Pantry Organization: 6 Steps to a Clutter-Free Kitchen

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A Woman in White Shirt Holding Clear Glass Jar

One of the easiest places for clutter to hide is the kitchen pantry. It’s too easy to close the doors and forget about the half-eaten packets of food, stacks of cans, condiments, and random baking goods. On a recent decluttering mission, I discovered I have not one but four bottles of red food dye. At the rate I bake, that should be enough to last me until I’m about 80.

If you are in the same boat, don’t worry, it’s a common problem. Many kitchens may look neat from the outside, but open those pantry doors, and it’s a different story. And it’s understandable! Awkward-shaped appliances, sachets of spices, cereal, small jars, storage tubs, pet food… There are so many things to organize that it becomes overwhelming. 

But, it typically reaches a point where we are fed up hunting for ingredients every time we want to cook or accidentally buy the same items over and over again because it’s impossible to find anything (…ahem, my four bottles of red food dye).

The good news is that if you’re ready to make a change, it is possible to have an organized pantry. The process will take time and commitment, but the results are worth it. And no, it doesn’t need to be expensive. Here’s a step-by-step guide to pantry organization to walk you through the process.

What You’ll Need

Everything listed below is covered in detail in the six step-by-step instructions, so read through those in detail before making any purchases. However, here’s a list of handy tools and containers that you might need to give you an idea of what we’re working with for our pantry revamp:

  • Measuring Tape: To measure shelves and storage spaces.
  • Notebook and Pen: For jotting down measurements, ideas, and an inventory of pantry items.
  • Baskets: For grouping similar items like snack packets or spice jars.
  • Bins: For heavier items like canned goods or bulk items.
  • Jars: Preferably airtight for storing dry goods like grains, pasta, and baking ingredients.
  • Lazy Susans: Ideal for corners or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Tiered Shelves: For better visibility of smaller items like spices.
  • Pull-Out Racks: For deeper shelves to access items at the back easily.
  • Labels and Marker: For clear labeling of containers and shelves.
  • Hooks and Wall Racks: For hanging aprons, utensils, or lightweight snacks.
  • Over-the-Door Racks/Organizers: For additional storage in small pantries.
  • Stackable Containers: To maximize vertical space.
  • Adjustable Shelving (optional): If you plan to reconfigure shelf heights.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Like all-purpose cleaners, sponges, and cloths for cleaning shelves.
  • Trash Bags: For discarding expired items and debris.
  • Donation Box: For items you wish to donate.
  • Pinterest App or Access: For inspiration and ideas.
  • Step Stool: For reaching high shelves.
  • Camera or Smartphone: To take “before” and “after” photos of your pantry.

Step 1: Understanding Your Space and Needs

Before you begin your organization overhaul, it’s a good idea to thoroughly assess your pantry’s size, shape, and layout. Take measurements and note features like deep shelves or compact areas. 

Get inspired by visiting your local IKEA or create a board on Pinterest with designs you like. Pantry layouts vary, so what looks best in photography or a store might not suit your space. Try to find reference points similar in shape or style to your pantry.

It’s also worth reflecting on how you’d like to use your pantry and how it fits your lifestyle. Do you have children who need access to snacks? Do you buy bulk dry goods for meal prep? Or are you a banana bread lover who is always baking? Aim to organize your pantry for your unique needs with optimal visibility and accessibility. Items should be grouped to prevent the need for constant rearranging.

Step 2: Clearing and Cleaning

Now we’ve got an idea of what we’d like our pantry to look like, it’s time to get down to business and get our hands dirty. First up, clear everything out. Yep, every single thing. This isn’t so much about tidying up as it’s about reacquainting yourself with what you’ve stashed away. 

Lay everything out where you can see it in Marie-Kondo style – it’s time for a bit of a pantry reality check.

Next, play the role of the expiration date detective. Go through each item and toss anything that’s outlived its shelf life. As you’re sorting, group similar items together. It’s like creating little families of food – your baking items here, your snacks there. This way, you’ll know exactly what you’ve got and how much of it.

Now, decide what stays and what goes. Keep what’s still good and what you’ll actually use. Got unopened stuff you’re never going to eat? Donate it to a local food bank or start composting. And, of course, anything expired or looking a bit dodgy needs to hit the bin. Safety first!

Finally, give your pantry a good scrub-down. An all-purpose cleaning spray or a mix of warm water and mild detergent should do the trick. Tackle every spill and crumb, and let the place air out before you start putting things back. Don’t worry too much about the placement; keep products grouped roughly together. We will perfect the layout in the following steps, and let’s face it – that’s enough work for one day. Congratulations, you’ve now got a fresh, clean slate to work with, which we can organize!

