You might know the feeling of hopelessly staring into a pantry, frozen for minutes at a time, unable to decide what to grab or where to find it. Your beloved grains and chips are stuffed behind the treat you snagged yesterday at Whole Foods. There’s a half-eaten bag of popcorn that you last munched on…when, exactly? And how many jars of marinara are really buried back there? The root cause of this annoyingly overwhelming scenario might be pretty straightforward: There’s a good chance you just can’t see what’s really going on in the chaotic abyss of your pantry or cabinet.
Getting a handle on organizing your pantry can streamline your snacking habits and meal prep, sure. But how you store (and take care of!) your food can go a long way in making the experience of feeding yourself—and others—more pleasant and enjoyable too. “Much like a tidy room helps create a calm and inviting bedroom for sleep, opening the door to an organized pantry can foster calm and creativity in the kitchen,” culinary and integrative dietitian Marisa Moore, RDN, tells SELF. Keeping your pantry in order not only gives you peace of mind, it can also spark your imagination and help you create well-rounded, satisfying meals.
That said, achieving a Pinterest-worthy pantry is daunting in and of itself. Who has the time for an hours-long organization project? And who wants to make a total mess voluntarily, only to have to clean it up again? Here’s the thing: Keeping a tidy pantry doesn’t have to require an overhaul of your entire routine, or even a full day of work. Some small, regular habits, along with a few organizational hacks, can help you get there—and, more importantly, stay there. We tapped RDs and organization experts for their tips on keeping a tidier pantry. (And once you’ve made all that nice new room, don’t forget to stock up on our 2023 Pantry Award winners. They’re worth the valuable real estate—we promise.) Remember, your pantry needs to work for you, not the other way around.
1. Consider who uses your pantry—and what they use it for.
Though it’s easy to fall in love with an organization system you saw on TikTok, attempting to arrange your space picture-perfect might not actually make the most sense for you and your family. “Believing your pantry needs to have matching designer jars and elegant labels to be organized is a myth,” Moore explains. Acknowledge this from the get-go. Then, Moore says, focus on tailoring your space to the people who use it the most: “The best arrangement depends on your household’s needs.” If you have small children, for example, it might make sense to put the snacks they prefer on the lower shelves to ensure they can reach them. Baking supplies, on the other hand, can be moved to higher shelves for adult access (and for less-frequent use, if that applies to you). Prioritizing how you like (and need) to use your pantry will take you much further than a bunch of matching woven baskets.
2. Check and chuck what you no longer need.
“When a pantry is in disarray, it’s easy for grains and other foods to go unnoticed and eventually expire,” Moore says. Lisa Jacobs, founder and CEO of the home organization company Imagine It Done, agrees: The first step towards a decluttered pantry, she says, is getting rid of everything you lost to The Mess. “Review your contents, then toss the unnecessary and expired. Then, you can categorize and curate.” Depending on the size of your pantry or food cabinet, this shouldn’t take you more than an hour. Take everything out of your pantry—yes, everything—and go through each item to see if it needs to be thrown out. (And if you’re unsure about how long a pantry item lasts, or whether it’s still good, [read this].
3. Opt for transparent storage solutions.
Once you’ve settled on the items that you’re keeping in your pantry, you can begin the organization process. For Jacobs, this means removing some foods from bulky packaging and placing them into transparent storage containers. “Always decant,” she advises, as this will create uniformity within the space, allow you to see how much product you have, and prevent products from going stale, like an open cereal box or bag of pretzels. “A canister will seal the item while also minimizing the space of the box,” Jacobs says. Kristen Hong, author of Fridge Love, also points out that this is an excellent way to keep your grocery list up to date—no more wasting money on multiples. “When you can easily see what you have on hand at a glance, you’re less likely to buy duplicates that end up getting lost in the shuffle, [which will] ultimately save money,” she shares.
4. Label—and date—your items.
If you’re going to label your storage containers, make sure to include the expiration date alongside the name or description of the product. “I like to put dry goods like grains, beans, and flour in glass jars with dated labels,” Moore says. “This makes it easy to find what I’m looking for and keeps the food fresh.”
5. Utilize vertical space.
To increase visibility and declutter your shelf space, Jacobs recommends adding tiered shelves to make sure you can see your cans, dressings, spices, and other small items easily. “No more reaching for a can and not knowing which one you’ll grab,” Jacobs says. “A three-tier shelf allows you to get a clear view on each item.” A simple shelf riser can also do wonders here. If you still can’t see what’s on the higher shelves or easily reach them, you may want to hang a small step stool on the pantry door so you can quickly access what you need.
6. Integrate lazy Susans.
If you’ve spent too much time digging through the back of your pantry trying to find that dressing you swore you bought, this is for you. Professional organizer Karine Bouganim says you can make this problem disappear by adding lazy Susans to your pantry shelves. “You can find everything with the spin of a finger,” she says. “Nothing gets lost in the back of the cabinet.”
7. Schedule 10 minutes, once a month, to check in
Once you’ve completed the initial deep clean, put a monthly reminder on your calendar to give your pantry a little TLC. “I run my household with my 10-minute task rule,” Bouganim explains. “I take 10 minutes to clean out any given space and move on.” Once your 10 minutes of pantry tidying are up, move onto the next task, no matter how much progress you’ve made. “Doing this regularly really helps me keep things organized without having to dedicate a whole day to reorganization,” Bouganim says. And remember: It doesn’t have to be perfect; good enough is good enough! •
We can’t talk about food without talking about food access, which is why we put together this guide to redistributing food to the people in your community who need it. As part of the 2023 Pantry Awards, SELF has made a $2,500 donation to God’s Love We Deliver, a New York–based non-sectarian organization that prepares and delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses. We also donated the unopened items from our photoshoot for this project to New York Common Pantry.
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