When it comes to kitchen organization, it seems like the thing I see most people asking about is their pantry. On social media, there are a dozen million billion photos and tips for organizing a pantry. Everyone keeps their dry goods in a different place – maybe yours is in your kitchen cabinets, or you have a dedicated walk-in pantry, or it’s shelves behind a sliding door. My pantry is a tiny, shallow cupboard that sits just outside my kitchen. You might already know that my kitchen cabinets are super full, and there’s just no room for food in them! So, without further ado, and regardless of what your pantry looks like, let’s jump right into pantry organization.
Related Reading: How to Organize Your Kitchen
(To skip ahead to a bulleted list of tips, click here!)
How to Organize Your Pantry
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If you’re like me, you try your hardest to put your pantry items into some sort of order, but inevitably as you use things and throw them back in, it gets jumbled. Before you know it, things are balancing on other things, bags aren’t closed properly and spill dried goods everywhere, stuff gets pushed to the back and you forget you have it, and before long, you’re afraid to tackle the project because you just might find happy little bugs hanging out in your flour.
Here’s my pantry. Tiny, right? You can see that I try to keep things together – cans with cans, boxes with boxes, etc. But it’s a nightmare. Some boxes are obstructing the view of whatever is behind it, bags are piled on each other (there actually is a bag of flour in the bottom right corner, but you wouldn’t know it!), and – yes – one of those bags of brown rice lost its twist tie and was threatening to spill little grains EVERYWHERE.
On top of that, I have boxes of tea bags half-empty and smushed, and a few boxes of chicken broth that don’t even fit, so I kept it on the floor beside it. Even Momo is looking on in disapproval!
So, what the heck can we do about it?
Step 1: Take everything out and purge!
The first step in pantry organization is to go through what you already have. You’ll want to take everything out, check expiration dates, and set things you intend to keep to one side. Try and group things together as you do this step! Take note of bags that are ripped and boxes that could be tossed (and their contents put into another container). If it’s expired or you know you’ll never use it, it goes in the trash. (If it’s not expired and you know you’ll never use it, donate it!)
This step didn’t take long for me, because I didn’t have much to go through. But if you’ve got a large pantry and a lot of people to feed, and your pantry is an entire closet that bursting…this might take a while. It’s a necessary step, though, and it feels so good to get everything out and see bare shelves!
Once your shelves are empty, they can get a good wipe-down. I was surprised at how much invisible stuff there was – dusty rice, spilling spices, and that damn bag of flour!
Step 2: Take inventory
I don’t literally mean writing down how much of each item you have when I say to take inventory. I just mean to look at what you’ve got (that’s salvageable) and compare it against your pantry staples. Do you normally keep jasmine rice on hand, but you realize you’re getting low? Do you have a huge box of granola bars taking up space, but there’s only two bars left inside? Can items be consolidated into one container?
This is a great step to add missing or low items to your shopping list!
Step 3: Find storage containers, baskets, or racks
Once you know what you’ve got and what you’re missing, you’ll want to think about the best way to put it all back in an organized way that makes sense. I personally love the idea of cloth baskets that can be pulled out, but I obviously don’t have room for them! Instead, I opted for airtight containers that eliminate all those ugly and rippable bags, and look pretty to boot!
I already had the two containers on the right, but went out and bought a few more in varying sizes. These storage containers are the ones that have clasps. The ones with the silver lids I bought from Hobby Lobby. (Don’t forget to use your 40% coupon!)
Here are some ideas for containers and other equipment, depending on your style and the size of your pantry:
- Airtight glass or plastic containers – cylindrical or square – to hold flours, sugars, grains, nuts, etc.
- Wire or cloth baskets, labeled with general contents, to store like items (lunch snacks, boxed meals, dry pasta, tea and drinks, etc.)
- Wire racks to hold cans
- Lazy susans, which are great for deep cupboards. Don’t fumble and knock things over to get to the stuff in back, make it come to you!
