If you sense a low-level, under the radar type irritation whenever you walk into the kitchen for a snack, or to make a meal, it’s possible the culprit is your pantry. This seemingly low-maintenance closet or cabinet that stores all of your dried goods, including cans, cereals, breads, pastas, and more, can be a major source of stress impacting both your processes in the kitchen but also your entire house. How many times have you had to dig into that pile towards the bottom of your pantry to find an extra paper towel roll or pack of paper plates? Us too.
It’s time to put a stop to pantry mayhem forever, in a way that is sustainable, logical, and convenient. I recently overhauled multiple memorable pantry projects, including one for a busy working couple, Alex and Justin, who had their fourth child during the pantry flip. While you may think coming home to an Insta-worthy nursery is best, an ultra-organized pantry is a game changer in postpartum life, Alex told me. Here is the process I followed to change her relationship with her pantry, that you can use in your own home.
Step 1: A Clean Slate
You can’t organize what you can’t see, so I start by taking every single thing out of the pantry. Most people are shocked to find out just how much has been crammed in there over the years. Alex in particular was completely shocked when she walked in to find her kitchen covered in pantry items.
While it may seem taking everything out is just for organizing, it actually gives my team a chance to deep clean the space, and evaluate the shelves for any broken or weak areas that may impact the pantry’s functionality. Some clients like to get fancy on this step by adding cute wallpaper, upgrading shelves, painting walls, or even just lining boring white wire shelves with a wire shelf liner.
PRO TIP: Don’t empty your entire pantry during a stressful work week, or when you are about to host a party. It can take some time to work through everything that comes out of there.
Step 2: Divide and Conquer
If you love categories, this step is for you. I work with my team to break down the items into various categories, based on that particular family’s needs. It always looks way more terrifying spread all over the counters and additional tables I use for sorting than it actually is. Think of it as a puzzle that needs to be categorized to best put it back together.
Typically, I end up with categories such as breakfast, dinner, canned goods, sauces, baking, snacks, and drinks, among others. Once you start you will quickly see what categories emerge for your own particular buying patterns. For example, Alex’s family had their own section for s’mores, because they camp often and make backyard bonfires, and another section just dedicated to popcorn. Other families will have other specific categories like this.
While I sort, I check every expiration date, throwing out and combining similar foods (Alex had three boxes of Raisin Bran from a strong pregnancy craving). Pitch items that are expired, and consider making a donation pile for a local food bank where you can take items you no longer need, or have too many of.
PRO TIP: For easy organization, I use dollar store bins, labeled simply with post-its, to keep like items together.
Step 3: The Art of Decanting
When you see a beautiful and well-organized pantry, you will notice that many foods aren’t in their original boxes or containers. This creates more space because it helps you combine similar items, such as the three separate half-eaten boxes of Raisin Bran I found in Alex’s pantry. These all can live together in one cereal pouring container.
However, you don’t need to decant everything, just items you use daily or often. This also helps you to save money, but showing you quickly what you need and don’t need. Some items to start with are: pretzels, nuts, seeds, coffee, and dry cereals. In addition, you may want to decant flour, beans, rice, pancake mix, sugar, and other baking items if you have the space.
PRO TIP: To save the expiration date and any cooking instructions or measurement, cut out the label and place it right inside the jar with the food. This will save your life the next time you have 5 minutes to determine if those pretzels you are sending to preschool are nut-free.
Step 4: Handpicking the right products for YOUR family
Anyone can go to a home goods store and pick out beautiful jars and matching containers. But my team specializes in this process to fulfill specific needs in your family’s kitchen. Choosing products can feel like a scary step that will be expensive, but the truth is you can organize your pantry for free if you choose to. With time and creativity and repurposing boxes and containers, you can be just as organized as any influencer you’ve seen on Instagram.
However, if you are able to throw a little money (or a lot) at the problem, you will have years of pantry organization. We are able to work with any budget when it comes to products for your pantry. Here are a few places to start:
Budget friendly: Dollar Tree, Walmart, Target
Combining style and function on a medium sized budget: Amazon, The Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA
Elevated budget and style: Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, and CB2.
To get started with product picking, measure your space, including the length, width, and depth of each shelf. Shelves often come in a standard 12” or 16” depth, or you may be one of the lucky ones who have adjustable shelving. Keep your receipts in case.
PRO TIP: Working with me means your products are cheaper, as I get trade discounts, allowing me to get more for your money.
Step 5: Finishing the puzzle
Putting it all back together isn’t easy, and sometimes it takes me more than one try. Be flexible, keeping an open mind that your first plan might not be your last. Once in awhile, you may find you have to put a box of macaroni in your breakfast bin because it didn’t fit in it’s spot — everyone will survive (or they may end up having a mac and cheese breakfast).
First, plan out what foods your children should be able to access, and plan for those to go lower. Alex had a separate snack cabinet with foods her kids could access, where I added a turn table organizer for granola bars and smaller snacks for easy access. Turntables also work well for oils, sauces, and other taller items in the corners of your pantry.
PRO TIP: Place “high traffic” items in the most accessible space. Nobody wants to be digging for their favorite oatmeal every single morning.
Step 6: Maintaining your masterpiece
This is where it gets hard. It’s like your last attempt to change your diet — anyone can hang on for a few weeks, but for it to really last it needs to be a lifestyle change. Periodically, dedicate 15-20 minutes to reorganizing your pantry every few weeks or months. This can be most effective right before a big shopping trip.
Move items back to their locations, and notice labels and boxes that aren’t working for you. For Alex, some of the containers weren’t as easy to access for her kids as she originally thought, so she ended up swapping a few of them so she didn’t have to help her 5 year old open the pretzel jar every time. She also ended up switching a glass jar from the kids zone to an adult shelf because it was heavier for them to lift. These small changes become obvious with use, and checking in with yourself to see how the organization is actually working for you will create lasting change.
PRO TIP: Do this update as well before the holidays, when you might be needing specialty items. Leave some extra space for those.
My favorite product list
If you aren’t sure where to start, try out some of my favorite products:
To get started with Simply Organized Interior’s kitchen organizing services, schedule your one-hour consultation here.