My pantry is a problem. Having to use it on a daily basis is not fun. It’s a hot spot or pain point or whatever term describes an area in your home that makes life a lot harder than it needs to be.
Maybe I started out with an organizational system that I just didn’t maintain but it’s hard to remember looking at the current state of chaos. I think I kind of decided that certain shelves would hold certain items early on but that’s not happening now. My method for putting things away is to just fill in the empty spots with whatever fits. I admit it’s not the best way to put away groceries.
It’s getting old. I’m tired of going out and buying things I already have because I can’t find them in the mess. Or looking around in the pantry for ten minutes because I can’t find something I just bought. There are also things in my pantry I don’t use which means there is probably a lot of expired food in there. It’s time to tackle the mess and get it organized!
Want to watch my process? Check out the video below.
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The pantry has been on my to-do list for a while now but the weather is finally warming up. There are lots of other things needing my attention like gardening and Spring cleaning (mostly gardening). So I’ve decided I’m going to break this up over several days. I think this will help in a few ways. I’ll get to work on it a little at a time which will keep me from getting overwhelmed. And breaking this into steps will give me some time to do a little planning, order supplies, get inspired, etc. I don’t really have a vision for what I want yet.
I hear goal setting is important so I thought I’d aim for finishing up this project in about a week. I don’t really want to push myself, so seven days sounds about right, not spending more than 30 minutes a day.
Day 1: Pull Out Expired/Unwanted Food
This step was eye-opening. I decided to use my kitchen table for all the bad food lurking in my pantry. This took a while. The more I looked the more I found. It was pretty shocking to see the amount of inedible food that came out of there. I remember seeing some of these things for months and thinking I was going to donate them, but as I pulled them out I realized I had missed my chance. I decided to create separate areas for donations and expired food. The expired food was most of it. I literally had only a handful of things I could donate.
What’s even more surprising is that I bought most of this food hoping to use it in new recipes but a lot of the packages were still unopened. So much for good intentions.
Day 2: Get Rid of Expired/Unwanted Food
Since my goal was to break this pantry organization up into 30-minute sessions, this part alone took another day. Yep, it took another 30 minutes to actually get rid of all the food. Because when you have a table full of food that needs to leave your house it’s going to take a while. This included the time it took me to bag it up, recycle the plastic bags, and drag it outside to the garbage bin.
Having to throw that much food out made me feel pretty guilty but I realized there was a lesson in this. First, you need to know and, more importantly, see what you have so you can actually eat it. And second, maybe it’s time to start meal planning.
Day 3: Create Food Categories
I already knew the top shelf was going to house the pasta. I made this decision because, as someone who’s vertically challenged, it’s hard for me to reach the top shelf without a step. My plan was to use baskets I got on Amazon and pull them down when I need them because I’m really not a fan of standing on something to get to my food. Cooking isn’t my favorite, so it doesn’t take much to discourage me. Another plus is that pasta is pretty light so I don’t have to worry about something heavy falling on my head.
And not for nothing but we have a whole lot of pasta. Holy cow! I can probably go another year without having to buy more.
Setting up the pasta shelf took all of five minutes. I had already bought some plastic bins on Amazon months before I started this project so I was ready. I only used three of the plastic bins for the pasta. Since I bought a pack of six, I had three more to use for other things.
Since the pasta organization went quickly, I had 25 more minutes to work on the rest of the pantry. I decided it was time to put all the rest of the food into general categories. When it comes to pantry organization putting food into categories will probably work the best. How you categorize your food should be based on what works best for you and your family. Your pantry may look different than mine but you’ll probably have a few of these categories. I’ve included the categories and some examples of what I keep in each:
- Pasta- entire top shelf! (I need to reconsider the amount of pasta we eat.)
- Canned and jarred foods (tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, olives)
- Nuts, seeds and dried fruit (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, dates, raisins)
- Breakfast food (oatmeal, cereal, cream of wheat)
- Sweeteners and Beverages (honey, maple syrup, cocoa, instant coffee)
- Condiments and sandwich spread (mustard, hot sauce, mayo, peanut butter)
- Baking stuff (flour- all types, flaxseed meal, pumpkin puree)
- Canned meat (tuna, anchovies, sardines, salmon)
- Oils and vinegar (Again, I need to reconsider the amount of oil I buy.)
- Grains (Tons of it, mainly rice!)
- Snacks (Apple sauce, rice puffs)
- Potato chips (I separated this from snacks because I plan to keep it in a separate bin.)
- Starchy Veggies (potatoes, sweet potatoes)
After separating the food into categories my pantry already looked so much better. I could actually find things. I could see everything I had. I didn’t realize finding my food could be this easy!
