As Jennifer Davis got ready to move her family from a temporary rental to a new home, she vowed that her new pantry would be the picture of organization.

“We recently spent two years in England where pantries—and packages—were so much smaller,” Davis said. “Moving back to Seattle reminded me of the peril of Costco-sized products, how I sometimes buy too much and then forget I have it.”

She’s correct that pantries have been supersized. In fact, pantries are a hot commodity. In a recent survey for the National Association for Home Builders, 85 percent of respondents put a walk-in pantry on their “most wanted” list.

And they have the right idea: Ample pantry space is ideal for planning meals and saving money. But they also can be a black hole for expired food, duplicates you didn’t know you had and potential pest infestations.

Here, we present five tips for preparing your pantry and keeping your edibles arranged.

1. Take Stock.

Before you start organizing, take everything out. “That’s the only way to assess what you have and what should be kept,” said Nancy Black, a professional organizer in the Boston, MA, area. Then, decide what needs to be thrown away, donated or reassigned.

  • Expired food always should be tossed. Same with any leaking, bulging cans, or items with murky origins. “When in doubt, throw it out,” Black said.
  • Extra food can be donated. For example, if you stocked up on items that your family doesn’t eat anymore—Zach finally grew out of his cereal-for-every-meal phase!—find a local food bank that can use it.
  • Avoid returning non-pantry items to the shelves. Too often, pantries become a dumping ground for serving platters, paper goods, plastic bags, batteries and other assorted items. Aside from a fire extinguisher, try to find other spots for non-food-related goods, whether it’s in the garage or at an off-site storage facility. Really, how frequently do you use your holiday platters or tailgating gear?

2. Categorize.

Now comes the fun part. According to Barbara Reich, a professional organizer in New York City, NY, keeping similar things together in your pantry will prevent you from overbuying.

“Store duplicates of items one behind the other, and put the newest ones in the back so you are constantly using your stock,” she said.

Barbara Reich
Barbara Reich recommends using bins to “corral” food.

Black suggests organizing your pantry by zone, making it easier for you and your family to know where everything is. Consider creating sections like “breakfast,” “baking,” “grains” and “canned goods.” It’s easier to shuffle the items before you put anything on the shelves.

3. Label.

Once you’ve set up your zones, make sure to label them.

“There should be only one place for pasta noodles, one place for all your baking goods and one place for snacks, for example,” Reich said.

By grouping similar things, you know what you’ve got so that when you shop for groceries, you can make a list and buy efficiently—to save money and storage space.

4. Expand Your Storage Options.

Once you know which categories you’ll be dealing with, you can review your storage needs. Black is a fan of pull-out shelves, which you can have built or can buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Then, she recommends grouping the “zoned” items in bins, baskets and so forth. “If you want baking items, you can pull out one bin or tray, rather than lots of little things,” Black said. She likes the Fridge Binz line, available at many retailers; they work in the fridge and in the pantry.

“Using bins to corral food will also make your pantry look neater when you have a lot of a particular product, such as seasoning envelopes or individual snacks, for example,” Reich said.

Another tip: You can free up space in your pantry by storing dry goods in see-through canisters that can sit on kitchen counters.

Black also recommends adding organizers for kitchen wrap and aluminum foil. They can be put on a shelf or attached to a door.

5. Make Space for Emergency Food.

Whether you’re riding out a natural disaster or staying put on a wintry weather, every home should have an ample supply of nonperishable food, such as canned vegetables, canned tuna and jars of peanut butter. Carve out some space in your pantry for that emergency supply.


Cathie Ericson