How to Organize Your Pantry in 7 Simple Steps and Reduce Chaos

The total makeover your kitchen didn’t know it needed.

Think of your pantry as your food library. You know how when friends come over and admire your bookshelves, it’s really gratifying? Yes, you (probably) read all those books, but you’ve also organized them and (hopefully) dusted them and set them out to display and enjoy their company.

Or, how about that feeling when you’ve actually put all the laundry away, and you’ve recently cleaned out your closet, and everything’s all organized and on appropriate hangers or shelves? The shoes are all lined up and even the weird shaped items like belts or shawls or bodysuits are perfectly in their place. Ahhh! Is there a better feeling?

Cool, let’s get there with the pantry.

Why you should organize your pantry

Why should the clothes and books get all the love? The dry goods and the nonperishables deserve your attention, if for no other reason than the fact that you should probably be taking regular inventory of your foodstuffs. But your kitchen will also feel so much better, and you’ll be more inspired to cook if all of your ingredients are fresh, accessible, and easy to find.

Plus, you’re probably wasting money buying vanilla extract for the third time because you didn’t know you already had a bottle stashed in there. And you’re likely also wasting food that expired or got stale because it was jammed behind the boxes and the cans.

It’s okay. We all do this. Especially when you’re short on space. Or time. Or both! Or you’ve got kids that don’t understand or respect your meticulous shelf engineering techniques when they’re simply trying to pour a bowl of cereal.

How to organize your pantry (step by step)

Any professional organizer will encourage you to use the following essential tips when organizing your pantry:

● Use bins and baskets

  • Bins and baskets can maximize your space, make items more accessible, and are easy to rotate and move around (and wash and sanitize when you’re deep cleaning!).
  • Bonus: We love to use a small lazy susan to store bottles of oils and sauces. It’s exactly what you didn’t know your pantry needed.

● Store dry goods in clear containers

  • Because who doesn’t love that giant mason jar aesthetic? Turn your modest apartment kitchen into that farmhouse chic cookery you’ve always dreamt of.
  • But seriously, we love clear containers! They keep your snacks fresher than they’d be with a measly chip clip or a box whose top was mutilated when your kids haphazardly tore into it.
  • Clear containers allow you to take inventory in a glance, knowing when the flour is running low (or, worse, the sugar!) so you can add it to next week's grocery list.

● Group like with like

  • Sure, spices go with spices. Sauces with sauces. But you can even micro-organize the like-with-likes into groups: most commonly used spices, ingredients for favorite and often cooked meals, stuff that goes into school lunches, backpacking and exercise snacks, coffee accessories, etc.

Okay, so where to begin? With a clean slate.

Step 1: Pull everything out of your pantry + wipe down shelves.

Yep, all of it. Give the shelves a hearty wipe down. Get rid of any dust or grime that’s accumulated (like from that sticky jar of molasses from the meatloaf sauce you made six months ago). You can use a Swiffer Duster with its extendable handle to reach the tippy top shelves and the back corners. Then give everything a once-over with a clean damp rag.

Be mindful of how you’re going to put everything back into the pantry, whether it’s in baskets, bins, or containers. Visualize it. Mentally reserve space for kitchen appliances that you might prefer to store in your pantry (if you’ve got the room!), rather than on the counter top. Because how nice is having a clear counter top?! If you’ve got shelf space, consider storing your pressure cooker, blender, French press and electric kettle in the pantry when you’re not actively using it.

Extra credit: Lay down shelf liners to manage (and get ahead of) slips, spills, or stains.

Step 2: Take pantry inventory

Go through each pantry item and check expiration dates. Toss anything that’s past its prime. Keep a list of items that you throw away so you can purchase fresh ones next time you’re at the store. This is also a good time to notice what staples you might be missing. Out of dill weed and mustard seed? You probably hadn’t noticed but were planning on making chicken salad next week. Add them to the list.

Step 3: Order + arrange pantry items

This is our favorite part. We find it particularly satisfying to sort through everything and group all of our baking items together, designate oils and vinegars to their respective shelves, and catalog the spices (maybe they’re in alphabetical order, like at the grocery store — hey, it’s your pantry!).

But also consider these important factors: frequency of use and daily routines.

Perhaps the nut butters are more accessible than the bread crumbs, but the loose leaf tea is especially easy to grab because you use it the most often. Now you’re catching on.

Step 4: Decant dry goods + snacks into clear containers (+ label them!)

Clear containers come in all shapes and sizes, can be mixed and matched and fit easily onto shelves. What’s more awkward than jamming bags and boxes all together into the pantry, where they basically cannibalize one another for prime shelf real estate? Clear containers give your pantry a shiny, happy, unrivaled “The Home Edit” look. Your mother-in-law will be so impressed.

Plus, decanting actually serves the admirable purposes of prolonging the life of your dried goods and keeping out pests.

Pro tip: We like to pick jars and containers with a wide mouth so that you can fit a measuring cup or scoop into them when necessary.

Extra credit: Purchase a label maker (or just go old school with masking tape and a Sharpie) and add neatly printed (or sloppily scrawled, whatever) labels to your clear containers. This might seem so extra, but you can thank us later. It’s also important to date your dry goods, especially ones you don’t use as frequently. This way you know how long that corn meal has been sitting on your shelf and when it’s time to buy a new bag, even though there’s plenty still in the jar.

Step 5: Utilize pantry door + wall space

If you find that your pantry space is pretty tight and limited, get some over the door hanging wire shelves or wall mountable hooks/accessories. Stuff like aprons or reusable shopping bags are easier to grab off a hook, anyway.

Step 6: Designate a kid and/or pet friendly space.

You can further organize your pantry so that your kiddos have their own special (reachable!) section where their special snacks live. The same can be done for your pet’s stuff.

Step 7: Keep your pantry organized!

Add routine pantry maintenance to your weekly list of chores so that it stays nice and tidy and fresh. Take pride in being your family’s kitchen manager. #snackssave

Keeping the pantry clean

The pantry, just like the closet, is likely to become disorganized fast. Our meticulously sorted shelves can quickly devolve into chaos after only a few meals. Here are some tips for attempting to keep your pantry clean:

  • Institute a “first in, first out” rule in order to keep your pantry storage system effective. Simply be sure to use the older stuff first. This will generate less food waste and simplify your own routine so you can just grab and go.
  • Be sure to store foods next to one another that won’t increase the likelihood of spoilage or cross contamination. For example, strong scented spices like curry can taint the flour. And onions can cause potatoes to rot faster. Bread should actually be kept in a breadbox (or the fridge to increase longevity).
  • Bask in the glory of your neat pantry and make a point to check in on its status monthly, if not weekly. Give it a deep clean and reorganize it seasonally. Keep an eye on expiration dates and labels. Make pantry organization a priority and part of your regular kitchen cleaning routine.

Organizing your pantry isn’t an exact science. And it will probably feel like you’re constantly organizing and reorganizing it, because you will be. That’s just part of managing and maintaining a clean and healthy kitchen.

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