Tips for Organizing Your Pantry

Organizing your pantry can help you save money, time, and food. It also is a great way to rejuvenate your cooking mojo.

Thanks to this Pantry Challenge, I made a concerted effort this past weekend to make sense of what we’ve got. If you know what you have, you know what you can cook! As such, I cleaned out both the pantry and the refrigerator. It’s so purty! And I have a feeling I’ll save money (no unnecessary duplicates), time (I know where things are!) and resources (less waste) as a result.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be offering suggestions for organizing each area of your food storage as well as recipes and kitchen gadgets. Today? Let’s talk pantry.

But, first a rant…

Every home I’ve ever lived in had a very strange shaped pantry. Granted, I was thankful to have a pantry, often a walk-in pantry. But, at the same time, WHY is it that designers take odd shaped spaces and try to make them useful — and fail miserably?

This house is no different. The pantry is located in an alcove between the stairwell and the garage. And it’s oddly shaped, making it difficult to make good use of the storage. There are no rectangles in this space, just weird triangles and non-shapes that leave dead areas of storage space.

Some homes have very little in the way of kitchen storage altogether. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

So, how do we make the best use of the space we have?

1. Store things in close proximity to where you use them.

I read this tip in Kitchen Organization Tips and Secrets by Deniece Schofield years ago and it has proven to be immensely helpful. No longer do I store all the food in one spot, but I store it close to where I use it. So, the baking items are located above the counter where I usually do my mixing while the mixing bowls are stored in the lower cabinets. The spices are stored in a cupboard to the side of the stove where I usually want to spice things up.

So, if you don’t have your food storage configured this way, you may want to give your kitchen the once over. Where do you find yourself schleping things across your kitchen? Where’s a handier storage spot instead?

No longer do I walk halfway across the kitchen for the flour and sugar. I can reach everything from the one spot where I do my mixing.

2. Empty the cupboard.

When you set to organizing your pantry or cupboards, take everything out. Wipe down the shelves. Toss the outdated items or ingredients that you know you won’t use. Make a note to replace empty bottles.

While you’ve got a clean slate, make sure that the shelves are in the right spots. Adjust the shelves as necessary.

Recently, hubs offered to get me a pretty carafe/decanter for my olive oil since I tend to leave it on the counter. I use it pretty often and it was easier. But, rather than spend money (my peeve) or have clutter (his), I adjusted the shelves in the spice cupboard so that I can put the canisters of oil in the cupboard right above where I typically use them. Win, win.

3. Arrange like with like.

Just as the grocery store places like items together on a shelf, so should you. When I was rearranging, I decided to put all the canned vegetables on one shelf, all the grains and pasta on another, etc. In this way, I’ll have a better idea of what I have and what I’m running out of. Hopefully, I’ll avoid duplicates and the overbuying that comes alongside them.

4. Label shelves or canisters as needed.

Since one of my goals this month/year is to teach my kids more independence in the kitchen, it makes sense that they should be able to find things. So, once I had like items stashed together, I started labeling the shelves and containers so everyone besides me would know what’s what. And even if I already know, this helps me on those days when I just don’t want to think.

5. Impress yourself.

Cooking is so fun, now. In just a few short days, my enjoyment has increased in the kitchen because things are so neat and tidy. Here are some before and after shots of our pantry and cupboards.

Baking Cupboard Before

Baking Cupboard After

Baking Cupboard 2 Before

Looks like Christmas threw up in there, huh?

Baking Cupboard 2 After

Spices Before

Spices After

Pantry Nightmare

Pantry Better

Have you got a great tip for organizing the pantry?

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Comments

  1. I read a tip one time that said to do the meal planning, then to put all the pantry ingredients for each meal in a basket that you can then pull out each evening to make dinner. I thought that was brilliant… but I never put it into action!

  2. One continual problem I’ve had with my pantry no matter how many times I’ve organized is the spices. A few months ago I decided to tackle to problem and ended up buying a tall, narrow rack to add to the wall. It’s been incredible how easier it is to find the spices as well as the fact that the pantry stays neater. Sometimes we just need to keep trying different solutions until we find one that works for us.

