Pantry Chaos! How To Reign It All In

July 1, 2015


My pantry is the heart of my kitchen. So it stands that its' shelves are always filled to the brim with all kinds of dried goods, canned foods, baking supplies, pastas, cereals and on and on. I had mentioned in my 5-Minute Fridge Organization post that I hate to waste food, so it goes without saying that the methods I use to organize my pantry are based on the premise that I must be able to see what I have in order to use what I have. I have been blessed in my home to have a walk-in panty, and I know not everyone has access to a large space, but I am a firm believer that any area, big or small, can be be put to good use with the right tools. Through trial and error and based on my own experiences I have discovered a few essential items that I think every pantry needs to stay organized. 


1. Shelf inserts - These are great to double storage in high or deep shelves that are so prevalent in pantries. I got a set of two expandable metal shelves from Costco for around $20. But Ikea also has a great options for around $5, here.  


2. Mason jars - Get these in bulk from Smart & Final (most bang for your buck in my experience), they go for around $10-12 for about a dozen. Be sure to get varying sizes - pint and half pint with a wide mouth are my fav because they fit a lot and stack well. Mason jars are incredibly useful for dried goods like pastas and keep nuts and seeds tasting fresh. Half pint sizes are also perfect to store extra spices as they work wonderfully in maintaining their freshness and aroma.  



3. Large glass jars- These are great for bulk items like flours, sugars (brown/powdered/white), chocolate chips, oats, rice and other grains. I got mine from Ikea in varying sizes for the items I was looking to contain, for about $3-10 each. Here are some examples


4. Inexpensive baskets - I love seeing those perfectly coordinated pantry organization pics touted all over Pinterest, but getting a pantry to look like a work of art while still maintaining its funtionality can be difficult, not to mention pricey. I think putting a $25 basket inside a pantry for "storage" is kind of a waste. After all, who's going to be looking in there but you? I think you should save your money on those expensive wicker/burlap/rattan baskets and opt for wallet friendly equivalents that can easily be found in the dollar section at Target or the container section in the Dollar Store. I usually get mine from Target because their dollar section always carries hordes of plastic containers and baskets for about $3. Tip: If you want a cohesive look, just purchase all your baskets in the same color. And go for square or rectangular shapes as opposed to ovals and circles, as they are notorious space wasters! These baskets are great for containing small bags of snacks, grains, baking supplies, or seasoning packets that don't have a home. 



5. Extra large plastic containers with lids - Use these at the floor of your pantry for warehouse-sized bulk items like four and rice. I purchased mine in a pack of 6 from (where else?) Costco for about $16. I have actually repurchased these exact ones 3 times (so far) to use in other nooks and crannies around my home.



6. Medium sized open baskets - These are great to store your onions and potatoes (Remember, never store them together!). A lightweight tea towel can be used to cover the baskets to further maintain freshness. I purchased mine in a set of three from Costco as food storage containers but quickly made use out of them here in my pantry instead to hold potatoes and a large bag of brown rice.


7. OXO containers - Okay so they don't have to be this brand, but I really love the popping lid action these nifty containers have. The best places to buy these are discount retail stores like Ross and Home Goods. Heads up for you Costco members - these come around every year in a pack of 8 for about $40. Say whaat? Score!


8. Reusable lables - Go to your nearest office supply store or other store that carries lables and stock up on varying sizes. Remember, don't spend tons of money on this either as reusable lables are so readily available you're very likely to find something cute that doesn't burn your wallet. I have found lots of chalkboard labels for cheap (hands up if you're loving this chalkboard craze too!), and just yesterday I found reusable white board labels at the dollar section at Target. I have used different types of labels around my pantry depending on the containers I am using, but I mostly stick with good old-fashioned masking tape - it's cheap and easy, and I don't get sad when it rips. =) 


9. Command hooks - The walls of your pantry are vaulable real estate, so don't waste them by leaving them empty! Adding a couple of command hooks (I used the 3 lb. ones) can clear off some clutter from your floors and corners. The hooks in my pantry hold lunch pails at a lower height so my kids can reach them. 


