cleaning out my closet(s)

Gen's Pantry Makeover

Organized pantries are all over Pinterest- enormous, bright, coordinated delights full of decanted organic food. They are beautiful and aspirational. They are suspiciously devoid of blue Kraft boxes. One day, when I am a middle-aged woman living in my lovingly renovated Victorian home, I will have one.

Mine is not one of those pantries. Before I started this project, those Pinterest beauties were a little discouraging- why try to organize at all if my pantry won’t end up looking like that? I’m glad I persisted and just did the thing- organizing has really and truly cut down on food waste in our house, and it has also made cooking quick dinners so much easier on busy weeknights. It’s not a Pinterest-perfect pantry, but it still makes me happy every time I open the door.

Just do the thing, and enjoy the results.

Gen's pantry before

Gen's pantry before

Step 1: Pull everything out of your pantry.

If your goal is to reduce food waste, this step will convict you. I found way too many expired food items, and as I threw them away, I mentally calculated the dollars that were going directly into the trash. It hurt. I let the guilt wash over me for a minute and then, with renewed vigor, I continued my task- NEVER AGAIN WILL I THROW AWAY A FULL CANISTER OF $25 FLAXSEED POWDER.

Step 2: Give the space a thorough scrubbing.

I can’t emphasize the importance of this step enough. I had developed a phobia of my pantry’s deep crevices, because I couldn’t see them. I knew that they hadn’t been cleaned since we moved in, and I was afraid that I would find a roach commune hiding in a corner. When I finally cleaned everything, there were no roaches, but there was a lot of dust and some peeling paint. I ended up repainting the whole thing, which gave me a lot of peace about the cleanliness of the space where we store our food.

Step 3: Assess and map your space.

Pay attention to what you have the most of and what you use the most- are they the same? You’ll want to dedicate a large, easily accessible area to that stuff. What do you use rarely? Maybe that can go on a top shelf. I ended up using that Pantry bin for baking supplies, which I keep on the top shelf- whenever it’s time to bake, my flour, sugar, vanilla, etc. is all in one place.

Step 4: Figure out what storage options you already have and what you may need to buy.

My goal was to buy as little as possible. In a fit of housewifely fervor, I had bought a few baskets at Home Goods right after our honeymoon, but they were not being used effectively. For example, I had a cloth bin helpfully labeled “Pantry” which housed most of our pasta and other dried sundries. When I pulled it down to organize it, I had about fifteen packages of spaghetti. Do you know why? Because I couldn’t see them.

The floor of Gen's pantry before

The floor of Gen's pantry before

Some other storage items which are useful include mason jars, baskets, glass or plastic canisters, large vases or cookie jars, etc. I had a relatively small metal utensil holder which we were not using, and it ended up being the perfect place to put said spaghetti.

One of my favorite parts of this project was repurposing old cereal and Amazon boxes into storage containers. This was FREE. I used a roll of brown craft paper to wrap the boxes, but you can also use pretty wrapping paper or paint or duct tape or whatever you have.

Taking recycled boxes and wrapping them in paper can help organize and look aesthetically pleasing for a low cost.

Taking recycled boxes and wrapping them in paper can help organize and look aesthetically pleasing for a low cost.

Another project (one my husband completed) was to put some wheels on wooden crates to hold our liquor and unopened coffee. They roll out easily and are cute.

The one item I would recommend you buy, if you don’t have it already, is an over-the-door wire organizer. I keep all of my oft-used spices here so that I can just grab them within seconds. Another shelf is dedicated to nuts and seeds, another to sauce and seasoning packets, etc. It really helps to expand your usable space when you have a little pantry.

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Step 5: Organize!

This is the most fun part- figuring out what goes where. It can also be the most challenging, and you may have to change your plan several times.

Some tips which worked for me:

One snack basket for all pretzels, tortilla chips, popcorn, etc. When we want a snack- snack basket. It’s just that easy.

One box for protein bars, breakfast bars, packs of crackers. I open the original packaging and decant the wrapped items into the one box. They’re easy to grab on the way to work or errands.

Mason jars and/or canisters for dried goods. Before I did this, I thought that the Pinterest people were just trying to make their quinoa look pretty. Now I understand that it really makes a difference when trying to figure out what to make for dinner- you know what you have, because you can see it.

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Wall-mounted basket for foil, parchment paper, wooden skewers, etc. Makes good use of what would otherwise be wasted space.

