Did you know that the kitchen pantry is one of the most used spaces in your home? Which explains why when you don’t have a process for decluttering, organizing or maintaining it — things can go sideways + it can get out of control fast.
The good news is it’s not hard to wrangle all of that randomness + it can be done relatively quickly too. Not to mention, not only does decluttering + organizing benefit your health but I’ve never met anyone who’s snubbed their nose at enjoying an organized + functional pantry all their own.
And… after designing + organizing more kitchen pantries than I’d like to admit over the years (for both clients + myself) — I’m ecstatic about helping you discover the best way to organize a pantry in your kitchen.
One that doesn’t just look great + work well but a pantry that’s so simple even your kids (and your husband) can help keep it intact.
STEPS TO ORGANIZING YOUR PANTRY
STEP 1: Remove Everything
If you truly want to give this space of your home a much needed makeover, you’ll need to start with a blank slate (+ a clean one). The best way to get organized + accomplish this is to remove absolutely e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g from your pantry. Our goal is to empty every nook, cranny + shelf by temporarily moving everything onto the counter, your dining table, or heck, if space is limited your floor works wonders! This way you’re able to quickly wipe things down + with a clean slate, start thinking objectively about
- what works well currently?
- how you use the space?
- and where might items fit better?
But you know us, we’re slightly obsessed with being tidy + as efficient as possible so…
As you pull everything out keep an eye out for expiration dates, items that are stale or for anything that’s gotten crushed into a million tiny pieces. And for the sake that these items are no longer safe or usable create a throw-away pile.
(Because the last thing you want is to walk into a room only to find your toddler sitting front + center, watching Curious George while eating crushed apple chips on your sofa *wink*)
Another thing to be mindful of as you’re removing items from your pantry like an organizing expert: are there any items that can be donated to a local food bank (you go boo!)
Without fail you’re bound to stumble across things that are perfectly edible but haven’t used like applesauce, canned tuna, unopened crackers, granola bars, cooking oils or even the rice paper wrappers you bought for making sushi at home –– but never did!
Although they haven’t expired it creates a random hodge-podge of items you don’t use frequently enough to justify carving out precious space for them to live in your newly organized pantry. So, what do you do with them? Start a donation pile that can be taken to a food donation drop-off.
STEP 2: Organize It By Zone
Now that every last crumb, can + cereal box has been removed from the pantry area, start grouping everything into like-categories. Again, you can do this on the floor or anywhere else you have an open space where things can be laid out + are visible. The main objective of sorting + grouping like items is to create clarity around what you have (or need).
Often this part can feel overwhelming so just think in terms of how you cook, eat, what items you’ll want to restock often — baking, canned items, small package items (like beans, pastas, etc) and large items (like chips, cereals, etc).
Psst… Here’s a quick guide on how I typically help clients categorize their pantry.
- Large Snacks.
- Small Snacks.
Grains, Pastas + Smaller Shelf Stable Foods (like condiments).
As you begin the process of exploring the best way to put things back into your kitchen pantry you want to consider zones for your pantry. Which of the categories fit for what you have in your pantry but also work well for your lifestyle?
Does it make more sense for you to organize your pantry by food or cooking category (like above) or is it more efficient to consider organizing your pantry shelves by lifestyle or purpose?
- Breakfast Foods.
- Lunch Foods.
- Dinner Foods.
- Quick Appetizers for entertaining.
- A zone for you, your spouse, or your kids.
- Specialty Cooking Appliances.
Maybe it’s a combination. And that is totally fine. While I’ve organized hundreds of pantries over the last decade. In different shapes, sizes + locations… Each one is always unique to how our clients live. Likewise, you might use some of these grouping ideas but not all. And that’s okay. Remember the pantry is one of the most heavily used spaces in your home so regardless, you’ll want the items you reach for most often to be grouped together in zones that make sense + are well within reach.
TIP: carefully decide how much space in your pantry you’re going to dedicate for each area.
STEP 3: Containerize
With Tetris like skills, at this point of the “organizing your pantry game” you understand exactly what’s currently in your pantry + what items you either want or need which means that now you get to start containerizing some of these items.
But let’s not jump the gun too quickly without addressing the elephant in the room. Because one of the biggest misconception to organizing is that’s it’s all about how it looks. And as an interior designer, you best believe I want a drop-dead gorgeous pantry that feels like the ultimate guilty pleasure + makes even Monica Geller jealous. But more than looks, I want an easy to use kitchen pantry. And visibility is key!
