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6 Steps to an Organized Pantry

With food constantly going in and out of your pantry, it’s natural for the spice rack to become disheveled and the oatmeal to migrate near the Worcestershire sauce. But if you find yourself upending the Cheerios every time you grab a soup can, or quite literally spilling the beans on chili night, it’s time for a pantry intervention. Follow these six steps to get your pantry shipshape.


1. Purge

Pull everything — yes, everything, even that naughty little stash of plastic grocery bags — out of your pantry. Paw through the nonfood stuff. How’d that toy car get in there? Is the bottom shelf really the best place for placemats? Would the tinfoil be more accessible in a drawer? Find a new home for anything that doesn’t belong. Then discard any food that’s stale, moldy or expired. Donate to a local food pantry food or spices that you don’t plan to use but aren’t expired (we’re looking at you, canned sardines!).


2. Deep Clean

Dirt, hairballs and mystery crumbs just shouldn’t coexist with pasta and peppercorns. If you only see surface dirt, use a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water or another food-safe cleaner to scrub down the pantry’s shelves. If the damage goes deeper, give the pantry a new coat of paint using a water-based latex formula — the fumes from oil-based paint and a poorly ventilated pantry don’t mix — in a glossy finish for easy wiping. And if your pantry is dimly lit, now’s the time to install lighting so you never mistake salt for sugar again.


3. Feel Out the Crowd

If you live alone, you can organize your pantry however you please. But if you’re sharing your pantry with roommates or family, hold a quick strategy session. Talk about the items the group needs frequently and whether everyone should be able to reach them. (Fido may get two treats a day, but he shouldn’t be able to nose around the pantry and fetch them himself.) Kids should be able to grab healthy snacks and their favorite cereal, though you may debate whether to put the cookies within arm’s reach.


4. Go Shopping

Shop for organizational help in two categories: shelving and containers. Start with shelving, armed with the measurements (height, length and depth) of your pantry shelves. If your shelves are spaced close together, look for shelf risers that let you display small cans, jars and spice-size bottles on steps for easier viewing. If your shelves are spaced so far apart you see a lot of empty space, opt for standalone cabinet shelves that could double your storage. And consider an over-the-door pantry rack — just make sure you have enough interior clearance.


Then select containers to hold flour, grains, pasta and anything else with spill potential. Pick out canisters that are square — they’re a more efficient use of space than round ones — and that have tight or locking lids that keep out moisture and critters. Buy a few wire or clear baskets for snacks so they can see what’s inside, and use smaller baskets or bins to group spice packets, tea bags and loose cracker sleeves.


Oh, and don’t forget to grab a folding step stool for extra-high shelves.


5. Organize It

Bring the food back in, but don’t just throw those tuna cans anywhere. Rule No. 1: Heavy stuff on the bottom, lighter stuff on the top — nobody should have to lift a sack of potatoes over their head. Rule No. 2: Divide in zones. Group food together in categories based on how you cook. If you bake often, sugar, baking soda and muffin mix should all go on a shelf of baking supplies. If you don’t, you may only need a corner to stash your flour. Stash all of your pasta containers on the same shelf, same goes for cereal. Canned veggies should stand apart from jarred jellies. Corral your spices together (and consider a revolving spice rack). Keep it logical!


6. Keep It Nice

Embrace the zen of the “everything in its place” look and keep the newly organized pantry tidy. (You might just have to hold a family meeting to make that rule official.) Sweep up stray noodles or errant kidney beans and wipe down the shelves monthly.

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