    You can read the full story and see pictures of the before and after at
    http://www.wonderwomanimnot.com/2011/11/organizing-spices.html

  3. My husband and I cleaned out the pantry, lazy susan cupboards (they turn into a disaster) and the spice cabinet over the holiday break. Wow. It feels good to have everything more organized and to throw out the old. I was amazed to find that I really do use all of the different spices that I have.

  4. Oh you have so much storage space! I just have one little pantry that is about the size of one of your cupboards! Looks great!

  5. You’re so right about an organized pantry (and kitchen) being more fun to cook in. My mom helped me go through all of my food cupboards and some of my cookware cupboards over Christmas and it’s been so much less stressful to prepare dinner and pack my lunch each night!

  6. Wow, look at all that butternut squash! I’m jealous!

    I was waiting to organize my pantry after I use some stuff up, but now I see that it might be wiser to organize it so I can use stuff up. Guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

    • @Angela, do you want to come get some butternut squash?! We got another one after I took the pic and we’re getting more next week. I need to use it up!

  7. great tips! one thing that works well for me is utilizing 2 shallow, large drawers for items not typically found in drawers: all our tea/crystal light packets in one, and most of our spices in the other. guests find it weird but it works for me, and frees up a cabinet so i can stick my utensil caddies in there and not have them cluttering up the counter!

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I recently did this (mostly because I had some furry friends who thought that I was willing to share my food with them….I am not) and it has made a HUGE difference. Now I know exactly what I have and where to find it, so I’m not spending time searching through a million shelves to figure out if I can make xyz for dinner because I don’t want to have to go to the store again. I know it’s going to save me money because I’ll be less likely to run out to get something that I already have and use the things that I already paid for. In my old place we didn’t really have a pantry, just an empty hall closet that we converted into one. It was a huge amount of space, but it was difficult to keep it organized. The best idea we had was to get a bunch of plastic bins and put like things into them. You can even put the lids on if you’re worried about “furry friends”. It cost some up front, but when I moved I just found new uses for them in my new place.

  9. I have a baking drawer–spices, various flours, cornmeal, oats, sweeteners, dried fruit, etc–stored in jars, all are labeled on the lids. A basket holds measuring cups and spoons. The problem is that my 1 year old can open the drawer and wants to smell the spices (in glass jars!) Only one broken so far.

    I purchased three dozen of the same spice jars (glass with shaker insert and white plastic lid) for $1 each. Totally worth it! Everything else is in glass canning jars or Snap Ware.

  10. One thing that I’ve found to be very helpful in organizing my spices are carousels. You can get single or double ones. I then organize them alphabetically and they are always easy to find and right at my finger tips.

  11. That’s what I did yesterday…cleaned and organized my pantry.

    http://somersetlane.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-organize-your-pantry-without.html

    Now I know what I have and what I need and donating what I KNOW we won’t eat to the Food Bank.

  12. I need to do this! Our pantry is under the stairs…so it gets shorter the further back you go. There is a lot of dead space at the back.

  13. One tip for the spices – I broke down and got one of those stair-step things for my spices and LOVE it. I can see all of my spices (quite a few) and don’t run out or overbuy. It was the best $6 I ever spent!

  14. My biggest problem is that I’m a *wee* bit OCD, and visual continuity is a big, hairy deal for me. If there isn’t some consistency to the visuals, I get frustrated.

    Fortunately, I end up with glass jars, so I store bulk spices and baking ingredients in cleaned, de-labeled, re-labeled jars. It’s totally free to me, and since it’s all glass (though various sizes and shapes), it gives me the continuity I need.

    Here’s how I do the jars:
    http://wp.me/pBUIO-hx

  15. My October project was deep cleaning and reorganizing my kitchen. We live in an older house and I’m not sure it would be possible to store things where I use them (for various reasons, we don’t have a dishwasher either) but I don’t mind. The biggest changes I made were in the pantry and FINALLY dealing with the disaster that was my spice drawer.