10. Chip clips - These are not just for chips! Use them to hold shut any open bag of food so you won't end up with a big mess on your floor. 



Now that we have all the tools we need I'm going to walk you through my pantry and show you what I've done to keep it functional and organized. 


1. I always group like items together i.e. categorize. If you're having a hard time with this, I recommend pulling everything out one shelf at a time and seeing what you have before putting items together. To get you started, you can refer to the categories I use:

     - Nuts

     - Tea/Coffee

     - Baking 

     - Spices

     - Canned Goods

     - Beans/Legumes

     - Snacks

     - Oils/Vinegars

     - Pastas/Flours

     - Medicine

     - Treats

     - Cereals


2. When you have your items together go ahead and see which groups are the largest and allot them the roomiest spots in your pantry. It's best to start shelving these larger groups from the edges of your pantry and working inward because you will save more space like this. 


3. Get your containers out! Use airtight mason jars for items that can go stale, specifically nuts and spices. Take out food items from their packaging based on which items will fit well inside your containers. For example, I've taken out spaghetti and a few other pastas from their packaging because I have containers that will house them well.



4. Set up your shelf inserts in areas where you have smaller items that can get lost. I've used my shelf inserts in the "Canned Goods" and "Baking" sections because cans are hard to stack without toppling over and many baking supplies (like baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, and spice jars) are small and can get misplaced easily. 


5. Some items are best kept in their original packaging, especially items from warehouse stores like Costco are already packaged neatly in square or rectangular boxes. When you start to run low on multiples of these, you can house them all together in a separate reusable container.


6. Make use of "uncoventional" pantry storage solutions. I have learned over the years to never throw away a perfectly usable container. If I don't have a spot for it now I know that I will definitely find a spot for it later. I recently reorganized my kids' craft cabinets opting for larger containers instead of the myriad small ones I had before. I ended up emptying 7 containers of varying sizes and piled them up for later use. Later as I was reorganizing my pantry I had an "Aha!" moment when I realized I could use some of these craft containers to house several food items instead. 


These containers which I purchased from Ikea originally held my kids crayons and oil pastels. I reused them in my pantry to hold small pouches of Indian spices (aka Shan Masala) which I took out of their respective boxes and labled before tossing them in these sturdy containers. Because a lot of these spices come in twos, I labled each box to show which spices were open and closed, so I can finish using one before opening another. 


I also had two very old Danish Butter Cookie tins which I was using to hold some of my kids art supplies. Since I have found other containers for their ever-expanding craft collection, I decided I could reuse these in my pantry too. These bags of flour, pastas and rices were getting lost in the corner of my pantry so I seperated the flours from the pastas and grains and used a thick piece of drawing paper and masking tape to label their contents. Now all these bags have a place to reside without getting smushed in a corner.


Additionally, I purchased a galvanized bucket at Target last year when it went on clearance. I use it sometimes for parties to hold drinks and ice. When its not being used for that, it sits at the floor of my pantry to hold (you guessed it!) extra drinks. My family does not drink soda but I always end up buying a pack of the fizzy stuff when we are going to have company over. Of course it never finishes so it goes in here until the next party.  



7. Label everything! My family laughs at the OCD way I have of labeling absolutely everything, but there really is no better way of staying organized and knowing where all your things are. It's important to get into the habit of labeling what you have because you won't remember where it is when you need it. I like to see what I have without opening a bunch of stuff, making a mess, and getting frustrated that I can't find what I need. So I always categorize, then subcategorize and label. This sounds like a lot of work, and perhaps if you're not used to organizing it might require some effort. But I promise you, if you spend some time intially organizing your space, you'll spend so much less time and energy figuring out where things are in the future. 



Now you should have a pretty good idea of how to organize your own pantry. I hope these tips helped. Until next time... happy organizing!







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