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4 Ways One Recipe Developer Tries to Manage the Crazy in Her Pantry

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Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.

Being a naturally tidy person, my home is pretty organized. As I’ve moved from apartment to apartment, I’ve embraced the process of decluttering. I try to subscribe to the wise concept of having a place for everything. If an object doesn’t have a specific spot when not in use, it can’t stay!

I realize home organization can be an uphill battle, especially if you have toddlers running about or teenagers tossing sports gear on the floor, or three dogs, or a busy job. For many of us, straightening your bookshelf is about the last thing you feel like doing at the end of the day. I work from home, so keeping my space in order is akin to keeping my mind in order.

5 Ways to Declutter a Kitchen Without Losing Any of the Good Charm
5 Ways to Declutter a Kitchen Without Losing Any of the Good Charm

As a food writer and editor, I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen. I bake—testing recipes and photographing them—at least two days a week, usually. And outside of work, I cook dinner most nights. Though I live in Manhattan with restaurants and take-out options aplenty, I usually make myself breakfast and lunch, too.

Thus, I’m in the kitchen more than most people, and it’s particularly useful for me to stay organized. Over the years—and from kitchen to kitchen—I’ve picked up a few helpful methods for storing ingredients and tools. These are little techniques that work for me, both to keep things in easy reach and to cut down on necessary cleaning.

I firmly believe that the more you find an organization strategy that works for you, the more likely you are to keep things clean. What works in my kitchen might not work in yours. To find your best kitchen style, consider these three questions:

  • What do you use the most often?
  • Does it have a "family" of similar items?
  • How easy it is to access?

That has lead me to the following tips:

1. Invest in stackable containers

Not only do stackable containers take up far less space, but they encourage me to group similar items together (see question #2 above!). My main baking staples (granulated sugar, bread flour, all-purpose flour, and cocoa powder) live in stackable plastic containers so I can grab them quickly.

Modula Stackable Storage Containers (Set of 2)

Modula Stackable Storage Containers (Set of 2)

Glass Oven & Freezer Safe Storage Containers (Set of 8)

Glass Oven & Freezer Safe Storage Containers (Set of 8)


2. Buy small amounts of spices

Spice jars are notoriously tricky to organize. Also, spices are best when they fresh, and if you don’t foresee working your way through an entire jar of cardamom in a year, don’t buy an entire jar! If you can, seek out shops that sell spices in bulk. Buy a smaller amount, and restock when you run out.

I store mine in small, stackable glass jars. I painted the tops of each with black chalkboard paint so I can label the contents with chalk. I like using chalk so I can switch the labels if I need to.

The same applies to other bulk ingredients: grains and nuts and specialty flours are often available in grocery store bulk bins.

Black chalk paint + chalk = easy spice organization.
Black chalk paint + chalk = easy spice organization. Photo by Posie Harwood

3. Arrange ingredients by use

Think about what you use most regularly. Put those things front and center so you aren’t always having to shuffle everything around to reach that box of brown rice you always need or a jar of canned tomatoes.

Ingredients I don’t use much (niche baking ingredients like teff flour or buttermilk powder) go on the top shelf. I keep all my liquids together, but I tuck items like molasses or Worcestershire sauce behind ingredients I reach for more often, like soy sauce and apple cider vinegar.

4. Clear out your inventory!

Kitchen clutter is easy to accumulate. Over time, as you buy more ingredients for cooking, you can amass quite of bit of half-empty jars or partially used containers. Every so often, I take an hour or two and quickly scan my shelves. I either toss things that I don’t need, or I make a note of what I have in my pantry, and plan my next week of cooking accordingly. It’s a surprisingly wonderful way to get inspired. Extra cornmeal? Make cornbread! Forgot that you had two boxes of panko? Time to make meatballs!

Vera Obias' Cheddar & Black Pepper Cornbread

Vera Obias' Cheddar & Black Pepper Cornbread by Genius Recipes

Rao's Meatballs

Rao's Meatballs by Genius Recipes

What are your best tips for keeping a tidy pantry? Share them with us below!

Tags: Spice, Tips & Techniques, Pantry Goals, Spring Clean Your Life