Awaken your Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies with Open Shelves in the Kitchen

Growing up, my family was not poor, but we sure shopped like it. We bought groceries either at Aldi or in the generic section of the “normal” grocery store.


A man who is not my father shopping the generic aisle

While other moms filled their carts with Micro-Magic™ Microwave Milkshakes or Smurf-Berry Crunch Cereal®, we enjoyed the minimalist delights of what was called “Plain Label” food:

SONY DSCThe food inside wasn’t necessarily bad; my brothers and I hit most of our developmental milestones. The cheapness was in the conspicuous lack of marketing: no advertising, no splashy labels, no celebrity spokesmodels or cartoon character endorsements.

I’d like to think that the modest packaging also nourished my budding minimalist aesthetics. Unlike most others who were disaffected teenagers in the 1990s, I have no tattoos; I don’t wear jewelry or graphic t-shirts. North Face® jackets give me the creeps.

Which brings me to my new kitchen, and the open shelves we just added for extra storage:

IMG_5833Oh wait, don’t pay attention to this shelf on the back wall; it’s a discreet hang out for breakfast cereal and hard liquor — the bookends of any good day.  Let’s instead focus on the shelf above the stove, where we’ve been storing spices and dry goods:

IMG_5834Generally, I adore the airy, exhibitionist look of open shelves. But the visual cacophony*  of labels and gharish packaging gives my Inner Minimalist a migraine. See how these aggressively incongruous spices mock me!

So how did I reconcile my Inner Minimalist with my Inner Exhibitionist? By channeling my Latent Inner Obsessive Compulsive!  And what’s more OCD than cramming things in little jars and labeling them?

Using the Projectophile technique, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy  glass containers at a certain store that I won’t name that only sells Containers. The only thing to buy is this little gadget, for about $18:

IMG_5824A personal label-maker! (not for use in industrial, government or military settings).

STEP ONE – SPICES:  Hopefully, you have a wonderful friend like Karen, who remembers you complaining about your Spice Crisis. After a recent Sunday morning run, Karen alerted me to a pile of fancy glass spice jars spilling out of a nearby trash can. “This looks like a hasty break up to me,” Karen reported. I scrubbed them out and lined them up for their Spice Class Photo:

IMG_5849Simply add your spices to the appropriate jars. Doesn’t the thyme on the left look so much better?

THYME BEFORE AND AFTERTake this opportunity to expel expired spices. Seriously, I don’t even remember buying this mace. Was it for soup or for self-defense?  Or self-defense soup?

IMG_5857For bulkier spices that don’t fit into your new jars, simply strip off the original label and replace with your own (shhh —  nobody will know it’s plastic!):

IMG_5855The label-stripping method even works for big cardboard cylinders:

IMG_5854STEP TWO – DRY GOODS:  If you’re like me, you store your beans, rice, oatmeal and other bulk grains in slouchy plastic bags that fall on your head every time you open a cabinet. In a moment of frustration, perhaps you tossed all those little bags into a bigger bin, and then promptly forgot about them.

For example, did you know that we owned quinoa?** Neither did I.

quinoa sad sack collage_arrowJust look at this sad sack! What’s sadder than a sagging, forgotten bag of South American super food? No wonder we never eat this stuff (and have been diagnosed with a chronic superness deficiency).

To achieve this look, simply start hoarding all your used glass jars — jelly, pickles, olives, spaghetti sauce. After a good scrub, dump your dry goods into the jars and slap on the appropriate label.

IMG_5844BEFORE AFTERYou may be shocked to discover how much of your total diet is made up of pickles and jelly (mine is about 37%).

PRO-TIP:  Tell your mother that you happen to like green olives. Then every time you visit, she will send you home with several half-gallon jars, plus a big bar of dark chocolate for your husband. Never ask her why he gets chocolate while you get olives, because the jar is so perfect for storing oatmeal.  Then eat the chocolate while he’s at work.

IMG_5882Once you’ve completed your transformation, step back and enjoy the view. Your kitchen shelves are now almost as nice as a Generic Food aisle from 1979!


* This word was specifically chosen to annoy my husband.
**  Yes, I had to look up how to spell quinoa. Unfortunately, there is no spell check on the Dymo® LetraTag® Personal Label Maker.


17 thoughts on “Awaken your Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies with Open Shelves in the Kitchen

  1. This looks like my kitchen minus the labels. (Except spices have labels). Many of my jars are from coconut oil. And some from the street! I love the word cacophony. Awesome and hysterical blog as always. My absolute favorite blog! Keep it up and thank you.


      • Hey Erika! I actually just discovered the word cacophony. I guess you could say I’m late to the cacophony game, but I’m making up for lost time. And thank you for reminding me that I also have a jar of coconut oil I need to use. What do you use it for, mostly? Cooking or personal care?


        • I use it for both. I’m making herbal salves with it combined with other oils. I cook with it and I use it to “butter” toast. (Can’t eat dairy…)

          I just started salve making. I use a lot of salve on my no-longer-broken leg…with lots of big scars. The scars are really coming along nicely considering. I’m hoping they are eventually not so noticeable. I think it can happen!


  2. I’ve made it even harder for myself by restricting the height for my spice bottles. It really, really annoys me that my cinnamon canister won’t fit in the rack. But since it’s the spice I use most of, I need a bit pot of it, not just a cute little glass jar… I’m gonna go and get me one of them there labellers!


  3. I love the word cacophony! Living on a farm, with chickens and goats, I get to use that word frequently. Hooray for neat and tidy labels on re-used jars. I have been doing this with spices, dried beans, and other dry goods for most of my adult life. I’m glad to see the next generation discovering the joys of re-using jars.


    • Another vote for cacophony! I never got into the jar-hoarding business until we had open shelves, but I love it. I found it so much easier to store bulk stuff like lentils and beans and rice in jars. You see how much you have, it’s easier to organize — even if nobody else can see it. Someday we may go back to cabinets, but I’m forever sold on the jar-storage plan.


  4. Your spice shelf is lovely! I’ve been hoarding jars for awhile with similar intentions, but I’m paranoid that there may be some lingering scents that flavour whatever food I store in them. Some jars just don’t loose their scent no matter how many times I wash them- do you have any tips?


    • I agree that some jars are easier than others to clean. I had a lovely little jar with pesto sauce in it, and I couldn’t for the life of me get the garlic smell or the oiliness out of it. Luckily, I also had a ton of jelly and other smallish jars that were very easy to clean. I would suggest boiling water (but pour warm water in first to avoid shocking/cracking), vinegar, and baking soda. Once you start saving glass jars, you’d be amazed at how many you quickly accumulate.


    • Keri – Ha, yes, you got me! I secretly wish I was a bit more more obsessive about orderliness. It took all my sloppy strength to organize those shelves. You should see the rest of my house 🙂


  5. Pingback: Awaken your Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies with Open Shelves in the Kitchen | I am Dangerousfrank

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