The Smartest Way to Organize Your Pantry
Even the most organized people struggle to find ways to keep their kitchen pantry tidy—and we can understand why. When you're constantly adding and removing new and old food items, disorder happens fast. Before you know it, your cans and spices are clumped together and you missed the fact that you're all out of the right oil for that sauté you've been dreaming about all day.
The trick to eliminating this unnecessary chaos is to develop an efficient organizational system for your pantry. While you might think that simply emptying your shelves and taking a trip to a home goods store to buy a bunch of bins will streamline the process, it's not quite that simple. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to organizing your pantry; rather, you have to create a system that works for your household. If you have kids you'll want the day-to-day snacks to be stored on a lower shelf where they can reach them. If you love to drink tea then you should find a spot to corral your many boxes, tins, and honey where you can easy access them all at the same time.
Once you've figured out what your needs are, then it's time visit an organizing store. Neat Method director of business development Lisa Ruff loves Muji, West Elm and The Container Store. The Home Edit co-founders Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin agree, noting that The Container Store is their number one pick. They even launched a product line there. And although both the Neat Method and The Home Edit create Instagram-worthy pantries that we all try to replicate, they know that clutter and disorder happen can happen to anyone. That's why they suggest keeping an efficient system in place and making the time for weekly upkeep.
To help make this organizing process as painless as possible, we had these pros weigh in on what to buy and how to best utilize the dry food space that you have. All that's left for you to do is make a beeline through the store (or the site) with exactly what you need in mind.
Assess What You Have
The first step to a really organized space (whether you're working on your pantry or junk drawer) is to take everything off the shelves and assess what you have. That sauce that expired two years ago? It's time to toss it. Go through and edit your items until you have the essentials that need to go back in.
Group Similar Items
Ruff says to start organizing your pantry by working in basic zones. Think: baking, kid treats, salty snacks, and so on. "That way you always know where something is, and whether you need to restock," she explains, noting that having a designated space for a specific type of food will also help prevent you from over-buying when you head to the store.
In addition to zones, think about how often you access each category of food. "The items that you use the most should be within easy reach in an open bin or stored on a lower shelf in a canister," says Shearer. "The items that you use occasionally can live on a higher shelf, but still visible and accessible in labeled bins, tiers, or canisters. The items that you never use, or anything back-stock, should be less accessible so they don't take up valuable real estate."
Keep It Simple
When organizing, don't try to come up with a categorized zone for every single food item in your pantry. "What you want is a simple road map that's flexible enough to allow for the occasional outlier," says Teplin. "If you get too specific with your categories, it locks you in and you end up sticking things anywhere because it belongs nowhere. The only instance where you should get specific is if you notice a significant amount of one item, like oatmeal or crackers. But when in doubt, keep it general."
Buy the Right Storage Products
Search pantry organization on Pinterest and you'll start scratching your head wondering where to start. Luckily, Ruff is here to help. "For overhead shelving, use baskets to contain items so you don't lose anything that's out of eyesight," she says. "If your shelves form corners, turntables are a great way to maximize the awkward, often wasted space."
Decant Into Clear Containers
Shearer and Teplin make a case for clear canisters. "Clear, air-tight canisters keep items fresh and take up less space than original packaging— especially if they stack," Shearer says. "We use canisters in a variety of sizes to store baking ingredients, loose snacks, cereal, grains, and pasta. They also add a polished look to any pantry."
Include Expiration Dates
If you decide to transfer original products out of their packaging into decanters, Ruff reminds to include the expiration date on the bottom of the new container. "Create a small label with a label maker, or handwrite on removable labels, so you can easily change it when you refill the container," she says.
Not a fan of peeling labels off of plastic containers? Teplin recommends using paint pens. "After emptying items into canisters, keep track of the expiration date by noting it with a washable paint pen on the back or bottom of the container. [That way you can easily] update as you refill," she says.
Try Tiered Organizers for Cans
"Tiers offer more visible accessibility for bulk items like canned goods that you might want to take stock of before heading to the grocery store," Teplin says. "There's nothing better than knowing that you have an item at a glance."
Use Baskets for Bags of Snacks
"Chip bags can be a hassle to corral so store them in a structured, rectangular basket," Ruff says. "Not only will this keep the bags from slipping off the shelf, but it will also protect the chips from being crushed." For heartier snacks like pretzels, Ruff recommends forgoing the store packaging altogether in favor of decanting them into reach-in containers like these from OXO.
If you decide to transfer food from a box to a clear bin, or simply want to label the contents of the baskets or zones in your pantry, Ruff suggests stocking up on self-adhesive labels in black, white, or kraft paper if you like your own handwriting. "They're simple and pretty," she notes. "Otherwise, a label maker is a great alternative and ensures the labels are legible for everyone in your home."
Stay on Top of the Maintenance
There's no doubt that you'll fall in love with your newly organized pantry, but the trick to keeping it tidy is to regularly sift through its contents. "Give your shelves a quick touch-up when you put away your weekly grocery haul," Ruff says. "If you do this frequently, it should only take about five minutes to get everything back into its place." Then once or twice a year, she recommends doing a full clean out that includes wiping down your shelving and checking any and all expiration dates (because, yes, oils and spices do expire). "It's great to time this with the end of the holiday season because pantries get a lot of use at that time of year," she notes.
If you want to avoid that full clean out, Shearer and Teplin recommend taking 15 minutes each month to check expiration dates and take an inventory of what you have. "This will help you clear out space for items you actually use and avoid buying any duplicates," Shearer explains.