This Is How My Extremely Organized Grandmother Sorts Spices in the Kitchen

published Oct 3, 2022
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In all my years professionally organizing, sorting spice jars has always been an interesting experience. I’ve found that my clients either really care about how and where the spices are stored or have little to no opinion. For the former, a likely reason is that they have a long-held belief about how spices should be organized. If they grew up seeing their parents or grandparents always store them a certain way, it’s easy to understand why they follow the same method.

My parents had a two-tier lazy Susan in a cabinet near the stove for the handful they owned. While fairly effective, there was no rhyme or reason to the system. Meanwhile, my paternal grandmother, who turns 90 this year, had (and still has) one of the most organized collections of spices I’ve ever seen. It’s especially impressive considering this was well before the popularity of matching jars and cute custom labels.

Although she claims she never observed anyone else doing it and it’s “just the way” she chose to stick with, it’s still pretty impressive to me. She was the primary cook and baker of the household, feeding my grandfather, their five sons, and all the daughters-in-law and grandkids during the holidays, so having an array of spices was necessary. Using an expandable shelf riser so she can easily see and reach them all, she arranges them in alphabetical order. She also stays loyal to one brand (mostly) so even though they’re in the original bottles, the display looks clean and clutter-free.

Even though I admire her organization, you might be shocked to know I don’t organize my spices this way and don’t always recommend it to my clients. Yes, it’s an excellent method and can absolutely work well for you, but it might not be your best bet. Let’s look at the pros and cons of organizing the jars alphabetically.

Pro: It’s a super simple system to follow

You know basil is front and center while thyme is behind. So long as you get in the habit of putting the jars back in their spot, you’ll always know where to find them again. The biggest benefit of this, in my opinion? It takes all of the guesswork out of locating something. Creating masterpieces in the kitchen takes a lot of time and energy in the first place. There’s no reason to add to it if you don’t have to.

Con: You’ll spend more time searching

If you use the same couple of spices over and over, you’re going to wind up wasting seconds pulling it from the back of the shelf or drawer. If you only use allspice during the holiday season, it may seem silly keeping it center stage year-round. 

An alternative idea for sorting spices

Like the idea of organizing your spices in alphabetical order but don’t want to crowd the space you keep them in? Consider this: Separate the ones you use on a daily or weekly basis (think salt, pepper, garlic, etc.) then alphabetize them in the first row or two. Do the same with the less often reached for jars and organize them in the back rows. If you don’t have the space or use some so infrequently, create a small section elsewhere in the kitchen or pantry to keep them. Then alphabetize the regulars in a more convenient place so you can stress less when cooking, baking, and meal prepping.

How do you organize your spices? Share your methods in the comments below.