Kitchen Confidence

Pantry Organization

By • April 17, 2012 • 80 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're sharing our tips for keeping an organized pantry.

Pantry

Amanda's pantry didn't always look like this. After years of recipe testing, ingredients piled up. Every time we removed an item, someone had to play a real-life game of Tetris to put it back so the cabinets would close properly. Obviously, this wasn't the most efficient way to keep a test kitchen pantry. At some point Amanda asked if anyone could organize our chaos and create a system for maintaining it. I volunteered, which was surprising to no one, because I love organizing and putting things in places. After a messy day, and many heavy trash bags full of things past their prime, FOOD52 achieved pantry zen. 

Want your kitchen to resemble ours? It's easier than you think. I know we don't all have spaces like this (my own kitchen is severely lacking in cabinet and drawer space), but there are basic tips that apply to all kitchens, and that's what I'm sharing here. 

Pantry - Neat

Keep like with like.

Before the big cleanup, sugars, salts, flours and other sweeteners were all mixed up. (The horror!) I dedicated one shelf to flours, one to sugars and chocolates, and the other to salts and sweeteners. Now everyone knows exactly where to look for the chickpea flour, maple sugar or agave nectar.  

Consider  what you use, and how often you use it.

The items on the eye-level shelves are things we use most frequently. This makes gathering ingredients convenient, so think about what you use and place it accordingly. I have a space up at the top for refills (like the extra boxes of brown sugar) and things we just don't use very often (like applewood chips).  

Pantry - Grains and Beans
Pasta, grains, and legumes organized neatly.

Use food-grade airtight containers.

Airtight containers are best for storing dry ingredients. Since nothing can spill out from them, they keep your shelves free of stray grains or dustings of flour. The added bonus is that you can choose different sizes for different ingredients. And doesn't a pantry full of uniform containers look better than one with half-empy bags and boxes? 

Label (and date) things.

We can't tell the difference between AP flour and pastry flour without a label. And I certainly couldn't identify every type of rice we have. Amanda keeps a wet-erase marker on hand for easy labelmaking -- when the black barley is gone, the name on the container will just wash away. You don't have to label every single ingredient in your pantry if you don't want to. I am encouraging you to date things, though. Knowing how fresh your pantry items are is always a good thing. 

Pantry - Oils and Vinegars
Oils and vinegars stay on their sides of the shelf. 

Keep track. 

This one's easy: stay familiar with what you have on your shelves to avoid bringing home any duplicates. When you run out of an essential, add it to your weekly grocery list.

What are your pantry organization tips?

Fridge Before Fridge After
This is the only before and after shot I have -- look at how far we've come! 

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: kitchen confidence, tips and tricks, pantry organization, how-to & diy

Comments (80)

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10 days ago Soccermom

Yes, spices do pile up. I organize mine alphabetically or by flavor. For example, the bottom left side has all of the sweet spices, the left door has all the Indian spices, the right door has other ethnic spices and dry rubs, and the general spices are all in alphabetical order. There's a few of us who like to cook in the kitchen, so it's important that we put things back in the same place every time. That way, when the next person goes to grab the smoked paprika, they know exactly where it is.

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17 days ago Ken O'Brien

Square containers are designed for dry storage and round for cold, as I was lead to believe. Square can be stacked more tightly for an economical use of space, as dry storage does not require air flow around the containers. Round containers give more adequate movement of cool/freezing air around and through the containers.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

17 days ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

I've never heard this before -- thanks so much for contributing this info.

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about 1 month ago jo

im planning a kitchen remodel, and was on the line re: an idea I have to repurpose my 'hall' closet- creating a door into it from the kitchen, closing off the hall door, and making a sort of 'butlers pantry'. This has put me over to the yes column. Great idea. jm

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 month ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad you've made this decision -- I don't know of anyone who says they have too much pantry space!

Stringio

about 1 month ago Adam Hawkshaw

My mother taught be to organise tinned goods alphabetically...
so tinned garbanzo beans are never near tomatoes

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9 months ago hl

Wide mouthed canning jars make wonderful containers, without exposing yourselves to plastics,with uniform lids, clear for easy visibility, and relatively inexpensive. And though it's not as pretty as labels, use inexpensive masking tape for marking contents and dates.

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12 months ago Barbara Lawson

a drop of eucalyptus oil will dissolve the sticky residue from labels

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 month ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Good tip -- thank you. Do you get this at health food stores, or elsewhere?