    The very simple thing we did to improve the pantry was rip off the sliding doors that covered the bottom shelves. They were cheap wood and always getting stuck. It opened up the space so much. Then I invested in some plastic containers and have all my flours, sugars, dried beans, rice, and oatmeal down there. They’re just plain old boring plastic containers but it makes me happy every time I look at it.

    For the spices I figured out what I needed to keep around regularly and bought enough spice jars for everything. They’re only $1 at Bed Bath and Beyond. We divided them into four categories, labled the tops of the jars, and put them in bins which we labled as well. Our cupboard holds two stacks of two bins easily. They’re kind of heavy but it’s SO MUCH EASIER than what I was doing before. I’m not sure it’s an ideal solution but it’s changed the way I work in the kitchen so I’m keeping it for now.

    • @BethB, good for you. I married a contractor. When we were newlyweds, I was stunned that he would just rip something off a wall or cupboard. But, it always looked and worked better later.

  16. I just went thru my pantry to clean out and reorganize, it makes me so happy to see all the cans and boxes lined up all pretty. I wish I had the tip about putting things close to where you use them 5 years ago. Our “pantry” is in our diningroom. That is where I have always kept the food, with all the dishes in the kitchen cabinet, but it may make things more functional to switch them around. Instead of having to walk through the diningroom to get ingredients to have them right there and when setting the table to have the dishes right next to the table would make that quicker. I will have to keep it in mind when we move in early march.

  17. That does it!!! I need a labeller!

  18. Thank you!! Great tips that I am heading off to utilize right now! :D

  19. The most useful change I’ve made in my kitchen lately – going along with putting things where you need them – was to clear out a drawer for my boys’ plastic dishes. I put the napkins in there too, along with some paper plates. Now my 6 year olds can set the table for themselves/reach a dish or cup when they want a snack, etc. Not sure why it took me so long to make the switch from having all the dishes in the upper cabinets which they can’t reach, so that everytime they wanted to get something to eat I was getting out the dish…

  20. I don’t have after pictures yet, as I have to use some of this food up to make some room, but i did get all the before pictures taken. Remember, I live alone so it may take awhile to make a dent in my stash!

    http://kate-2ndchapter.blogspot.com/2012/01/pantry-pictures-at-beginning-of.html

  21. I use these little white metal racks (about $1 from Walmart) and put 1 little white basket on top and one below and use them for my spices. It doubles the space in my cabinet and I can easily find what I am looking for. Baking spices stay together, herbs together, and so on.

    I recently bought an olive oil cruet {$2.99 @ Target} b/c I have the gigantic jug of oil from Sam’s and I was using a Wishbones salad dressing cruet {made a mess}. Best $3 I’ve spent in a while….love having it out on my stove and is easy to use without the mess!

  22. We have a teeny-tiny amount of space left over for canned goods in our kitchen once everything else is tucked away. It’s a nice deep cupboard, so I can actually fit a TON in there, but it’s extremely difficult to tell what’s in it beyond the first row of cans. I tend to stock up on things, and there are certain items I “always” have on hand. I put always in quotes because for the longest time it never failed… I would be certain I had several more cans of something (diced tomatoes, chicken broth, green beans…), plan my menu around that fact, and then discover that I actually had NONE left, only after completely emptying the cupboard in my desperate search right before I wanted to make dinner. Then, inevitably, I would discover the exact item I was looking for either A) in the farthest, darkest, deepest recess of the cupboard or B) in six different small containers frozen in the freezer from the last six times I opened a new can and used half. So… my solution was to download and inventory app for our iPad. It took a little bit of time to get it started, but I now have an inventory of every item in our cupboard and in our freezer. When I use something, I just change the number of that item in the app. If I purchase something, I add it in. It’s really helpful because I know right when I start to run low on something, so that I can be on the lookout for a good price. It’s also helpful to realize that I have 8 cans of diced tomatoes in the cupboard and I don’t need to buy more for awhile! Plus, when I go to use something like chicken broth, I can check to see if I’ve frozen a partial amount in the freezer. It’s helped keep my sanity intact around dinner time :-D

  23. Our rental has no pantry, very little cabinet/drawer space, less than 3 ft of counter space and open shelves in the decent-sized kitchen. Sigh. I didn’t want to spent $$$ on storage and tried to use what I had already and repurpose it. I already used canning jars of all sizes for storage–just in case of those furry friends.