For most pantry items, we generally recommend clear jars, bins, trays, canisters or containers because not only can you see what’s inside but you can easily tell when you’re getting low + things need to be replenished which makes creating your grocery shopping list a whole lot more efficient. Another upside to using clear jars, canisters + airtight containers is that they keep food fresh longer.
While certain items (like chips, crackers, etc) can be containerized in airtight canister, they are typically best suited for baskets or bins + the same goes for anything that’s an odd or irregular shape. To keep it from flopping over + causing you headache storing it in a container maintains an easy to use pantry.
The trick to creating a highly functional pantry that looks great + works well starts with accurate measurements. In other you want to measure the depth (front to back of each shelf) as well as the height in between shelves before you go buy.
And remember, you certainly don’t have to go out + purchase containers to make your pantry function. Look around the house to see if there’s anything that you can use –– do you have baskets, bins or cardboard boxes that you could use?
STEP 4: Label
As pretty as they are…creating labels isn’t just about making your pantry l-o-o-k pretty. In fact, when it comes to getting organized we consider the process of labeling things to be one of the most integral part of maintaining functionality + order long term. Why you ask? Well, with so much activity happing in this corner of your house, even if you could remember what’s inside all these clear jars, containers, bins + baskets most likely your husband, your nutritionist who does all of your your grocery shopping + comes once a week to help prep meals, or the those little tykes you have running around won’t. Not to mention, it makes it super efficient in putting away groceries.
Long story short you can use a label maker, purchase decorative labels or use a chalkboard pen to create labels for your pantry items. But no matter what labels in your pantry are a MUST!
BONUS STEPS WE THINK YOU SHOULD CONSIDER
Utilize The Pantry Door: A lot of times when it comes to the kitchen we find ourselves short on pantry storage so utilizing the vertical door space for canned goods, spices, kids snacks or even a place for baggies can make the pantry more efficient.
Create A Kid Zone: Speaking of kids, to empower + help your little humans make good decisions + develop healthy eating habits we always try to create a place designated for kid’s snacks, bowls, cups, silverware etc. This way, when our hungry independent want a snack they’re able to access things on their own, or help set the table or assist in unloading the dishwasher or put groceries away. Kid you NOT, according to top psychologists, children need both affection + structure in order to develop into secure, happy adults
Class It Up: If you really want a drop-dead gorgeous pantry you might consider emptying everything out of your kitchen pantry + giving the walls a fresh coat of paint (including the shelves if they’re wood) You could even go as far as adding a wall covering to the back wall of your pantry or removable decals to help further organize your pantry into clearly visible + defined sections. Hands down this adds a pop of personality + a bit of elegance to an otherwise utilitarian space.
Shelf Liners: If you have wire shelves + you either don’t want to or can’t replace them we strongly recommend plastic shelf liners. These keep things from falling through the holes between the wires + they make stacking a heck of a lot easier.
Stack Front-to-Back: Consider how you’ll manage new items you bring into your pantry so you can use up all of the older items first. Perhaps, you’ll accomplish this by creating tiered storage during your containerizing or stacking items front to back on shelves. Moving older items towards the front of your pantry + stacking back up of the same items directly behind them.
HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR ORGANIZED PANTRY
Do the work. If you notice something isn’t getting put back where it’s supposed either A) put the misplaced item back where it belongs or B) reassess why it’s not getting put back. Maybe, it’s an item you use every day but where it’s located is too high + can be swapped out with something you use less frequently.
None-the-less, maintaining an organized pantry (+ kitchen) is all about your habits + evaluating how you use your home.
One thing that we typically tell our clients to do after they’ve organized their pantry is to create + keep an ongoing shopping list of items that need to be replaced (typically these are things they used the last of or are getting low on) This way, the next time you’re able to swing by the grocery store — you one step ahead of the game + everything you need is ready to go.
John + I actually have a recurring event on our personal calendars that we update every couple days with anything we need from the store (including what goes in our pantry). Because it’s accessible on our phones, our shopping list is always available + we’re never buying extras.
P.S. If you’re like “OMG — I cannot do this alone…” then, consider hiring a professional organizer. There’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed, feel judged or deprioritize your needs (or those of your family) any longer.
Sis, life is too short for all that. Let’s have a virtual coffee date + then we’ll roll up our sleeves + get you organized.