This week’s challenge is to organize pantry, spices, and other food storage areas so you can easily find what you need, and keep things fresh and safe from pests.
Pantry and Spices Organization
You will need to do this challenge whether your home has a dedicated pantry space or not, because although I’m using the term “pantry” the challenge is really about organizing food storage areas, and everyone stores some food in their home.
If you’re lucky enough to have a space dedicated for this function great. If not, you just have to be more creative with your cabinet and other space in your kitchen or other areas of your house to store things for your family to eat.
Are you new here? The Organize Pantry, Spices & Food Challenge is part of the 52 Week Home Organization Challenge. (Click the link to learn how to join us for free for future and past challenges if you aren’t already a regular reader).
Step 1: Declutter And Get Rid Of Expired Food Items
The first step in the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge is to declutter your food storage areas, getting rid of things that don’t belong in them and also getting rid of expired or old food, or food you know you and your family will not eat.
I did this recently, and was embarrassed to find some really old stuff lurking in the back of my pantry. After I cleared out all the old stuff though I had so much more room, and it was very freeing.
To do this step take everything out of the pantry or other food storage areas (and if you’ve got multiple places you’ve been storing stuff this is even more important) and look at each item, making a decision of whether to toss it or keep it. (If the item is unopened and not expired, but you know you’ll never eat it please donate it to a food pantry.)
Optional And Mandatory Cleaning Up While Shelves Are Empty
While everything is off the shelves it may also be a good time to sweep or vacuum up in the pantry, reline shelves, or otherwise clean up spills and messes that may have occurred in your food storage areas.
Spills and drips will attract pests, so make sure to clean these up, so this is mandatory. On the other hand, prettying up your shelves is not necessary so only do it if you’ve got time and energy, so that part is optional.
Step 2: Categorize What You’ve Got Left
The next step in the Pantry and Spices Organization challenge is to categorize the food that you’ve got left. Here are some common major categories, but you should categorize things the way they make sense to you, and also depending on what your family likes to cook and eat.
- Dry goods, such as flour, sugar, etc.
- Canned goods, and jars
- Dried food, such as pasta, rice, beans and grains
- Boxed items, such as cereal and crackers, and also mixes
- Beverages (not yet in the refrigerator)
- Root vegetables, such as potatoes and onions which are not stored in the refrigerator or freezer
- Pet food and treats
Once you categorize everything and place like items together you may realize you have several duplicates of certain items. That is fine if you will use them before they go bad, but you may also realize you’ve got way too much of a particular item and can get rid of even more.
Step 3: Make A Pantry Inventory So You Know What You’ve Got From Now On
If you’ve kept the food and haven’t gotten rid of it in one of the steps above, then I am presuming that you actually plan to eat this food at some point before it goes bad. To make sure you do that create an inventory system so you can plan meals to use these ingredients.
In addition, using a list from now on will keep you organized in the future because you will not run out of staple items anymore. If you use an item regularly, and it has a long shelf life, your goal should be to have at least two of them at all times in your home. The one in use and the one ready to be used as soon as you finish the other. When you get the spare make sure to write down on your grocery list to pick up another at the store. You’ll never run out of staples this way!
Obviously, not everything is a good candidate for this system, such as things which go bad quickly. However, it is a wonderful system for certain non-perishables, and not only food but also for items like toiletries and paper supplies, such as paper towels and toilet paper.
Please note I don’t want you to get too caught up on the inventory, and making a very meticulous list. Instead, go with broad categories and provide only as much detail as necessary to make it useful and functional, instead of getting bogged down counting grains of rice. Your goal is to organize pantry space, so don’t lose sight of that.
Step 4: Organize And Containerize Your Food
Now that you’ve got everything categorized and inventoried, now is the time in the Organize Pantry Challenge where you put everything back away in your pantry or other food storage space(s).
If you can put everything together in one space that’s great, such as if you’ve got a walk-in pantry, but if you’ve got to spread things out throughout the house because of lack of large amounts of central storage space in your kitchen that’s fine too. Just make sure you choose cool dry areas, and not those which have wide temperature variations since this will cause food to spoil much more quickly.
Group Items By Category Within Your Pantry
Just like with the Kitchen Cabinet Organization Challenge last week, when we considered the “zones” in our kitchens, we need to consider that same issue this week during the Organize Pantry Challenge.
Think about the zones in your pantry, and what can go where. I suggest grouping items in your pantry, to the extent possible, in the same way you categorized them earlier in the challenge. This will generally keep like items together, making things easy to find and get to when needed.
Try to place bulky items at mid-height for ease of getting them off the shelves. Place lighter items up high, where they are easy to get off shelves without fear of falling and hurting anything, and cans and jars at a mid to lower level. Obviously, the things you use most frequently need to be given the easiest access.
If you’ve got extra space in your pantry after placing all your food in there, you can use some of the extra room to hold seldom used appliances, pots and pans, etc., such as on high shelves to clear counter and cabinet space.