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12 months ago Barbara Lawson

a bit of eucalyptus oil will dissolve the sticky residue from labels

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over 1 year ago ssalamander

Thank you for this inspirational post. I am wondering what is your source for the plastic jars with white screw tops? It looks like there are 3-4 sizes used. There are a lot of them on the bean & grain shelves. I looked on the Cambro website for them, but only found the round storage containers w/ measurements w/ the snap on covers. Thanks for your help!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

The ones with the white tops come from Consolidated Plastics: http://www.consolidatedplastics...

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over 1 year ago jlm

As much as I would love to have a great matchy set of containers, they're expensive, and there are so many things that can re-used. But I always keep a supply of peel and stick address lables; they are just the right size for the info you need. And if you are concened that your recycled containers aren't airtight, a layer or saran or other wrap between the contents and the lid will make them so. Re-use, re-purpose, re-cycle. Also, turntables are an excellent way to store small jars and cans in those deep corners or high shelves.

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over 1 year ago babs

Do you make house calls?

Kandm

over 1 year ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Ha!

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over 1 year ago babs

Do you make house calls?

Lorigoldsby

almost 2 years ago lorigoldsby

This inspired me to go and clean out my pantry...it started out organized and had accumulated so much junk i was just throwing stuff in and closing the doors! I found 9 cans of black beans and 7 cans of northern beans! I will share the doubles (triples, quadruples!) and extras with the local food pantry. Last year Jenny's in the Kitchen inspired me with her column about a "baking closet" (truely life changing to have 3 shelves in the laundry room!) and now this...keep up the good work, but keep it to once a year--I'm exhausted!

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almost 2 years ago Katie Sullivan Morford

Inspiring and doable. I've got some work to do...but did enlist my 7 year old to help me organize snacks. Her spelling could use a little work but her organization is right on:

http://www.momskitchenhandbook...

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

How great!

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almost 2 years ago Alessandra Zecchini

My pantry is pretty well organized, the problem is that I use a lot of recycled tins and containers that are not see-through and I never remember what I put inside what and spend lot of time opening the wrong containers! Lol!! Maybe I should label them....

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Labels are a game-changer!

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almost 2 years ago swanderl

I often cut out instructions for cooking an item from the cardboard box that it came in. I use clear packing tape to cover it, leaving a little bit of extra tape around all of the edges of the cardboad to help it stick well, fold over a tab on one edge of the tape, and then stick in on a clear plastic or glass storage container that I have transferred my ingredients to. The tab makes it very easy to remove and keeps it fairly waterproof (although I imagine that it would come off in the dishwasher). The packing tape isn't as gummy as many other tapes and removes cleanly from many surfaces.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I like this idea. I just use a piece of tape on the bottom of the storage container with a ratio and time, as that seems to be the primary critical data.I'm thinking though that this is the kind of info that I could easily put into an address book incorporating one of the earlier organization post tips. When I find a recipe on a bag or box that looks promising, I scan it and it goes into my digital file. Such recipes are typically very reliable, because they've been thoroughly tested, given the huge impact on the manufacturer's "brand" if the recipe doesn't work. Some have been there for years, too. ;o)

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almost 2 years ago swanderl

I often cut out instructions for cooking an item from the cardboard box that it came in. I use clear packing tape to cover it, leaving a little bit of extra tape around all of the edges of the cardboad to help it stick well, fold over a tab on one edge of the tape, and then stick in on a clear plastic or glass storage container that I have transferred my ingredients to. The tab makes it very easy to remove and keeps it fairly waterproof (although I imagine that it would come off in the dishwasher). The packing tape isn't as gummy as many other tapes and removes cleanly from many surfaces.

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almost 2 years ago jeanmarieok

I do this,too. Works really well.

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almost 2 years ago jeanmarieok

I do this,too. Works really well.

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almost 2 years ago jeanmarieok

I do this,too. Works really well.

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almost 2 years ago Dconstantinople

where did you get the airtight containers - including the ones with the measurements in red?

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

They're all from Cambro, like I mentioned in another comment. Here's the link: http://cool.cambro.com...

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almost 2 years ago Mrs W

I want a ladder in my kitchen! I literally have to use tongs to reach things on the top shelf. Or ask my husband who is exactly a foot taller than I am.
Love the containers too.
Nice!

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almost 2 years ago Mrs W

I want a ladder in my kitchen! I literally have to use tongs to reach things on the top shelf. Or ask my husband who is exactly a foot taller than I am.
Love the containers too.
Nice!

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almost 2 years ago VeggieVal

Helpful post. Great pics, too. I, personally, would be keeping a lot of those oils in the fridge, though, but maybe they burn through them really fast.

