Today I want to conclude my short series on the pantry. So far you’ve learned how to save some time by creatively stocking your pantry and yesterday you read about three money-saving tips you can adopt while doing the stocking. All that’s left now is to take all your stocked food and organize it in the space you have. It doesn’t matter if you have an official pantry or if you use kitchen cupboards; these spaces are much better off organized in such a way to maximize your efficiency in meal preparation and to prevent food waste.
I’ve broken down the pantry organization process into 8 steps. You may already be past the first few steps, and that’s great! But if you desire to start from square one, then these tips will be just what you need to begin. So let’s organize our pantries!
Step 1: Empty your shelves
Find a large surface nearby (like your kitchen counter and/or table) and empty your pantry’s contents onto it. Yes, that’s all. This first step is easy!
Step 2: Toss and combine
This second step might be easy for some and hard for others because it involves throwing things away and consolidating. I happen to enjoy these practices because they make me feel like I am accomplishing something (instant gratification!) and I ultimately can free up much-needed space in the process. So what you need to do is go through all your food and assess what needs to be pitched and what needs to be consolidated. Do you have popcorn that expired 3 years ago and likely won’t even pop in the microwave anymore? Toss it. Do you have 3 different containers of garlic? Combine them into one and get rid of the other two containers. Don’t be wasteful, but be realistic and diligent…you want to start with a nice clean slate.
Step 3: Figure out which food items go together
What you do next is something that is useful with anything you organize—categorizing. Don’t think about your space yet, just think about the food for now. Which foods naturally go with others? Here are some examples of categories that I used: baking ingredients (like flour, sugar, baking soda, vanilla, chocolate chips, etc.), cooking ingredients (like spices, broths, oils, bottles of marinades or sauces), snacks (like chips, popcorn, or candy), breakfast foods (like cereal and oatmeal), beverages (like coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.), and stand-alone foods (like boxed pastas, rice soups, peanut butter, etc.). After you are done arranging everything into nice tidy categories, it’s time to take a deep breath.
Step 4: Assess your shelf space
Look at your nicely arranged categories of food all over your kitchen. Smile. Now look at your pantry or cupboards. Don’t panic! While you probably won’t be able to keep the exact arrangements you’ve chosen for your food due to space limitations, you can still get it close. Re-evaluate your categories now with this new information. Above you saw that my food separated into (mostly) nice, organized groups. But the shelves in my cupboards are an assortment of sizes so I needed to make a few adjustments. Each of you will have to make the necessary adjustments that suit the layout of your space. Here’s a breakdown of how I arranged the food I listed earlier onto my shelves (keep in mind that I don’t have an official pantry, so I need to use regular kitchen cupboards):
- Cupboard 1 (2 shelves): baking (shelf 1 & 2)
- Cupboard 2 (3 shelves): spices (shelf 1), canned ingredients (shelf 2), bottled ingredients (shelf 3)
- Cupboard 3 (3 shelves): pastas (shelf 1), sauces & soups (shelf 2), stand-alone foods (shelf 3)
- Cupboard 4 (2 shelves): cereal (shelf 1), oatmeal & breakfast bars (shelf 2)
- Cupboard 5 (2 shelves): salty snacks (shelf 1), sweet snacks (shelf 2)
- Cupboard 6 (1 shelf): beverages
- Cupboard 7 (1 shelf): oils, potatoes, and rice (shelf 1)
So as you can see, even though I had to split some categories up, I was still able to keep them near each other. And for certain illogical cases, I just had to deal with it. For example, I don’t see any rhyme or reason to how oils, rice, and potatoes go together, but these large items (I buy all these in bulk) only fit in this particular cupboard! When you tackle this challenging step in your own kitchen, you might find that it is a lot of trial and error. But don’t be discouraged—you’ll discover a good system if you put your mind to it!
Step 5: Arrange your food onto your shelves
Now that you’ve decided where you will put everything, you need to find an efficient way to arrange it all on the shelf. Keep three goals in mind as you do this: (1) maximize use of space (i.e. can items be stacked, or placed in a different order?), (2) keep arrangements logical and efficient (i.e. which food items do you use more often?—keep them near the front) and (3) minimize chances of food items being forgotten about and expiring (i.e. is everything visible and reachable?)
Step 6: Consider improvements
Here’s a chance for you to get creative. How did step 5 go? Do you still need more room? After a few weeks of meal preparation do you find that certain items are not in logical or convenient places? Don’t be afraid to make changes to improve your system. For example, do you love containers that you can label? Things like flour, sugar, and other baking items are perfect for this type of storage. The great thing about special containers is that they are stackable and they seal and keep food for longer. Another idea to consider is changing shelf heights in your cupboards to better fit items or buying special racks that can add an additional surface to any given space. Experiment!
Step 7: Stick to your system
There’s no point in having a great system if you don’t stick to it. Be careful not to allow all your great new arrangements to turn into chaos again! Put items in the EXACT place you found them. When you buy new items, remember your system and arrange them accordingly. Every once and while take a look at the bigger picture and make sure you aren’t slipping in any areas. If you stick to it now, you won’t have to go through this arduous process all over again in the future (unless you move!).
Step 8: Rejoice!
You’ve gotten a major area in your house organized…so celebrate! There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your accomplishment and feeling good about yourself. So go on and give yourself a pat on the back.
Do you have any creative pantry organizing ideas you’d like to share?