Don’t Patronize My Pantry!: A Rhetorical Analysis of Organization Images on Pinterest

Several months ago, I was perusing Pinterest and saw this image of a pantry (we’ll call it Image A). Many, many people were pinning this picture at the time, and it soon became a very popular pin on the entire site.

An organized pantry

Image courtesy of bhg.com

User comments about this pantry ranged from “The most organized pantry ever!” and “My dream pantry,” to “I love all the canisters!” and “I wish my pantry looked like this!!”

Last week, I came across this image of another organized pantry/cupboard (Image B). It, too, was popular with Pinterest users.

Organized pantry

Image courtesy of thesocialhome.blogsot.ca

I did not pin either of these images. (I do have an Organization board, though.)

I was not enticed by the beauty or seeming simplicity or amazing organization (complete with labels, no less) of these spaces. No clutter. No mess. I was not jealous of these pantries. Nor do I want my pantry to look this way.

Here’s why:

1. These pantries do not operate under the “Less Is More” mentality.

They, instead, scream, “Buy more! Use more!” “Then, once you buy all this stuff, buy bins and canisters and containers and baskets to hold all of your stuff.” “Buy, buy, buy! Then, organize everything in neat, tidy containers so that you will feel better about all the stuff that you have.” (Is that too cynical?)

2. These pantries (especially Image A) emphasize a paradox: Most of the items in the canisters contain food for children, but anyone with kids would not have GLASS containers in their pantry, and definitely not where kids could reach them.

It is an understatement to say that obviously no kids live in this house, yet the message being sent is that this pantry is perfect for parents with kids (just look at the gum balls, the graham crackers, and all the individually-wrapped snacks).

Children make messes of things. Children get in the pantry and take things out of it. Children crawl on the shelves to get things down. Children would BREAK these glass canisters. Every single one of them. And then they would get hurt.

3. These pantries are too unrealistic and make good people–organized people–feel guilty about their own pantry, their home, and perhaps even their lives.

These images communicate that having an organized pantry is a moral issue. A disorganized pantry (or home, or life) means that you are morally inferior, morally reprehensible, morally disgusting because you may have live your life in more of an organized chaos (like I do). That you don’t take care of your things. That you don’t care about your home, or your family, or the tone you want to set.

4. These pantries do not foster the same mentality about food that I do. First, these images say, “Buy junk food and processed food and food that will last on your shelf for years. Buy all kinds of food that is not necessarily good for your children.” In fact, it’s most likely bad for your children to have so much processed flour and sugar. I do see the whole grains and nuts in Image B. That’s good food for the family.

Second, these images communicate that you should hoard food. Instead of buying food when you need it, you should store up for yourself “treasures on earth.” This pantry really is a hoarder’s dream (of course, it wouldn’t be this organized).

Finally, these images say that you shouldn’t feed your family fresh, local produce (many pantries do contain such foods).  You shouldn’t offer your kids apples, pears, onions, or potatoes. No, only prepackaged, highly refined foods are the way to go…at least if you are going to keep your house organized.

5. The pantry in Image A is enormous, unrealistically big, and it makes people without oversized pantries wish for more: more stuff, better organization skills, less clutter, better taste.

Most people I know do not have a pantry this large. I know many people with pantries larger than Image A (I do not judge you), but, let’s be honest, the vast majority of people are quite limited in their pantry space (just think of your typical single-family home, loft, or apartment). Some places don’t even have a pantry. Instead, people use the kitchen cupboards. Even Image B, though it is in a small space doesn’t seem like this is the only pantry in this person’s kitchen (Where are the opened bags of chips, pretzels, or cereal?).

6. These images imply that the people living in these homes do not cook, which bothers me because of the implication that they do. 

If you are a cook, you know how messy kitchens get. Three meals a day = messy! And if both parents work or if one parent stays home, you know that the kitchen doesn’t always get cleaned up right away. Perhaps not even the next day…or the next (should I admit this?). Cooking is messy. It is not as tidy, neat, and clean as these images imply.

7. Finally, the worse part is that trying to live up to the standard set in these images, for order and cleanliness (and godliness), can make you depressed, anxious, and lonely. It can even lead to self-loathing and self-hatred.

  • When your house does not look perfect, you (I) get stressed and overwhelmed. cannot function.
  • When your house looks lived in and well loved but not neat and tidy, you (I) get frustrated, angry, and mean.
  • When our houses don’t t look brand new in mint condition, we don’t want people to come over. Our home doesn’t look like those Pinterest images.
  • Our friends don’t want us to come to their home because they think you expect their home to be in such mint condition.
  • We stay secluded because we don’t think we can live up to societal expectations of order and organization and we don’t want to experience the negative judgments people might make about us.

No good can come from promoting images like these. I’ll take my pantry over these any day. My well used and not-so-neat (but still organized) pantry could out-cook theirs every time.

My Pantry


  • Laura

    Kara,

    Thanks for challenging the predominant pictures of perfection that Pinterest gives.

    One issue that I would take issue with is that children and glass containers don’t mix. We’ve tried to go plastic-free in our kitchen, which means a lot is stored in glass containers — my pantry doesn’t look anything like that, it’s a collection of reused pickle, spaghetti sauce, and salsa jars — but it does contain a lot of glass. I buy a lot in bulk to avoid individual packaging (raisins for example) so those things go into glass jars. If it’s a properly-sized jar, rather than the huge ones in the picture, kids can learn to handle them well.

    • kealex02

      Good point, Laura. We, too, are trying to stay away from plastic (we still use a few big plastic containers, though). I also buy in bulk for the reason you listed as well as saving money. I hadn’t thought of using glass jars to store the smaller items, though. Thanks for the idea and the comment.

  • Love my pantry!

    Disagree. When my things are organized and pretty, and when I can find things easily in my pantry, I feel better about cooking and put more effort into making good, homemade meals. When I have a place for everything, I find it easier to keep things neat and I don’t find outdated stuff crammed into the back of the pantry. In contrast, when I have to dig around under boxed foods to see whether I have enough noodles for a casserole, I’m inclined to give up and pull out a frozen pizza.
    I do use a great deal of glass for storage: Spaghetti sauce jars and pickle jars are free and perfect for tea bags, chocolate chips, dried beans, etc. If you use the same labels, glass all “matches”. Yes, the top pantry does display an unreasonable amount of junk food, but that’s a reflection on their eating habits, whereas I’m looking for organizational tips. I can count on one hand the number of jars my children’ve broken . . . ever. Here in the South, bugs are a problem — glass jars are far superior for keeping them out, as well as keeping things fresher than cardboard boxes.
    As for feeling morally inferior based upon a picture . . . no comment.
    We’re preparing to build a house, and it will have a small 10×10 kitchen, but a HUGE pantry (which will also function as the entry from the garage). This will be economical because simple, quality pantry shelves cost significantly less than kitchen cabinets /countertops. I’ll be able to store all my large, rarely used soup pots, crock pots, rarely-used servingware (i.e, turkey platters) on these shelves. I’ll have loads of storage space for home canned goods as well as store-bought foods. I’m incorporating a 4′ workspace so that when I come into the house, I can drop groceries right there and sort them out into their places — they won’t come into the kitchen ’til they’re ready to be used. I’m planning a shelf for measuring cups above the workspace, so I can step into the pantry and measure out my ingredients, then bring them into the kitchen ready to use. The pantry may be the portion of the house about which I’m most excited.