All it takes is watching a couple episodes of The Home Edit for you to want to completely declutter your house and rainbowify every single room. And for most parents, their pain point is the pantry, where bags of half-eaten chips and cookies seem to add to the clutter. But if you want to be able to see how much cereal you really have, you’re going to need to know how to organize your pantry.
Although everyone has that one closet that they pray no guest ever goes into, it seems that the pantry also poses a problem, too. “A pantry is often the heart of the kitchen, but they can be disorganized for a few reasons,” Toula Adu, owner of BizzyBee Organizing says. “They can vary in size and have either limited or too much space, they’re prone to mess and spills, and they often serve as a storage space for many different kinds of foods.” On top of that, they might have deep or high shelves that make it harder to access items or you might not be able to see what you actually have — and wind up buying extra cans of cream of mushroom soup by accident. The result is that the pantry can become a source of stress in the kitchen, explains Adu, instead of being the starting point for a delicious family meal.
Here’s how you really need to organize your pantry so that can make a meal in no time (and have instant access to those snacks that you love).
Get Rid Of Expired Products
You can’t start the pantry organizing process if you’re moving around excess (and expired) products. “Begin your pantry project by removing everything from the pantry and wiping down the shelves,” says Lauren Saltman, a professional organizer and owner of Living. Simplified. “Your next step is removing expired foods as well as those food items that your family just isn’t going to eat.” And if any items have taken up residence in your pantry that shouldn’t be there (like a broom or cleaning supplies), see if you can find space for them in other areas of your home.
Be Pragmatic About Your Pantry’s Size
No two pantries are created equal. Some might be an entire closet, while others are just a few simple shelves. But no matter what size you’re working with, be realistic about space so that you can get the most out of it. “Inspiration photos can be something to aspire towards, but it’s always important to organize for the space you have,” advises Laura Kinsella, owner of Urban OrgaNYze. “Perhaps you have shallow cabinets instead of deep, or low cabinets instead of pull-out drawers — lean into what is currently working in your space, in order to determine prime real estate areas and flow.” You can even mimic drawers by using baskets, says Kinsella, or utilizing stackable bins and shelves to maximize vertical space.
Buy Organizing Products Last
Sure, seeing dreamy — and roomy— pantries might inspire a trip to The Container Store, but you need to focus on organizing your space first. Michelle Urban, a professional home organizer and owner of The Organized House knows this all too well. “It’s so tempting to run out and buy the cutest organizing products on the shelves and try to make them work in our space,” she says. “Unfortunately, these products often become an epic fail, with very little long-term organizing success because they typically aren’t the correct size or shape for space.” Having the right organizing products will be a big asset in helping you have the pantry of your dreams, but only after you’ve done all the prep work first. After all, containers might be cute, but they’ll only help organize your pantry after you’ve prepped your space.
Set Up Zones
Every family is different, and the way you store food will largely be dictated by how your family interacts with each item. That’s where having zones can be your pantry’s BFF. “Maybe you need a zone for breakfast foods, kids snacks, taco night, or baking essentials,” says Saltman. “Figure out what you use most frequently and see if you can group items together.” Another way to think about zones is by their function; for example, you might want to group canned goods, condiments, or even microwaveable meals together to organize your pantry. See what works best for your family to finesse your system so that it sticks.
Ditch The Big Boxes
A Costco run can mean significant savings (and woot, yummy croissants), but it can also leave you with lots of big ‘ol boxes that never fit well into your pantry. So as soon as you get home, be sure to take all your items out of their packaging so that you can see what you have. “You will actually use what you buy if you can easily see and grab it,” says Adu. “Things like granola bars, chips, and bottled drinks should usually be unpackaged and then placed in a bin or container.”
Maximize Shelf Space
Pantries are notorious for not having the exact dimensions that you might need to store your food well. You can work around this, though, by taking a look at your size dimensions to find items that will work with your space constraints. “Invest in a shelf riser (to take advantage of the height between shelves) is a great solution for your canned goods,” says Saltman. “Do you have dead space in the corners of your pantry? Consider using a lazy Susan to hold condiments and other items.” And if space allows, you can even consider placing an over-the-door rack to keep items, or utilize the wall space, which can serve to house a spice rack.
Create A Grab-And-Go Section
There’s nothing like packing your child’s lunchbox and struggling to get snacks out of their boxes. When time isn’t on your side (which it never is when you’re a parent), you’ll need a separate station in your pantry that’s specifically for easy-to-reach items to help organize your pantry. “Create a grab-n-go snack bin that doesn’t involve meal prep or cooking,” advises Kinsella. “Grouping snack bags and bars together means everyone can easily access these items when hunger strikes!”
Use Clear Containers
It never fails. You buy extra Cheerios because you could have sworn that you were down to dust. But when you get home, you see that you still have a full box. To avoid extra buying (and then having to store all that backstock), use clear bins, advises Megan McGovern, an organizing expert. “Use clear bins to contain categories in the pantry,” she says. “Clear bins create visible organization so you can always see what you have on hand.” This allows you to take advantage of vertical space that you might not be able to do with traditional packaging. Plus, the lids will keep your food fresher, which might not occur when you store food in the box it came in.
Think About Your Family’s Needs
Even if you’re the person who does most of the meals in your home, chances are everyone else is using the pantry, too. That might mean having to tailor the space so that it works for all the members of your household. “Perhaps you’d like your kiddos to reach their cups and bowls, or you’d prefer they don’t have access to sweets 24/7,” says Kinsella. “Determining homes for each item is the first step in realizing your pantry‘s full potential, and keep in mind that safety comes first. Plastic may be preferred for little hands, and items with sharp attachments should be kept at a safe level.”
“It makes more sense to use the lower shelves for things you use often,” says Adu. “Store bigger appliances or less used items on the top shelves.” That way, your pantry can be accessible to everyone.
Unlike other storage areas in your home, your pantry is very much a living, breathing component of your kitchen. While no one is saying that you shouldn’t stock up at your local super store (after all, how can you pass up those big boxes of Goldfish and tons of toilet paper?), you’ll need to be able to contain all the clutter that comes with it. So use these tips to organize your pantry staples, and soon, mealtime will be even more delicious.