Five Easy Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry

January 5, 2010 at 8:00 am 1 comment

I’ll admit – I’m a little bit type A about keeping my house organized, particularly my kitchen. Somehow, if my home is organized, I can manage the natural disorganization that comes with being a mom, wife, and business woman. Over the years I’ve experimented with different ways to keep what can be one of the most unruly part of my kitchen (well really house): the pantry. As I thought about it, there are five key things that I do to keep my pantry in some sort of reasonable shape.

Strategy #1: Use tiered shelf organizers to make pantry items easy to see

I can’t tell you how many cans, jars, and bottles I’ve lost in the back of a pantry because they were hidden behind another taller or wider item. Tiered shelf organizers let you make the most of the depth of your pantry items while raising them up so you can really see what’s on each shelf. I like the expanding variety because I can adjust them to fit different spaces. If you keep a lot of the same kinds of canned goods, you may find that a shelf made specifically for cans may work better for you.

Strategy #2: Make a corner work for you with a lazy Susan

Corners can be the land of the lost in a pantry. Jars and bags get shoved into them and don’t emerge for months, or sometimes years. I’ve discovered that a lazy Susan, or small turntable, turns corners into a useful and usable space. You can place a collection of jars or bottles on the tray and give it spin when you need one from the collection. They even make double-tiered models to accommodate small jars and bottles.

Strategy #3: Keep baking ingredients fresh and neat with square canisters

I can personally attest to the fact that when left to their own devices, bags of flour and sugar will leave a powdery mess all over your pantry, no matter how well you try to reseal them after opening. Bags are also really difficult to corral neatly in a pantry (see Strategy 4), and bugs just love to crawl into the tiny openings in the seams of bags. For many years I used round glass canisters that I had bought at a garage sale to hold my baking ingredients, but they were heavy and didn’t make the best use of space. I recently switched to the OXO square and rectangle container system and I couldn’t be happier. These bad boys are designed to stack neatly and the variety of sizes works well with just about any shelf configuration. I will admit that they are a little pricy, so I replaced my glass containers one or two at a time as I found the OXO containers on sale. I use labels from my hand-dandy label maker to keep track of what is in the containers, but you could just as easily use hand-written labels with the same results.

Strategy #4: Corral bags with baskets and larger containers

So many pantry items come in bags, like pasta and rice for example. Others like oatmeal packets and snack bars come in bulky boxes that get smashed and generally run amok on pantry shelves. Add in items from the bulk department like nuts and trail mix, and a pantry can quickly become unmanageable. My favorite tool for keeping bags of things organized and contained is a large bin. Bins are available in every size and made from every possible material. You can pick them up at the dollar store, the Container Store, Wal-Mart, and just about anywhere else you shop. I tend to use several bins in my pantry to hold like items. I have a pasta bin, a snack bin, and a cookie decorations going right now. Before you go shopping for bins, be sure to measure your pantry shelves and select ones that are only about ¾ as tall as your shelves. This makes it easier to see what’s in them and to get bags in and out.

Strategy #5: Turn empty wall space into storage

My pantry has a big blank wall that was crying out to be put to use. The problem is that my pantry is narrow to begin with, so adding additional shelves even 9 inches deep would make it almost impossible to move around in it. My solution instead was to purchase some inexpensive shallow baskets from IKEA and hang them in sets on the wall. They are only a few inches deep but are tall enough to hold boxes of wrap, bars of chocolate, bags of nuts and fruit, and even my label maker. They installed quickly and have proven to be very durable. Because they are a part of a system, you can completely customize the number and size of baskets to fit any empty wall space you might want to make use of. If you don’t have an IKEA near you, look for similar products at Target, Wal-Mart, or even a home improvement center.

Putting the Strategies to Work

Before any of these strategies will work, you need to know what you’re trying to organize. I know it may be painful, but the best approach I know of is to empty your pantry entirely, group your items by type (baking goods, canned goods, pasta, rice, sauces, spices, etc) and see what you have to work with. Ask yourself:

  • Which of these can be stored in their current containers? Will a lazy Susan or tiered shelf make them easier to work with or are they fine as they are?
  • Which of these might do better if they were moved to a different container? Would a larger bin work or possibly a canister?
  • Which do I use most frequently? These should be closer to the front and middle of the pantry.
  • Which ones do my children regularly access? Be sure to put these on shelves that are low enough for little hands to reach?

When you can see everything laid out in groups, you’ll find I think that it’s easier to imagine how you might organize them together in the pantry. Once you’ve identified a set of items that need a solution it will also be easier to find a container for those items.

Advice and Tips from the Blogosphere

My approach to organizing my pantry works well for me, but I know that my approach is just one of millions, so I spent some time searching for other ideas and approaches that might be useful. Along the way I picked up some new tips and tricks, including:

  • Approach your pantry re-organization with a plan. This 10-step guide from A Child Grows in Brooklyn is a great one to follow.
  • Corner cabinets can be a big waste of space, but with the right approach you can make them work for you. This post from I’m An Organizing Junkie has some great ideas for making the most of these odd spaces.
  • Organizing a pantry when you regularly buy extra on-sale items presents its own specific set of needs. You’ll need ways to keep track of many of the same pantry items, like packages of oatmeal or canned vegetables. Jen, from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam illustrates in graphic detail how she whipped her pantry in to shape to help her stockpiling approach to shopping.
  • If your pantry is small or you have a lot of things to store, consider creating an overflow space in another room like your garage. Haggard Mom details how she took this approach to support her new canning projects.
  • Sometimes help from a professional is just what you need to make your pantry a better place. The good news is you don’t have to pay for a professional organizer, instead, watch this video from The Insightful Nana to see how a professional organizer tackled her pantry.
  • The Perfect Pantry blog features a different pantry every week, making it a great place to get regular new and interesting tips for keeping your pantry organized.

Maintenance Matters

I tend to pull everything out of my pantry at least once a year and revisit my organization scheme based on new foods I’m cooking with, new culinary hobbies (baking, canning, cookie decorating, etc), and to fix whatever organizing approaches might not be working just right for my family. While the whole process takes about half of a day, it’s really worth it and helps me avoid losing things in the pantry during the rest of the year. I also do a big pantry clean out before major holidays and before school starts to help streamline these busy times. Each clean out takes a couple of hours. For a total of 8 hours a year I can keep my pantry usable and my sanity just a little more intact.


Entry filed under: Get Organized, Tips & Tricks.

Menu Plan Monday ~ January 4 Easy Chicken Fingers Recipe: Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alison @ Hospitality Haven  |  January 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I REALLY appreciate your post on this!! I was JUST googling tiered shelving yesterday. My cupboards are really deep, and I can’t seem to see what I need because of that. I like the idea of baskets for extra bags and whatnot like chips and stuff that seem to float around. Thanks for the tips!


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