In some homes, the pantry is large and luxurious – a room you can walk into. For others, it may be limited to a single kitchen cupboard. (Team cupboard over here, folks.) Regardless of its size, the pantry is just about the most used area in a home, alongside its cool counterpart, the fridge. That’s why we decided to focus this months organizing challenge on the pantry – you will get a lot of bang for your buck just spending a couple of hours organizing there.
As you know by now, we recommend touching absolutely everything in the space to truly see the volume of what you have and to perform a true purge of the area. The pantry is a great place to use this organizing method, since it’s a relatively small area. You can also go shelf by shelf, but be sure to gather all like items together as you do so.
We follow the 5S process, sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain, in the pantry. Here’s a breakdown of each step and how to perform it.
The process of sorting is all about putting like with like. Often, pantry items become mixed due to multiple users and an unclear system. As you sort, separate expired foods to throw away and unused and unwanted foods to donate. Consider which categories make sense for your family as you are putting things together. Keeping topics general is helpful to younger kids and teens who aren’t inclined to read specific labels (ie: all of them). For example, go with “snack food” as a category rather than “crackers.”
Here are some of the main areas where we see organizing challenges in the pantry during the Sort step, and what you can do about them! Keep these things in mind as you are sorting and organizing.
Though spices last a long time, they do age and loose their flavor. To test for freshness, pour out a small amount into your hand and take a sniff. It should have a nice aroma. The color is another indicator – green spices that are brownish should be tossed, and likewise for red spices go a sort of maroon color. This article from the website Eat by Date has a great chart breaking down how long spices last, based on their original state.
If you store Tupperware in the pantry, we recommend keeping it in two shallow bins – one for plastic with each size nestled in place, and another for lids. We highly recommend donating your Tupperware and replacing it with a new matching set every few years. Tupperware is so much easier to keep organized when there is only one brand to wrangle.
Canned food can take up a lot of space in a pantry. You should review expiration dates and purge it regularly. Bring your emergency storage cans into the pantry as they age and replace those with new ones from the store, then keep rotating them out each year. This prevents your emergency stash from going expired. We like storing canned food on a large lazy susan, like this one from Storables.
Snacks are best stored in a bin to allow easy access for everyone. Keep them in a prime spot (or up high if you are limiting kids intake) so that everyone can take them out and put them back easily.
Large clear jars are a great way to store bulk food and other staples like rice, pasta and cereal. Plus they are easier to store than awkwardly shaped bags and boxes. Decant items directly into the jars and you are good to go! The other benefit of using large jars for storage is that it gives a great visual inventory of how much you have left so that you can replace as needed and avoid duplicates.
Set in Order / Shine
Before putting organized pantry items back in, give the whole thing a good cleaning. Dust away crumbs and pass a Swiffer along the ceiling while there is no food in the space. Then, identify the “prime real estate” spots in the pantry, and ask yourself if what was there really deserved to be there (spoiler alert: if it’s only used at Thanksgiving, it can go to a top shelf). Setting in order is about beginning to create a system that works for your families individual needs. These needs change over time, so a pantry re-organization should occur somewhat regularly.
Standardize / Sustain
These two final Steps in the 5S process are all about keeping the system working for the long haul. That means labeling, using clear acrylic bins so that people can see what is inside, and educating your family on what goes where. Lack of focus on these two steps is often the reason why an organizing project fails to endure into the long term future. If the space is user-friendly with clear parameters for keeping it organized, you will have much more success.