Location Of Snacks In Homes With Kids
The one thing I recommend being in a category by itself are snacks, especially if you’ve got kids. Where you place your snacks in your pantry, as part of the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge, really depends on your family situation. If you’ve got young kids you may want to place snacks up high where they can’t reach them.
On the other hand, perhaps you have older, trustworthy kids. In that case you may want a bin of healthy snacks within easy reach to encourage healthy snacking, and only have the occasional less-healthy treats in a more out of the way location. This allows you to let them help themselves without you having to assist every single time they want something. You decide what works best for your family.
Containerize Much Of Your Food For Beauty, Function And Controlling Pests
The reason you don’t want open food containers in your pantry is because they attract pests, such as insects and rodents. Trust me, I live a stone’s throw from corn fields — mice love open food containers, or even closed boxes and packages that aren’t sealed up.
Because of the “mouse incident” in our house a few years ago I’m probably more of a stickler for this than some, but we keep all the food we can in plastic bins, with lids on them, to deter pests. I just group things into categories and it keeps things organized and safe at the same time. If you aren’t as concerned about pests in your area you still may want to consider storage baskets for grouping like items together as part of the Organize Pantry Challenge just to keep things together and easily accessible.
I will note, however, that root vegetables, such as potatoes and onions need to “breathe” so you can’t put them in a closed container.
Labels Are Your Friends
Whether you containerize or not in your pantry, labels are your friend. Part of the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge, therefore, is to label either the containers or the shelves of your pantry to help with storage and organization. You can use either a label maker, such as the one shown on the right, a permanent marker, or get crafty with it, whatever you have time and desire to do.
First, labels are important if you take things out of the package so there is no doubt what you’ve got in there. You don’t want to mistake salt for sugar, or baking soda for baking powder, for instance.
Please note if you take things out of their package for storage you may want to note somewhere the expiration or use by date for the food product too, so you use it before it goes bad, or know when to throw it out.
Second, labeling shelves or containers holding a category of items is an excellent way to make sure it is easy for you (and other family members) to put things away in the right place, or find something again easily. After the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge is completed the goal is for you to be able to have any family member unload the groceries into the pantry without assistance, because the labels will tell them where to put things.
Follow The Last In, Last Out Rule
Make sure when you’re doing the Organize Pantry Challenge that you place things in your pantry in such a way that you’re following the last in, last out rule. This is important for all foods, but especially is a good rule for canned and jarred foods.
The best way to explain this rule is with an example. When putting away jarred spaghetti sauce from the grocery store place the newly purchased jars at the back of the section of pasta sauces, moving the older jars closer to the front. Then, when you’re ready to use one just grab the one up front.
This method makes sure you always use up the older food first, and don’t leave one jar of sauce lingering so long in the back of the pantry that it expires before you ever use it.
Please note that if you use a lot of canned goods, a can organizer (such as the one shown to the left) will naturally help you use this rule by the way it is designed to load cans.
Spice Storage And Organization
Lots of people get a bit carried away, in my opinion, with organizing their spices. There are many cute and awesome looking spice racks and organizers available that can make us feel like we’re Alton Brown or another gourmet cook, but they shouldn’t be a high priority if you’ve got lots of other organizing to do first, unless you use your spices all the time.
The important thing, whether you splurge on a spice organizer now or not, is to keep your spices in well labeled airtight jars or tins, and keep them where they’re handy (but not too close to the heat). Further, unless you use a lot of a particular spice quickly, then it is best to buy your spices in small amounts, even if the cost per unit is higher, since they tend to lose flavor quickly and need to be replaced often.
A simple spice rack (such as the one shown to the left) or a drawer for your spices may be all you really need. Truly consider how many spices you have, and don’t buy or use something either too big or too small for the amount of spice containers you truly use, on a regular basis.
Step 5: Consider These Pantry, Spice And Food Storage Solutions
When you’re doing step 4 of the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge consider some of these pantry storage solutions to help you get the job done. Which ones will work best for you depend on your kitchen’s layout, your personal preferences, and what your family eats and cooks on a regular basis.
- Plastic or glass canisters with locking lids, and seals to keep in freshness (ideally clear to see contents inside)
- Storage baskets or tubs, with or without lids
- Can organizers (such as the one suggested above)
- Lazy susans or turntables (see to the right)
- Plastic bins to group like items (nice if they are pull out, but not necessary)
- Spice racks or organizers (many varieties, such as for the wall, over the door, cabinet, shelves, magnetic, etc.)
- Over the door rack, to increase storage space on the inside of your pantry door
- Shelf expanders or organizers, to stack more things and increase shelf space
Please let me know how you liked this week’s portion of the 52 week home organization challenge, the Pantry and Spices Organization Challenge! And make sure to share it with your friends!!! I’ll be seeing you all soon!