How to Organise your Pantry and Food Storage
Updated: Jul 4
Our kitchens are often the heart of the home, and an integral part of any kitchen is the pantry and food cupboards. Very few spaces in our home effect or day to day lives so much - just think about how often you go into your kitchen to make a drink, grab a snack or prepare a meal.
Whether you have a large family or it's just you, organising food spaces can seem a little overwhelming.
Because packaged food comes in so many different shapes and sizes, figuring out the best way to keep it all organised can be a challenge.
Cupboards can quickly become cluttered with forgotten food - for years, even!
An organised pantry will make it much easier to see and access what you have; make preparing meals easier; help you and your family to eat healthier, save you time and money and reduce food wastage.
In this post, I am going to give steps to creating an organised pantry and food cupboards.
How to Organise your Pantry
STEP ONE: ASSESS
The first step in this project is to assess your cupboards and your current system.
How do you feel when you open your food cupboards?
Is everything easy to find?
What's working and what isn't?
Take a photo of all your food cupboards to record your starting point.
step two: BEFORE YOU START PREP
The main tip I have for organising this area is to remember that decluttering and organising always takes longer than you think - while your pantry and food cupboards can be called small spaces, don't let this fool you! You're going to need a few good chunks of dedicated time to complete this project. Ideally, it would be good to put aside a weekend. Your kitchen is in constant use, so once you've started and got everything out, you can't just close the door on it and come back and carry on another day.
Put some time in your calendar when you know you're not going to be rushed.
So, when you are ready, let's get started...
1. Create an area for your clutter sorting categories - spaces for rubbish, recycling and donations - and label each if necessary.
2. Clear your worktops and other kitchen surfaces of any clutter to give you some space to work.
3. Remove all the food items in your kitchen (excluding the fridge and freezer). You can start grouping them into broad category types but don't worry about it too much at this stage, that's the next bit.
4. Once the cupboards are completely clear, give them all a good wipe down. No matter how clean your home is; dust, crumbs and spills always build up in kitchen cupboards.
5. Take another picture of the empty cupboards. I know more photos might seem a little excessive, but trust me, it really helps if you are buying new storage later.
Sit down for 5 minutes and have a cup of tea or coffee - if you can still get to the kettle! 😉
STEP THREE: SORT
If you haven't already, start to sort your food into groups/categories.
Popular groupings include;
- BREAD AND BAKED GOODS
- SAVOURY CANNED GOODS
- JARS AND SAUCES
- PASTA, GRAINS AND PULSES
- SPICES AND HERBS
- DRIED FRUIT AND NUTS
- BAKING GOODS
- DESERTS AND SWEET TREATS
Within these categories, you can then subcategorise and group similar items, e.g. Tins - Soups - Tomato...
Use sticky notes to label each of your categories.
STEP FOUR: DECLUTTER
One category at a time, carefully and thoughtfully through each item and ask if things are to keep, recycle, rubbish, or donate.
Throw away anything that is past it's best, been open too long, old or unidentifiable. If you can't remember how long you've had something its probably better to throw it away. If it's something that has been in your cupboard for a while, is it something you actually want to or are going to eat?
On food, the 'use by date' should be followed, while a 'best before date' refers to quality not safety.
Don't forget that unopened, unexpired food can go into your donate pile. At the end of your session, bag it up and drop it off at your local food bank. The Trussel Trust has branches all around the UK, it's also worth checking your local supermarket for a donation bin, and local homeless shelters.
Step five: ORGANISE
As well as creating zones in the kitchen, you also want to create zones within your pantry and food cupboards.
Review your notes from the first step. What was working? And what wasn't?
Using labelled sticky notes with your category names, roughly plan where in the cupboards each category will go based on size and accessibility.
Placement is everything! Here are some tips;
No matter how large or small your cupboards may be, use the space wisely. Utilise all available space.
Ideally, the things that you use together should stay together.
Rather than spreading essential baking ingredients out in different parts of the pantry, I keep mine all together in one basket. I love being able to pull the whole basket down, have everything I need accessible in one place as I mix it up and then quickly slide it back into place when I'm finished (more about the importance of containers later).
Storing all the items that you need for breakfast together will make your mornings much easier.
Frequently used items; like breakfast, snacks and dinner essentials; are best kept at eye level, with the lesser-used items in the top or bottom shelves.
It's important to think about your family's habits when choosing where to place things and how to organise your space.
If you have children and there are snacks that you don't want them to be able to help themselves to, put these higher up, and have a separate basket easily accessible with approved snacks.
Ask yourself; Does the item/category fit in the place where you want to put it? (If not, are you able to move the shelf heights?) Does it make good use of the space in that spot? Are the items easily accessible?
