By now, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, your closet will be tightly organized by type (pants/shirts/dresses) and then by color. Your shoes will be stacked in clear plastic boxes, one heel out, one toe out for ease in selecting a style. Your jewelry, accessories, and even your memories will be tidy and accessible, and your paperwork will be a small collection of labeled project folders, stacked in a neat and stylish folder box.
If all goes according to plan, your mind will be able to stop racing and relax when you walk in your front door at the end of a long day, content in the knowledge that your home life is in a state of blissful organization.
That is, until you open the pantry door to tackle dinner.
The pantry gets a lot of action; there’s food constantly going in and out. There may be multiple users, in which case some may not be on the same page about what should go where. In short, if left to its own devices, the pantry could become a recipe for disaster.
To salvage this, I reached out to professional organizer Laura Dantzler, founder and president of LetLaura.com, to get the nitty-gritty on organizing a pantry — a chore that she believes is well worth the effort.
“While most of us don’t have the time, patience, or desire to alphabetize our canned goods and spices, an organized pantry makes meal planning, prep, and food shopping easier and quicker,” says Dantzler. And to get there, she breaks it down into bite-sized, manageable tasks.
Step 1: Sort, discard and donate
To start, Dantzler suggests pulling everything out of your pantry, discarding anything that is stale, bad, or expired, and donating any unwanted (but still edible) items to your local food bank.
Step 2: Clean and brighten
Wipe down and clean any shelves, walls, or floors in your pantry. If your pantry is painted anything but white, it might even be time to get out a paintbrush and a can of paint. “Creating a white background to your pantry makes it brighter and easier to find what you need,” says Dantzler. Once all is fresh and clean, it’s time to start organizing.
Step 3: Group and conquer
As a general rule, place heavy or bulk items on the bottom, things you use every day at eye level, and less frequently used items on higher shelves, and keep a foldable stepstool in your pantry if you have high shelves.
Dantzler further suggests grouping like items together such as baking items, breakfast items, snacks, and grains, and using labeled canisters to hold dry goods such as flour, sugar, and pasta. “Use square containers,” says Dantzler. “They take up less space because they fit more efficiently than round ones.”
Tiered organizers come in handy in allowing you to view different canned items or spices. Group and stack cans by content (such as soups, canned tomatoes, etc.). Newer ones should go in the back or on the bottom because they have longer shelf lives.
Dantzler suggests buying a lazy Susan for sticky or frequently used items, such as honey, vinegars, and olive oils. This will help when it’s time clean up any messes and allow easy visibility. Stainless steel options are usually sturdier and last longer.
“If you have kids, it’s a great idea to create their own ‘ready to grab’ snack shelf and use wire or clear baskets to group items together at kids’ height,” says Dantzler. “Bins should also be used to group smaller items together like teabags or dried fruits.”
And finally, no pantry is complete without a backup supply of your staple items for those times when you come back from vacation to an empty fridge or you completely forget to make your kid a school lunch. Make sure to have a jar of mayo and some cans of tuna on hand so you can always make a quick egg or tuna salad sandwich in a pinch. When you use a backup, make sure you add it to your shopping list to replace and all will be right with the world — or at least your organized home.