7 Steps to Pantry Perfection

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When we installed pullout pantry cabinets during our kitchen remodel last year, I thought my organizational problems were solved. I envisioned rows of neatly stacked spices and easy-to-see bins of pasta just waiting to be whipped into something delicious.

The reality is that my pantry has turned into a game of spice-and-go-seek that generally ends in frustration and guilt. The bins I bought for my pasta are there, but there aren’t enough of them, and they aren’t the right size. Worse, the myriad packages, from cans to cellophane-wrapped cookie boxes, create chaotic clutter in the rest of my pantry. So I’m taking time out this weekend for a thoughtful organization project based on my real life, not something I saw on a cooking show.

Here’s my seven-step plan for pantry perfection. 

1. Install a spice shelf. I love my roll-out pantry, but my spices are getting lost in the mix. Because they’re stacked one behind the other, they waste space, and it’s hard to see what I have. To remedy this problem, I’ll install door-mounted spice shelves inside the cabinet where I keep my cookbooks. 

The trick will be finding a rack that doesn’t require heavy mounting hardware that might poke through to the outside of the cabinet. So while I would absolutely love a wooden rack like this one, I’ll likely need to find one made of wire.

2. Keep go-to items at eye level. Judging by where these cereal boxes are kept, I’d guess that a couple of self-directed kids hit this pantry for breakfast every morning. I’m taking a cue from this smart parent and organizing my pantry based on how often my family uses individual items. 

I’ll reserve eye-level shelves for cereal, pasta and other staples while keeping baking supplies and treats higher up. 

3. Optimize containers. When I first organized my pantry, I figured that every bulk, pourable item belonged in an airtight container. So I went to my local wholesaler and got container sets that featured boxes in various sizes. Big mistake. Because really there are only two sizes I use: large and medium. 

Not only that, but I didn’t think carefully enough about what went into the containers. We don’t buy our cereals or snacks in bulk, so trading a slim box for a clear container did nothing for improving my organization.

Instead, I’ll take a cue from this pantry and use containers only for items that need to stay fresh and come in messy bags, like baking supplies. 

I’ll also pay attention to the shapes of the containers I add to my collection. I love the look of mason jars, but rectangular containers like the ones in this pantry nestle together more neatly, conserving precious shelf space within my narrow pullouts. 

4. Invest in pretty labels. Every time I pull out a container of a white, powdery baking product, I have to taste it to see if it’s corn starch, flour or confectioner’s sugar. I put all three in containers, but I didn’t like the business-like look of the labels from my label maker, so I simply stopped marking them.

So now I’m hunting for pretty kitchen labels like the ones here so I’ll know what everything is, when I bought it and when it’s ready to be tossed. 

5. Use baskets for anything round. I usually keep round, nonperishable items like onions and potatoes in their bags on the lowest shelf of my pantry, but as the shelves roll, a few veggies inevitably escape and make a mess. Baskets like those used in this pantry keep food organized and still allow air to circulate, preventing the food from getting prematurely moldy. 

6. Keep awkwardly shaped items down low. At my house a search for an afternoon snack inevitably ends in an avalanche of chips, trail mix and other bagged foods. By moving the packages to a lower shelf, as this homeowner did, I’ll be able to see how they’re shifting and prevent potato chip rainstorms and other messes.

And when I do come home from the grocery store, I’ll think about not just where I put things away but how they’re put away, taking care to face containers with the labels out and align similar items. 

Because, yes, some people’s spaces actually do look like the one shown here. And I intend to be one of those people.