Updated on 03.19.08

The Value of Getting Organized

Trent Hamm

Now that my free time has increased exponentially (giving me the margin I so desperately needed), I came up with a list of personal projects that I’ve been neglecting recently, first among these being a reorganization of the pantry.

Over the last few months, our pantry has descended into chaos. When we first moved into our house, I could easily find pretty much anything I needed in the pantry. Before long, I could scarcely find anything, particularly anything that wasn’t in a large container. Even the simplest recipe would involve ten minutes of hunting and searching through the pantry, trying to locate the item I needed. Thus, I dearly wanted to clean it up.

My initial reaction is that this would be a mere organizational task, a time sink that would save me time in bits and pieces later. Little organizational tasks like this are basically time swaps – you’re exchanging a chunk of time right now for little bits of time here and there later on, and most of the time it more than balances out over the long tail.

But during the process, I discovered much more value in reorganizing the pantry (and the cupboards, which were eventually drawn into this as well).

The intense value of the organizational time After I was done, I really began to see how much time this process would actually save me over the long haul. It took me about six minutes to make the dough for a batch of homemade from-scratch breadsticks. Prior to the reorganization, it would have easily taken me fifteen minutes just to find all of the stuff I needed for it. It doesn’t take many meals at all to recover the time invested in organizing.

The value of the stuff I discovered While clearing out the pantry, I discovered countless forgotten food items – a stash of jars of homemade salsa, several boxes of dried pasta, countless cans of vegetables and fruits, and so on. There was enough forgotten food in the pantry to feed us for weeks.

The inspirational value Digging around in the pantry, I came across several ingredients that inspired me to cook something right away. One of them was a jar of minced tarragon, which is, as far as I’m concerned, a magic ingredient in scrambled eggs, so I made a batch of scrambled eggs for breakfast. I found a sealed jar of minced garlic, which is going to be added to the batch of pizza dough I’m working on – yes, minced garlic straight into pizza dough is sublime. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The personal satisfaction When I was done, I felt incredibly satisfied. Not only had I knocked out a task that I wanted to accomplish, I had discovered many wonderful things along the way and I could tell already that it would save me a lot of money and time.

Obviously, this doesn’t just apply to organizing your cupboards. One can get a similar sense of satisfaction, both personally and financially, by organizing lots of things in your home. Try digging through your closet, or reorganizing your bookshelves. You’ll not only feel good about accomplishing something, you’ll also save yourself some time later on and you’ll likely make a personally valuable discovery or two along the way.

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  1. QL girl says:

    Garlic in pizza dough?!! Trent, you’re a genius! You NEED to start that cooking blog…NOW! (And I need to make some of that dough!)

  2. I agree. Recently, I organized all my financial paperwork. I piled, shredded, recycled and filed all these papers and bills that I had neglected. To go from paper piled on the floor, in the kitchen and shoved in various boxes to no piles and neatly filed was quite the accomplishment. I feel good and can find something in my file cabinet. Now to tackle the pantry!

  3. Beth says:

    My favorite cupboard/freezer tip is to keep a list taped to the cabinet/freezer that says what’s in there – and in the case of the freezer, when it was added. No more forgotten containers of soup, or unusual ingredients like the half bag of sun-dried tomatoes!

    Obviously I don’t list *everything* but it’s super helpful.

  4. Sandy E. says:

    I have to rearrange and clean out my pantry almost as often as I do my refrigerator. And it’s a money saver too, because I also always discover things in there that I use and didn’t know that I had! What about your spices? At one time I put all those in alphabetical order on 3-tiered shelves, but after awhile found that keeping the most frequently used ones in the front row worked the best for me.

  5. Saving Freak says:

    You forgot the stress and frustration you avoid by having things in a logical order. Not being able to find something you need is so time consuming because you begin a frantic search that usually ends when you look somewhere that has been covered before. The organized life allows you to be more calm and take things as the come.

  6. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    The refrigerator is definitely on my list of things to organize. Actually, I’m hoping to get a new one in a few years. Our current fridge doesn’t have see-through shelves or drawers and I’m always forgetting about things in the crisper. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to see everything!!!

  7. Trent, speaking of making pizza dough, I’m currently in the process of making your bread recipe right now!! Too funny, the dough is rising as we speak!

    I hope that they yeast (i found it cleaning out my pantry last month) is still good!

    I’ll be sure to put a full report on my blog about your bread this weekend!

    Ben @ Trees Full of Money

  8. Andy says:

    Organization is definitely helpful. I think the key is though to find a system that will keep it organized for long periods of time. That is what will make it really efficient so you don’t start losing time again as the weeks and months go by. I am moving into my own apartment this summer so I’ve been thinking a little about how to organize my kitchen and keep it that way so I don’t ever have to throw out food and I always know what is there.

    Right now I am thinking having each type of food arranged in columns on the shelves (either in the pantry or cabinets). So only one type of food per column, and have the closest expiration date in the front. So all the food is visible and you will use the correct one first, eliminating wasted food. Then it is a matter of organizing the fridge and freezer so you see all the fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy when you open it, without having to hunt around.

    I don’t really know how well this would work, as I haven’t tried it. It may be too much effort to keep it that organized and it sounds inefficient space wise (i.e. do you use a whole column for your one thing of syrup? or group all sauces together, which would make some not immediately visible, but they would use space more efficiently). I don’t know, just my random thoughts.

