Kitchen pantries are a blessing or a curse depending on whether or not they are organized. Here’s how to organize a pantry to keep things orderly for years to come.

How to Organize a Pantry Pin

You open your pantry for an afternoon snack. But between the chip crumbs, oversized cereal boxes and disorganized shelves, you don’t even know where to begin.

Sound familiar? Here’s our advice: it’s about how to organize a pantry–not about how much you can fit inside of it.

Half the organization battle is creating more space when it comes to storing your kitchen essentials. We put together five quick and easy steps to help you organize your pantry (and keep it that way).

How to Organize a Pantry

How to Organize a Pantry - First Step is to Empty and Purge

Step 1: Empty your pantry.

There’s no doubt that many of your pantry frustrations stem from never being able to find what you need. When you clean out your pantry, you will be able to identify the items that you use on a regular basis so that you can better organize them.

Here’s what to do once your pantry is empty:

  • Purge. Perhaps the most important step of all: purging! When you’re organizing the pantry, it’s easiest to take everything off of a shelf and move it to the counter. This will help you get an accurate idea of how much space and how many items you truly have.
  • Keep it or toss it. Once you’ve moved items to your counter and taken an inventory of everything you have, make two piles: keep and toss. Go through expiration dates to throw everything away that has expired or is no longer edible (enter: stale chips, expired granola bars, rock-hard cookies, etc.). Next, look at what’s left and determine if there are any non-perishable items you can keep or donate.
  • Clean your pantry. Cleaning before organizing alleviates a huge part of the actual task (not to mention makes your pantry look brand-spankin’ new). Take some time to wipe down your pantry shelves. If your shelving is old or tends to retain smells, you might want to take the time to put in liners. You can find coated contact paper at most discount department and hardware stores.

Now that you have a clean slate in your pantry, you can get started with organization.

Step 2: Minimize the bulk.

When it comes to organizing a pantry, one word should come to mind: minimalism. Many snack items come packaged in boxes that can very quickly take up a lot of space in the pantry. Do you really need oversized boxes and awkward bags that take up an entire shelf? Minimizing the bulky items in your pantry will help create more space and in turn help you and your family stay organized.

Consider taking snacks out of large boxes and storing them smaller-sized containers. This will save space, help you to be more organized and also make it easier to see what’s in your pantry to snack on when you’re hungry.

When you get back from the grocery store, make it a part of your weekly routine to spend some time dividing up snacks from bigger packages into smaller, individual-sized baggies or containers.

How to Organize a Pantry - iHeart Organizing's Bulk Item Organization Tip (Baskets)

“It’s easy for the kids to pick a quick, healthy and portioned snack out when they get home from school, or to toss one in their backpack for an after school activity,” notes Jennifer Jones of iHeart Organizing. “I love that the items are portioned out and that no one is eating fist-fulls out of a big bag of chips or eating a couple crackers and forgetting to seal up the package.”

Here are a few ideas on how to minimize and organize your pantry snacks:

  • Baskets. By utilizing small baskets, you can throw out the bulky boxes and create a grab-and-go system for you and your family. Baskets are great for storing loose items like coffee pods, tea bags and cereal bars. You can also empty your items into sandwich bags and place them in baskets.
  • Large containers. Large containers and jars would be best for bulk items like cereal, beans, rice and nuts. Airtight containers will also help you keep the items in your pantry fresher longer.
  • Fishbowls. Using wide-mouthed fish bowls will allow you to make snacks easy to grab and go (especially when it comes to school lunches). The less you have to deal with regarding kids’ lunches, the better.

Remember that it’s important to choose storage baskets and boxes that can be easily cleaned and won’t retain smells.

How to Organize a Pantry - Label Containers

Step 3: Create custom pantry storage.

Minimized storage is one thing. Labeling it is another. And the importance of labeling cannot be stressed enough!

Whether you’re using containers, jars or baskets, take your pantry storage a step further by creating custom labels for the items in your pantry. This will make it easier for you and everyone in your family to stay organized and be able to grab exactly what you need. After all, things should be both functional and attractive. We’re much more likely to follow through with a system if it’s both functional and visually appealing!

