How to Organize Your Pantry So It Actually Makes Sense

Keeping a poorly organized pantry is one of the greatest ways to rob yourself of time, grow frustrated several times a day, and likely waste lots of food and money, too. But before we talk about a few great pantry organization hacks, first let’s talk about being honest. With yourself. Because honestly, if you try to create a pantry organization system that you’re not going to stick with, you’re only going to create more chaos in the kitchen than what you’re already dealing with.


In other words, don’t create some elaborate pantry organization plan if you know full well you’ll be tossing bags of chips and cans of soup in there without a second look inside of a week. But don’t worry, we’ve got plans for you disorganized types, too.

It All Starts with Cleaning

And cleaning out your pantry means getting every single thing out. Every can of Campbell’s soup. Every bag of flour. Every grain of rice. And then every speck of dirt. Wipe down the shelves with a rag and general purpose cleaner, and consider wiping down cans, bottles, and anything else that’s been in there that picked up some grit or grime.

Now it’s time to clean house, as it were. Go through everything you pulled out of the pantry and toss the expired stuff or the stuff you know you’ll simply never eat. (If it’s unopened and unexpired, of course consider donating it.)

Next, determine if anything is in the wrong spot altogether. Do you keep cleaning supplies and baking goods on the same shelf, for example. Wrong! Got your plastic baggies stored by the cans? That … is probably fine, actually. And so on.

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To keep things clean, accept that you’ll need to buy a number of containers, jars, or other air-tight foodstuff storage solutions. These will keep foods fresher, allow for easier organization, can be easily wiped clean, and yes, they make the pantry look better. You can always cobble together your pantry storage container solution, but for under a hundred bucks you can probably buy enough containers to hold all your pastas, rice, nuts, seeds, and so forth in containers that will easily stack atop and line up with one another.

Okay, you’ve cleaned, decanted, and thinned the ranks? Don’t put anything back, because it’s time we talk hardware.

Retractable Shelves, Lazy Susans, and Hanging Racks

The best way to give yourself the best access to everything in your pantry is to install some retractable shelves. These give you access to everything on the shelf without the need for digging. But you don’t need to spend a lot on pull-out shelves that will fill a whole pantry shelf. You can always buy a smaller shelf and designate the space left beside it for bulkier and/or less often used items.

For spices, canned goods, and other items that tend to be uniform in appearance, a turntable, AKA a lazy Susan, is a great way to give yourself easy access, but of course a circular piece of hardware will waste some space.

Installing spice racks on your pantry cabinet doors helps you use space that would otherwise have been wasted, and if you have a big enough pantry with a full-sized door, consider a kitchen hack of using a low-cost shoe rack with clear pouches that will offer lots of storage area and make seeing your foods easy. The pouches on these hanging organizers are the ideal size for things like jars of mustard, bottles of soy sauce, and so on.

Organizing a Pantry Without Buying Hardware

Don’t feel like shelling out for pull-out shelves and hanging whatnots? Fine, you can still have an organized pantry. For this approach, you’ll need to resist the temptation to fill the space up, though.

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Group like items with like, and stack what you already can, such as cans and boxed soups or veggies. Now create two rows on each shelf (with a third in the middle of wide pantries) with enough space between them so that you can clearly see everything in the row and can easily reach all the way to the back of the cabinet. You should put taller items at the back, of course, but the easiest way to keep a pantry organized without adding hardware is to make all the stuff you use all the time the easiest to access. (And if you really want to keep yourself in check, make lines marking the rows using painter’s tape.)

Also, remember like does not have to go with like in the pantry: if you use olive oil, salt, and baking powder multiple times a week, it’s OK to keep those things together at eye level even if, in theory, it would make more sense to keep the olive oil down with the coconut, canola, and sesame oils, for example. Savvy? Your system only has to make sense to you, is the way to think of it.

The Simplest Way to Organize a Pantry

Just get yourself some baskets — some big ‘ol baskets or bins or whatnot that you can fit several of onto each shelf in the pantry. Now look at everything you laid out on the counter during the cleaning phase and group stuff logically (cans of beans, snacks, baking stuff, etc.) and put things into baskets in said logical groups, making sure to leave some space in each basket, enough to jam in several more items if need be, because the need will come eventually.

Now label each basket (it’s OK if there are two snack bins or two baking bins or whatnot) and put ’em away. If you can’t manage to at least toss stuff into a basket, within which there can be madness but which will at least keep stuff grouped and produce the verisimilitude of order, then no organized pantry for you, sir.

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