food that gets used regularly and try to set some limits. You don't have to own every spice if you only regularly use six. You also don't need every shape of pasta or every color of rice. Limit your options... pick one shape of pasta, one type of nut, one kind of rice to use at a time and then rotate them.

3. Figure out what you already have. Similar to the Fridge Sort, take EVERYTHING out of the pantry and sort it by category. Then make a decision on each item. Let go of the food that's expired or that you have no plan of using.... ingredients leftover from guests, that one ingredient for a recipe you didn't really like. Set aside the staples that get regular use to put back. And if you want, make a plan to use up any non-essentials (if they're still edible).

4. Make it work. Put back the kept items, organizing like with like. (Again, I'll share my sections on Friday.) Remember why you’re doing this and what you want the end product to be. If it helps, transfer unruly items to smaller, uniform, airtight containers. Arrange the pantry so everything is easy to see or access. Restock with any missing essentials from your list.

5. Maintain the space. Now that your pantry is leaner, it should be easy to keep track of its stock. When you shop, keep your Lean Pantry in mind. Remember how you want it to serve you. Buy just the ingredients that you'll use. If you need a small amount of a one-off ingredient, try to buy just that amount. (I'm that person buying just one carrot or just a teaspoon of curry powder! ;) Simplify complicated recipes that require a market's worth of stuff. And enjoy your new space!

+ My favorite thing about a Lean Pantry? Almost no trash or wasted food!