I use masking tape with permanent markers for labels on containers in the fridge. They actually don't come off in my dishwasher so I can use the same container for "sprouts" or "tofu" or things I use up regularly, several times to one label. With my Huzby, elderly MIL and teens in the fridge, labels are a must here.

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Good call on the oil, VeggieVal. We actually do store quite a few oils in the fridge, but we also go through them very quickly.

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almost 2 years ago [email protected]

For those using glass containers, you can actually write on them with Sharpies, as that "permanent" ink will stay put on glass without smearing until you wash it off with a scrubbing pad. I often offer Sharpies to guests to write their names on plain wine glasses at our larger or more casual gatherings (because you might forget if you have the green or aqua wine charm, but hopefully you won't have enough wine to forget you're "Sally" or "Joe"!)

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almost 2 years ago Emsbutler

I think I am over-refrigerating things. I put oils and vinegars and condiments in my fridge. Think I need info on what really needs refrigerating and what doesn't!

I also am leery of storing things iin plastic. I use mason jars and square storage Glasslock containers (which do have plastic snap-on tops). These glass containers come in various sizes. I like to use them when making grilled pizza for a party...the toppings go in each container and can be prepped ahead. Also good for oatmeal toppings for a help-yourself breakfast.

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

We actually did two posts on smart food storage:
http://www.food52.com/blog...
http://www.food52.com/blog...

The plastic containers we use are food-grade and used in restaurants. I use canning jars (Weck is my favorite) for pantry storage in my own kitchen.

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almost 2 years ago Winniecooks

GREAT containers for the flours and sugars so you know if you have enough on hand (by cup) to complete a recipe without a trip to the store. Any idea where those are from? And please do this for the spice cabinet. I have multiple lazy susans but am open to other options. Or maybe a paring down of spices? Perish the thought . . .

Stringio

almost 2 years ago redrider

I store my spices in a drawer. Laying then on their side I can readily see what I want. I also have placed them in alphabetical order. It really saves time and is a great use for an extra drawer

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almost 2 years ago wenike

My kitchen is lacking in both cabinet and drawer space, but I have plenty of wall space (yay galley kitchen to nowhere!). The Ribba ledges are perfect for holding spices (I've got the 22" long variety and it holds an even dozen bottles). You can get fancy and get a set of containers as well, unless your spices are all one brand (or you don't care about the jars).

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

We talked about spice storage in this post (we have a spice drawer): http://www.food52.com/blog...

And the food-safe containers can be found here: http://cool.cambro.com...

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almost 2 years ago Catalicious

I only use square containers to store b/c they use space more efficiently. I do have those round dough proofers you show but I actually have to keep them empty for making bread!

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almost 2 years ago Heidi Sue Roth

I do love the square ones--my recent passion however are the new, screw-on plastic lids for mason jars. They come in wide-mouth and regular. When it's time, just run it all through the dishwasher.

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almost 2 years ago Tamiam88

Love the wet erase marker idea...I use labels but they always leave a sticky residue when I want to change them.

My addition to the tips is that I prefer rectangular or square-shaped containers instead of circles because they seem to fit better, with less wasted space. I like the one-lid fits all philosophy too.

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almost 2 years ago eat right

I second the square and rectangular containers idea ... (to conserve space). SnapWare makes/made them. The lids fit multiple sizes, only the depth of the container varies. They have a rubber gasket that is removable. I must admit, however, they are getting harder and harder to find.

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almost 2 years ago vvvanessa

Try using blue painter's tape on your containers. I use it on all types of plastic and glass, and it peels off clean (unless it's really old or has been baked on by the sun). It even comes off of some types of paper or cardboard without residue.

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almost 2 years ago Heidi Sue Roth

Along with the mason jars, Grease Pencils!!! (Aka China Markers) They write on just about anything. Black for white or clear, white for colored containers. It wipes right off, before or after dishwasher in case you forget. Get them an art store and you can buy one of any color you want. Other stores sell them in big packages which I find just too many. One lasts me about a year. Hope it helps.

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almost 2 years ago jkingsle

Any advice on how long we can keep various items? I know some say spices can only last a year... but in many cases that seems wasteful. Same for Oil. How about dried pasta, grains, flour, sugars, etc? Some advice on this would be very interesting.

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

We did two posts on Smart Storage:
http://www.food52.com/blog...
http://www.food52.com/blog...