Clear Glass Jars With Brown Powder
Photo by ready made from

Step 3: Categorizing and Grouping Items

The next step to organizing the pantry is to group items based on how you use them. Are all your baking essentials like flour, sugar, and baking powder? That’s one group. Canned goods can be kept together, but sort them by use, not just all lumped together. For example, canned beans and pulses, canned fruit in another section, canned meals and soups, canned tomatoes and sauces, etc. Snacks should have their own spot, somewhere you can grab them without a second thought. 

Now, think about what you reach for the most. Those items need VIP spots to grab quickly – be it your go-to snacks or the spices you can’t cook without. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to whip up a spice-laden meal like tofu scramble and having to rummage through sachets and tiny jars – so allocate them a dedicated, organized space. 

If you’ve got kids, create a space just for them, with all their snacks within easy reach and anything not so kid-friendly stored up high. This way, your pantry isn’t just organized; it’s bright and caters to everyone in the family.

The exceptions to this method will be bulky and awkwardly shaped foods and appliances – we’ll arrange them separately later.

Step 4: Start Customizing

Now that we know our rough layout for the grouped items in our pantry, it’s time to consider if any customization is required before moving on to storage solutions.

Now, this doesn’t have to be an expensive renovation and may not even be necessary if you’re happy with the existing layout. Here are some ideas to consider before we commit to our storage solutions. 

First up, shelf placement – it’s time to get adjustable. Move those shelves around to fit everything just right, especially those taller items that always seem awkward to store. 

Consider where you will store your appliances and if a larger height is needed between shelves to accommodate them. When arranging appliances like air fryers and stand mixers in your pantry, prioritize ease of access and frequency of use. For bulky items like stand mixers, allocate lower shelves or sturdy bottom spaces where they can be easily lifted out without strain. Keep your most frequently used appliances on a middle shelf for easy access, so next time you’re craving air fryer cauliflower wings, you’ll be ready to go.

Next, look at those walls – they’re prime real estate. Get hooks or wall racks to hang essentials like aprons, utensils, or light snack baskets. 

Got a smaller pantry? No worries, there’s plenty you can do. Over-the-door storage is a lifesaver for keeping those spices, oils, and smaller bits and pieces in check. And stackable containers? They’re the secret weapon for maximizing vertical space without turning it into a game of Jenga.

Step 5: Choosing Storage Solutions and Tools

Okay, so now for the fun part – storage solutions. At this point, your pantry will already be in much better shape than when we started, but now, it’s about to go to the next level: Instagram-worthy. 

There are lots of storage options to choose from. Baskets are your best friends for corralling those little things like snack packs or half-finished bags of chips. They keep everything tidy and in one place. 

Heavy or bulky items can go into large tubs or bins. Cans can be placed onto tiered wire shelves or racks to use vertical space. As for your dry goods – grains, pasta, you name it – jars or clear storage containers are practical and give your pantry that clean, organized look.

Now, onto the clever stuff. Those hard-to-reach corners? Pop in a Lazy Susan. One spin, and you’ve got everything at your fingertips. This is particularly handy for condiments and sauces. Tiered shelves are a lifesaver for smaller items lost in the shuffle. They let you see everything at a glance. And for those deep shelves, think about pull-out racks. No more digging around – slide them out and grab what you need.

If you’re on a budget, channel your inner DIY spirit. Upcycle jars, boxes, or baskets for storage solutions that keep the bank intact. And don’t overlook the charm of second-hand finds – a little clean-up, and they’re good as new. 

Lastly, let’s not forget about labeling. Clear labels, whether handwritten or printed, are crucial. They save you from the guesswork and keep everything straightforward. Keep your labeling style consistent for a sleek look, and remember to update them when you switch out contents. This may seem unnecessary, but it can be easy to misidentify ingredients. I once accidentally used salt instead of sugar in a cake because my containers weren’t labeled – I’m sure you can imagine how tasty that was. So, trust me, a little labeling goes a long way in keeping your pantry organized, functional, and easy to navigate.

Step 6: Maintaining Your Organized Pantry

At this point, your pantry probably looks impeccable! Give yourself a pat on the back. Now you’ve done the hard yards, let’s talk about how to keep it in tip-top shape. 

Make a habit of doing a monthly once-over to ensure everything’s where it should be and to spot any areas that might need a little TLC. And hey, if something needs to be fixed for you, don’t be afraid to switch it up. Flexibility is your friend here.

Now, about managing what you’ve got in there. Keeping track of your inventory is critical. It’s not just about knowing what’s in there; it’s about smart shopping – no more buying a third bottle of paprika because you forgot you already had two. Before you hit the store, take a quick inventory and make a list. Trust me, your wallet will thank you. 

And remember to mix things up with the seasons. When the holiday baking season rolls around, ensure those baking supplies are front and center. If it’s an entertaining season and you have guests popping by frequently, have a snack basket with biscuits, chips, and snacks to offer. As for the rest of the year, keep adjusting your pantry to fit your current eating style and lifestyle – maybe you’re on a health kick or planning more family dinners. Your pantry should evolve just like you do!

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks

Featured image by Karolina Grabowska from


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