Step 6: Enjoy your beautiful new pantry and some Kraft macaroni and cheese.

You earned it, girl.

Gen's finished pantry after

Gen's finished pantry after


Kat's Guide to Curating Your Closet:

Over the past few months, I have been interested in creating a sort of “minimalistic” wardrobe, which means that I have a smaller wardrobe of things that I really love and wear all of the time, as opposed to a big wardrobe with things I keep around in case I ever decide to wear them one day.  I rented this book at the library called The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees.  I've added some tips from the book that I think may be useful in cutting down your wardrobe to things you really love.

From my reading and my own experience over the past few weeks, I’ve come up with a list of steps to take in creating your own personalized wardrobe and getting excited about the clothes you have.  Disclaimer:  This is NOT a capsule wardrobe, which is basically a wardrobe of clothes that you keep for a long time because they're timeless and can be worn across time, place, and fleeting trend.  While I admire the idea of a capsule wardrobe, I'm someone who loves to shop for a few pieces to add to my wardrobe here or there, especially when the seasons change.

Here are the steps I used for cleaning out my wardrobe:

1. Get into a “throwing-out” mood. This can happen in the days leading up to your wardrobe overhaul, but you need to be in a mood where you are thinking “Ahh why do I have so much crap I need to get rid of everything.”  Watch a movie about missionaries or poverty.  Read about St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, who were some of the happiest people in the world and had nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Drink some coffee, put on some upbeat music, do whatever you need to do, but make sure you get into this frame of mind.

2. Give away stuff that doesn’t fit you.  Don’t think to yourself, “Oh well I’ll probably fit in that one day soon” because chances are, you either won’t, or by the time you do your taste may have moved on.    

  • You may have to try things on.  Read:  you will have to try things on.  As horrifying and intimidating as it can be, sometimes you need to see yourself in clothes that don’t fit anymore to remind yourself that it’s time to move on.

3. Give away stuff that you only have worn a few times or even less than that in the past year.  This is another really hard one.  But if you’re in a throwing out mood, chances are you can reason pretty well and be honest with yourself.  The reality is, most people only gravitate towards certain pieces in their wardrobe anyway, no matter how big or small their wardrobe actually is.  So hang onto those things you love and get rid of the things you tell yourself you may wear one day.

  • For instance, up until this past spring, I had this cheetah print top from the LOFT that I got in college.  It had clear sequins on it.  First of all, it’s not even slightly close to my style.  Second of all, sequins.  I held onto it thinking, “What if I want to wear it to karaoke one day?” (why is this even a question I ask myself?) Every time I go to karaoke I only want to wear the things I love and wear all of the time anyway.
  • This step may be easier if you just go through each piece of clothing and say, “Do I wear this a lot?”  If you do, then keep it.  If not, put it in a "maybe" pile.  Go through the maybe pile and be honest with yourself when keeping something.  You don’t want to end up only getting rid of like one shirt, because then you’re not going to feel justified in buying the few things you may want to add to spruce up your wardrobe.

4. Do you need any updates? Look at the things you like from your already existing wardrobe—do any of them need to be updated? For example, you have a white button down shirt that you wear all of the time but you found a stain that you can’t get rid of.  Add this to your list of things that you need to look for.

5. Look around for styles you like.  I usually like a few things from LOFT, a few more things from Anthropologie and Madewell, but I love most things from J. Crew and Gap.  I can follow all of those on Instagram or sign up to get catalogs (because mail is exciting) that I can browse and sift through certain styles.  Then I can decide what I can afford, what I actually need and what one or two things would be a nice treat to have maybe for Christmas or a birthday, or just because sometimes we need retail therapy (AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT).  Pinterest is also good for saving styles and getting excited about future purchases and things to look for the next time you go shopping.

  • The author of The Curated Closet suggests that you put time and thought into developing your style.  Sometimes (like in my case) it's more of a gut instinct.  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to develop a particular style right away.  If you have fun making lists and pinning pictures and making bulletin boards with fashion pictures, then do it.  If you’re like me, and you don’t want the frills or extra pressure of taking more time than necessary to focus on a wardrobe, just go with your gut the next time you look at clothes.
I feel like this is outfit is the epitome of my style.  Blue stripes (similar shirt  here ) of some sort,  shorts , and any sort of sandal, but I particularly love  these  because they are durable and waterproof-ish.  Additionally, I wear this  nursing necklace  (a gift from Gen) every. single. day.

