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How to Organize a Pantry

Spring is here which makes it a perfect time to take on a small organizing project. Here are some of my favorite tips on how to organize a pantry, as featured in If you’re in Part 2 of your Maeve’s Method spring cleaning and organizing routine this is an ideal small project to take on.

Step 1: Take Stock

Before you begin any pantry reorganization, it’s important to get a handle on its contents. Pantries fill up over time with household items and certain types of foods that are easy to let go. Stand in front of your pantry or kitchen cabinets and take a look for, then remove, the following items. Doing so will free up valuable real estate:

  • Non-kitchen stuff

    We tend to put thing where we can in our homes, as home storage can be limited. Pantries are one of the largest ‘extra stuff’ culprits. In addition to food, pantries collect household overflow like toolboxes, bulk toilet paper and light bulbs. Let your pantry do what it was designed to do and remove what doesn’t belong.

  • Mistake foods

    Sometimes we impulse buy food or purchase items for a recipe we never make. Rather than let it go, this food takes up permanent residence in our pantries. Review foods you bought on impulse or a special event, but never used, and unless you plan to use it in the short-term, let it go. Donate ‘mistake’ items to a local shelter or to your child or grandchild’s food drive.

  • Expired items

    If you’ve lived in your home for a long time you likely have expired food-stuff on your shelves. It’s time to let these go. Free up valuable space by clearing old, stale, or otherwise unsafe food items from pantry shelves.

  • Dietary no-nos

    Health issues crop up quickly, and at times we have to change diets from one day to the next. While we are good about bringing in the new food, we often don’t get rid of the old, with dietary no-no’s getting shoved to the back of shelves. If your doctor says you shouldn’t eat it, it’s time to remove it from your home.

  • Gifted foods

    It’s a common courtesy to arrive at someone’s home with a small gift, and very often it’s food. These are always well intended, but not always well thought out. Over time you may find yourself with a collection of foods that you don’t enjoy, don’t match your diet, or are for fancy occasions only. It’s OK to let these go and keep only what makes sense in your life.

Step 2: Maximize Your Space

With easy-to-remove items gone, take a look at the pantry space itself. Try these techniques to make efficient use of your entire pantry, including floor and shelves:

  • Maximize shelving

    Pantries often have unused space above and below the top and bottom shelves. If you can, introduce extra shelves to areas taller than a cereal box. First, do a quick sort of what you have by height. Then, place everything back on shelves, without stacking. If there’s 6-8 inches of wasted space above your stuff, introduce an added shelf.

  • Introduce trays, baskets or containers

    Use trays or baskets to make the most of pantry shelving. Trays or baskets are ideal for sectioning off space and keeping ‘like things’ together. For example, store baking supplies together, grouped by a tray, or inside a cozy basket. Trays also slide off shelves for easy access to items in back, and baskets are easy to carry to other parts of your home.

  • Use plate dividers

    Plate dividers (like these rust resistant cabinet shelves from Bed Bath & Beyond) are ideal for storing and stacking small items, like cans or spices. Introduce one – no installation required! – and they instantly double shelf space, allowing you to comfortably stack items more than ‘two cans tall’.

  • Keep floors clean

    Do your best to keep all items, except for trash cans, off the floor. It’s easy for loose bags and pantry overflow to end up lining the floor. Doing so creates a cluttered look, and can make this important area of the home feel ignored. Cozy things up by keeping everything at eye level.

Step 3: Fine Tune and Enjoy!

As a last step, use these simple techniques to help you further customize your space:

  • Think like a grocery store, for you

    Look at your life, and group pantry items according to your daily routines. For example, if you bake a lot, store all baking materials together for quick and easy use. Same with any other items you use together with frequency: store tea bags with honey, or store cereal with raisins. Next, place items on shelves according to frequency of use. Do you brew coffee daily? Store coffee beans on the easiest to access shelf. Design your pantry as if it were your own personal grocery store.

  • Rotate your items seasonally

    Do you eat canned soup in winter but never touch it in spring? Rotate pantry foods seasonally and keep important and active foods front and center, all year long. Get into the habit of doing this at the top of each season. Doing so will help you to see what’s left over from last year, and prepare you for what new foods to bring in.

Need further inspiration? Check out Brook’s magical Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge pantry makeover.

What are your top tips for maintaining a clean kitchen pantry? Share in the comments below.

Photo Credits: Pixabay, Victor Hanacek, Kaboompics, Picjumbo

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at or @MaeveRichmond.

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