7 Tips for Cleaning Out and Re-Organizing Your Pantry

The following post is from Kate of Modern Alternative Mama:

source: Kate aka Modern Alternative Mama

That, right there, is my pantry “before.”

This fall, I’m doing a lot of food preserving.  I’ve already canned over 60 quarts of tomato sauce and a dozen or so quarts of applesauce (with many more to come).  In addition to all my canning, and I’m also stocking up on pantry staples.  I took a trip to Amish country last weekend, and I bought tons of rice, wheat berries, sucanat, spices, and all kinds of other things.

The problem is, I came home with no place to put it.  My pantry was filled, and more importantly — disorganized.  I didn’t even know what I had anymore!  Certainly there were items in there that didn’t need to be there.

As I went through the process, I wished I had unlimited space, time, and money so that I could buy the “perfect” containers and store everything in some amazing system.  Sadly, I don’t have any of those things.  I have to work with what I have.  Still, I learned some good information as I worked to clean out my pantry and reorganize it, and I’m hoping this will help you!

1. Get Everything Out

There’s no way to see what you really have in there unless you just pull it all out.  It will make your kitchen super messy for a couple of days (unless you’re really dedicated and have enough kid-free time to do this in one day; I didn’t), which is crazy-making for me, but it’s worth it.  I was surprised by several items I found, that I wish I’d known were in there!  At least I know now.

2. Throw Stuff Away

Be honest: are you going to eat it?  If the answer’s no, then either throw it away or donate it to a food pantry.  There is no point in putting something back because you think “Well, someday, if I find the right recipe or we’re really strapped for cash or ideas….”  It doesn’t need space in your pantry!  Get rid of it, and remember not to buy it again.

3. Combine Items

I somehow found three jars of rolled oats in my pantry.  No idea how that happened, but they are now combined into one jar.  If you find a few different types of pasta, or ends of boxes of cereal or bags of chips, try to combine them.  Even similar shapes of pasta (i.e. not exactly the same) can be combined — they only need to have similar cooking times.  Then, throw away any extra packaging so that you simplify what you’re putting back.

4. Use it Up

Have a small amount of something that just can’t be combined or otherwise put away?  Use it up.  I found a small amount of pearled barley that just wouldn’t fit into the container I use for it, and I didn’t want to stick the little bag back in the pantry.  I kept it out and made chicken barley soup a couple days later. Create a meal based on whatever is in your pantry (with some odds and ends from your fridge or freezer, too) so that you can use up anything that’s older or that you only have a small amount of.  Who knows, you might create a new family favorite!

5. Change Up the Packaging

I don’t like storing things in plastic bags.  The bags are in the way (especially those bulk bags from the store), and it’s hard to stack anything in a reasonably organized fashion.  Instead, I like to put my staples (beans, rice, wheat berries, sucanat, oats, etc.) into mason jars.  No, it’s not ideal.  I wish I had some beautiful, larger glass food containers.  But mason jars are cheap, and I have a bunch of them.  The big bags get put on a different shelf or even down on my basement food-storage shelves.  I refill the jars as needed.  I like to keep my little extra spice boxes in an old plastic shoebox, so at least they’re not floating loose in the pantry.  It keeps everything better together.  Plus, with my nice, clear mason jars, I can see easily what I have and what I need more of!

6. Separate the Shelves

Organize your shelves by what they are.  I have all my baking supplies on one shelf, all of my mason jar “bulk” items on another, all my oils and vinegars (and cooking wine) on another, snack foods on another.  I know exactly where I need to go, depending on what I am looking for.  The biggest problem with this, of course, is maintaining the system.  You get tired and forget to put something back right, or someone else puts stuff away and doesn’t do it right.  Which leads me to….

7. Mini-Clean Outs Make Life Easier

Every time you go grocery shopping (which for me is every two weeks), do a mini-clean out.  See what you have and can use up; add it to your meal plan. Put things back where they belong if they’ve gotten put away in the wrong place.  If you see some random bag hanging from a shelf (or does that only happen to me?), grab it, figure out what it is, and do something with it.  (Put away, throw away, use.)

I’m hopeful that I can actually keep my pantry organized this time. I want to really use my pantry staples well, because this may be my last stock-up trip before baby is born!  (Baby isn’t due for 6 months, but I’d been hoping to go again early in March like I did last year…but that’s when baby is coming…so I’ll have to either choose a January trip or an April trip, most likely.)  Using my supplies well and not letting any go to waste will also help to keep my grocery budget down, a major concern with a rapidly growing family!

How do you organize your pantry effectively?

Kate is a wife and mommy to 3 and is passionate about God, health and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and is planning to release more in 2012. When she’s not blogging, she’s in the kitchen, sewing, or home schooling her children. You can find her at Modern Alternative Mama or contributing to Keeper of the Home.