Pantries are one of my absolute favorite areas to organize! It's also one of the areas of the house that people tend to struggle with the most. So I get so much satisfaction from seeing a client's eyes light up when they see their newly organized pantry. Like this one that i recently completed...
I've received countless texts and messages from follower's and some real-life friends with pictures asking me for tips on their pantry. Everyone wants an organized pantry, but most people don't know where to start. So I'll walk you through my process.
Step 1: Empty the entire pantry
Yes, you read that correctly...empty the ENTIRE pantry. Make sure you have a table or clear counters to place everything on, keeping like items together (this helps with step 2). Remove everything, checking expiration dates as you go. Toss anything that is past it's date. Anything that raises questions, probably should be tossed as well. Do you have any sauces that are opened but you're not sure how long they've been opened? Then go ahead and toss it. Always err on the side of food safety. Also make sure that what you may be keeping in the pantry should be stored there. Some things are shelf stable until its opened. After opening it needs to be refrigerated. For example, maple syrup...this is different from regular pancake syrup. Real, pure maple syrup must be refrigerated once it's opened, and if you buy pure maple syrup you know this stuff is too expensive to not store properly.
Step 2: Sort & Categorize everything
If you weren't sorting and checking things as you emptied then this step will take longer. It helps to keep like items together so you can create zones as you place it all back in the pantry. Keep cereals and other breakfast items together, and all baking stuff, all snacks, and mealtime staples etc. If you didn't already, then toss anything that's expired. While you're at it, use this step to also look through everything and consider if it's something you really should/need to keep. Do you even like this item? Will anyone in your home even eat it? If you answered No, and it's unopened, and not expired, then take it to a food pantry or just toss it (because let's be honest, are you really going to make the trip or will it just sit in your house creating more clutter?).
It may sound wasteful to toss food, but wasn't it wasteful to buy it in the first place, right? At this point, forget about being wasteful. You should have considered that before you spent the money. So now you just need to be more methodical, and mindful when you go shopping so you don't waste anymore in the future.
Step 3: Clean your pantry
Give your pantry a good wipe down. Make sure there are no spills or sticky messes. You could go one step further, and lay down some shelf liner. This is just personal preference, and is totally optional. Shelf liner looks nice, but it also makes future spills or leaks easier to clean up in the future since it's a more wipeable material (assuming you have solid shelving). If you have wire shelving, then you may want to consider this type of shelf liner. This helps small things from falling through the cracks, literally. Plus it looks nice.
Step 4: Place Zones
Decide the placement for each of your zones. Zones (categories) will vary by household since each household's eating habits vary. Consider the space you need for each zone when deciding placement so you have enough space for everything. Also think about where you naturally go for certain items, and maybe place that zone in that space. Also consider children, and if you want them to reach things or not.
If you realize space is going to be an issue, then consider relocating items that aren't food. Maybe you have a space somewhere else, where you could store these items especially if they are seldom used items.
My suggestions for zones include...
Meal staples (pastas, rice, sauces, etc)
Disclaimer: First things first...make sure the rest of your household is on board with the organization or at least discuss the plan with them. If your placement of things changes too much, some family members may not like it even if the organization is beautifully functional. Some people don't like change, and don't want to adjust to new locations. Explain why you want to get things organized so they all understand your goal, and maybe they'll be ok with it.
As a professional organizer, I always have to make sure all family members are on board. I flash back to one of my very first paid jobs. Mrs. X hired me for help in the kitchen. We decided to start with the pantry, then we would move on to the rest of the kitchen. I didn't ask if her husband was ok with this, and on day 1 we removed all the contents of the pantry, wiped it all down, and then put it all back. Some things moved to a shelf up or down, or moved to the opposite end of the shelf. Mrs. P was very happy with the new organization, and thought it was going to work so much better. We agreed that I would touch base to schedule the rest of the kitchen after the holidays that were upon us. So a week later I called, and pretty much got fired LOL! She said it was because her husband hated the new pantry, and it was because things were no longer in the exact same spot as they were before.
Obviously you can't get fired from your own home, but you certainly wouldn't want to totally irritate your family...or maybe you do, but then that's on you LOL
Step 5: Choose your baskets, bins and containers
So this step is totally optional, and if you don't want them, that's fine. You are finished so go admire your beautifully organized pantry. But I am going to explain why I support the use of bins in the pantry. Some people love the look of the baskets and bins, and other people don't. It's all personal preference, and when I work with clients that choice is all theirs. I can get them organized without them. Professionally speaking, organization can work without the bins, and I can still make it look gorgeous.
Personally speaking, I LOVE, I mean LOVE LOVE LOVE using the bins and containers in a pantry. That's because my organizing style is one where I marry the organization and the aesthetic. I like to have a beautiful space, and one that makes me smile everytime I look at it. I am going to list all my reasons for loving the bins, and some are hard functionality and others simply aesthetic.
Food packaging is ugly and I don't want to see it. Baskets and bins are more attractive.
Bins create uniformity. It's so much more pleasing to the eye when everything is uniform and symmetrical.
I can see when we are out of something. My kids can no longer leave empty boxes in the pantry after they have taken the last of something.
My kids can see what we have, and have stopped asking if we have such and such.
It's easier to make my grocery list because i can see when something is empty unlike with the boxes they come in. Takes me back to the fact that i no longer have empty boxes left behind from the kids who are too lazy to throw out the box.
Tips and advice for using bins and baskets:
There are so many types of baskets and bins to use, and they each have an ideal use/purpose. Some food items can be decanted and others not so much. So that plays a factor in the type of bin to use. The different styles can be mixed and matched in the pantry though, which gives a nice look. Getting too matchy can actually look cluttered which defeats the purpose.
Things like flour, sugar, cereal, pasta, rice, and cookies should be put in the airtight containers like the Oxo brand, which is my personal fave. Rubbermaid also has a collection called Brilliance that is also perfect for these types of foods.
Rotating bins (aka lazy susans) are perfect for sauces, oils, vinegars and the like.
Obviously canned goods can't be decanted. There are many ways to handle cans. If you don't want to see them, a basket with a label or tag is a great choice. But there are tons of other baskets from metal to acrylic that could accommodate cans and allow to easily see the cans without losing the more uniform look of the baskets/bins. Then the tried and true tiered can shelves are always a great choice.
Of course, even if you don't want to empty all packaging, you can still use bins and baskets just for the look of them. There are so many options for pantry bins/baskets. It can be overwhelming to say the least. If that's how you are feeling when considering organizing your pantry then a professional organizer is a phone call away.
I'll leave you with one last photo from this project...the Before photos