I could have stopped here and had a perfectly functional pantry. Honestly, after going through these three steps you’re 90% done. But I knew I could do more. I had a few things around the house that could help with this project and I wanted to at least attempt to make it look nice. But if you’re short on time then there’s no reason you can’t consider your pantry organization complete at this point.
Day 4: Rearrange Pantry Categories for Easy Access/Label Categories
Here is where I shifted the categories around a little based on how often I use them. The items I use the most needed to be on shelves two and three because for someone my height those are the two shelves that are easiest to get to, no reaching or bending required. All the other foods could be placed either higher or lower based on the frequency of use.
Following this step, my condiments category was renamed and put in a wire cube down on the floor in an “Extras” bin. The condiments in the pantry are extra, unopened bottles that get pulled out when we finish up the ones in the refrigerator. So these extras can be in a more remote part of the pantry because I don’t need to get to them that often.
I also decided to put like things closer together such as grains and flour. I also put lighter, smaller categories in the remaining three baskets on the second shelf. These last two tweaks were more about personal preference. But generally, I think it’s a good idea to move things around until you find an arrangement you’re happy with.
Once you’re done putting the categories in their final location, it’s labeling time. I ordered cute little chalkboard labels on Amazon. I wish I had gone with slightly bigger ones but these worked out just fine. I used chalk instead of a chalk pen to write out the labels for two reasons. First, I wanted to be able to reuse these just in case I need to tweak my categories later. And second, I really like the old-timey look of chalk. The chalk pens just don’t look like chalk enough for my taste.
And here is the finished pantry. The categories are labeled clearly and separated. Finding anything is now easy peasy!
How Long It Took
You’ll notice that I completed two steps on day 4. This is because I was starting to get impatient and decided to do two 30-minute sessions in one day. The pantry was really starting to come together and I was so excited to see it finished that I decided to work for the full hour.
If I had stuck to my original plan of only doing 30 minutes per day this would have taken me five days. That sounds pretty reasonable. Keep in mind that my pantry was super messy but it’s not huge. I also wasn’t making any structural or shelving changes. This was just straight organizing.
Here are a few things I learned during this project.
- Breaking it up over a few days made it way more manageable and enjoyable. I also wasn’t rushing because I had to go pick up a child, make a meal, etc. I could do as much as I needed to in a 30-minute session and then know that I would have more time the next day to keep going.
- Having extra time to think was really helpful. I had more time to brainstorm and be creative about how to use the supplies I had on hand.
- Separating the food into categories was a no-brainer. I have no idea why I hadn’t done it sooner.
- Having everything in clearly visible categories with labels makes it easier when I plan my food shopping trips. I know exactly what I have and how much of something I need to buy.
- Having category sections creates limits for how much food you can fit into your pantry. If one of my sections is almost full I’ll have to hold off before buying more, which will probably save money on expired, unopened food.
- Having an “extras” bin is great! Now it’s not in the way of the stuff I’m actively using.
This is one of those organizing projects that really changed the way things function in my kitchen. Cooking and food shopping trips don’t give me a headache now. And it’s actually a pleasure to open the doors to my pantry. I’m glad I finally got it done with minimal fuss.
I hope this inspires you to tackle your own pantry. Remember: There’s no rush. Just take it one day at a time.
My freezer is the bane of my existence. If you do a post on this, it would be greatly appreciated. We have an over-under (fridge-freezer), but also a deep freezer.
Hi Kathleen- Thanks for the suggestion. Because we have older kitchen cabinets that come with a place for the fridge we had to get a smaller one that would fit in the opening. Our fridge has the freezer on the side and it’s long, narrow and deep. Not at all fun to store things in. It’s terrible for storing lots of food but on the bright side it makes me purge constantly because the space is so limited. It’s made me very aware of what I have in my fridge at all times because I have no space to spare. So maybe frequent purges are the answer. 🙂
I have never seen a more helpful post. Thank you!
Susan- You made my day! I’m so glad you found it helpful. I wanted to simplify the process because we all need to tackle our pantries sooner or later.
Debra Roberts says
I just did this with my pantry! I love the clothespin chalk labels! I am at my happiest when things are organized!
I agree. An organized home is wonderful but sometimes we get intimidated by all the time it takes to do the actual organizing. Breaking things up over several days really helps with that.
Sarah Takehara says
I love that you started with “my pantry is a problem”! YES! My pantry and frig are ongoing problems and this super simple and specific post is the gentle kick in the pants I need right now. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂
I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Sarah! Doing a little at a time is key. Slow and steady wins the race.
Good luck with your pantry! 🙂