We’ve all been there, it happened to me a few days ago, I opened my pantry and my eyes went wide with a little smirk on my face. It was a hot mess. I couldn’t find the freeze dried strawberries. (They were smashed and buried under other snacks.) I grabbed some freeze dried mangos instead, but there were only two small pieces left in the bag. Why didn’t I just finish these earlier? Where were the graham crackers? Whose house is this?
Pantries can easily become a dumping zone during rushed meals and snack times. I once opened my pantry and was wondering why it smelled so acidic? Turns out I had an acorn squash turn into a bacteria mold chia pet that was hanging out on the back of a shelf. Give yourself some grace, but maybe also try to clean it out every few months.
Whenever I reorganize my pantry I do it in three steps: clean, edit, visual. Sometimes I spend 20 minutes doing it, sometimes an hour. Do whatever works best for you. Maybe even try doing a mini clean during the three minutes your morning oatmeal is cooking. It doesn’t matter where you start, all that matters is that you start.
STEP ONE - Clean
This first step includes literally cleaning the shelves. You may not notice it, but if you take a look on your pantry shelves, they are probably dirty. No shame, life just happened! Pick a shelf and take everything out and put it on the floor or you counter. Wipe down the shelf, maybe disinfect it if you have some strange areas. (Like under moldy chia pets that once were vegetables.)
If you’re feeling ambitious, clear out another shelf and add to the pile of food on the floor. If you’re overwhelmed, start with this one shelf and move forward.
STEP TWO - Edit
Look at everything that you pulled out? Throw out anything that is expired. Donate anything that is still good, but you know you will never use to a local food pantry. Take a look at what you have and see how it can be grouped: grains, beans, nuts, pasta, jars of sauce, crackers, cereals, produce, snacks. Start putting these foods together. When you restock your shelves you want to put similar things together and in areas that make sense. When I look in my pantry, the first thing I see is the top drawer which is full of our snack food. That is typically what I want when I open the pantry. Dried black beans? Yeah, they’re on the bottom shelf. If you have pull out shelves, I also encourage you to place heavier things towards the back of the drawer. This is just physics, you don’t want to damage the drawer.
STEP THREE - Visual
The next step is to take things out of shapeless bags and put them into containers. Containers can make your home feel so much more cohesive and less cluttered. This step can cost you nothing, hundreds, or somewhere inbetween.
I like to use inexpensive ball jars. My favorite size are the large 32 ounce wide mouth Ball jars. They are only $1 per bottle and work really well storing the majority of the food I have in my pantry. Ball jars also come in a few sizes, so if you need a variety, feel free to pick up whatever sizes you need! I also like to label the tops with a whiteboard marker, so I can quickly find what I need and relabel the lids if needed.
If you want to go for a bigger appeal, you can go for something like The Home Edit where they organize everything into clear beautiful stackable containers, have professional labels on everything, and also organize everything into a rainbow color scheme. If I really wanted to show off my pantry, I would dive into this look. But for now I think I would be too anxious to buy something I didn’t already have a container for or I would feel like I had to buy chips in a blue bag to complete the rainbow.
Do I put everything in jars? Absolutely not, I don’t have a big enough jar for my bag of oatmeal from Costco, but Target does have one that will fit all my oatmeal and I’m very tempted to go get it.
If you also have items that can easily be grouped together (spice jars, onions, smaller produce, chocolate bars, apple sauces, small sauce packets) it’s a good idea to group those items together in a bowl or container. I used an old almond butter jar to hold my chocolates and a chip bowl to hold my onions.