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almost 2 years ago chezgloria

This topic is worthy of an entire series...at least. Thank you for this piece, and I encourage you to continue with this sort of organizational advice, since cooking means a LOT of stuff in mostly limited space. How do you handle the ingredients which are only occasionally used? - the ethnic stuff, etc. ? Also does anyone know of good glass storage vessels with snap on lids for refrigerator storage? I've decided to avoid plastic somewhat because I think it is unstable.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I buy sets of Pyrex rectangular boxes and bowls, all with plastic lids, that can be used in the freezer, the oven and the microwave, in addition to for storage in the fridge. They used to be readily available in hardware stores. I bought my last set online. I do a lot of weekend cooking for weeknights and a lot of double batch cooking for freezing as well. Plastic zipper-lock bags for freezing are not a sustainable option, plus, the boxes make it possible for me to cook and then put the soup, braised pork shoulder and other meats + sauce, leftover dark meat chicken on the bone + sauce, eggplant parm, meatballs in sauce, etc., directly from the stove or counter assembly into the storage/baking dish. I let it cool, cover it with the plastic lid and into the freezer it goes. Then I defrost in the fridge (sometimes on super low heat in the microwave, in emergencies) and either pop the whole thing in the oven -- minus the plastic lid, of course -- to re-heat, or reheat in the microwave, as applicable. Leftovers go back into the same box and into the fridge. We eat out of the smaller Pyrex bowls as well. These are a God-send for people like me with limited time in the kitchen. And there's an absolute minimum of cleanup! ;o)

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almost 2 years ago wenike

Along with AntoniaJames' suggestion of the Pyrex containers, Snapware makes a line that they call GlassWare, that are glass containers with plastic lids (and rubber gasket to make the seal). I'm not sure if they're oven safe though, but are definitely fine for fridge/freezer/microwave. I got my starter set from Costco, and additional containers from Container Store.

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almost 2 years ago Ozzy

I'm inspired! To clean and cook!

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almost 2 years ago Rachel Juhl

I do this about once a year to my parents' pantry b/c it just drives me ceazy when I come to visit and can't help in the kitchenw/o being supremely confused. It's time again-thanks for some new tips and the motivation!!

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Happy cleaning!

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almost 2 years ago Maeve

So what containers are pantry moth--proof? I'm dealing with an infestation right now, sigh, so this is particularly timely.

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almost 2 years ago Chrisppp

Maeve, bay leaves! The "moths" are actually "millers" and will go for any grain. As soon as I put flour into a canister (it's kept in the freezer till I actually put it in the canister), I add several dried bay leaves. Same goes for rice and other grains. Something in the bay leaves keeps the millers away. I've been doing this for more than 20 years and it's been more than 20 years since I've seen a miller in my house!

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almost 2 years ago swanderl

Make sure that you throw out everything that was in that cupboard! I had an infestation and someone told me to do that, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Such a waste! I threw out everything that I thought had moths in it and a few weeks later they were back. Now I transfer everything to air tight containers with a good seal. he ones with the button on the top work well as do the containers that you independently seal all 4 sides of the lid with the tab that folds down. My moths originated from sesame seeds, so now I always freeze them for a few hours to overnight to kill off any moths before I transfer them to the pantry.

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almost 2 years ago Maeve

Thanks for those tips! Never heard of the bay-leaf trick. Cool. And Swanderl, is a few hours really all that's necessary? Oh good. I was worried I have to keep things in the freezer for ever, and I sure don't have the space for that.

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almost 2 years ago swanderl

You can go overnight if you want, but that should be more than enough. You just have to kill any larvae.

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almost 2 years ago lindachoi

One thing that we did that helped cabinets and fridge organization was to purchase lock n' lock sets that all have the same lid size, so they're basically the same circumference, but different heights. So there is a single lid for all containers (no more matching) and they also stack perfectly.

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almost 2 years ago georgeann

Way to go on the re-org of Amanda's pantry.

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almost 2 years ago Ellen Benson

I love this and am totally inspired. However, what did you do with all your spices?

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almost 2 years ago Anncj

I put my spices in empty Marmite jars. They are made of very dark glass [protecting the spices from light] , with yellow plastic lids on which I write their names. I don't know if you have Marmite in America, though. This has been a great solution for me with all those fragile cellophane or paper packets the spices often come in.

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almost 2 years ago Anncj

I put my spices in empty Marmite jars. They are made of very dark glass [protecting the spices from light] , with yellow plastic lids on which I write their names. I don't know if you have Marmite in America, though. This has been a great solution for me with all those fragile cellophane or paper packets the spices often come in.

