Your pantry sees a lot of activity. Daily, you and your family are in and out, grabbing food and snacks, putting things back, loading, stacking, shoving, digging, stuffing - it's no wonder it can start to look a little chaotic. Keep reading to learn how you can reset your pantry - or get it organized for the first time - and how to best keep it that way.
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Why Organize Your Pantry?
An organized pantry saves time, space, money, energy, frustration, and can improve your health. It saves time because you can find items faster and put them away more easily. It saves space because it uses the space you have in the most optimal manner. It saves money because you know what you have on hand, and you're less likely to buy duplicates or let something go bad. It saves energy and reduces frustration because of all of the above.
And an organized pantry can actually improve your health. Stock your organized pantry with good food choices, and you're more likely to reach for them over the not-so-good ones. When your pantry is a mess, you're more likely to reach for the familiar, comforting, and easy and less likely to be creative or reach for something new. An organized pantry gives you quick access to healthy ingredients. and it makes cooking at home fun and easy.
How to Organize Your Pantry
#1: Take Everything Out & Clean
You read that correctly. Take everything out. Everything. This gives you the opportunity to fully clean your pantry. When was the last time it was empty, and you were able to clean the entire area? When you moved in?
Now, while everything is out, line the shelves. We know: no one likes to line shelves. (Click here to read our top reasons you should line your kitchen cabinets. The rules apply in the pantry as well.) A good plastic, rubber, or wipeable liner will save you a lot of mess and grief down the line. Plus, it protects your shelving and can give the space a little color and personality. Here are a few of our favorites:
This liner for wire shelving is sold in thick sheets and helps to keep your pantry items from falling over or slipping through the gaps.
This patterned liner has a rubber, non-slip surface, and although I've never tried it, it says it's machine washable! (I find a wet sponge works fine for most messes and spills.)
This liner is the same as the one above, but it's for those of us who prefer a solid color.
This liner is another patterned option from Con-Tact. It's non-adhesive, but it grips, keeping it from sliding around your pantry shelves.
#2: Expired Items & Items You Won't Use
Yes, some food and ingredients are perfectly fine and safe to consume after their expiration date. But, we need a guideline here, and the fact is simple: expired food and pantry items, even if "safe", are cluttering your pantry and inviting pests. If you haven't used it before the expiration date, chances are you're not using it anytime soon. If the thought of trashing it gives you a case of the guilts, call around to local food banks and pantries. Some will take slightly expired food. If the date is long past, think about why you purchased this item. Was it a one-off for a recipe? Did you have some great plan that never came to fruition? Was it part of a gift basket? Answering questions like this can help prevent you from bringing in similar items in the future.
Expired food shouldn't be the only thing that leaves your pantry. Any food or other items you don't use and don't have plans for - or maybe don't even like - should also be removed and donated.
(For more information on expiration dates, check out these posts by Consumer Reports and WebMD. This handy free app from the USDA helps you determine how long certain foods will last with proper storage.)
#3: Group Together Like Items
As you're taking out each item (Step #1), you can check the expiration date (Step #2) and group like things together (Step #3). You'll probably make changes to the grouping later, but this will get you started, and the fewer times you touch each item, the faster this process will go.
As you take out each item, think of how you use it and what "category" it may belong. Is it a breakfast item? Something you use for baking? A canned vegetable? A snack for the kids? Grouping these like items together as you remove them from the pantry, will make the organization process go much more smoothly.
During this step and the next, you'll realize there are different ways you can categorize the same items: by type or how used or grouped together by recipe, especially if you meal plan. Concentrate less on what "makes sense" and think more about how you would look for the item. Would you expect the cereal to be with the breakfast stuff or the late-night snacks?
#4: Put Everything Back & Organize Your Pantry
You've cleaned and lined the pantry shelves. You've trashed or set aside for donation all the expired or unwanted food. You've grouped together like items. Now it's time to put everything back.
The first things to consider are (1) how many things you have in each category, and (2) how often you reach for things in each category. As always, organizational real estate is important: location, location, location. The items you use most often should be within easy reach: usually eye-level. If there are snacks or other items that kids can and should access, these items should be placed on a lower shelf. If there's something they should only access with permission, this may be placed on a higher shelf to reduce temptation.
The size of the groups will also play a role. Things may not "fit" exactly as you would like. You'll need to move categories around until they fit in a way that makes sense to you and that uses the space in such a way that you can see and easily access what you need.
This is another time for evaluation. The pantry you have is the pantry you have. Even if you love shopping at Costco, those bulky items - or multiples - may not fit, and unless you have another place to store the excess, bulk shopping may not be the best idea.
That Other Stuff in Your Pantry
Pantries often contain things other than food: small appliances, infrequently-used dishes, dog food and pet supplies, cleaning supplies, seasonal items, etc. The importance of placing items according to the frequency of use still applies, but there are a few other things you can do to make it a more organized and pleasant experience.
A plant stand under small appliances on the floor of your pantry will make it easier to move them out from under the lower shelves.
Tips, Tricks, & Things to Note
Wide mouth mason jars of different sizes make great pantry containers. Replace the metal lids and bands with a plastic lid to make opening and closing the jar easier. Airtight glass jars with bamboo lids are another beautiful option.
How to Keep Your Organized Pantry...Organized
Your pantry is an active space used by multiple people on a daily basis. Attention and time needs to be paid or it will quickly revert to the mess it was when you began. The good news is that it only takes a little maintenance to keep it organized and tidy.
Organizing your pantry is the weirdest game of tetris you'll every play, but the end result will save you time, energy, and space. If you get stuck and need inspiration, try Pinterest, but set a timer! Pinterest is an amazing resource, but if you're not careful, it's also an amazing time suck.
Let's see your before and after pantry pics! Join our Facebook group and share. We'd love to see them!
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I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)