In this series, called “The Pandemic Made Me Do It,” we ask our staffers, our freelance writers, and everyday Coloradans to tell us how—during what can sometimes feel like an inspiration-sucking global meltdown—they found the motivation and the tools to try something new, brush up on an old skill, or begin laying the groundwork for a long-term project. Have a pitch for a future story? Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Daliah Singer
Day job: Freelance journalist
Says she wanted to: Declutter and reorganize her pantry
I’m not ashamed of admitting I’m pretty Type A when it comes to organization. Our spice drawer is alphabetized; my shirts hang in color order in the closet; and books are situated on shelves according to genre. It makes life easier when you don’t have to waste time hunting for something. But when everyone—including myself—started binge-watching Get Organized with the Home Edit (THE) on Netflix in September, even Little Miss Organized (that’s me) was inspired to dive into a big tidying up project, in part because I needed to feel like I had control over something in my life during this roller-coaster of a year. As a freelancer, work had felt even more precarious than usual, and the constant vigilance required to stay healthy during a global public health crisis was draining me mentally, emotionally, and physically. Plus, our townhome had transformed from a respite into a 24/7 office, restaurant, and gym. Even a small change might make it more tolerable. If I could just impress order on one space, I thought, it would help.
Except I had a problem: I didn’t know what in our house was left to do. In the spring, we added hanging shelving to our one-car garage to make it easier to move around the space (knocking into skis while trying to get into the car in July was getting ridiculous). Then I opened our pantry door and the metaphorical lightbulb flicked on over my head. This was where I could apply show hosts Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin‘s “system.”
If you’ve watched the hit Netflix series or are one of the Nashville-based home organizing team’s 4.7 million Instagram followers, then you’re already familiar with the duo’s “method.” For those who aren’t, it goes something like this:
- Edit: Empty out the space and go through everything. Throw out expired or broken items and donate what you no longer use.
- Categorize: Separate everything into logical piles, or “zones” in THE speak. A pantry, for example, might be separated into baking, breakfast, snacks, and canned goods zones, among others. Oh, and one can’t forget “backstock”—that is, all the extra product you have on hand, like boxes of your kids’ favorite granola bars or Costco-sized soap containers.
- Contain: Place everything in containers within their zones—all beautifully labeled, of course—and voila! (THE has its own line of containers in all shapes and sizes, many of which have been sold out at Container Stores across the country since the show launched.)
COVID-19 Made Me Do It
I thought I had a head start on this whole process since our pantry was already fairly well divided into zones. But the “contain” step did a number on me, my stress level amplifying in direct response to the rising purchase total as I filled my virtual shopping cart with small and large bins, food storage jars, and can risers.
Thirty minutes into the process, I started questioning everything I’d chosen so far. It looked like a lot of stuff (or “product,” as THE team calls it). Did I really need all of it? I stumbled back-and-forth between the pantry and my laptop close to a dozen times trying to determine precisely what products would transform the small space into some sort of storage heaven.
Another half-hour and my brain was swirling with glass containers. Who knew there were so many options?
An hour in, I was ready to purchase. I then stared in dismay at the screen as it kindly alerted me that a number of items I’d chosen were out of stock and unavailable for curbside pickup (the fastest option available). I thought about throwing my computer across the room but opted instead to calmly delete out-of-stock items and add a couple more to what was available and already in my checkout pile.
A couple of weeks later, another lengthy process began. Unsurprisingly, “transforming the space visually and adding [THE’s] signature stylized aesthetic” was not as easy as a 30-minute episode would have one believe. First, I had to wash all of the “product.” Then I emptied the entire pantry, stacking cookbooks on the floor and taking over every inch of counter space. As I did so, I threw out anything that was expired and started a donate box for old gadgets that were still in good shape, but unused.
The next step was reconsidering some of my zones. For instance, I had our health foods (protein powder, smoothie mix-ins) right next to the chocolates and candy—bad idea. I slowly started reloading the pantry, one section at a time. I took a lunch break. I asked my husband twice why I thought reorganizing the pantry was a good idea. (I never received a solid answer.) Got back to it. Four hours and a counter covered in spilled flour later, I was done.
Almost. I did, in fact, need a few more bins and jars, but I kept track as I went and placed a small order for precisely what was missing. Now I have a moderately good-looking pantry that makes it easy to access what we use on a regular basis. Plus, the new jars will encourage me to do more of my grocery shopping in bulk, an eco-friendlier option. While the process wasn’t as simple as I’d imagined, I did feel accomplished at the end. And I still smile whenever I open that pantry door and see everything in its rightful place, which is all that really matters.
Organizing any area in your home can be exhausting and costly. Some helpful advice from my own experience:
- Use what you already have. Despite what the professional organizers say, everything doesn’t have to match. I utilized previously bought containers in my pantry, and I’ve repurposed canning jars and other items for storage. It’s less wasteful and cheaper.
- Consider the material. A lot of the products THE recommends are plastic. I’m working to remove all single-use plastic from my home, and though these containers aren’t one-time-use, I still chose glass whenever possible for sustainability reasons. It’s also a safer material for food.
- Don’t overbuy. I filled my online shopping cart and then cut down what I was ordering because it felt like a lot (and my palms started to sweat when I saw the total). Defining a budget and staying within it is important. You can always purchase more later if you realize you need additional items like I did. After all, the purpose of organizing and decluttering is to reduce and rethink what you have—not add a ton more stuff.
- Focus on one space at a time. These projects do take time, especially if you need to wade through old papers or sentimental items. Don’t try to tackle too much at once.