How to Organize a Pantry


As a result of my job (home writer) and my personality (perfectionist), I’ve done a lot of research about how to best organize every little space in my home. I’ve long heard the praises sung of clear containers, listened to people preach the merits of a label maker, and seen pantry organizes topple off the shelves at TJ Maxx in the most ironic ways. Suffice it to say, I feel like I’ve heard and seen it all—from legitimate overhauls to unrealistic hacks. It wasn’t until this year, though, that I really decided to tackle the lid-flying, carton-crashing space that is my pantry.

For some context: When I get home from the grocery store, I’m so exhausted from lugging my tote bags from store to train to train transfer and finally, to my apartment, that I can’t be bothered to really organize things as I shove them into cabinets. Know the feeling? This is where the unraveling of intention begins. Three more grocery trips, an overstock on Trader Joe’s apple banana fruit crushers, and a teetering bag of rice later—game over. Still, being at home and cooking more than I ever have has really prompted me to reassess my pantry storage and put my own advice into action.

These tips for containing the clutter are the real deal. I’ve implemented them myself, and have had far fewer things fall on my head as a result. Well, some things still fall on my head though, because nobody’s perfect.

1. (Maybe) Put Everything Into Clear Containers

This one is controversial, I know. I scoffed at this idea for so long. “Why should I spend money on clear containers when the food already comes in containers?,” I asked. Because, future-me insists that seeing exactly everything you have in the pantry is an invaluable asset. I can’t tell you how many duplicate bags of jasmine rice I’ve purchased just because I couldn’t easily take inventory of it before I hit the store. Cereal, rice, pasta, quinoa, couscous, oatmeal—get ’em all into clear bins! If they come with specific instructions, I cut them out of the package and tuck them inside the container so as not to overcook my farro.

You don’t need to run out and purchase all new storage bins, either. Collect clear vessels little by little, and before you know it, a complete organizational collection will be amassed. Some ideas for repurposed clear containers: quart containers leftover from takeout, washed-out sauce jars, and plastic bins from Costco-sized snacks (yeah, I’m talking about the giant tub of peanut butter pretzels… you know the one). And if you’ve tried the clear container thing and it made you nuts? Skip it! Your pantry, your rules.

2. Label Everything

It doesn’t need to be a fancy machine-made label, I just use Scotch tape and a Sharpie to mark a container with the expiration date and the date I opened the package. I learned this all-important tip from my mom who’s fastidious in her labeling of pantry, fridge, and freezer items. It’s easier than we’d like to believe to let things go past their expiration dates, especially if they’re out of their original packaging. Take this extra step and save yourself the stress later.

3. Elevate items to create more space

Let’s say your cabinet shelf is a foot tall, but you’re leaving 8 inches of space above the jar of peanut butter… you can definitely be storing more efficiently. If you have yet to be introduced to shelf risers, well, are you in for a treat. They are the simplest addition to your pantry, but they completely transform the amount of storage available to you. By elevating just one layer of items (spices, dry goods, jars of sauce, etc.), you can create more space. Bonus points for clear tiered shelving that keeps everything on display—like stadium seating for spices.

4. Add Hooks to The Inside of Cabinet Walls

Take advantage of every last bit of space by adding hooks (Command-brand or otherwise) to the interior walls of cabinets and closets. These are the perfect places to hang oven mitts, tea towels, utensils (with a hole in the handle), aprons, and mugs in order to make room for more pantry items. Pro tip: always, always clean the surface with some alcohol for the most secure hold.

5. Keep All Seasoning and Sauce Packets in One Place

Salad dressing mixes, taco seasonings, and other miscellaneous packets have a tendency to get lost in the shuffle of everything else in the pantry. Instead of losing and rebuying every packet-ed item, file them away in a recipe card box or clear containers like this.

6. Add Wheels to Bins

If you’re working with a pantry that has room under the bottom-most shelf, it’s ridiculously helpful to either get bins with wheels or add wheels to existing bins to create sliding storage. The wheeled bins slide out far easier than ones sitting on the floor getting dragged in and out, it’s a total no-brainer.

7. Employ Turntables for Spices

Just like an upscale breakfast table, but for spices in the pantry! Add turntables for spices, sauces, shakers, and more to easily access all of them within your pantry. Now, instead of fumbling through the cinnamon and turmeric to reach the cayenne pepper, you can just spin on over to the side where it’s located.

8. Get Canned Goods Their Own Rack

You know how satisfying it is at the grocery store when you remove one can of soup, and the next one just plops right into the empty slot? You too, can experience this feeling in your pantry, because there are racks that exist solely for this purpose. For a surplus of canned goods, try a rack that stores them all on their sides. The less stacked-up, wobbling cans in the pantry, the better.

9. Stack Bins for Snacks

Items like apple sauce pouches, bags of cheddar bunnies, and peanut butter packets exist most harmoniously in stackable bins. Open-front bins make small snacks and loose items easier to keep an inventory of, as well as easier to access.

10. Give Your Spices Some Love

A couple of our community members had differing opinions on how to organize spices. Mary says it “makes life much easier,” but Carolyn says “I never wanted to alphabetize my spices because I wanted the ones that I used the most within the easiest reach (hello, oregano and smoked paprika!).” And I happen to agree…with both of them. While I don’t have my spices alphabetically, I do have them in a drawer with some semblance of organization. I recently transferred all my spices into matching jars with adorable little labels, and they’re so much easier to find than when they were in their original containers. I thought for a long time that I’d memorize what each bottle looked like and therefore never lose a spice… but that was simply not true.

11. Try an Over-the-Door Shoe Rack

Says community member, Jerri D., “In addition to lazy Susans in several cabinets, I also use a hanging shoe rack on the inside of the utility room/pantry door…there are dozens of pockets for all kinds of products (i.e., pasta, lentils, dried fruits, pet treats, plastic storage bags, reusable produce bags, etc.). It saves tons of cabinet space and is surprisingly versatile!” Genius.

More from Food52

This article was updated in August 2023 with more of our favorite pantry-organizing solutions.

Did we miss a pantry organization trick? Tell us in the comments below!

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