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almost 2 years ago Anncj

I put my spices in empty Marmite jars. They are made of very dark glass [protecting the spices from light] , with yellow plastic lids on which I write their names. I don't know if you have Marmite in America, though. This has been a great solution for me with all those fragile cellophane or paper packets the spices often come in.

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almost 2 years ago Cinzia900

these notes and photos are VERY informative. Please tell me (and share with your readers) the critical dimensions:

1. depth of shelves (front to back useable dimension)
2. depth of roll-out shelf (front to back useable dimension)
3. overall height of pantry area
4. width of pantry shelves

I am an architect and often design detailed kitchens for my clients - this sort of information is invaluable

thank you!

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almost 2 years ago vvvanessa

I buy in bulk a lot, and I have a Sharpie and a roll of painter's masking tape on hand to label and date my containers, which has saved me from so much waste and redundant buying, and the tape also comes in handy for re-sealing boxes of pasta and such. I try to use square containers as much as possible (Cambros brought from a restaurant supply place) because they're so space-efficient. I also have a little lazy susan (maybe made by OXO?) that I keep my smaller baking needs (baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, extracts, etc.) on, and that's been really helpful.

That pantry is gorgeous, by the way. If it were mine, though, all that lovely space between the bottles and containers would be crammed with more bottles and containers.

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almost 2 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

I have the same Baleine sea salt..... :-)

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almost 2 years ago LASGarcia

Me too!

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almost 2 years ago JanetinTexas

A quick, but useful tip, I learned about years ago: use large plastic storage containers, sans lids, as little "drawers" for your pantry or kitchen shelves. I use them to keep all of the food processor attachments together, keep like-minded spices together, etc. They are pretty much see-through from the front and you can pull them in and out like little drawers. Best for small items you want to contain on a shelf. Works best with square or rectangular containers with fairly low sides (3-4 inches high).

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almost 2 years ago CentralCoastContessa

I like your containers. What is the brand or source?

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

They're by Cambro, here's a link: http://cool.cambro.com...

I take no credit for finding these, Amanda had these long before I took control of her pantry.

Sasha_with_ava

almost 2 years ago Sasha (Global Table Adventure)

In my pantry (just a regular cabinet), I had the biggest trouble with things hiding away behind other containers. To solve the problem, I found some modular long storage (I think rubbermaid makes it) that fills the entire depth of the pantry, but isn't too wide. That way I know there's nothing lurking behind my containers. I use a larger one for ziplocks of all my various nuts, so that they are together (instead of a million little containers).

New_years_kitchen_hlc_only

almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

These tips are all so helpful; the writing is as tidy as the organized spaces, too! I have two questions, though. First, what would you do differently if you had only half of that pantry space? (I estimate that I have maybe a third, or maybe 40%, of what's shown in your photo. The empty space on your legume shelf looks large enough for a medium-sized adult to take a nap in comfortably.) Second, do you not need room for leftovers or food prepared in advance in your fridge? At least 25% of my fridge space is devoted to food in Pyrex storage/baking dishes with what leftovers (which will all be used for lunch) and entire main courses or component cooked ingredients that were made over the weekend for dinners early in the week. ;o)

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

AntoniaJames,

Like I mentioned, my own kitchen has much less pantry space -- I have one cabinet and a few drawers. I still apply these rules to my kitchen in ways that work for me. I can also assure you that not even Amanda's kids, or Merrill's little one, could fit into the F52 legume shelf. : )

We do keep leftovers in our fridge, and there is plenty of room for them -- the "after" photo is a closeup of two shelves. The refrigerator has 4 shelves, and 3 drawers. I was just trying to illustrate how things were before the big cleanup.

Stringio

almost 2 years ago mari.vanderheide

I love it!
Been trying to get my spice cabinet cleaned up and properly organized.

Phoenix

almost 2 years ago Phoenix Helix

From one organizational geek to another, well done! And I love your Tetris analogy.

Kandm

almost 2 years ago Kristy Mucci

Kristy is an expert at making things pretty and a former Associate Editor of Food52.

Thanks!! I always love hearing organizing and cleaning tips -- if you feel like sharing, I'd love to hear them!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

almost 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Pantry circle of life -- love that. We all live it, don't we?

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almost 2 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have been looking for dang wet erase markers to no avail - I guess I need ... Amazon.Com! Then I need you to come over for a couple days! I re-organize re-do my pantry periodically, but eventually entropy takes over and it disollves back into a heap. Pantry circle of life. (I am in heap mode right now and need to loop back around)