July 8, 2011

How To: Organize a Pantry

Posted by Kristin

As some of you may know, organizing is a guilty pleasure of mine. In my world, an organized area is a happy area that allows me to bask in all its efficient use of space. My pantry, which I love ever so dearly for all the space it offers, was horribly organized. So this past Sunday, 4:45 p.m. rolled around and I thought, "Hey I've got an hour before I need to start dinner....why don't I tackle this dang pantry". Needless to say, it took more than an hour. We didn't eat dinner until 8 p.m. that night. But it was worth it.

Behind this simple bi-fold door.....

Lay a jumbled mess of jars, boxes, bags, and who knows what else.

Our snack shelf held lots of goodies buried by other goodies which led to us buying stuff we just didn't need.

Our staples shelf, with items like pasta, rice, canned goods, and cereal, was in a similar state of disarray.

The very bottom of the pantry was the black hole where plastic bags, onion skins, my trusty crock pot and various other items lived.

The top shelf held all my small appliances. They were always a pain to get down because they were so crowded. And yes that is a Cuisinart from 1975 but it still works like a charm and the best part- it was free!

After taking everything out one shelf at a time, I realized half the problem with the staples shelf was that I couldn't easily see what was there. Solution = a rigged up mini shelf. I constructed it from a narrow strip of sound board (think of really hard bulletin board material)and tropical cups we never used. I flipped the cups upside down, put the board on top and voila- a shelf! Disclaimer: when in the midst of a project, I have this problem with lacking the patience to wait and buy items I don't have that I need, like an actual pantry shelf. Hence, when I can, I use items I have, even if they're a bit out of the ordinary.

Next up was sorting out all the miscellaneous items I didn't need, condensing duplicate items, and getting rid of some old food. Considering I'm the only coffee drinker in our house and I use a french press every morning instead of a drip coffee pot, I don't really need two full packs of coffee filters (they've been in there for over 2 years).

I also realized that while having all my dry-goods in glass jars makes everything visible, its still hard to tell the difference between everything. I like to have a lot of different grains on hand but my husband Mike doesn't always know what's what. Lets just say,its not usual for me to ask for the brown rice and receive the barley. His reaction: "But they're both small and brown!". So out came the scissors, index cards, hole punch, marker, and twine. Can you say labels?

So now the staples shelf has its canned goods living large on a shelf and its jarred items lined up like soldiers, name tags and all.

The snack shelf got a similar treatment and now pretty much only houses items that are instant eat (as in no cooking required). The pasta used to live up here but that moved down with the other staples.

The bottom space got totally gutted, swept, and revamped. I've had a green step-stool from my grandmother in the bottom of the pantry for two years now but never used it because it was always buried in stuff. Now it holds the crockpot and mixing bowls, which can be easily moved to use it. It also creates a nifty little drawer effect for the basket of onions beneath it. Just slide out the basket, grab your onion (pair that with a little olive oil and garlic and you've got a great start to a meal) and be on your way. I also made a plastic bag sleeve out of an old handmade shopping bag. I just stuff the bags in the top and pull one out of the bottom when I need it.

Last but not least, the top shelf got rearranged. Items I use most often got moved to the front, while seldom used items took a back seat.

So now its an organized pantry in all its glory begging me to eat and cook. I've happily been doing that for the last week and its still organized- the sign of a good layout. If it doesn't work for real life (like when your rushing to get your cereal in the morning) it just doesn't work.

Now here are some humble thoughts on how to organize a pantry:

1.Only store items in the pantry that need a cool, dark, dry environment.

2. Break your items into categories: grains and pasta, breakfast items, snack items, sweets, baking goods, canned goods, backups of refrigerated condiments (ketchup, salad dressing, etc.), oils and vinegars, etc.

3. Keep a backup of frequently used items or items that are good for a quick meal: spaghetti sauce, pasta (long pasta and short pasta), beans, canned tomato products,etc.

4. Don't buy something only because its on sale. Make sure you'll actually use it or else it just sits in there for months (or years...).

5. Make sure its easy to identify items, either with clear jars or labels (or both if you're a bit anal like me).

6. Have a running list in your kitchen of pantry items as you run out of them. As soon as I use the last of an item, I try to jot it down on a list so I know to get it the next time I go grocery shopping.

7. Store the most frequently used items front and center. And if you have kiddos that can help themselves to a snack, make sure to put the food at a height they can reach.

8. Make sure your organizing system works for you and the way you live your life- it should make it easier, not harder!

A great resource for kitchen organizing, along with other rooms in your house, is:

The Home Organizing Workbook by Meryl Starr.

It covers every room of the house and offers great organizing and storage ideas. Best part is, I got mine on sale for $1 at Borders- gotta love a good deal.

Happy organizing!


  1. Great work!!!! We don't have a pantry because our kitchen is WEIRD. So I am limited to buying items that can fit into the wire shelving system we hung on the back of our basement door. This turns out to have been a VERY GOOD stroke of luck, because I can fill up a pantry like no body's business!

  2. Any tips on how to get rid of moths, Laura? They're driving me nuts. If I didn't have them I could then move on to eradicating the fruit flies, ants, and other assorted vermin.

  3. I had an issue with pantry moths last year (ugh!). I tried everything to get rid of them but what I really needed to do was find the root of the problem. So, I took every single item out of my pantry, one by one, and carefully inspected them. I eventually found it...a bag of rice full of these lovely little moths. I threw the bag away and [luckily] the problem went away too.


If it goes beyond that, here's a great article over at Apartment Therapy that I read when I was trying to figure out how to get rid of mine:


  4. Regarding fruit flies.

    Get a shallow, little container (like for dipping sauces or one of Zaiah's cups) and fill it with a couple spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar. Stretch some Saran Wrap over the top and poke a bunch of holes in it with a toothpick. Put this near your fruit and the little fruit flies will follow their noses into the container (dive bombing through the holes) and end up trapped. They will eventually drown....*long pause*...wow that just sounds cruel.

    Disclaimer: We do not condone animal cruelty here at PEC, but we make exceptions for fruit flies and pantry moths. :)



  5. Jenni ArchambaultJuly 14, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    Love the hanging tags on the jars idea!!!