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Organizing Your Pantry in 5 Steps

Organizing Your Pantry in 5 Steps

Dec 14, 2017
  1. Get Started

    Kitchen pantryOrganizing your pantry can be a relief for the home cook. Knowing where your go-to items are, and have a system in place to re-stock the pantry when necessary will help you out on many fronts: with being more organized at home, in planning meals, and with grocery shopping.

    Get motivated. 

    If you’ve been putting this task off for a while, I’ve got three really great reasons for you to finally tackle it this weekend. Spoiler alert: it will save you money, it will save you time, and it will teach you about your shopping, eating and cooking habits. This is valuable information when you’re trying to budget and meal plan.

    2. Declutter Shelf-by-Shelf

    Declutter the pantry shelf by shelf
    Getty Images/Astronaut Images

    The first step in the pantry organization process (after deciding to get your kitchen pantry organized) is to declutter the pantry.

    Commit to having a clutter-free pantry.

    Why? It’s just so much easier when you don’t have to shuffle around clutter to get to the stuff you really need.  You’ll have less waste because less food will go bad, you’ll save money because you won’t buy duplicates, and you’ll save time because getting dinner on the table is a lot faster when you can quickly find what you need.

    Empty the pantry.

    Take everything out of the pantry including food, food storage containers and junk/trash that may have accumulated.

    Dust the pantry, starting with the highest shelf, and then wipe down each shelf one at a time. Be sure to cover the tops of doors and check the ceiling for cobwebs.

    Starting sorting.

    Line up the food items in one space so you can see everything at once. Suggestions: kitchen table, dining room table, or even the floor. This way you’ll be able to spot duplicates, spoiled foods and get a general sense of how much space each type of item will need.

    Common Pantry Clutter Culprits:


    Those Harry & David gift bags are delightful to receive in the mail, but once I’m done eating the canned nuts, the scone mixes and bags of dried fruit tend to go stale in the back of my pantry. One way to combat this is to bake any mixes and give them right back to the person who gifted you in the first place.

    One-Off Purchases

    Like the saffron example I shared or anything else that strikes your fancy walking through the grocery store. You may be thinking “I’d like the be the kind of person who eats anchovies more often.” Again, only buy new/interesting items if you are committed to using them right away.

    Junk Food

    I never buy junk food because I don’t think a bag of potato chips or a box of cookies would survive more than a few hours in my pantry without being devoured. But if you regularly buy junk food you may find bags of Lays potato chips about ¼ full of crumbs, some stale popcorn remnants, or broken cookie pieces.

    Assess each item one-by-one and ask yourself these questions:

    • Has this expired? If yes, throw it out.

    • Do I use this? If no, throw it out.

    • Do I like this? If no, throw it out.

    Even if you have all of the pantry space in the world, why would you want to keep extra (slowly rotting) food? You can find a better use for that space

    3. Arrange Items

    Kitchen pantry ideas
    Getty Images/Fotosearch

    When I used to move into new apartments each year, I would line things up in my pantry and kitchen cabinets by size and height. This makes sense on a visual level but doesn’t exactly make for the best organizing scheme.

    Arrange items in your pantry by group, not by size.

    Here are some common groupings:

    • Cans of beans and soups
    • Bags of snack foods
    • Bottles of oils and vinegar
    • Jars of spices
    • Boxes of grains (rice, cereal, pasta)

    Not only will this look logical in your pantry, it makes sense for cooking, too.

    I have a vinegar group which includes: champagne, apple cider, balsamic, rice wine. To that mix I’ve added white cooking wine, olive and grape oil, and an olive oil spray. The bottles vary in height and width, but now when I want to make a salad dressing, everything I need is occupying the same space in my pantry.

    Then, arrange items at the right height in your pantry.

    First, keep the items you use most regularly in your prime pantry real estate. This means the space between your shoulders and knees. It’s easier to reach and easier to put back after use.

    I recommend items you buy in bulk be stored in the bottom of the pantry (because these items are typically heavy), snacks be up top so you have to reach for them, and spices at eye-level.

    4.  Choose the Right Storage Solutions

    Kitchen pantry storage
    Getty Images/Fuse

    Choosing the right pantry storage solutions is a biggie. I firmly believe you can properly store everything in your kitchen pantry without the aid of any storage solution. Too often people (including me!) reach for their credit card to solve a problem they could easily fix with extra 5 minutes to think it through and some elbow grease. That said, kitchen storage solutions do come in handy if you’re for more space.

    5. Maintain Organization

    Kitchen pantry organization
    Getty Images/Fotosearch

    Maintain your new organizing scheme by consistently going through your pantry and decluttering (see: Step 2). If you do this regularly, you may not have to repeat the entire process of emptying and cleaning the pantry all over again. I recommend the following schedule:

    • Daily / Weekly – declutter
    • Monthly – declutter and re-group
    • Seasonally – declutter, re-group, re-fit storage solutions

    This schedule will depend on how often you cook and the size of your pantry space. I like to go through mine once a week while I am planning meals (See: Meal Planning Makeunder)

    Hint: The more often you declutter your pantry, the less time the process will take in the future.

    Source: The Spruce by Elizabeth Larkin

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