Clean Pantry, Clean Conscience.

Pantry shelves with jars and plastic containers of food and spices.
A small corner of our pantry.

When our home was built, it had a back porch. Sometime during the 1950’s or 1960’s, the previous owners  enclosed the back porch. Which only marginally sounds like a good idea now. When enclosed, it became two rooms; what we use as a pantry on one side of the door(s), and the long open space on the other side, which has become bike and general storage (somehow The Goat manages to get 5 really large bikes in there – a tandem, a recumbent, two cargo bikes, and a “regular” one). Both rooms are small, maybe 5’ wide.  Yet somehow, it’s so very easy for them to become overstuffed. So twice a year (Fall and Spring) I do my best to clean them up. And that’s what I did.

It was exhausting.

Yet the difference between the before and after is astounding. I filled 3 garbage bags with trash. I filled a box for the second hand shop (why do we have 2 coffee makers? We don’t use coffee makers!?). I scrubbed floors and shelves. I found enough winter gear and miscellaneous clothing that I did a load of laundry.

I realize that makes us sound like slobs, like we live in filth. But if you’ve ever cleaned out a refrigerator, spice rack, or junk drawer, I’m sure you understand how kitchen related things seem to reproduce when you close the door or drawer. Add in the “mud room” like use of the adjoining room, and you’ve got a recipe for a mess full of “I’ve been looking for that!” and “So that’s where that went!” moments.

But all that work, and nothing changed. I mean it, it really took me all day! The rest of the house was still in need of vacuuming. The dishes still needed to be washed. Phone calls still needed to be made. The yard still needed to be mowed. Yet, the world went on.

Not that I expected a good cleaning to change the world. 

But that’s the thing isn’t it? So many of us feel guilty about (in no particular order) climate change, plastic overuse, antibiotic resistance, racial injustice… The list goes on and often our own issues of concern include ones that are close to our hearts. Yet, we feel as if we aren’t doing enough.  We feel guilty for not marching. We feel guilty about buying cleaner and not making our own – or buying cleaner ‘cause we ran out of the handmade version or it’s ingredients. We feel guilty about our curbside service not accepting glass. 

And so we feel something akin to guilt when we simply clean our own home. It’s only going to get messy again and we wonder if there are better ways to spend our time. Shouldn’t we have done something more? Something that would really change things and improve our planet. Something a little less mundane. After all, a clean house only impacts those who live in it, right?

Yes, and no. What’s that proverb about keeping your house in order, something about putting your own house in order before you criticise others? 

Maybe that’s why the tidying and downsizing craze is at a peak right now. Maybe collectively we’re starting to realize that things aren’t in order. Our collective priorities are skewed. We know we need to do better for the planet but don’t know where or how to start. Like many tasks, starting small, with one pantry, might be just the motivation we need to do bigger and better things.

Lets face it, when things in your home are neat and tidy, they get used. That “favorite” shirt that you forgot about will get worn. Meal planning, or at least making dinner on the fly, becomes easier because you know what, and where, ingredients are in your cupboard. Shoes that don’t fit stop taking up space in your closet. Those kitchen appliances you don’t use will either get used or get donated and then used by someone who will find them useful. 

This makes our lives run more smoothly in general. It sounds silly, but you know it’s true. And a smooth running day allows for more free time and more time to actually think, and do something about the bigger issues – even if it’s just shopping for food more consciously and being more aware of how much plastic you’re using and then making purchases accordingly.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “You’re just saying what all the tidying and organizational experts say.” Maybe. But, honestly, did you ever think there would be tidying and organizational “experts”? Me neither. 

Again, maybe that’s a sign of something bigger. Something that collectively we may have forgotten. Maybe that something hasn’t been forgotten, it’s just been set aside as technology slowly trains us to think that we have to move, move, move. But all this movement doesn’t actually accomplish anything and we need these “experts” to remind us to do something physical, something with tangible results.

So as I continue to go through our home room by room, bit by bit, in an attempt to declutter and make a more livable and usable space for us, I’ll continue to remind myself that it’s ok to take some time for us, The Goat, Charlie Brown the Airedale, and me are worth it. Because even though it doesn’t seem like a clean pantry will change the world, having an extra few minutes each week because the pantry is in order just might be the time I need to do something that will.

So, go ahead, clean out that space that’s been nagging at your subconscious. Let’s change the world one clean closet, pantry, or junk drawer, at a time.