How to Organize Your Pantry for Smarter Storage (and Faster Food Prep)

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These pantry organization ideas are not only easy to follow, but they'll also save you time and money.

Organizing the pantry is probably not at the top of anyone’s priority list. But a messy pantry isn’t just unsightly—it’s probably also costing you time and money. When your pantry is disorganized, it’s hard to find what you want quickly. And when you can’t see what you have at a glance, you may forget about it, which can lead to expired food and wasted money on duplicate purchases.

Beyond that, organizing your kitchen for smarter storage is a golden opportunity to take stock of what you already have so you can incorporate foods that are about to expire into your meal plan and toss anything that’s past its prime. You just need to tackle one project at a time to de-clutter your home, so you might as well start with organizing your pantry. To help you get started, we’re sharing expert tips and advice on the best pantry organization ideas and inexpensive pantry organization essentials.

Start with shelving

If you’re building a pantry from scratch, a portable shelving unit is an expensive way to achieve organization and storage. Just be sure to get a unit that can withstand the weight of all those heavy cans. This Amazon Basics Heavy Duty Storage Shelving Unit will fit up to 350 loads per shelf, with a max weight of 1,750 pounds. It can also be assembled without tools. Sturdy shelving is a must-have for an organized utility closet, too.

Box up boxed goods

Square baskets that coordinate with your pantry or kitchen design not only help to organize all those random boxed goods, but they also make your kitchen Pinterest-worthy, shares Tamara Day of HGTV’s Bargain Mansions. “Start with 6 to 12 matching baskets—the more the merrier—you can’t have too many,” she says. Then store all the cereals in one, all the pasta in another, all the ramen noodles in a third, and so on. “At the end of the day, having a designated place for everything will make life so much easier and your pantry so much prettier.” You can get the look with this set of woven Hyacinth farmhouse baskets by mDesign.

Corral cans

Canned foods tend to shift around the pantry and easily get lost behind other stuff. A can rack organizer is a space-efficient way to organize all your various cans in a neat and efficient way, according to Leanne Stapf of The Cleaning Authority, a cleaning company in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. A pantry can organizer like this one from SimpleHouseware also makes it easy to see all your cans at a glance so you can keep up with expiration dates and avoid duplicate purchases. It’s also time you learned how to organize your pots and pans.

Place snacks in storage bins

“Storage bins will be your best friend when it comes to storing individually packed snacks like chips or cookies,” Stapf says. These Copco cabinet storage bins are an excellent place to store anything that might get sticky, like syrup or ketchup, as the nonskid liner is easy to wipe down. You can use them as closet organizers in other areas of the house, too.

air sealed dry food containers for the pantryStudio CJ/Getty Images

Store dry goods in airtight storage containers

Take dry goods like flour, sugar, or dried beans out of the package and store them in clear, airtight storage containers like this set from Chef’s Path. Not only will they look neater, but they’ll be protected from ants or other pests. You’ll also be able to see at a simple glance when your stocks need to be replenished.

Add more storage with over-the-door shelving

If you need pantry organizing ideas for a small pantry, look no further than the area behind the door. The Smart Design Over The Door Pantry Organize can be either hung over your door or mounted, depending on your preference. It features six sturdy shelves, creating extra space in a small pantry. To make sure you stay organized, dedicate those shelves to specific themes, like pasta, tea, or cereal. This way you’ll know exactly where to look when you need them. Over-the-door shelves also make great linen closet organizers.

Keep everything at eye level

If you’re organizing a deep pantry, it’s important to make sure the items in the back aren’t obscured by the items in the front. A couple of inexpensive pantry storage containers from Copco will solve this problem. The 3-Tier Kitchen Cabinet Spice Organizer is perfect for elevating spices, small cans, and jars, so you can see everything at the same time. Meanwhile, you can put sauces and oils on turntables and lazy susans so you can spin them around and see what treasures might be hiding in the back.

Create pantry zones

Every pantry worth its salt (pun intended) is divvied up into “zones,” or various cooking stations based on your day-to-day needs. Once you settle on the categories—such as weeknight dinners or holiday baking—assign an area in your pantry for each zone and label it. Not only will this trick help with pantry organization, but it also guarantees you’ll find what you need in a pinch. This also helps you set up your kitchen so you can eat healthier.

Staple zone

Set up a staple zone for the things you reach for most often, so ideally somewhere within easy reach. Although these items are different from pantry to pantry, examples of everyday essentials might include beans, rice, and chicken broth. Store dry goods in clear airtight canisters to easily gauge when you need to restock. Arrange canned goods on graduated step organizers so each label is visible. Every six months, check expiration dates and donate food you may not finish in time.

Baking zone

Arrange spices on a two-tier turntable, with cooking spices on one level and baking spices on the other. Use a larger turntable to easily store and find cooking oils. Keep sugar, flour, and other baking goods in stackable canisters or labeled plastic bags. This is also the perfect time to check the expiration date and dispose of spices past their prime.

Dinner zone

Plan ahead for stress-free evenings: Sort ingredients for a week’s worth of easy dinners into separate bins, organizing by meal (for instance, store taco fixings in one bin and spaghetti fixings in another).

Coffee zone

The first step to making the perfect cup of coffee is to keep all your supplies in one place so you can find them without crisscrossing your room when you start your day. Coffee beans, flavoring syrups, extra cartons of oat milk, and more, can all find a home here.

Snack zone

This is the place for snack packs and convenience foods such as peanut butter, nuts, and dried fruit. Store snacks in see-through plastic bins to make them easy to grab and go. Pro tip: Keep kids’ snacks at their level, so they can reach for them without any help. Next, read on to learn how to organize your fridge.

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Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane