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You can have an organized kitchen pantry…that stays that way!
I know, an organized kitchen pantry sounds impossible. I thought so too.
But finally, one fateful day I decided I wanted the pantry I saw in magazines, and I was going to make that happen!
There was only one problem…my budget was much lower than those people in the magazines. I couldn’t afford to (nor did I really want to give the time and energy to) totally remodel my pantry.
But I also couldn’t keep doing what I had been doing…that clearly wasn’t working!
You see, I’m a binge-cleaner. Guilty as charged.
One day I get a burning desire to deep clean, purge, and reorganize everything. So I do…in one crazy cleaning fiasco of a day!
And things look glorious. But then, a few things get out of place. And this is where my perfectionist, all-or-nothing attitude gets the best of me…I see those out-of-place things and I say “What’s the point?!” and put the item in my hand wherever, rather than where it belongs.
Thus, a vicious cycle
And so it was with our pantry. I would get an urge, clean it and organize it beautifully, only for it to go back to utter chaos a week or two later.
It was once I was pregnant with Little E that I decided this had to change. I knew there was going to be plenty of unknowns in our life when our bundle of joy came, and I didn’t want the location of the spaghetti to be one of them!
There had to be some way that I could create an organized kitchen pantry so that it was so stinkin’ easy to keep organized that not even I could mess it up!
And there was.
So here it is:
Five Easy Steps to An Organized Kitchen Pantry
Decide On Your Categories
To have a truly organized kitchen pantry, it’s important to not get carried away here with too many categories. This makes putting things away overwhelming and more complicated than it needs to be.
Write Down Everything
I started by writing down all the categories I could think of. Then, I narrowed down my list by deciding which categories I could combine.
This was my “everything I can think of” list:
- canned fish
- canned veggies
- canned fruit
- canned beans
- dried beans
- quick meals
- dried fruit
- dried veggies
- protein powder
As you can see, a pantry organized into 35+ categories would be insanely complicated!
Narrow It Down
So I began the process of combining these narrow categories into broader ones. For example, I combined oatmeal into the cereal category.
This was my new, smaller list:
- cereal: including cereals and oatmeal
- hot drinks: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, hot cider
- beverages: drink mixes, sodas, iced teas, etc.
- grains: rice, quinoa, etc.
- snacks: bars, chips, crackers, dried fruits, dried veggies, trail mix, etc.
- sweets: cookies, candy, etc.
- oil and vinegar
- baking: sugar, flour, chocolate chips, etc.
- quick meals: including canned fish
- soups: including broth
- health: vitamins and protein powder
- side dishes
While this was a much smaller list, 21 categories would still create a pretty confusing and time-consuming organization system.
Finalize Your List
Taking into account the size of my pantry, I thought it would seem reasonable to have 3 categories per shelf. We have 4 shelves dedicated to food in our pantry, so that meant I needed to create 12 categories.
To do this, I combined the above categories in a way that made logical sense to me.
When you are on this step, it is important that you find what makes sense to you. I grouped things based on what I frequently used for similar reasons, or what I found associated in grocery store aisles.
Here are the 13* categories that worked for our house:
- “Drinks”: iced tea, soda, coffee, hot tea, hot cocoa, etc.
- “Health”: vitamins, protein powders, etc.
- “Nuts and Seeds”: self-explanatory
- “Snacks and Sweets”: chips, candy, bars, trail mix, cookies, etc.
- “Quick Fixes”: quick meals, canned meats and seafood, side dishes, etc.
- “Bread and Cereal”: plus other breakfast things like oatmeal
- “Pasta and Grains”: this is also where we put our dried beans and legumes
- “Oils and Vinegars”
- “Baking”: flour, cupcake liners, sugar, raisins, chocolate chips, etc.
- “Veggies and Fruits”: canned veggies and fruits, also canned beans
- “Sauces and Condiments”: pasta sauce, marinades, dressing, ketchup, etc.
- “Soups”: including broth
*I realize that above I said I needed to create 12 categories. However, as I made my category list, I decided that I did not want to have alcohol combined with my other drinks. Also, we never have much alcohol in our house, so it was reasonable to have this as a small fourth category on one of the shelves.*
The second step in creating an organized kitchen pantry that will stay that way is to gather supplies.
When looking at the pantries in the magazines, like this one here, one of the things I loved about them is how clean they looked! This was almost always due to jars and/or baskets.
As mentioned above, we were on quite the tight budget. I didn’t want to spend more than $50 on this project. In fact, if I could get away with even less than that, that’d be awesome!
My hubby and I had bought some jars from Ikea when we moved into our current place, so I decide to continue using those for our bulk nuts and seeds.
What we didn’t have were any large baskets or bins.
So my mother-in-love (what we call “in-laws” in our family) and I went shopping together. The help was greatly appreciated by me and my quite large baby bump!
We found some great sales at Michaels on adorable baskets and crates that helped us stay within our budget.
Now, a lot of the pictures you see in magazines are all one uniform set of jars or baskets. While I do like that, and I think it looks really clean, I am a much more eclectic person. I prefer to mix and match in a way that still goes together. So we bought a few different kinds of baskets and crates, similar to these:
*Some of these are not available online at Michaels. I suggest going in person to the store, anyway, as this lets you really visualize the size and style on your pantry shelves.*
Next, I grabbed some basic cleaning supplies: trash bags, a microfiber dust cloth, some Simple Green, and a cleaning rag.
Finally, the last supplies I need for my reorganization process were my label maker and some label tape cartridges.
