I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I was not born with the gift of organization. And as much as my parents tried to instill it in me, it never quite took. Whaaaaaaat??? If you know me in real life that’s no big surprise. And unfortunately no one else in my household seems very inclined toward organization either. (I’m still holding out hope for B, but at 6 she’s much better at getting things out than putting them away). So as you might imagine, keeping our pantry organized can be tricky.
Pantries are one of the most challenging spaces to organize (and maintain) because there’s so much turnover- things are always leaving and new, often different, things are taking their places. This makes it hard to make long-lasting categories and stick to them.
Once upon a time our pantry was a crazy hot mess! Can you believe that? We had a shove-it-back-in-wherever-you-can-fit-it sort of system. Fun as that was, it didn’t work very well.
A couple of years ago I did a major re-org, and that involved a bit of investment to get good solid baskets, a can rack, and modular drawers. I still move things around once in a while, but now it’s all much more under control. If I can do it, then there’s hope for you too!
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Gather Supplies Don’t you dare go shopping for pretty containers yet! You’ve got some work to do first my friend. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- a few hours of designated time (maybe over 2 days)
- some kind of cardboard boxes, baskets, or containers to sort things into.
- post-it notes
- pen or marker
- shop-vac or flexible hose vacuum
- cleaning wipes, spray, etc.
- trash can & recycle bin close by
Step 2: Pull everything out. This can get a bit overwhelming, so I recommend taking it one shelf at a time. Throw away the stale chips, expired anything, old opened bags of snacks no one likes, etc. as you go. It may help to ask yourself, “Are we really going to eat this?” It’s not that different from any other organization and purging task. Though the stakes are a bit lower- it’s a can of pickled beets, not your grandma’s wedding dress! I recently came across an unopened box of turmeric tea that I bought on a healthy spree. I was tempted to stack it back in one of my piles, but then I asked, am I ever going to drink this tea? The answer was “No”. It’s no longer taking up valuable space in my pantry.
Step 3: Make Categories as you go. As you pull things out, begin sorting them into categories. It’s okay if you don’t have your categories set in stone yet. Just get a basic idea. Here are my current categories:
snacks, pasta & grains, sauces, condiments, cereal, canned goods, Asian food, breakfast, cereal, fruit & nuts, and rice, and then I have drawers for a few specific items. (I keep my baking ingredients somewhere else).
Your categories will depend on your space and what makes sense to you. Sort them by country or continent, meal, etc. Figure out what is most helpful for the way you cook. And it’s okay to have a miscellaneous category, as long as it’s not a very big container. If everything is ending up there, you need different categories.
Who knew I had 5 unopened bottles of sesame oil?
Step 4: Clean everything once it’s empty. This is a great opportunity. Take a few minutes and wipe down your shelves, vacuum up the onion skin pieces on the floor, etc.
Step 5: Line your shelves. Since I have wire shelving, I like to use this plastic shelf liner. This helps ensure that if something leaks, it doesn’t end up dripping down to the next level. I just rolled it out and cut it down to size.
Steps 6: Decide where everything will go
With this most recent re-org, I decided to try putting the snacks down low so the kids can reach them. I got tired of them dragging step stools over to the pantry. We’ll see how it goes. I also have their juice boxes and other school lunch-making supplies down low where they can reach them.
Step 7: Shop for containers! Now that you can see what you have, you know what you need to store it in. I like low bins & baskets because they help corral things, and you can easily see and grab things out of them. I found my baskets at Fred Meyer. They’re made of woven plastic tubes with a wicker look. I wanted something that will clean up easily if something leaks or spills (and it certainly will at my house!) Be sure to measure your shelves before you go shopping!!! You’ll want your bins to be almost as deep as your shelves if possible.
Here are some baskets that look like they would be perfect:
Over time, I’ve added a few things. One is this awesome Chrome Canned Food Storage Rack. This makes things so much simpler. Now I can see that I have five jars of mayo and I should definitely not buy more! As you can see, I like to keep a few things that are not technically cans on here too.I also added some modular drawers on the floor level. I chose these Sterilite Narrow Modular Drawers because they’re 18″ long and make good use of the space. I keep onions and potatoes in two, and the others are reserved for kid snacks and school lunch supplies.
Step 8: Put everything away.
Step 9: Label Everything! Labels may seem like an afterthought, but I strongly recommend you don’t skip this step! Labels help encourage the long-term success of your organizing project. Especially in a kitchen where multiple people are using the pantry. I made these easy wood chalkboard labels for the baskets and shelves. You can check out my tutorial HERE!
I also used these great ONUPGO Chalkboard Labels from amazon for the drawers.
I’ve bought several different brands of chalkboard stickers over the years, and these are definitely the best and longest-lasting ones I’ve found. They also come with a good chalk pen!
Whatever kind of labels you choose, be sure they are flexible. It’s a good idea to keep some extras on hand. I change up my categories from time to time, and I want the labels to be easy to change too!
A few more things to consider:
- The ultimate goals here are to 1: be able to see everything, and 2: be able to easily access (and put away!) everything.
- Shallow shelving is always better than deep shelving in a pantry.
- Light and bright is best- if you have dark shelving or a dark pantry, consider painting it white. We did this with my mom’s pantry and it made a huge difference!
- Consider lighting things up! Check out these URPOWER Motion Sensor LED Strip Lights. You can mount them under your shelves and they will light up when you open the door
- Try to find your balance between pretty and utility. I find that if I have matching containers, things will feel more organized, and therefore I’m more likely to keep things put away. But at the same time, this is really a utility space, so it’s not going to look like some of the gorgeous pictures you see on Pinterest with only four glass jars perfectly aligned on each shelf. That’s okay. (I wonder where those people keep the rest of their food?)
- And finally, now that you’ve got a great system in place, take 15 minutes every month or so to make sure things are where they belong. This is also a good time to re-evaluate your categories and make small changes if necessary.
Ok, good luck! Let me know how your project goes in the comments!
Come check out my School-Lunch-Prep Station Next!
Need more family organization tips? Check out my Family Command Center post.