Pantry Organizing Tips

Tips to Clean and Organize your Pantry

My pantry used to be a nightmare.

I knew that my pantry needed some TLC, but I was busy and had no idea where to start.

My mistake was thinking that “pantry organizing” meant I needed to alphabetize my soup cans or something. (NOT MY STYLE!) I knew that would that be a waste of my time, and it wouldn’t be of much use in the long run, either.

So I put up with cans of expired food, half-eaten boxes of cereal and near-empty containers hiding among the food I actually ate, which was a little like playing a game of hide-and-seek just to make a meal.

After a few months of feeling guilty about my pantry, I decided to do something about it.

Organizing my pantry wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The best part is that I felt like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders once my pantry was clean.

If your pantry is in need of attention, I’ll show you just where to start. I’ve found an easy cleaning process that will get your pantry back in tip-top shape! Are you ready then? Let’s get busy organizing.

Making Over a Messy Pantry

When organizing your pantry, you are essentially creating a maintenance system that requires very little upkeep. Organizing is all about efficiency and good tips are worth their weight in gold.

Everything in your pantry should be where it makes the most sense for you to have it. This is more important than you’d think – it makes creating a grocery shopping list and putting away your groceries and making decisions on meals for your family fast and more efficient.

So instead of looking blankly at the pantry with no ideas of what to make for dinner, the ingredients you need will jump right out at you, and you’ll have a meal started in no time.

Remove Expired and Unused Food

Discarding items shouldn’t be harder than removing items from your closet. Be ruthless. Work as quickly as you can, and when in doubt, toss it!

If the food expiration date has passed, or you haven’t eaten it say after a year (Anyone interested in the 2 cans of seasoned kale in my pantry?), expired food, or unappetizing items will only take up space and keep you from having a clean pantry.

  1. The first step in organizing your pantry is to bring a large trash close so you can toss unwanted items.
  2. Make sure to have a clear space on your countertop cleaned off for this exercise.
  3. Simply go through your pantry, taking everything out one item at a time.
  4. Look at the dates on the items. If it’s expired or you haven’t used it in a year, throw it into the trash.
  5. If it’s still good and something you use regularly put it on the counter.

It should take about half an hour to throw things away or put them on the counter. If it takes you longer, you either have way too much food or you’re stressing too much over the “trash or counter” decision.

Be sure to check the weight of your trash regularly. Don’t create a trash bag that you can’t lift!

Returning Food Back in the Pantry

When you put things back in the pantry, do it logically. I have a small walk-in pantry with shelves on three sides of the room, four shelves each. I love my pantry space, it isn’t the largest of pantries I’ve seen but it’s perfect for me.

What’s the point of organizing your pantry if every time you need to get something, you have to move everything to get access to it?

Everything has its own logical place in your pantry. You’ll get to know exactly where items belong, and if they are missing, you’ll know exactly what it is and how many you need from the store.

Canned Food

If you use canned soups, vegetables, and/or fruits every single day, they should be on the easiest shelf to reach and more towards the front.

This is usually at eye level, so you can clearly and easily read the cans. All of the canned goods should remain together, with the most used type – most easily accessible.

For example, I place the canned fruit in the back of the shelf, the soup together, and the canned vegetables together right in front.

Boxed Foods

The same principle applies to the boxed goods; keep the most used items in the front. If there are certain items your children and other members of your household get out of the pantry for themselves, make sure those items are the most easily seen and accessible.

The last thing you need is someone messing up your nice, clean and organized pantry because they can’t find what they want.


We go through the condiments in our house. I keep a shelf with extra containers of mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and other condiment items. I usually keep these on one of the higher shelves because we don’t reach for these as much.

Paper and Plastic

I also have a shelf where we keep paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic utensils, etc.

Breads and Baked Goods

With the five of us in our house, we like our toast, pastries, sandwiches for lunch, etc. I keep these on an easily accessible shelf for all to get at.

Baking Items

Don’t put baking goods on the bottom or top shelves. Bottom shelf flour and sugar is more likely to attract bugs or ants. Top shelf flour can too easily be dropped.

All baking items should be together on one shelf if possible. Flour, sugar, baking powder, box mixes, chocolate chips, etc. should remain together.

If you bake only occasionally, you can put them on a shelf that might be less accessible. If you bake often, you should choose a good, eye level shelf.

Ideally, your sugar and flour should be visible. The pantry may look better if the sugar and flour are out of the way, but this is not user-friendly. Just wait, one day you’re going to want to bake some cookies and run to the store for supplies and find that you already have a 10 pound bag of flour ready to use!

Use the First in, First out (FIFO) Method

When your pantry is clean and organized it makes it easy to use a FIFO system. Keep all newly purchased items in the back and older stock in the front, keeping all like items together.

This means that food will be eaten before it expires, limiting waste, and you wont keep items you won’t eat in the pantry forever!

Keeping your Pantry Tidy

To keep your pantry organized, tidy and efficiently working for you, here are a few more ideas.

Use Storage Containers

On the floor of our pantry, I keep covered containers of potatoes, onions, cat food, dog food, etc. These are so much nicer than having bits of onion skin, pieces of cat or dog food crunching underfoot.

Containers can also be used for storing snacks and they can be stacked. I find these handy for the kids to get into rather than them getting into multiple boxes.

Use a Shopping Checklist

Keep a “Shopping Checklist” and a pencil on a string taped to the inside of your pantry door. Write down items you always use, and simply jot a slash or check next to the item when it needs to be replaced.

Rip the piece of paper off the door and use it as a pantry grocery list. Two checks mean two of the items are needed, etc. Replace the list or just make copies at your office or next time you go to the post office and keep them all on the door.

Guidelines for Food Expiration Dates

Here’s a quick list of some of the most used foods on pantry shelves and how long it’s safe to keep them. Check the package for the specific expiration date.

  • All-purpose flour– up to 1 year after opening and if stored properly.
  • Brown rice– Up to 3 to 6 months in the pantry.
  • Canned beans– These can be kept up to 5 years, unopened.
  • Cereal– If the cereal box has been opened, it can be stored and stay fresh for up to 3 months if closed properly.
  • Dried Pasta– Unopened, pasta can be kept in the pantry for 3 years.
  • Olive oil– Unopened olive oil will stay fresh for up to 2 years on a cool, dark shelf in the pantry.
  • Peanut Butter– Peanut butter will stay fresh for 3 months after the jar has been opened. Unopened peanut butter can be kept on a pantry shelf for 2 (or more) years.
  • Peanuts– After a container is opened, they will stay fresh for 2 to 3 months.
  • Sea salt– This can be stored indefinitely.
  • Shortening– Up to 1 year after opening.
  • Sugar– Sugar, if stored in cool, dry place will stay fresh indefinitely.
  • Top Ramen– A sealed pack is good up to 3 years.
  • Vinegar– Vinegar can be kept indefinitely when stored in cool, dark place.

Canned soups, fruits and vegetables have a “Best Before” date instead of an expiration date and can remain on a shelf for long periods of time as long as there is no damage to the cans.

Donate your Unused Food

Others will appreciate what you don’t need. If there is a nearby food donation program, you can drop off “still good, but never used items”.

Put the food you’ll be donating aside when you are finished cleaning out the pantry. The last thing you want is to have these unused items going back in – you will be defeating the purpose of having an efficiently running, well-organized pantry.

I clean my pantry every six months to a year. Sometimes more depending on how many family gatherings I’m hosting. There’s nothing like having a party to notice how unorganized something is.

Good Luck!