    For the pantry, I use 3 walmart bookcases in the family room, added curtains (made from sheets) on tension rods at the top and store everything by category. No one knows what is on those shelves unless I tell them.

    For the kitchen, I fixed up a wire shelf unit (Sams Club) with an 8″ long butcher block countertop from Ikea, with a velcro-attached curtain on the front. That holds by category all the baking pans, pots, plastic ware and much of my baking supplies. The rest of the baking supplies and spices is on open shelves. I transferred all the spices to 4 oz. canning jars with white lids and labeled them. The salt, soda, baking powder went into 16 oz glass canisters from Dollar Tree. I have a ton of different spices that I use, so I just lined and stacked them up alphabetically with the small canisters in front, and it all looks cohesive and clean. It is surprisingly easy to cook and bake this way, lots of room to work and everything is convenient to my mixer, and the oven. I keep the measuring spoons and cups close by as well.

    I think if we ate out all the time, it would have been a perfectly useable kitchen as is. I cook 99% of our meals though and bake from scratch every week, so I just needed a lot more room to work and store things. We love the house otherwise and its in a perfect location and is a great value and size.

  24. You have done a great job with your space. I read another blog and a while ago they redid their pantry, it was genius! I dont have any sort of pantry and after I saw this one I had major pantry envy. Check out the carosels they made for the shelves your pantry looks like it is kind of the same shape. http://www.decorchick.com/all-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-pantry-carousels/

    • Thanks for sharing that link. I’m going to have to measure and see if that would work for us. Might have to put my carpenter husband to work!

  25. We have nice slide out shelves on our pantry and it works like a charm to see what is the back. We’ll be moving soon and I will definitely miss it…I think I will get some baskets to add to the shelved pantry we will have.
    Oh, and on the butternut squash front…we have about 40 lbs. ourselves. Have you tried it as soup? It’s on our menu this week. I also did a vegetable lasagna and used small cooked cubed pieces of it. Also made a delicious mac and cheese with puree of it added and my girls never knew…one claims she hates it! http://www.simplebites.net/butternut-squash-whole-wheat-mac-cheese/?doing_wp_cron=1326065158 It’s actually from Simple Bites!
    It’s also good in muffins, quick bread…anywhere you could use pumpkin or sweet potato actually.

    • Yes, I love butternut soup. I actually have a recipe for it in my forthcoming cookbook. Time to dig out the recipe!

  26. My spice cupboard could use a clean up job! Wann come do it for me? LOl

  27. We just moved to a house that doesn’t have a pantry (can you believe it?), so I had to come up with a creative idea. I used bookshelves and baskets. Here’s a link to the finished product: http://thepeacefulmom.com/2012/04/21/show-tell-saturday-421/

  28. Lol, Jessica…you and your butternut squash hoard. I have the same problem. I love it, but I hate “dealing” with it!

  29. I love to entertain and have people over often. I got tired of schlepping all the tea and coffee paraphanalia out of the pantry,and the fridge, and the china cabinet just to have a cuppa with a friend. I found a perfect solution, I got a bakers rack that I had been looking for a reason to buy…. And I put all my tea and drink mixes and coffees and sugar and tea cups and the coffee pot on it. I begged my wife to let me buy a small ( very small) fridge to put all the creamers and some water in. Now I just slap some cake on a plate and my guests have everything they need right in the living room.

  30. It looks like you have a door on your pantry. Pick up one of those shoe racks with the pockets and hang it on your pantry door. You would not believe how much stuff you can put in one. I keep boxes of jello, spice packets bottle of Irish cream liquor. Just about anything you want. Easy, simple and Cheep..

  31. Joan Alford says:

    Hang a plastic shoe bag on the inside of your pantry door for all those wonderful envelopes of things you have.

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