Mr. 9 helped me clean out a pantry yesterday — and by pantry, I mean “section of a closet that’s not near the kitchen but I claimed some time ago for food,” and by helped, I mean “helped see if this still tastes good.” Let’s just say that the layout of my home poses a few storage… challenges, and I don’t think I’m alone in this!
I found more expired food than I’d hoped, but less than I’d feared — and how did this little can of tomato sauce go over 5 years hiding out in the back? Ugh, nothing worse than wasted food. What’s the oldest expired product you’ve ever found in your pantry? I try to use or donate products before they expire, but clearly have been falling down on the job in some cases.
If you’re going through your own pantries in the New Year, Still Tasty is a useful site to check to see whether a product is still edible even if the “best by” date has passed. Best by dates are not the same as expiration dates, and in many cases something like a canned tomato sauce is fine to use after that date has passed. (I do, however, draw the line somewhere long before five-and-a-half years — especially for a high-acid food like tomatoes.)
I’m so pleased with the “after,” though. And I know that I won’t be needing kidney beans — or, somehow, chocolate peanut butter (??) for a while, which will help me focus on filling in the gaps in the pantry rather than just picking things up for recipes or that I think we might need. This weekend I’m tackling the cupboard with the snack foods and spices, so wish me luck… The goal here is to get everything in order before the New Year, starting out as I mean to continue.
So, here are my top five tips for organizing your pantry in the New Year. I’d love to hear yours, too!
Five Tips for Pantry Organization in the New Year
1. Put like with like.
I started doing this a while ago before entropy gradually destroyed my careful layout. Foods that tend to get used together are grouped together — beans, tomatoes, and broth, for instance, share the same shelf so that I can easily grab what I need for soups, stews, and chilis. Your pantry might look different than mine if you tend to cook different types of meals, but putting like items with like is a great time saver both when cooking and when planning out a shopping trip.
2. Organize by expiration date.
Everything should be sorted by expiration date, with oldest items toward the front. Don’t be that person with a six year old can of tomato sauce still on the shelf… This is the hardest tip to keep up with, since when you’re putting things away after a shopping trip the last thing you want to do is rotate stock and move your new purchases to the back, older items to the front. (I’m bad at this, but working on it!)
I’m also looking at some of the can storage racks that roll the older cans from the back towards the front when you remove a can, but they do seem pricey for what they are. Maybe one will show up one of these days on a lightning deal — or at a garage sale. 🙂
3. Stalk your thrift stores for storage.
I’ve gradually been investing in kitchen storage items from Goodwill as I spot things I like — yes, even including the bread box! Nicer kitchen storage items can be ridiculously expensive… and everything is washable, so as long as it’s in good condition, why not buy it used? I try to reserve these prettier storage containers for display on my kitchen counters and open shelves, but in the pantry itself I often…
4. Re-purpose other items as storage.
Magazine file boxes are the perfect size to hold boxes of spaghetti, while those sturdy little boxes from 5 lbs of clementines can corral everything from jars of peppers to boxes of Band-Aids. Beyond the pantry, someone gifted us a set of these pretty large painted mugs years ago and they work so nicely to hold kitchen utensils on the counter next to the stove — plus, moving some items out helps keep the utensil drawer a little more uncluttered.
While matching sets of glass jars and coordinating labeled bins are beautiful in a pantry, you don’t need them to get organized — especially if yours is also behind a closed closet door. Take a look around your house and see what you might be able to re-purpose to help you corral some of the pantry clutter.
5. Look for wasted space.
Here you’re clearly looking at the pantry I have not yet organized, but think about ways in which you can reclaim some wasted space to corral oddly sized and smaller items. This little wire rack on the wall holds sandwich bags, plastic wrap, foil, and parchment paper, while on the inside of the door this shoe organizer from IKEA is the perfect size for tuna pouches, seasoning packets, and smaller baking supplies like yeast packets and baking bars.
Whatever type of organizer you choose here, see-through is better. We later added a non-mesh shoe organizer to the other door, but have found we’re more likely to forget about items in there since we can’t see the contents without removing them from the pouches. (IKEA no longer sells the exact one we have, but you can find similar on Amazon.)
What are your own tips for effective pantry organization?
Please share here — It’s a never-ending struggle!