Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How To Organize a Pantry

 In the new year, many of us get a fresh burst of organizing zeal.  Probably after all the 'stuff' of Christmas, most people are ready  for a clean space...and I am no exception.  A very common misconception out there is that organizers must be the neatest people in the world.  While some may be...I certainly am NOT!  My nickname growing up was Tess the Mess, and I am pretty sure I earned that name.  It wasn't that I kept a messy room, it was more that I made a great mess in everything I chose to do...and today that is STILL the case!  I am typical mom with craziness all around me all the time.  Sometimes it's all I can do to just get things out of sight so that the kitchen looks remotely picked up.  But even though some items get put hastily away (with a few greasy prints or crumbs or sticky residues right along side!), they always get put back in their home.  So when I am ready to clean my pantry, it takes less than hour to polish and purge my pantry to it's original luster.  I have organized A LOT of pantries, and while  some of us are lucky with nice big ones, others have awkward corners and shelf sizes, and still others have pantries that leave you wondering "what in the heck was the builder was smoking when he put MY pantry (or lack thereof) in??!?"  Regardless of what sort of pantry you have, you can organize them with the same basic principles.....let me show you how!  (And if after reading this, you need tips specific to your pantry, leave a comment, I can help!!)

1. Make Use of All Your Space, don't forget to think vertically.  All your shelves have a height, and your job is to use as much of that height as you need/can.  There are lots of way to do this
Stair-Step Shelf, often used for canned goods, but can be used for other smallish containers like my baking corner here

Shelf Dividers: This can divide a taller shelf into two so you can stack things higher and still access the bottom things easily

Here I used an under-the-shelf organizer to store extra rolls of paper towels

2.  Sort Like With Like. Seems like a no brainer, but a lot of us have scattered pantries.  There is no one right wait to sort pantries, every person;s brain think a little differently, and whichever way you process things is just fine...the system only needs to make sense to you.  As some examples, I have have my pantry divided into these zones: Chips/Bags, Crackers/Snacks, Nuts/Dried Fruits, Canned Goods,  Grab & Go Snacks, Bars, Aseptic, Baking, Extras, Paper Goods,  Noodles/Rice, Seasonings/Bulk Dry Goods.  You won't have all these things, these are just the things I always have in my pantry so I created zones for them.

All my noodles/rice and canned proteins

3.  Establish Zones.  By defining homes with in your pantry, things are easier to find and easier to put back where they belong so you can find them more easily next time.  I have labeled almost all my zones (I love to label, makes me giddy...I'm weird like that!).  People razz me all the time for my labels...but guess what...even my kids are learning how to put stuff back in their homes!  If you have things that have no business in a pantry, time to find them a new home...even if that home happens to be your Goodwill pile (but that is another post entirely!)
This is part of the "Extra's" zone

Items contained within=less mess and better use of shelf space
4.  Containerize.  This seems like a basic principal, but a lot of people do not so this.  By putting sorted items into a container of some sort, you contain the chaos of multiple loose bags, boxes, and jars that can fall all over the place.  When inside a simple container, the whole entire caboodle is easily removes and rifled through for whatever item you are looking for, and put back on the shelf all in one piece.  Imagine if I didn't have my nuts containerized (I have over 10 bags of different nuts), it would look very sloppy and things would be all over the place.  Not to mention, it would take up more valuable surface area.  Spend as much or as little as you want on containers, mine are a hodge -podge of re-purposed baskets and Ross finds!  If you want o match your, feel free, and clear Tupperware bins are a cheap way to do it that work fabulously.

Notice I even use wall space to hang things and use up all my space (onions)!  This is my bulk foods area.
Here are all my bags of gluten free flours, contained.  The whole kit and kaboodle comes out on the counter when I bake.  When I am done, the whole thing goes right back on the shelf!

5.  Practice the Art of Prime Real Estate.  This a very simple concept.  The things you use most should be the easiest to access and get to.  If something gets used less often..put it in those dead, hard to reach corners or upper-reaches that are a pain to access.  Dealing with it  a couple times a year is a far better than all the time for items you use regularly.

This area is harder to reach, so I only put extra/surplus items up here to replenish depleted supplies.

Notice the 90 degree corner?  Much harder to reach, so my ridiculously huge steamer goes back there as I only use it 10 times or less a year.


  1. Hi Tessa, my pantry has been a disaster zone lately, and I've been mulling over how I'd like to reorganize it. This post is very timely and given me some great ideas, thanks!

  2. good luck Debbie, and please let me know if you need any personal tips for your situation!

  3. Great tips, very clearly explained! I grew up in a house with no pantry, just lots of kitchen cabinets, in which food and dishes were mixed in a very idiosyncratic way because my mom moved in when 7 months pregnant and raising a 2-year-old, and then she got used to where things were.... Now I have a small kitchen and use a shelving unit in the basement as the pantry, and it is just great to have most of the food all together in one place! But the organizing of that one shelving unit takes some thought and maintenance.

  4. @ Becca, yes being organized does not mean things take care of themselves...all systems require maintenance. Just like relationships! As long as the system is good for you, the maintaining should be much less hassle and stress, as essentially you're are just cleaning, straightening, and tweaking as needed....NOT completely re-vamping or starting from scratch!!

  5. These are excellent ideas! I love those stacked shelves and shelf dividers - I use them in my cupboards and they are wonderful. Thank you for sharing this really informative and useful post with the Gallery of Favorites.

  6. Great ideas for organizing your pantry! I am pretty organized, but I am definitely going to get some below the shelf dividers to my bottom shelf.