If you try to Pinterest “how to organize your pantry,” it looks like an ad for baskets, containers, and chalkboard signs. That's all adorable and rustic, but sometimes less is more. This post is about how to organize your pantry or stockpile in a way that helps you keep track of what you have (not how to make it look the cutest)!
Here are 10 strategies for making the most of your pantry:
1. Start over
Take everything out and throw away anything which has expired.
Do a deep clean of the space, and if you’re feeling ambitious, you can even give it a little redo. If you have items which are not expired, but you won’t ever use them (be honest – we all have them), donate them! They are taking up your space and messing with your head.
Put everything on a surface where you can sort. This might be the floor, counter, table, etc. (I know the top shelf isn’t really empty! I’m too short to get to it well, so it was too hard to empty it, but I’m too short to mess it up anyway and it’s still organized from the last time I cleaned out!)
2. Separate open items from storage items
You should not be using the same space to store your stockpile and your open items. You need a different cupboard for open items if possible. If not, maybe just a different shelf in the same space will do.
We keep our open boxes and packages in a cupboard in the kitchen, whereas out pantry space is in the hall. If you want to use special containers to help yourself differentiate, that could work too!
Obviously you have to decide how to group your items, which ones go together on a shelf.
As always, you should figure out whatever works best for you! There are two basic ways I usually group:
1. Some items I group by meal; I keep noodles and pasta sauce right near each other, salad dressing and croutons, everything needed for a taco dinner, etc.
2. You might also group like items: everything tomato-based together, a gluten free shelf, or a baking items shelf. Here I have some items I use to make “carrot cake preserves,” something I can and give away at holidays.
4. Add new stuff to the back
This may seem obvious to you, but let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to just throw your new items into the pantry in a hurry when you get home from the store!
If you can take the extra few minutes to organize your new items, you save yourself the eventual day of starting the pantry over. Put newer items behind or in back of their like items that you already have, that way you will use the older items first and prevent your food from expiring or being forgotten.
Letting things expire is a waste of money. Buying something only to throw away later because it was placed in the wrong spot seems silly (although I'm guilty of this often). As an aside, meal planning REALLY helps cut down on food waste.
5. Know yourself, your space, and your needs
My system might not be the ideal system for you. You might have more specialty diet items, more children’s foods, or like things a certain way that’s best for you, and that’s ok.
In fact, that’s better than trying on a system that doesn’t fit. You decide, group by meal or by use, what goes up high vs. eye level, etc. If you are the freezer cooking kind, you might keep a basket of things that are “reserved” for certain meals (like noodles or rice that go with a freezer meal).
If you shop ahead for holiday baking, maybe you store those items together on a higher shelf, so that you still have them when you need them.
6. Know what to do with your doors
I have to be honest, I don’t like to have doors on my pantry. I want to be able to quickly and easily see what I have on hand.
I believe that you should either make the door space work for you or you should take them off! If you prefer to keep them on, try hanging baskets on the back or inside for onions, boxes, or whatever you like to grab quickly. You could also grab one of those shoe holders with clear pockets and store canned goods.
Either way, your doors can be prime real estate, don’t waste that space, make it work for you.
7. Take inventory-your way
Open Excel and start a spreadsheet… I’m totally kidding!
Unless that works for you. In that case, go right ahead. It is important to have a sense of what you have, but you don’t have to keep a list! I like to group my stuff in a way that lets me see what I need.
I don't stack things on top of each other. This not only looks nicer, but I can more easily see what’s what. My lack of doors helps with this, too. Whatever works for you is fine, but find a way to have an awareness of what you have and what you need!
8. Try, try again
It is important to remember that you may not find the right system for you on the first try.
Just try again!
Also, there are seasons and they change. Of course, this may be different foods for summer and winter, but also your season of life require different eating habits and shopping habits.
There is no shame in reorganizing your pantry again if it didn’t work for you the first way or if your life has shifted and your pantry has to shift too.
9. Spices need a separate home
You should have a place in your kitchen, near where you cook, for spices that are open, and maybe you also have a spot for backup, stockpile, unopened spices.
My point is, they neither belong in your pantry, nor in your open foods cupboard/shelf. If you are cooking a lot (which you should be if you like to save money) spices are an amazing part of your kitchen.
You should be building a collection that needs its own home. I always like to recommend a drawer, so you can actually see each one separately, NOT have to dig behind them in a cupboard and then go buy something you already have by accident!
10. Use some labels and bins
Ok, ok, I know I started this post by saying it wasn’t about the Pinterest ideas, but many of them are worthwhile.
If you have the time and a tiny bit of room in your budget, or if you can repurpose some organizing items from around your home, a few well placed baskets do wonders for controlling the space, grouping items, and making the presentation lovely. You can use labels in the same way, if you like, but I like to do mine without, so it feels more flexible.
The key is doing what will work for you. Maybe you want a basket that the kiddos are welcome to grab snacks from, or maybe the basket is off limits because those are only for daddy. Your call!
Have fun setting up your pantry and figuring out how to make it work for you!