The Great Big, Real-Life Pantry Cleanup (& How To Do Your Own)

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

Try as I might to achieve that perfect pantry look (you all know what I’m talking about), I still have errant boxes of cake mix and plastic bags of who-knows-what-anymore from the bulk bin. Recently, the hodge-podge of things I knew I had but couldn’t find and the creeping lack of space drove me to the point of yet another Great Big, Real-Life Pantry Cleanup. Here’s how I get my pantry to the point where, even if it’s not magazine-worthy, looking at it is peaceful and using it is — possible!

Start with a major purge.

You really don’t know what’s in your pantry until you take everything off the shelves, so start with that. I hauled out everything, shelf by shelf, wiped down the inside of the pantry, and the outsides of the contents if necessary. I tossed everything expired or stale and then put everything back in its particular place.

Rethink your layout.

I organize everything by its category of use. For instance, one entire shelf is devoted to baking and another shelf section to breakfast cereals and grains. Another important consideration is how often you use something. Don’t take up easy-access space with items you rarely use. This time around, I removed the sprinkles containers and birthday candles from my baking shelf and put them in small bins on the top shelf.

(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

Save space and sanity with modular containers.

They’re not the cheapest thing you’ll ever buy, but these Oxo pop-up containers have been a pantry life-saver. Their modularity allows me to maximize space by stacking and I can even go two containers deep on a shelf if I need to and end up playing Tetris rather than Jenga when I need to get to what’s in back. (The powdered sugar is homeless until I can pick up an Oxo home for it.)

(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

Maximize use of awkward corners with lazy susans.

Lazy susans are an excellent solution for using corner space and for holding bottles and jars that hold liquids. I separate my two lazy susans into a baking or sweet category and a savory category.

Keep one-use products in their original packaging.

I only put products that get used over time in my Oxo containers. No sense in transferring products that get used all at once into nice containers. Products that get left in their original packaging include some pastas, cake mixes, pudding mix, and the like. I corral these in lid-less plastic bins.

Label for guess-free cooking.

When you take things out of their packaging, you run the risk of not knowing what it is (and don’t think that you’ll remember). I use chalkboard labels and a chalkboard marker to label the containers. (Tip: Remove the chalkboard marker with a magic eraser.)

(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

Use jars for lower shelves.

Of course, everyone’s pantry configuration is different, but it didn’t make sense for me to use more Oxo containers on my bottom shelf. So I used glass jars that I’d cleaned and whose lids I’d spray-painted a nice red. Labeling the lids this time around has been a huge help; I can see what I have at just a glance.