Picture opening your pantry and finding exactly what you need to fix dinner or pack your child’s lunch with no rummaging around. If that seems like an impossible dream, listen up: there is, in fact, an easy fix to organize your pantry!

The key word is “zones.” As in, putting like with like so you aren’t constantly searching for items that go with each other or wondering why there are 4 open bags of pasta. We’ll show you how as Part 1 of our Organize Your Life series.

1. Take everything out

Yes, everything. Merely moving items around is not going to accomplish the complete pantry transformation you’re after. As you remove each can, bag, or box, decide if it deserves to go back in or not. That means tossing out that stale bag of chips and giving a critical eye to that cereal your kids weren’t really into.

Any food that’s stale, opened, or expired needs to be tossed. (Don’t worry, food waste is one of the issues your new organized pantry will prevent.) Food that’s still edible, but just not your thing (like the tuna you bought for that casserole you’ll never make) can be donated to a local food bank or food drive. Everything else should go on the counter so you can rearrange it. Once it’s all out, wipe down the shelves so you’re starting with a clean canvas.

2. Create a plan

It can be tempting to just put everything back willy-nilly. But that would completely defeat the goal of the whole reorganization. Instead, survey what’s out and mentally group it into various categories, like breakfast foods, snacks, baking supplies, pastas/rices, spice packets, etc.

When you group like items together, it’s easy to find what you want. And you’ll always know what you have to prevent overbuying and/or missing a key ingredient.

3. Repurpose existing containers

For many people, the fun part of an organizing project is going out and buying loads of new organizing supplies. But that can get spendy and can detract from your real mission. After all, “shopping” is not “organizing.”

If the end goal is to find extra space throughout your home, use your pantry project as an opportunity to repurpose items you want to hold on to but don’t use on a daily basis. If you have a stash of baskets, for example, see if some of them can be used to corral baking items or create a snack station. If you have lovely serving pieces or heavy baking pans that you pull out twice a year for holidays, press them into daily service by holding your breakfast cereal collection or paper goods.

4. Determine which storage containers you need to buy

At this point, you might’ve determined that you actually do need some storage helps to make your pantry more functional. Great options are clear plastic or glass containers that hold bulk items like sugar, flour, oatmeal, rice, open cereals, etc. Not only do they make the pantry look better as you recycle odd-sized boxes and throw away torn bags, but they also serve double duty by keeping pests out of your pantry.

Other practical purchases might be wire shelves to hang on the door so you can make use of all available real estate or wire shelves for stacking cans.

5. Make a list and check it before you shop

The best way to handle what you have is to create a system that tracks what goes in and out of the pantry. It can help you figure out what you need to buy, and more importantly, what you don’t need to buy. (Why do those taco spice packets seem to multiply?) Use an app or a list, whichever best suits your lifestyle.

You’ll also find that tracking how frequently you use up items allows you to shop more strategically. If you buy flour every time it’s on sale, but only use 2 bags a year, you can stop overbuying. Have some random food items you’d like to use up? Surprise your family by creating new recipes. Try a website that lets you enter the ingredients you have on hand and see what comes up!

Check out the rest of our Organize Your Life Series to get a handle on the linen closet, bathroom, and car.

Then, give your home a pro-style DIY paint job and unleash the power of baking soda.


DIY hacks | Home and garden


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.