Sometimes we dread cooking dinner because the kitchen and pantry are so disorganized. When you can’t find what you need – when you need it – the process of getting dinner on the table is just that much harder. Here are some simple time to teach you how to organize your pantry so that your kitchen functions more efficiently.
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Benefits of an organized pantry
You know you’ve experienced this:
- it’s the end of a long day,
- you’re exhausted,
- the kids are screaming or hubby is grumbling,
- and everyone is looking to you to get dinner on the table!
What’s a busy woman to do?
I’ve talked before about meal planning tools and how meal planning can help you save money on groceries. I’m a firm believer that meal planning can help save your sanity because you have an answer when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”
But let’s be honest: if your pantry is a disorganized mess, it’s hard to find the ingredients to even start making dinner!
Since that kitchen isn’t going to magically organize itself, let’s look at some ideas to help organize the kitchen pantry. While this might not make dinner cook itself, it’ll make it where it’s easier for you to find what you need to make the process as simple as possible.
How to organize your pantry
Step 1: Get rid of anything that’s expired or that you don’t use
You’d be surprised – or shocked – at the amount of food items that the typical pantry contains that are well past their due date. As much as I hate to admit it, we recently found a jar of pickles that was seventeen years old in the pantry at one of our parent’s house. Needless to say, those pickles found their way to the trash and we never ‘fessed up about tossing them out.
While you’re tossing and looking at dates, also consider whether your family will actually eat or drink the items. Even if something is within its “use by” dates, if your family’s tastes have changed or you’ve changed your eating habits, it does no good to hang on to food items that you’re not going to actually cook and serve.
Donate those items to a local food bank, shelter, or church. Or if you’re doing a pantry clean out or challenge at the same time as a friend, then let her go through the items you’re getting rid of while you go through her items as well. You both may find that the other has items that your family loves and can just swap them out. Both of you go home happy and your wallet is happy too. After all, what’s better than free groceries?
Step 2: Sort items into categories
Now that you’ve got the items that are expired or that you’re not going to use out of the way, it’s time to start organizing. You need to sort items into broad categories so you can see how much you have of each type of item. Some suggestions for categories are:
- Baking goods: flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, extracts, cocoa powder and baking chocolate
- Canned vegetables
- Canned meat
- Canned fruit
- Canned soups
- Canned tomatoes and sauces
- Canned pie fillings
- Pasta and rice
- Boxed mixes and dinners
- Jars of pickles, olives, and relishes
- Bottles: salad dressing, mayonnaise, marinades, spices, oils, vinegar,
- Snack items
- Drink items: coffee, tea, water bottles, soda bottles or cans, juice packs, drink mixes,
- Wraps and bags: aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, wax paper, plastic storage bags
- Produce: onions, potatoes, etc.
While you’re doing this is a great time to take an inventory of your pantry. I’ve got an easy (and cheap!) form to help make the process easier.
Step 3: Put like with like
After items are grouped into broad categories, start putting like items together within those broader categories.
For example, put all spices together. If you’ve got multiples of any items, be sure they’re all grouped together. You may discover you’ve got more canned corn than you can eat in a year but that you’re short on some item that you use each week.
Putting like items together will let you know what TO put on your grocery shopping list as well as what you DON’T need to buy for a while.
Step 4: Determine how much space you need for each category.
Once you have like items together, you can also see how much storage you need for each type of items. If you’ve got lots of cans but very few bottles then you can plan accordingly. Different types of containers require different types of storage. Bottles are more prone to tipping and you’ll want to be sure you’ve got a place for those glass jars of pickles and olives where they won’t be likely to get broken (and cause a humongous mess!).
You may also find that you need storage options for those bags of things that get opened: rice, pasta, cereal, etc. You may want to invest in airtight containers so that these items don’t go stale or attract pests once they’re opened.
If you buy items in bulk – like paper towels or toilet paper – you’ll need to find space to store these items as well. They’re often fairly light-weight, but take up lots of room. If you’ve got room they’re perfect for storing on the floor either in their plastic casing or in some type of box you can use as a drawer.
Step 5: Determine the best place for items:
As with all things, put items you get into most frequently within easy reach. Items that are used less frequently are better fits for storage on higher shelves or on the floor.
You’ll also want to consider how heavy items are when you think about their placement. We happen to store cases of toilet paper and paper towels on the upper shelves because they’re not so heavy if they fall. Likewise, soda bottles and other heavy items go on the floor. The last thing we need is for heavy items to fall and hurt someone!
Watch to learn ways to get your pantry organized
I found this video that has some great organizing tips. It’s only five minutes long to take quick watch and then I’ll share a few thoughts below.
That was great, wasn’t it! I absolutely love her suggestions but did want to share a couple of observations.
First, it’s a great idea to use clear containers to store bulk goods. We use them to store pasta, rice, beans, flour, sugar, etc. However, I’d suggest that you make sure you’re using containers with snap-on or screw-on lids. This will help keep items fresh longer and will discourage pests getting to them.