  9. Ria Kennedy says:

    Good for you Trent! It’s always the little stuff that can be so meaningful and give a great sense of accomplishment.

    That’s why some people say when you’re in a funk, stuck or feel at odds, to do something like clean your sink, clean off a surface, organize a drawer, etc. Some people even find money doing that!

  10. Daryl says:

    I read with interest your post today, which was quite ironic and timely. Just as I’ve taken over the financial duties in my family (about a month ago) and begun getting very serious and committed to debt elimination, savings, retirement security, and increasing knowledge in all these areas (reading!), I also undertook the task of cleaning out our pantry. It was part of an all day job that also included sorting through a file cabinet of financial records and other papers. And like you, it was both satisfying and significant.

  11. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, now that you’re done you can come by our place. The other day we found a can of refried beans stamped 2003. It had been shoved the back of our wire rack we keep in a pantry, and wasn’t visible from ground-level. My wife was a on a stool looking for another ingredient when she discovered the five year old treat!

  12. Janna says:

    Mmmm…homemade breadsticks sound wonderful! Please share that recipe when you start your food site!

  13. chris says:

    We have been de-cluttering our house for a few years now. Once every month or so we re-evaluate what we have, what we can throw out and what we can sell off. In the process, we have given away tons of clothes, sold books we no longer needed, recycled papers by printing on both sides. We have discovered enough pens, pencils, pads & batteries that we can do without buying any of them for at least the next 5 years. De-cluttering environment also means de-cluttering mind which results in clear thinking. Another advantage is we don’t need to maintain “a-lot-of-things” cause we don’t have “a-lot-of-things” so we can concentrate on more important things in life.

    Out motto for this year is to understand the difference between “want” and “need” and never to buy anything we don’t need ever again in our life.

  14. If I didn’t have a girlfriend in college, nothing would have been organized. She organized my clothes, food, and stuff for school. Now we can’t see each other every day and so I’m back to the old me.

    I’m more of an organized chaos kind of person. It works for me, but many would question the empty bag of dark chocolate M&Ms on my desk. Or the Wii remote on the TV and the Wii nunchuck in a different room.

  15. Matt says:

    I’ve done this a few times over the years and it amazes me the things I find sometimes. The purging processes very theraputic since you no longer have the mental weight of the messy room/pantry/shelf etch.

  16. Andy says:

    Jaci and I are moving into our first home on Monday. So, needless to say we have been packing for the last week and a half. And by packing I mean organizing. And by organizing I mean throwing LOTS and LOTS of crap away. It feels good to lighten the load in the plastic totes and let go of a lot of things I thought that I need to be sentimental about. Like 7th grade wrestling ribbons (I am 25 years old now for God’s sake).

  17. beetch says:

    The psychological effect is incredible, and gives me a spurt of energy for other activities whenever I do this. Especially when I do a paperwork blitz: a whole lot of projects and activities get a boost.

  18. Linda says:

    One more benefit of cleaning: Charity.

    When I’ve cleaned out a cupboard, closet or forgotten corner of a basement, I’ve found things that are in perfectly serviceable condition that I’ll probably never use again.

    If I find and extra two (ok, five) cans of tomato paste I drop them at the donation box for the local food pantry*, clothes can go to the Goodwill or a local shelter (ditto for games, toys, books, personal care items like soap and housewares).

    You might be able to get a tax write-off for this, but the real satisfaction is from knowing that by the drudgery of cleaning, you’re helping people who are in genuine need.

    *if you need to find a drop off location for your town’s food pantry, call your local Town Hall. If they don’t have a donation box, they can direct you to a location (usually a local business or church) that has one with reasonably convenient drop off hours.

  19. Sharon says:

    Andy, I hope you at least took pictures of your 7th grade wrestling ribbons. Someday when you are twice your present age you might want to reconnect with your younger self, and you might have a son who would be thrilled to connect with his father at a young age.

  20. Louise says:

    The old time tradition of a big spring clean is something everyone should do. I go through my books, cds and clothes every few months. Even if I don’t get rid of anything, this is a great opportunity to discover lost treasures and keep my clothes in good working condition. It’s very easy to stop wearing a good quality item simply because it needs a small repair or alteration. Cleaning the closets regularly means these don’t get a chance to get forgotton.

    Keeping the kitchen organised not only saves time, it means that most people will eat better because they will cook a greater variety of food than they would if they couldn’t easily find various ingredients.

  21. Daisy says:

    I really agree with this post.

    I cleaned out my desk two weeks ago because — like you, Trent — I figured the time I spent looking for things was a waste of time. I didn’t expect to find extremely important papers I thought I’d lost months ago, and even a lot of cash LOL.

    I’ll probably be organizing my library next.

  22. STL Mom says:

    A tip that worked well for me is to arrange kitchen items together that you use together. For example, instead of keeping all your spices together in one place, put the cinnamon and vanilla with your baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I keep those items in a plastic tote and pull the whole thing out when I make muffins, pancakes, or cookies. The Italian spices I use when making pasta sauce or pizza are kept together.
    I find kitchen organizing to be very satisfying. I wish that organizing my papers was as enjoyable.

  23. Gwen says:

    Hi Trent – I´m European and since a few month a fan of your blog. I agree with one of the posts above: keeping organised is also a good key. I for my part found the book “organizing from the inside out” very helpful. You might want to take a look at it if your pantry is cluttered again sometime soon;-)

    Kind Regards, Gwen

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