I feel like this is outfit is the epitome of my style.  Blue stripes (similar shirt here) of some sort, shorts, and any sort of sandal, but I particularly love these because they are durable and waterproof-ish.  Additionally, I wear this nursing necklace (a gift from Gen) every. single. day.

6. Don’t feel pressured to follow trends. I got this tip from The Curated Closet, and when I read it I felt like a lot of pressure was taken off of me.  Just because it’s in style now or everyone's tagging the same type of dress from the same store on Instagram doesn’t mean you have to have it.  If it’s not something you’ll love now and in the near future, don’t get it. 

7. Decide on a few staples that you need first.  Maybe after step 4 you realized you needed some updates, so you made a list of things you want to purchase as updates.  But maybe you know there are a few more things that could really add to your wardrobe that you didn’t have before.  Add them to your list!  Perhaps it’s a plain black top that you can throw on all of the time.  Maybe it’s a cool necklace that will change the look of a basic dress you have.  Add these things to your list, and get excited because the best part is coming up next.  Also, one thing I learned from working in retail a few years ago is that while trends may change for stores, the way something fits usually doesn't unless it's an entirely different style of clothing.  For example, if you found a hole in the crotch of your beloved GAP jeans because your thighs got bigger after you got married (ahem, me), look at GAP again for a new pair of your favorites because the style and fit likely has not changed much.

8. Go shopping!  Not all at once, unless you have lots of money.  But I find it more fun to get one thing here and there, especially when I order it online and get to track it and wait for it (my life is so exciting).  Also, look at the factory stores—they have great deals and often very similar styles to the original store (except for LOFT; I don’t know what the heck happens in the transition from LOFT to LOFT factory but it seems like the LOFT outlet took all of the things that were popular at LOFT circa 2001 and keeps recycling them through the outlet store.  Occasionally you find some hidden gems, but for the most part I’ve had trouble finding stuff that I love or that will last in my wardrobe; but I digress.)

  • You also want to make sure you’re pretty well caffeinated for the shopping part.
  • Make sure your makeup and hair look good because if you feel frumpy, you’re not going to want to buy anything.  I mean maybe that’s just me, but I’m pretty sure if you’re feeling like your hair looks bad and that you look like a troll, you’re not going to all of a sudden transform into a princess once you try on that boho dress from Free People.

NOTE: It’s okay to buy things as the seasons change.  This definitely does not seem very minimalistic of me, but I truly think that one of the most fun parts about seasons changing is buying a new sweater for the fall or a new pair of shorts for the summer.  Trends change, and so do our tastes sometimes.  If you like to shop and don’t want to feel guilty about it, do it!  But maybe instead of buying a bunch of things at once when you see seasonal styles rolling around, think long and hard about each piece of clothing you buy so that you don’t end up with pieces that you’re going to want to throw out after a year.  AND, if you want to keep your wardrobe small, when you do buy that new sweater, give away an old one in exchange.  It’s okay to treat yourself every now and then, and no one should make you feel guilty about that.  But if you want to keep poverty of spirit, treat yourself to one or two things as opposed to five or six, and give away the same number of pieces from your current wardrobe so it’s not busting at the seams again.

So that’s (finally) it!  Now get to caffeinating and curating, people.

A  blanket scarf  accessorizes any otherwise plain outfit really well in fall/winter.  Also, I had a pair of boots like this from Forever 21 when my mom gifted me these  Madewell boots  (similar ones  here ), which allowed me to give away the old pair.  I just bought this  sweater  from Gap, and I've worn it a million times already because it's low key, not too heavy but still seasonal, and can be dressed up or down.  The pants are from Madewell as well; I got them on promotion, got them hemmed to fit my height (they do it for free!), and I wear them all the time.  (Gap has a similar pair  here .) A nice pair like this is a good investment piece for the fall/winter season.

A blanket scarf accessorizes any otherwise plain outfit really well in fall/winter.  Also, I had a pair of boots like this from Forever 21 when my mom gifted me these Madewell boots (similar ones here), which allowed me to give away the old pair.  I just bought this sweater from Gap, and I've worn it a million times already because it's low key, not too heavy but still seasonal, and can be dressed up or down.  The pants are from Madewell as well; I got them on promotion, got them hemmed to fit my height (they do it for free!), and I wear them all the time.  (Gap has a similar pair here.) A nice pair like this is a good investment piece for the fall/winter season.