From extra time spent on meal prep to unpleasant smells (how old is that garlic?), the problems that come with having a cluttered, disorganized pantry can add frustration to your daily routine. You reach into your pantry several times a day, so it’s well worth the effort to adopt these techniques for paring down the items your pantry and keeping the space organized over the long haul.
1. Do an annual sweep.
Daunted by the thought of clearing out your food every few weeks? Don’t worry — it’s not necessary to do it that often.
You can maintain an organized pantry by doing a thorough cleaning just once a year, professional organizer and author Debbie Lillard said.
For this annual cleaning spree, remove all items, wipe down the shelves and throw out any tainted or expired food. If you have food that’s still good, but that you never got around to using (water chestnuts, anyone?), set it aside to donate to a food bank.
2. Create categories.
“As you remove food, put it into categories,” Lillard said.
These may include snacks, baking ingredients and dinner staples, but Lillard pointed out that your categories should be customized to suit your lifestyle and eating habits.
When it’s time restock the pantry, designate a zone for each category, professional organizer and author Donna Smallin Kuper said. This simple strategy makes it a breeze to find what you need and put it back where it belongs, she said. If you’re worried about family members sticking to this strategy, add labels for each zone to make it even easier.
Lillard offers two more suggestions:
- Designate an allergy-friendly shelf for family members with eating restrictions.
- Label a basket of parent-approved snacks that kids can easily reach when they get hungry.
3. Take advantage of vertical space.
Did you buy three cans of tomato paste, only to come home and discover five more hiding in the back corner of a pantry shelf? If you can’t see what items you have, chances are you’ll end up buying food you don’t really need.
“Start using the vertical space in between the shelves,” Kuper said.
Try installing tiered organizers or multilevel turntables that let you quickly survey what items you have while helping you make better use of your space.
4. Use modular containers.
Another way to cut clutter and keep stock of what you have is to store certain food items — like pasta and rice — in clear modular food canisters, Kuper said. Instead of keeping track of several half open bags of spaghetti, you can put all of your spaghetti in a transparent container that takes up less shelf space and lets you quickly determine when you’re low on a food staple.
Another reason to use canisters? “They make your pantry look phenomenal,” Kuper said.
5. Store bulk items elsewhere.
Buying in bulk always seems like a great idea until you get home and have to dust off your Tetris skills to fit eight jars of chopped olives into your pantry.
Instead of stuffing your shelves, keep just one or two jars in the pantry — or however many you’ll go through in a reasonable amount of time.
“Put all your extras in a storage locker in your garage, in your basement or somewhere outside of you kitchen,” Kuper said. When you run out of an item in your pantry, you can simply “go shopping” in your storage area.
Top photo courtesy of Flickr/Lynda Gibbens