How to Organize a Pantry

Keeping your pantry organized can help you find what you need more easily.
Š Nichols

If retrieving a single item from your pantry feels like a grueling hunt through mountains of stray cereal boxes and canned goods, it's probably time to get organized. Getting your pantry in order might take a huge chunk out of your weekend, but it could be an investment in your overall quality of life. In the long run, getting organized will probably save you time when it comes to preparing meals and grocery shopping. It may even help save you money and make the kitchen more accessible to family and friends.

There are several tried and true methods for organizing your pantry. Many of these strategies use some of the following basic principles:


  • Group similar items together
  • Make sure items you use regularly are accessible
  • Put items in order of expiration date [source: Ehman]

This may seem pretty simple, but the key to successfully organizing your pantry is finding a system you can stick to. Your pantry should look the same a month after you organize it, and you should be able to find anything you need without spending a lot of time looking for it. That's where tools like containers, baskets and shelving can make a big difference.

Think about everything in your pantry. Foods come in an assortment of different shapes and sizes. Cereal, for example, usually comes in a box, nonperishable items often come in cans, and other ingredients like flour or sugar tend to come in bags. Fitting these items together in the same space isn't easy, and that's why using tools like stackable containers could help. If they're airtight, these tools might even help your food last longer [source: Tupperware].

Keep reading to find out what methods can get you on the road to organizing your pantry.


Methods for Organizing a Pantry

The method you use to organize your pantry will likely depend on several factors, including the size of your pantry, how much food you want to store in it, and perhaps most importantly, how you plan to keep it organized when you're done. No matter what method you decide to go with, the first step is always the same. Take everything out of the pantry and clean up the empty area. This will give you a great starting place, and once you see your pantry sparkling clean, you'll probably want to keep it that way.

Next, take a look at the contents you've removed from the pantry, and try organizing them into similar groups. In other words, put all the canned goods together in one spot, and do the same with all the spices, all the cereals and so on. Additionally, you should use this opportunity to get rid of any food that may be past its expiration date or that you simply don't use [source: Oprah]. Anything you want to get rid of that's still good can go to your local food bank.


Once you've gotten everything completely organized outside of the pantry, you can start putting it back in. Try putting the items you use least in the places that are hardest to reach and the items or ingredients you use the most right in front. If you have the room, you may want to set aside a section of the pantry to keep the ingredients for pre-planned meals (see sidebar on this page).

No matter how you decide to organize your pantry, there's more to it than just keeping your food in order. Read on to find out how to keep pantry food fresh.


How to Keep Pantry Foods Fresh

It's likely that many of the foods you keep in your pantry are considered nonperishable. That means they can last for years without going bad. These foods include canned goods, like vegetables, beans and tuna as well as grains, such as oatmeal, pasta and rice. However, not all pantry items are safe from expiration, and even some of the things that are will go bad if you don't store them properly. That's why organization is the key to keeping your pantry foods fresh.

When organizing your pantry, make sure to stock any foods that do have an expiration date in order. Those with the earliest expiration dates should reside toward the front of your shelves [source: Ehman]. That way, you'll use them sooner. It's also a good idea to buy airtight containers for items like sugar or your grains. There are two reasons for this. First, things like sugar and flour can get clumpy if they're exposed to moisture, and second, airtight containers will also help protect your food from critters like bugs or moths.


Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the foods in your pantry may not last as long as you think they will. For example, sugar and other dry goods usually last about a year if you store them properly, but oils may last only about six months in their original bottles [source: Martha Stewart]. You can make sure everything is fresh by labeling items with the date you purchased them. This will ensure that you'll always know exactly how long something has been sitting on your shelf.

On a similar note, spices and other flavoring items should be stored in a cool dark place. Light and heat can rob them of flavor and your dishes will pay the consequence. Perhaps the back corner of your pantry is the best place to keep these items. Sealable containers that block out light aren't a bad idea either [source: Martha Stewart].

Sometimes, it takes a little more to get things organized than what you have on hand at home. Read on to learn what tools can help you get your pantry in order.


Tools for Organizing Your Pantry

When it comes to organizing your pantry, using a few simple tools can make all the difference. Containers, baskets and stair step shelves may help bring harmony to the clutter of food that's currently populating your pantry. Aside from helping your food stay fresh, airtight containers can serve a number of other purposes as well. Many of these containers are designed to be stackable, which means you'll be able to maximize your storage space. Others come with measuring lines, and many of them are see-through, too [source: Brewer]. By using containers that have these features, you'll be able to tell exactly what ingredients you're running low on just by looking.

As for baskets, you can think of them like drawers. Instead of pushing aside canned goods to get to the cereal, for example, you simply pull out the cereal basket and the cans are within arm's reach. You can also set it on the table in the morning and when everyone is done eating cereal, you just put it back. Similarly, you can use these baskets to organize meals or everything you'll need to bake a pie. For busy home cooks, having everything they need in one easy-to-move basket could be a big time-saver [source: Naughton].


Another common complaint about many pantries is that the way they're designed allows the food at the front of the shelves to block the food in the back. There are tools that can serve as a solution for this -- stair step shelves. These shelves basically work like stadium seating at a movie theater. When you use them, you can put cans on the back of the shelf and still see them, because the cans at the front of the shelf are lower [source: Better Homes and Gardens].

Another tool you can invest in to help with your pantry project is a label maker. Of course, a pen and some tape would suffice, but using a label maker to label your pantry's contents could help pull your meticulously organized pantry together with a uniform, finishing touch. You can use it to label containers as well as different sections of shelving for specific items. This will make it just a little harder for items to end up in the wrong spot.

For even more ideas on how you can get organized, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Better Homes and Gardens. "Organize Your Pantry by Zones, Zone 3: Easy Weeknight Meals." 2010. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Better Homes and Gardens. "Organize Your Pantry by Zones, Zone 4: General Food Storage." 2010. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Brewer, Jennifer MS, CNS. "How to Organize Your Pantry." Nourishing Nutrition. 2009. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Ehman, Mandi. "7 Tips for Organizing your Pantry." FNC iMag. March 25, 2009. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Martha Stewart Living. "Organizing Your Pantry." 2010. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Mealtime. "Frequently Asked Questions about Canned Foods." (Accessed 01/19/2010
  • Naughton, Denise. "5 tips to organize your pantry to save time and money." ABC 15. January 12, 2010. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Oprah. "A Pantry With A Purpose." January 01, 2006. (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Palestine Olive Oil. "General FAQs of Olive Oil from the North American Olive Oil Associations." (Accessed 01/19/2010)
  • Tupperware. "Organize Your Pantry with Modular Mates." (Accessed 01/19/2010)