8 Steps to Organize Your Pantry (and Keep It That Way!)
If I’m being honest, I do not enjoy cooking or preparing meals much at all. So it’s even more important that I create an organized pantry that sparks joy and makes me want to be in the kitchen…at least more than before. HA! If you want to declutter your pantry, organize it in a way that works for your cooking style, and keep it organized for years to come, here are my 8 simple steps to achieving the pantry of your dreams! (Ok, maybe this isn’t the pantry of your dreams, but it will be super simple + functional and that’s a dream in my books!)
1. Start With a Clean Slate
To get started, let’s create a beautifully clean, blank slate. Empty all contents of your pantry…every single last item! As you take things out, I recommend reading Step 2 and loosely organize items by category on your counter. This just makes the following steps a bit easier.
Once all items are out of your pantry, give the shelves a good cleaning. (Let’s be honest…mine were full of goopy syrup and rotted pieces of potato when I last cleaned mine out…YUCK!) At this point, you may even want to take out the shelves and consider adjusting the height of various shelves to fit your needs better. If you have shelf liner that is bunched up or really dirty, maybe consider trashing and/or replacing it.
2. Declutter The Pantry
Something that I often fail to do is go through my items and check expiration dates. If it’s been a few years since you’ve cleaning out your pantry (like it was for me!), you’ll want to look at every item and discard the ones that have expired.
If you come across items you’ve had forever but simply don’t like and won’t actually use in a meal, set them in a donate pile! There are so many organizations accepting non-expired food items, and you can find a local food bank by typing in your zip code here.
The point is to only put food back in the pantry that will definitely be eaten by you and your family. There’s no sense in organizing clutter otherwise!
3. Organize By Category
When putting items back in the pantry, start by designating a shelf or area for each category. Your categories may be different than mine, but here’s what works for my family and many of my clients:
Cooking/Casserole Items (add ins for meals, such as breadcrumbs, chicken broth, oatmeal, etc)
Salad Add Ins (croutons, chia seeds, cranberries, etc)
Once you choose an area for each category, I then make subcategories. For example, in the Pasta/Rice category, I would next organize the pasta by type: spaghetti, penne, lasagna. I would do the same for rice. Another example is condiments. After all condiments are in a general area, I then divide by sweet and savory condiments. That means syrup, honey, and peanut butter are lined up together, while soy sauce, ketchup, & tahini are lined up in a row beside them.
In a recent pantry cleanout with a client, we updated her spice rack jars and it looks so beautiful! This was a really simple solution to the problem of storing spices that come in all different kinds of jars. For another solution, I created DIY spice jar labels and used pre-existing jars, and I feel so happy each time I grab a spice jar! (You can get a similar look by clicking the photos below.)
4. Organize By Frequency Of Use
Items that I grab daily, such as honey and peanut butter, get front and center stage when it comes to my pantry! Organize items so that the most used items are closer to the front of the shelf and either eye level or easily accessible. Items that get less use, such as paper plates & disposable silverware, should be organized on higher shelves, nearer to the back.
Here’s another way to think about it. I have 5 different kinds of vinegar, but I use the white, distilled vinegar on a weekly basis, whereas the apple cider vinegar is only used in a handful of meals I cook. Therefore, the white vinegar is front and center, and the apple cider vinegar is organized behind my more used vinegars.
4. Add Baskets Only When Necessary
Rather than purchasing all the baskets to organize the pantry and make it look Instagram worthy, I ask myself, “What items would be easier to store decanted and in a container?” For example, I don’t personally find it necessary to decant, or remove packaging, from every item and store it in a pretty basket. However, I do find it more convenient to remove packaging from individually-wrapped snacks such as popcorn & granola bars, and store them altogether in one snack basket. Rather than focusing on aesthetics, I focus on function. Then I add beautiful things where helpful.
Another example is fresh product. I like to see all my fresh fruit and vegetables so they don’t go bad before I use them; therefore, I store them in a pretty wire basket that’s easy to see through. I used to leave them in produce bags, but time after time, my food would be rotted before I actually remembered I had it.
Function first, beauty second. :)
5. Spark Joy In The Pantry
What personal or sweet touch could you add to make your pantry spark joy? For me, it was simply painting my pantry white with leftover paint from another project. I felt like my pantry was dark and dingy, and I wanted it to be bright and full of joy. I also hung a handmade calendar my grandma gives me each year on the wall, to add a beautiful touch of color and design.
Think of something that would make your pantry a joy to open the door, because this one little step will make cooking more enjoyable! Is there a specific food items you want to display neatly? Do you have colorful canisters that may add a pretty focal point?
Once you’ve done that, your pantry is organized and complete! There’s just a few more things to do:
How to Maintain Pantry Organization
6. Shop Your Pantry
Next time you get ready to meal plan, head to your pantry first. What items do you already have there that you could utilize by cooking a specific dish? Let me give you an example of how this works in my meal planning:
I walk into the pantry and see I have breadcrumbs and one extra ketchup from a Costco purchase. I think through my regularly cooked dishes, and remember it’s been a while since I’ve made meatloaf, but that’s something that would finish off the breadcrumbs and put the extra ketchup to good use. Meatloaf it is! Next I see a package of opened lasagna noodles and realize I also have 6 cans of tomatoes. Can you guess what else we’re having? Lasagna! In being a little more intentional, I have now used up 4 items in my pantry that had been there for several weeks, and I have less to purchase on my next grocery run.
7. Decant When Necessary
Removing bulky packaging will improve the aesthetics of your pantry, but do this only to the extent that it’s necessary! (Reread Step 4 if you need a reminder.) If you established a decanting system for a specific item-let’s say, snacks-then each time you buy additional snacks make sure to decant and put them in the basket.
Some items you can decant even without using a basket, such as drinks & paper items. We often take all the sparkling water cans out of the box, just for ease of grabbing and better aesthetics. We also remove packaging from the paper towels we store in the pantry, and not only are they easier to grab, but it just looks nicer.
8. Commit To Each Item’s Home
On Step 3, you did the intentional & hard work of organizing each item by category. Each of those items? Well, now they have a “home!” This home won’t change from one grocery run to the next; it’s a new place that the respective items in any given category should be stored. When you get groceries home, commit to putting each item in it’s place. This will help your pantry stay organized, and you will quickly see how much easier it makes cooking!
I hope when you’ve finished organizing your pantry, you will find the joy that a client of mine, SB, found. Simplifying your life can make every day tasks, like cooking & preparing meals, so much more enjoyable!