In the following article I will talk about how to organize your kitchen pantry cabinet and take the best of it.
A messy kitchen pantry may flourish for months, even years before grabbing our attention. It is often hidden behind a door allowing the “out of sight, out of mind” reflex to kick in, and we move onto to something more visually urgent like dishes piling up in the sink. But I will argue that organizing your pantry is the project that will have the most impact on your kitchen, consider the following benefits:
REASONS TO CLEAR THE PANTRY
- Saves money by identifying what you’re using, what you’re not using and what you’ve bought in duplicate (or in same cases, triplicate).
- Allows you to take stock of your cooking habits. I once got ambitious and bought a small amount of saffron, which as most cooks know is very, very expensive. That saffron sat in my pantry and moved with me, unopened, to 2 different apartments. When I finally tossed it, I realized I was still in the beginning stages of home cooking and only bought the saffron because I thought I should own it. If you go out on a limb and buy a new product, commit to using it that day or week. If not, it will only be taking up room in your pantry.
- Tells you what you should and should not buy in bulk. I make oatmeal daily for breakfast so I buy a mason jar full once a week from Whole Foods. I realized when clearing out my cabinets that I could actually stock up and buy a month’s full. Pasta however, was languishing at the back of my pantry. From now on, I’m only buying pasta when I plan to make it that day or week for dinner. Next, learn how to organize your pantry step-by-step.
Next, learn how to organize your pantry step-by-step.
Declutter the Pantry
The first step in the organization process (after deciding to get organized) is to a do a little housekeeping.
- Take everything out of the pantry including food, food storage containers and junk/trash that may have accumulated.
- Dust the pantry, beginning with the highest shelf, and after that wipe down every single shelf, 1 per time. Make sure to cover the tops of doors and check the ceiling for cob webs.
- Line up the food items in one space so you can see everything at once. Suggestions: kitchen table, dining room table, or even the floor. This way you’ll be able to spot duplicates, spoiled foods and get a general sense of how much space each type of item will need.
Common Pantry Clutter Culprits:
- Gifts – Those Harry & David gift bags are delightful to receive in the mail, but once I’m done eating the canned nuts, the scone mixes and bags of dried fruit tend to go stale in the back of my pantry. One way to combat this is to bake any mixes and give them right back to the person who gifted you in the first place.
- One-Off Purchases – Like the saffron example I shared or anything else that strikes your fancy walking through the grocery store. You may be thinking “I’d like the be the kind of person who eats anchovies more often.” Again, only buy new/interesting items if you are committed to using them right away.
- Junk Food – I never buy junk food because I don’t think a bag of potato chips or a box of cookies would survive more than a few hours in my pantry without being devoured. But if you regularly buy junk food you may find bags of Lays potato chips about ¼ full of crumbs, some stale popcorn remnants, or broken cookie pieces.
Assess each item one-by-one and ask yourself these questions:
- Has this expired? If yes, throw it out.
- Do I use this? If no, throw it out.
- Do I like this? If no, throw it out.
Even if you have all of the pantry space in the world, why would you want to keep extra (slowly rotting) food? You may discover a better use for that spot.
Next step is to start grouping remaining items, like with like.
Group Like with Like
In the past, when I used to move into new appartments ( and that was happened almost each year ), I would organize things up in my kitchen cabinets by height, shape and size. This makes sense on a visual level but doesn’t exactly make for the best organizing scheme. The trick here is to group items together by type.
As an example, I have a vinegar group which includes: champagne, apple cider, balsamic, rice wine. To that mix I’ve supplemented white cooking wine, olive and grape oil, and an olive oil spray. The bottles vary in height and width, but now when I want to make a salad dressing, everything I need is occupying the same space in my pantry.
Here are some common groupings:
- Cans of beans and soups
- Bags of snack foods
- Bottles of oils and vinegar
- Jars of spices
- Boxes of grains (rice, cereal)
I asked my friend Nancy, a certified health coach, how long you can keep grains in the pantry without going bad. “A long time as long as they’re properly stored,” Nancy says.
Tip: Nancy recommends buying whole grains and dried beans at health food stores or Whole Foods where there’s higher turnover for these types of products. “In other words,” she says, “buy grains where other people who buy grains would shop. You don’t want to buy grains and beans that have been sitting in a bulk bin at the super market for 3 months before they sit in your pantry. Also, buy enough to fill a large Mason jar and buy more frequently instead of buying and storing large bags (unless you have room for some small, furry visitors).”
As for spices, a good rule of thumb is a year and then toss ’em.
Pantry Storage Solutions
Before you purchase any storage solutions, complete the following:
- Triple measure the space.
- Record the measurements as they are taken–people always think they will remember, but once you start
looking at items you may confuse the sizes. Don’t be a hero, record it on the spot.
My number one pick for pantry storage is roll-out storage which easily allows you to see the contents of each shelf. Here are the best options:
Budget Option: I recommend using plastic bins to group items together. Think about using your Tupperware – the wide but low kind, sans the top — to place all of your oils and vinegars together, a basket for your snack food, etc. This way you can remove the bins and baskets and see everything in that group at the same time.
Luxe Option: Buy and install roll-out shelving. This allows you to pull the entire shelf out at once to see what you’ve got and what you need.
Maintain Pantry Organization
Maintain your new organizing scheme by consistently going through your pantry and decluttering (see: “Declutter the Pantry” – above). If you do this regularly, you may not have to repeat the entire process of emptying and cleaning the pantry all over again. I recommend the following schedule:
- Weekly – declutter
- Monthly – declutter and re-group
- Seasonally – declutter, re-group, re-fit storage solutions
This schedule will depend on how often you cook and the size of your pantry space. I like to go through mine once a week while I am planning meals.
Hint: The more often you declutter your pantry, the less time the process will take in the future.