Was it just me, or did you notice that a lot of your friends and acquaintances were tackling their pantry during quarantine and all the many months at home during the pandemic? I feel like I was seeing endless photos of renovated spice racks, before and after pictures of pantries and cabinets, and even painted interiors of closets! Listen, I love an organized home as much as the next household CEO, but I don’t think you always need your pantry lined up perfectly with matching see-through mason jars with fancy chalkboard labels for every pasta shape and cereal. In fact, I think it’s often these perfect-home images that paralyze most folks from keeping things better organized because it feels like an all-or-nothing feat that can be too overwhelming.
But, there can be a happy medium!
Keeping your pantry organized is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you are avoiding food waste, shopping and eating economically and meal planning efficiently. But you don’t have to get fancy! I’ve found that the simplest, cheapest and easiest way to keep my pantry functioning proficiently is by simply corralling like-items in clear plastic bins that I can easily fill, remove and wipe clean. That’s it! This simple “bin system” can keep your entire kitchen running like a well-oiled machine by keeping everything visible, mobile, consolidated and itemized. It’s also super flexible and easy to maintain and adapt to your family’s needs. Best of all, it’s not elaborate or unrealistic. Here’s how to give your messy or crowded pantry a simple organizational re-do that you’ll want to keep going forever!
1) Take everything—absolutely everything—out of your pantry and wipe all shelving and flooring clean.
2) Throw out anything that is expired or spoiled. Inventory what is left, and as long as an ingredient or item has not gone bad, you can still use it. Starting your grocery list and meal planning by inventorying what you have to work within the house first is key.
3) Categorize like-items together, such as pasta and rice and baking flours and sugars in the kitchen to figure out how many bins you’ll need and where they will go in the pantry.
4) Place like-items into clear plastic storage bins that fit easily into your pantry shelves. You can get these for just a few dollars each at Target or Walmart. Save the lids for another use or in case you need them later on. Consolidate items to fit into the bin to save on excess packaging and make room. For instance, if you have one serving of cereal left, ditch the box, put a clip on the liner bag and stuff it into the new box of cereal (this will also help family members not waste that last bit of things)! Place items that may leak, spill, or cause “food dust” like bags of flour and sugar into a plastic grocery bag first before placing them in your bin.
5) Keep “least used items” bins (such as your occasional baking items like lollipop sticks and powdered sugar) on the top and everyday bins, like snack foods and pastas at eye level. Bins are great at corralling awkward chip and pretzel bags. Simply use clips to close them and stuff them into one bin.
6) To save space, I like to use an over-the-door rack to store things everyone is grabbing each day, such as sandwich bags and foil. The floor of the pantry can be reserved for larger bulk items such as oils and cooking wines, as well as BBQ kits and giant canisters of things that may fit nowhere else. I like to also have a “grab-and-go” box of snack bags my son can get easily.
The best part about corralling everything into simple, clear bins is that I can just pull or angle one down to look for or get what I need. I don’t have to futz around with moving a bunch of other things out of the way, and it’s an easy way to see what you have to work with while planning out food and avoiding waste. For easy cleaning, all you have to do is remove the contents and wipe. If that jar of soy sauce leaks or the box of rice gets crumbles all over, these instances are contained, literally! So forget all the Pinterest-worthy images of designer pantries and put that label maker away. Keep it simple and focus on making your pantry facilitate efficient eating and cooking!