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Five Tips for Pantry Organization in the New Year

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!

Amy Townsend

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

Amy Townsend

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

Most of my organizing Ideas I get from

Christian Schelthoff

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

My oldest expired can was found during a food drive I worked at (they said I could have it) - it was so old it had no nutritional information or UPC marking! Sold it on eBay as a collectible. Waste not, want not...

Karen L

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

I write the date on canned goods and boxes. However, I write it on the label so I don't have to pick up the can. I used to write it on top of the can but found it easier, and more efficient, to see it on the front. I put my overflow in the basement. I have three freestanding racks of plastic shelving with four to five shelves in each rack. I fit low cardboard boxes or big aluminum pans on the shelves. This way, any cans that fall over land inside the box instead of on the floor. I mark the tops of juice bottles too. I am always reorganizing the two freestanding freezers. I remove some boxes to save room. If I buy 10 pizzas, I keep an empty box on top of the freezer for instructions. Many times the sharpie markings smear on the cold plastic so I write the date on blank labels and stick them on the plastic. I label anything that has a small date, is hard to read and most importantly, because the date location is in a different spot for each manufacturer. Standing too long in front of the freezer leads to freezer burn. For shredded cheese, Kraft stamps the date on the front but Supremo slaps it on another spot. So, I label all of them and load them in the freezer door. I keep saying I will reduce to one freezer but it hasn't happened yet!


Wednesday 28th of December 2016

The older I get, the harder it is to see those printed-on expiration or best by dates. Before I put the cans or boxes away on the shelf, I write the month and year (using a Sharpie), large enough to see clearly at a glance, on the top of the items. Even if the item ends up getting donated, I don't think anyone would mind.


Wednesday 28th of December 2016

I'm glad to hear you mark your goods also. It makes it so much easier to see and use the older stuff 1st without turning over or using reading glasses to see the date.. I've never had the food pantry complain and I would hope it would be nice for them also. On stuff that doesn't really expire, like shampoo and soap, I mark the month and year I bought it. Of course no big stock pile anymore, so, I guess I could give that up. I also kept the plastic bins from our old fridge and put them under the sink to hold body wash, shampoo, and other undersink stuff. They slide out so nicely and have a nice grip on the front if I need to lift it out. They also hold a lot of water in case you discover the pipe under the sink has been dripping for a while! The oldest item I ever found was a can of crab meat that our daughter gave to us when she moved and it was 6 years old! I called the company and they said it was probably better to throw it away to be safe after 5 yrs.