I cannot tell you how much I love my Brother P-Touch Label Maker! It has made my cleaning and organizing life so much easier.
Like I previously said, I need stupidly easy organization plans to help me stay organized, and having things labeled is a huge part of that!
I knew that labeling the different areas of my pantry would make it a lot easier for me to stay organized.
If you don’t have a label maker you can, of course, make your own labels by hand or with printing apps. I do have to tell you, however, that the brother Ptouch label maker is so easy, and it makes all your labels look much more clean and professional! It has truly been worth every penny for us!
Once you have your categories figured out and your supplies gathered, it’s time to get down to business!
Declutter and Prepare for ReAssembly
This step really accomplishes two things, but it happens simultaneously, which is why it is only one step on the way to making an organized kitchen pantry.
For this part of your pantry re-organization you will need a large, clear surface. I used our kitchen counter, but a table, or even the floor (provided kiddos and pets won’t get into things while you’re working) would work too!
As I began to pull items out of my pantry, I would go through a process with each item:
First, the decluttering process: Is this item expired? If not, will we ever actually use it?
If the item had expired or if I deemed that we would most likely never use it for anything, it went in the trash bag.
Second, the preparation for reassembly: What category did this item fit into?
If the item made it past the decluttering process, I put it into the section on the counter that I had designated for the category the item fit into. For example, I placed the cans of tuna in the “Quick Fixes” section of the counter, and I placed the crackers in the “Snacks and Sweets” section.
I continued this process until all food items in our pantry where either in the trash bag or in their correct section on the counter.
Once the food shelves of our pantry were empty, I dusted them off and wiped them down with Simple Green. My shelves were completely cleared off, so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to deep clean the pantry!
After your shelves have dried off, it’s time to move on to step four.
Filling the Pantry
*As a side note, I actually organized my pantry by switching step four and five…I labeled shelves first and then filled the pantry. However, I soon regretted that order of operations. Though I labeled the shelves by simply splitting them into thirds, not every section was actually equal in size. For example, the baking section takes up much more space than the pasta and grains section. I ended up having to go back and relabel the shelves so that the labels actually aligned with the space the section took up on the self.*
Here is where it gets fun, where you get to add your own style!
Match Baskets To Categories
In this step, I chose which categories I wanted in which basket.
It is important to note at this point that not every category in my organized kitchen pantry has a basket.
For instance, the oils and vinegars simply sit on the shelf by themselves. I decided it was easier for me to grab an oil and put it back without having to mess with a basket.
However, things like my baking goods tended to spill all over the pantry (literally and figuratively!). It is much harder to neatly store chocolate chips, bags of powdered sugar, and frosting just on the shelf than it is to store bottles of oil and vinegar.
Therefore, my baking goods got placed in the biggest basket.
I have really loved having them all in one quickly grabbable basket. Now, when I am starting a baking project I can just grab the whole basket and set it on the counter. This saves me quite a few trips to the pantry!
Once you have decided which categories you will put in which basket, it’s time to actually do it!
One quick tip for you during this stage: put the taller things toward the back of the basket and the shorter things toward the front – almost as if you were staging a group photo. This will allow you to quickly see what you need, rather than having to dig around in the basket for a while. (Use this same tip for putting things directly on the shelf – I put my tall oils toward the back and my short oils toward the front.)
Arrange Categories on Shelves
Once things are in baskets, you can arrange them on the shelf.
I decided where to put things based on how often I used them. “Snacks and Sweets,” “Quick Fixes,” and “Breads and Cereal” made the top cut, being placed on the eye-level shelf. We also quite frequently make tea and protein smoothies, so “Drinks,” “Health,” and “Nuts and Seeds” were placed on the top shelf (which is only one above eye-level, not actually the top shelf in our pantry – this holds china and vases.)
The bottom shelf became filled with things I use a bit less frequently – “Canned Veggies and Fruits,” “Sauces and Condiments,” “Soups,” and “Alcohol.”
Finally, the remaining categories went on the shelf right below eye-level: “Pasta and Grains,” “Oils and Vinegars,” and “Baking.”
Again, like Step 3, this is a step in which you want to personalize how you organize your pantry. Set it up in a way that makes the most sense to you – the way that you know will make it easiest for you to utilize.
That leads us to an important point when organizing anything – while a large part of it is how clean and nice it looks, the most important reason for organizing is function.
Organization should make your life easier!
So even if you think it looks better to have soups on the eye-level shelf, if you know that your family only eats soup when they are sick, that wouldn’t be the place that would make your pantry function well for you.
You made it! The last step to an organized kitchen pantry! (And personally I think the most fun. But I just love using my label maker!)
Now, I realize that you may be hesitant to stick labels on the shelves in your pantry. But don’t worry! Even if you are renting your place, there are easy ways to get labels off of wood without wrecking it!
This step doesn’t need much explaining. Make your labels say what you want them to say, look how you want them to look, and apply them on the shelf below the category they belong to!
That being said, I will give you one quick tip: don’t use too many words.
Remember what I said above about too many categories being too confusing? The same thing goes for the words on your label.
I could have labeled the “Snacks and Sweets” section of my pantry as “Cookies, Candy, Chips, Bars, Popcorn….” But then I would have taken away from the function of my pantry.
Here are how the different sections of our organized kitchen pantry turned out:
That’s right. Step six.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy your newly organized kitchen pantry! (Maybe crack open that bag of Oreos you just so neatly placed in your “Snacks and Sweets” section).
Have other tips for creating an organized kitchen pantry? Please share them with us by leaving a comment below!
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