While you can see the contents of clear containers or jars, using labels allows you to add your own style into your kitchen decor. There are a number of ways to make your own pantry labels:

  • Vinyl labels. Vinyl labels are available at any craft store and can be applied to virtually any surface. Simply look for the letters and messaging you need for your labels and apply the vinyl rub-ons. (Download some FREE labels here!)
  • Chalkboard tags. Chalkboard peel-and-stick labels are not only functional, but they’re easy to customize, too! If you happen to run out of something and would like to fill your container with something else, changing up the label becomes super easy (and fun).
  • Custom font labels. Looking to design your own pantry labels in your own style while saving some money? Microsoft Word even offers free labels with hundreds of fonts to choose from. Simply select your font, type your labels in a textbox and print on clear sticker paper. Voila!

Step 4: Group and sort the items in your pantry.

Once you’ve tossed the unnecessary items and minimized the bulk, it’s time to organize. What will go on your top shelf? Where will you place your cooking essentials? Designating a section for each category will help you organize your pantry (and keep it that way).

First, identify food categories that fit your lifestyle. For example: snacks, weeknight dinners, portable lunches for the kids, non-perishables, baking needs, spices, etc. Next, determine which areas you’ll need to access the most. These should be placed on easy-to-reach shelves so you can effortlessly grab what you need. On the contrary, move items that you don’t use on a regular basis on top shelves so that they don’t get in the way of your everyday items.

Consider grouping your items into these categories:

  • Lunch and snack items
  • Baking ingredients, spices and powdered goods
  • Soups, cans and non-perishable items
  • Pastas, rices and grains
  • Sweets

How to Organize a Pantry When It's a Mess

Step 5: Come up with a system that works for you.

Before you move all of your sorted and purged items back to their pantry shelves, it’s important to adopt an organized system that will work for you and your family. Depending on how your pantry is built, you may or may not have adequate shelf space to hold all of your items. Consider these storage solutions to help you maximize the storage in your pantry:

  • Spice racks. Use spice racks or Lazy Susans to make the most of your space (and use space in corners, too). Spice racks make it easier to sort through spices and also be able to see all of the spices you have at a glance. If you have taller spices that don’t fit in a typical spice rack, you can get a different organizer for the ones that don’t fit.
  • Wire racks. Adding wire shelves or racks actually doubles your existing space. Score! Use shelf dividers or tiered shelves to maximize vertical space and find items easily on the back of shelves. Note that many of these shelves can expand, but you’re not required to use them at their longest length. Size them to fit your needs.
  • Wall hooks. If you find that you still lack the space you need even with shelving units and spice racks added in, consider using the space available on the inside of your pantry doors. Wall hooks are easily accessible (and can be removed without damaging your cabinets) so add as much extra space as you feel necessary!

You’ve tossed out your unnecessary items, minimized bulk, implemented smart storage and created custom labels. There’s only one thing left to do: put everything back in your new-and-improved pantry!

Ready to organize your pantry?

Overhauling your pantry snacks may seem overwhelming, but it’s a process that can be easily done in one or two hours. By purging your pantry, then doing a little bit of planning and organizing, you can enjoy grabbing a snack from your newly organized pantry.

If you were wondering how to organize a pantry, wonder no more! In these five easy steps, you can get rid of what you no longer need, make room for what you do need, and easily come up with a system that works for you and your family. What are your favorite tips and tricks for organizing a pantry? What has and hasn’t worked in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments below!

Next Up: Pantry Organization Tips from a Food Blogger – Plus Free Printable Labels

Updated 5/3/18 from a post originally published 5/1/13.

About the Author


Molli Spear

Molli is an expert in all things related to moving, storage, and home organization. She graduated from Niagara University with a Bachelor's degree and spent several years of her career in the self storage industry. As a mother of three and a stay-at-home mom, Molli knows how difficult it can be to stay organized at home when things are feeling a little cramped. That's why she contributes to the Life Storage Blog.

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