If you’ve had a pantry for any length of time, chances are it has become a catch-all for all kinds of things that don’t belong and that you aren’t using anymore. It’s probably time for a good declutter and some organization!
When my parents added on to my childhood home 20 years ago, my mom finally got the pantry that she had always wanted — a big walk-in, close-the-door-when-company-is-coming-over pantry lined with shelves for maximum storage and space for her freezer.
It was a wonderful addition, but you know how it goes when you have extra storage space… the inventory creeps up, you get busy with other things and it gets a little bit out of control!!
My mom kept asking when I would have time to help clean out her pantry, but I would get overwhelmed and put it off. I still get overwhelmed by spaces sometimes!
So finally I decided to dive in and help her tackle the pantry using the tools that I’ve been talking about for the last few years. It took some time, but I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I hope some of these tips can help you declutter your pantry, too!
Or watch this video on YouTube here!
Before you start organizing you need to declutter
If you’re naturally an organized person, it can be frustrating when you can’t keep things organized and tidy.
Usually the reason we struggle with keeping things organized is just because the inventory has gotten out of control.
It’s physically impossible to organize everything in a cluttered space, so first you need to do a massive declutter and that gets it back to the point where you can actually organize.
My mom was really ruthless. If she didn’t know for sure that she was going to be using it, she didn’t want to have to manage it anymore.
In the end we got rid of about 75% of the stuff in her pantry, which made organizing what was left SO much easier!
Declutter without making a mess
When I finally decided to face the pantry head on, I knew I wanted to use the decluttering without making a mess method by Dana from A Slob Comes Clean.
I didn’t know how long this project was going to take, but I knew I didn’t want to turn around and have a huge mess behind me, in case I got interrupted and would have to come back (and that happened multiple times!).
Start with the obvious stuff
When you start with your big pantry overhaul, you’ll want some big wins right away to get the momentum going.
Pull out any large items that you know you’re not using and can get rid of.
And look for trash — packaging, old food… anything that stands out as trash, get rid of it right away to clear some space!
Get rid of expired food
You get to decide at what point food is too old for you to eat.
My mom got rid of anything 2019 and older. Most food is still edible after its expiration date but the flavor can change a bit and she’s okay with that.
I prefer to go to current dates, anything older than that, we get rid of. If it’s expired it means we weren’t using it anyway! And if you stick it back in the pantry, are you actually going to use it if you haven’t up until this point?
It’s easy to feel ashamed of throwing out food, but remember that managing your pantry has not been your main focus. It’s impossible to juggle all the things. So, yes, you’ll probably have expired food you need to throw away. And you probably have things that you bought and didn’t use.
Give yourself some grace. You’ll make better decisions going forward!
Organizing your pantry
Once you’ve got your pantry decluttered and remove everything that doesn’t belong, it’s finally time to start organizing!
Set up zones for the different items in your pantry so everything has a home.
Keeping all like items together helps you know if you still have too much inventory and need to pare it down a little bit more.
It also makes it super easy to find things so you won’t rebuy something you already have…. like lightbulbs!
My mom already had some zones set up in her pantry that were working really well, so we kept some of them and added a few more.
Some of the different zones we set up:
- Canned goods
- Grilling stuff
- Salad dressings
- Plastic cutlery
- Paper plates
- Small appliances
- Light bulbs
Know your organizing style
A really helpful tool for setting up your pantry in a way that works for you is understanding your organizing style.
Do you like micro or macro categories?
Do you prefer things to be hidden or visual?
Take the Clutterbug quiz to find out more about your organizing style!
My mom is a Ladybug, which means she likes things to be out of sight and in bigger categories.
Organize with bins
Storing things in bins is especially helpful in your pantry for two reasons.
1. A bin is easy to pull down
For things on the higher shelves, it’s really easy to take down a bin and see everything that you have.
That’s why my mom had so many extra napkins. They were just sitting loose on the shelf and she couldn’t see what she had. Now that they’re all in a bin, it’s very easy to pull it down and see everything together.
2. It limits how much you can have
A bin is a container that limits how much you can keep.
If the bin is already full, you don’t need to grab any more napkins on clearance.
And you might want to have a few extra salad dressings but once that bin is full, that’s it.
Having a limit prevents you from being wasteful and you won’t have to worry about things expiring because you’ll actually use them up!
Beware of flat surfaces
If you have a large flat surface in your pantry, like a freezer, it can be SO tempting to pile things on it, especially if your shelves are cluttered!
If you want something to get put away in the right place, it has to be almost as easy to put away as it is to leave it out.
So if your snacks tend to get left out on these surfaces that are magnets for clutter, make sure they have a quick and easy home to put them away properly.
If you want to go just a bit further…
This is totally optional, but if you’re giving your pantry a makeover anyway, freshening everything up with some paint doesn’t hurt!
For my mom’s pantry, I painted the freezer that they got as a wedding gift about 40 years ago with white appliance epoxy.
I also gave the 20-year-old shelves and walls another coat of paint.
I’m really glad that I did, because it’s a space that they use multiple times a day and just makes it feel so nice and welcoming.
I want this for you too
If your pantry or another space in your house has gotten out of control, that is OKAY! It hasn’t been your number one priority to manage all that inventory. Just get started!
Using the method for decluttering without making a mess can make it totally manageable, even if you can only do five minutes at a time.
You deserve a peaceful home, too, and I know you can do it!!