My Mom and I Had a Pantry Organizing Competition — See Who Won

published May 25, 2024
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Messy pantry before organizing.
Credit: Shifrah Combiths

My mom has taught me so many things about setting up and maintaining a home. From unique cleaning strategies like ”postage stamp” vacuuming to lifelong habits I’m passing down to my kids like scrubbing the kitchen sink with powdered cleanser every night, my mom’s home-keeping lessons endure. 

When my mom visits us, we often put her organizing prowess to good use and take on a project or two around the house. Her latest visit with us was no exception. This time, we decided to tackle the awkward space of my deep pantry and we switched things up: I used my organizing methods on half of the pantry, and she used hers on the other. 

Although it’s hard for both of us not to be in charge when it comes to organizing projects, we found out that all roads lead to Rome — in this case, beautifully organized shelves that make me happy every time I open the pantry door. 

Here are some key things I learned by taking on this pantry-organizing project with my mom.

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Misery loves company. 

Cleaning out the pantry, especially my unusually configured one, is not my idea of fun. But having someone take on a dreaded task with you makes all the difference — especially when that person isn’t a daily part of your household. I’d worked up this project into a mountain in my head, which made me procrastinate even more. To my mom, the space was a fresh opportunity to bring order into a space that needed some attention. Her perception wasn’t tainted with guilt or resistance. Her energy lit a fire under me to just start and kept me going when my momentum flagged. Plus, doing a project together is so much more fun than doing it alone. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

The basic “empty, sort, toss, and replace” system is golden. 

My mom’s method and mine were the same when it came to the big picture. Both of us began organizing our sections by emptying the shelves we were responsible for — she took the top portion of the pantry and I took the bottom — categorizing items, tossing expired items, and then replacing items in the pantry. Once again, I realized that this framework works for any project, big or small, from overhauling the garage to cleaning out the junk drawer and organizing the pantry.

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Different ways of doing things give new ideas. 

I always find it enlightening to see how others do similar things in different ways. For example, while I tend to categorize items as I empty them from a space, my mom stuck to one job at a time. She emptied everything and put it in a pile, cleaned the empty shelf, and then turned her attention to categorization. Her way was more focused, and therefore more efficient. I sometimes drag my feet as I’m emptying, categorizing, and tossing because I’m doing three things at once.

My mom’s way gave the instant gratification of an empty space and then a clean empty space. This motivated both of us as we switched gears to focus on the most tedious part of any organizing project: deciding what stays, what goes, and how everything should be sorted. I’m definitely keeping this tweak in mind for next time. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Another difference between my mom’s way and mine emerged in how we put canned and jarred items back in the pantry. I usually line up the same items from front to back, but she lined like items next to each other. This had the surprising (to me) effect of making everything easier to see because she could arrange items by type and height rather than merely by type. You can see this in the way the smaller olive cans in the front row of their shelf allow a view of the items behind them. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Getting your space in order doesn’t have to be a major ordeal. 

My biggest takeaway from this project was how big of a difference we made in the pantry just by clearing out expired items and putting everything back where it goes. I already had loose categories in the pantry, so our organizing project mostly involved putting things away in their spots nicely and neatly. This had a huge visual impact. We didn’t buy a single new thing or change anything around in a dramatic way. 

Actually, our before-and-after pictures aren’t even that dramatic. But I’ll tell you this: When my husband opened the pantry door after we were done with the project he said, “Wow.” The pantry feels so different and, boy, does it function so much better. I don’t have to dig to look for things and I’m not irritated by the mental cobwebs of wondering what’s still good or what’s not and noticing that the chip bags are helter-skelter. 

Now when I go into the pantry and when I leave it, I’m not only free of frustration, but I even feel peaceful. It makes me so happy. As mom, who I’m still learning from decades later, says, “It’s all in the details.” 

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: My Mom and I Put Our Best Pantry Organizing Methods to the Test — See the Results