Once you are happy with your placement, organise your categories as best you can within the space.
step six: STORE + CONTAIN
This step is optional, but, if you have the budget to invest in some storage for your space, I would highly recommend it.
The secret to success in your food cupboards (or drawers) is containers. Without containers, the categories tend to merge together, and you lose any organisation relatively quickly.
They provide a home for all the loose stuff and the different shaped packaging that is hard to stack neatly. From the spice mixes, baking sprinkles and food colourings to snack bars, putting them in baskets help keep shelves less messy and getting things out (especially from high or deep cupboards) much easier.
Baskets and bins also add a decorative touch and help to hide packaging and visual clutter. When are spaces look lovely, we are more likely to keep them tidy and organised.
Identify smaller items/groups that could be corralled into baskets or containers for better storage.
Don't be afraid to repurpose baskets, pretty shoe boxes or any type of suitable container that you already have. Shop your house first.
Before you go shopping...
Grab a measuring tape and notebook/worksheet. Write down the measurements for your food cupboards/drawer spaces, and a general idea of what storage products you need. If you haven't taken any pictures of the space, do that, or some drawings before you shop.
Think about the storage system that will work for you, your lifestyle and your family. (You might think I'm going overboard with the whole photos inside the cupboards and making measurements - but trust me, it's better to do it than not, and you'll be grateful you did).
Don't get too bogged down overplanning every little detail, and every new product that you are going to use. Know that there needs to be movement and room for error.
You are probably going to buy products that won't work for you and your space. It's best to buy a couple of products and know that you will need to return some of them. Never take the labels off until you are sure that the products work and you are going to keep them.
Be as consistent as you can - all white, all wicker etc. - to add to that clean feeling and functionality.
Additional Step - Decanting
Whether you are a fan of it or not, decanting your dry goods into jars or other matching containers will make your pantry look pretty. It's like using matching hangers in your wardrobe!
It's a personal choice, but as well as making cupboards more aesthetically pleasing, I find it saves me time and money, (in the long run) as I can easily see what we have, and how much we have.
You don't have to get rid of the packaging, but consider finding permanent homes for the foods that you use the most.
There are now more and more refill stores opening up that offer pantry staples. You can bring in your containers and fill them up, reducing the waste created by food packaging.
The last step of the organising process. When shelves and containers are labelled, it's more likely that things will be put back where they belong by all household members.
There are many different ways to label, so you can get creative if you want to. You can use a label maker, paint pens or custom vinyl die-cut labels.
A note on Prettiness and Perfection.
While Instagram and Pinterest pantry posts can be beautiful, they are not always real-life or practical for everyone. I'm sure, like me, you have lusted over their spaciousness, pretty containers, lighting, labels etc. However, please don't get too bogged down in making your pantry look pretty before you have made it practical.
You need to do what works for the kitchen space that you have and create a system that you and your family can easily maintain. The glass jars with vinyl labels look amazing, but if you won't keep up with decanting into them, then don't bother.
My pantry may not be Instagram worthy, but it is practical, and it works well for our family.
STEP SEVEN: MAINTAIN
Revisit your pantry at the end of the month to evaluate how the new systems are working. Troubleshoot any problems areas.
Don't let your hard work go to waste. Here are my favourite pantry tips;
Get rid of packaging.
Streamline your pantry and reduce physical and visual clutter on the shelves by getting rid of bulky cardboard and plastic packaging wherever you can. It can make such a difference, especially if you don't have much space.
Yes, unloading the grocery shop and getting everything put away takes a little bit longer, but it is so incredibly helpful to be able to quickly and easily see what you have (and what you have run out of) without having to rummage through boxes.
Check what you have, and what you need, before you go shopping.
One of the biggest mistakes I see families making is the constant re-ordering of the same food because they haven't checked what they already have in their cupboards. Excess food ends up spoiling and going in the bin. Make your shopping list when you are at home in front of your food.
Purge your pantry with each grocery shop
I am sure that we are all guilty of having items in our pantries that have been there for a while. However, there is no quicker way to clutter up your pantry than with excess food.
Get into the habit of checking expiration dates for out of date, or coming up yo out of date items - and making sure that you use whats coming to the end of its shelf life first. Put anything to be used up first to the front.
This regular check in our pantry helps excess frood from piling up, going to waste and creates space for the foods that we do eat.
Does your family really need five different boxes of cereal? If space is short and clutters a problem, then get tough and take turns to choose favourites and eat until the box is empty before opening another.
When you are ready to start on your pantry organising project, you can download the free 4- page worksheet that accompanies this post here.
If you have any questions about organising your pantry or have any tips that have worked for you, I'd love to hear them in the comments below or the member's forum.
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