1 - Out With The Old
Pantries are notorious for becoming black holes. Typical shelving designs encourage piling, stacking, and shoving, often resulting in expired overstock. So, the first step to an organized pantry is getting rid of what no longer belongs. Pull EVERYTHING out and place it on your kitchen counters, table tops, and other nearby surfaces. Check each expiration date and immediately toss anything expired or about to expire in the next 30 days. (Unless you REALLY do plan to use that food at the next meal, it needs to go. Trust me. You’ll forget about it again, so don’t put the almost expiring items back in.) You’ll also want to get rid of the food items that you purchased but never used. These were the gimmicks and impulse items that simply looked “good” in the store, but were never part of an actual plan. If any of those items aren’t expired, pack them in a box for donation to your local food pantry or offer them to your more creative friends.
2 - Like With Like
Next, begin sorting your items based on food or item type. Keep all baking items together, put pastas in a pile, let the sauces stand out on their own. Sorting the contents enables you to see the duplicates and learn about your personal buying habits. Are you always picking up another box of _______ because you thought you were out? While extras are good to have on hand, it only makes sense if you’re actually using them on a regular basis. Shift gears for a moment, and consider your toilet paper: it’s ALWAYS good to have extras on hand because you’re planning on using it. Now look back at the pantry piles you’ve sorted: the 4 bottles of green food coloring are excessive and unnecessary. Sorting will help you to buy when you need to buy, rather than buy because you think you need to buy.
3 - Keep It Simple
Now that you know what items will live in your pantry, think of them in broad categories. Decide where each category will go based on the size and frequency of use, and then identify that area with a label. When we organize pantries for our clients, the most frequent categories we come across are:
- appliances (including mixers, blenders, and ice cream makers)
- baking (ingredients only, pans go elsewhere)
- entertaining (including paper plates and plastic ware)
- fruits (in baskets or cans)
- grains (pastas, rice, bread)
- meats (in cans or dried form)
- sauces + soups (in jars, cans, or bottles)
- spices overstock (to replenish your on-hand spices kept near the stove)
- spreads (jellies, nut butters, and honey)
- vegetables (in baskets or cans)
4 - Weekly Reset
Now that your pantry is in-date and organized, you’ll need to work on maintaining it. Without maintenance, the cereal boxes begin taking over the pasta shelf and the brown sugar ends up with breakfast items instead of baking. Choose one day a week (preferably the day BEFORE you normally go to the grocery store), to make sure every item is back in the correct area. Resetting will help you know what to buy and when to buy it. For pantry essentials, I recommend adding items to your next grocery list as you use them. For example, when I use a jar of spaghetti sauce and box of pasta, I immediately write those on my next grocery list because those are my “whoops, mom forgot to plan for dinner” items.
Think of your pantry as a mini-grocery store, containing all the items you regularly use. The category labels will function like the aisle signs, enabling you to find what you need. Finally, shoot to keep your pantry at 80% capacity. Keep the other 20% free and clear so that when it’s time to buy lots of food or entertaining items for a large event, you’ve got a place to store it.