Second, the wooden steps also work great in your cupboards if that’s where you keep your spices. You can most likely have these cut to the right length at your local home improvement store. Be sure to take your measurements with you before you head to the store. And you can always put a coat of paint on them if you like.
Third, baskets and bins are a great way to keep snack or breakfast items for the kids organized together. But this is also a trick to use if you’ve got several adult roommates sharing a kitchen. Each person has their own bin to store their personal items in. This makes it easier to identify what items belong to whom, and helps stop the problem of someone’s snacks getting mistakenly eaten by someone else. Just saying.
Finally, you can use cheaper, plastic magazine holders instead of higher priced ones. Just add a label on the front so you can identify what each one holds. Labeling also helps others know where to put things so that you can keep the pantry organized.
When you have no storage:
There are some kitchens that just do not have adequate storage. I’ve been in that situation when I lived in apartments and when hubby and I first got married and lived in cramped quarters.
When that’s the case, it’s time to create storage to add to the little bit that you do have. Here are a few ideas:
Bookcases – one of the first apartments I lived in was a very small efficiency. It had virtually no kitchen cabinets so my dad built me a small bookcase. I used it to store canned goods and dishes on. If you don’t want the items to show you can add a tension rod with a curtain or fabric to cover the contents, or put the contents in boxes you’ve covered with contact paper or that you’ve bought for this purpose.Rolling carts – you can find rolling carts in a variety of materials and sizes. We currently have a big chrome metal one in our store room but I’ve also used smaller ones made out of particle board and bought at the big box stores. You can find one that looks like furniture and keep extra pantry items anywhere in the house that you’ve got room. There’s no rule that says all canned goods have to be kept in the kitchen.
- This white kitchen cart has shelf and drawer storage
- We have a cart similar to this one that has heavy duty commercial shelving. It can hold a lot of weight on it!
- This metal rolling cart with removable wooden top is a little smaller and has has storage hooks you could use to hold kitchen towels or other items.
- This wood drop-leaf cart has some hidden storage for those not so pretty items.
If you’ve got room for an end table by your couch and nothing else that needs to be stored there, this may be the place for those extra kleenex boxes you bought on sale.
Use the inside of kitchen cabinet doors – attach binder clips with mounting tape and then clip seasoning packet mixes right inside your cupboards. You could also use Command Hooks if you don’t want to mar the surface of the door.
Under-bed boxes – no, it’s not ideal to have to go look under your bed to find the can of green beans, but this might be a good place to store extra rolls of toilet paper or extra bottles of shampoo.
Ideas to store your canned goods
Sometimes canned goods stack nicely on shelves. But other times the cans don’t fit together well or you’ve got very deep shelves and items end up getting lost. This means that you can’t find what you need and you end up with items that expire before you get around to using them (remember the pickles). None of us want this because it’s such a waste of money, not to mention tying up space that you need to use efficiently.
Here are a few product ideas to make can storage easier and to make the most of your space.
Door and wall storage to organize your pantry
- These narrow door or wall mounted shelves can mount on to the back of a door or straight on to a wall to organize spices and other small pantry items.
- This rustic country spice rack has a chicken wire look that would be the perfect compliment to your farmhouse kitchen.
- Sometimes finding good storage for fruit can be tricky. These wall mounted fruit bins get those items off your countertops and allow for air to circulate – and they’re cute.
- This set of shelves hangs over a door which makes it great when you don’t want to – or can’t – mess up walls by attaching shelves.
Sometimes there’s just not enough space in your pantry and you need to get creative. Those vertical spaces can be life savers to help you gain more storage and get items organized.
One of my favorite ideas that I didn’t show here is to use a hanging organizer with those plastic shoe pockets. At our house we store seasoning and gravy packets in them but they’re extremely versatile. And if you get one that’s long enough you can put items in the lower pockets that are for your kids to get in to.
I’m not wild about keeping bags in my pantry. I prefer putting the contents into some other type of container. However, bags can be corralled into some type of small bin. You’ll just want to be sure to seal up the bag once it’s been opened.
Customize your shelves
Unless you’ve been able to build a custom pantry, there’s a good chance that some of the shelves in your pantry are a frustration. They may be too tall and items topple over if you stack them too high.
On the other hand, they may be too deep, which makes it hard to access items in the back without a major hassle.
There may be spaces where you wish you had a half shelf in a certain spot to hold paper plates or other items. The products below are all to help you customize your pantry shelves as much as possible to that you can use every square inch to its fullest and not waste any space.
They say the kitchen is the hardest working room in the house. I’d say that it’s definitely in the top two (along with the bathroom) but an organized pantry can make the work you do in the kitchen much easier and so much less frustrating.
- A divided lazy Susan allows you to easily access smell items or food packets
- An under shelf basket lets you easily add shelf space to store narrow items – like wraps and bags
- These plastic storage pins can be used on pantry shelves or in your freezer. It’s great to be able to customize as your needs change
- An adjustable spice rack makes it easy to find those spice jars and bottles that tend to get lost otherwise
If you’ve got ideas that have helped you get your pantry organized I’d love to hear them. Leave your idea in the comments below and let’s all learn from each other.