- Tiered spice racks for small items…like spices.
You can also get DIY-happy and make your own little baskets! Use a pretty durable and good sized box and cover it with pretty paper or fabric. BOOM! Money saved.
For some items, I keep the original box and just cut the top off and part of the front so easily grab. We do this with granola bars. When the box gets mostly empty, we chuck the box and just put the bars in its place. No box in the pantry means we need to restock, and it gets put on our grocery list!
Step 4: Put everything back together again!
Group similar items – grains with grains, vinegars and oils, sugars and flours, snack items, etc. Transfer these items to whichever container you’re using, and label it! You might think that you’ll remember which is white rice and which is jasmine, but why put any guesswork into it when it takes a second to make a cute little label? I bought peel-and-stick chalkboard labels from Hobby Lobby for $3, and they are cute as a button. Plus, they can be erased and relabeled if I choose to use that container for something different. “But Amy,” you ask, “What if I like to keep items in their original packaging so I can reference the Nutrition Facts or how to cook it?” No problem! I also like to have that information on hand. For plastic packages, I cut out the information I need, roll it up, and store it in the lid. For cardboard information, I cut out what I want and stick it in the side of the container before I fill it up.
Related Reading: How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label
Here’s how my pantry turned out once I purged old stuff, consolidated some things into one box, transferred to other containers, and grouped things together:
You can see how, starting at the top, I have boxes turned so nothing is hidden behind other boxes. Rice, pastas, and lentils are all labeled and grouped together. (That orange package is udon noodles). The only boxes stacked with some hidden are those that are the same – like my boxes of chicken broth.
The second shelf is my snack and lunch shelf. When Shane or I go to pack our lunch, we only need to grab from one shelf, not search the whole pantry. Peanut butter, almonds, pretzels, tuna packets, and my fancy cut box of granola bars. Plus, popcorn to use in our airpopper for movie night at home!
The next shelf is self-explanatory. Cans. Canned beans, soup, veggies, tuna, and cat food! (Momo knows the sound of the pantry door opening. I had to boot him out of the way and hold him back to get this photo!)
At the bottom are drink mixes, tea bags, K-cups, sugars and flours, vinegars, and oils. I consolidated some loose tea bags into the cold brew iced tea box because it’s a pretty sturdy box and it was almost empty.
Much better, right!? Everything is visible, labeled, and I know nothing is expired. And I did all that with a tiny amount of space!
So, you’ve seen my own process, but maybe you’ve missed a few of my points in all of those words. I ramble, I get it. Here’s an easier-to-digest version!
Step 1: Remove and Purge
- Take each item out of your pantry
- Check expiration dates and toss unusable and unwanted items
- As you take things out, group them with similar items off to the side
- Wipe down your shelves
Step 2: Take Inventory
- Recognize what is running low, what you’re out of, and what you have way too much of.
- Think about the size and type of container that would best suit the items you want to store.
- Add missing or low items to your shopping list so you don’t forget!
Step 3: Use Containers
- Purchase or DIY containers that will fit your items
- Transfer items into these containers
- Label the containers
- Cut out and keep nutrition facts or directions from the original packaging, and store them in the lid or side of the container.
Step 4: Put Everything Back!
- Think of a logical location for items to fit you and your family’s needs. (Ex: Kids stuff down low)
- Group similar items together when placing back on the shelves or in bins
- Make sure items aren’t hidden behind other items – everything should be visible
- Face labels outward
That’s it! You’re done! By this point you feel so amazingly awesome, because you’ve cleaned out your pantry and you know exactly where everything is, what you have, and what you need. From here, you can start planning meals revolving around what you’ve got and what you might want to use up.
And, by the way, if you stole a few things and snacked during this process, that’s okay. I did, too. Those almonds didn’t stand a chance.
Does your pantry need a rehaul? What does your pantry look like, and which of these tips would be most beneficial to it? Would it fit baskets? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts and even see your photos, if you’re brave!