Living Space: The new rules of pantry organization
We asked the experts how to organize a pantry for everyday cooking and extended use. They walked us through the pantry organization process step-by-step. Start by taking stock of what you have stashed, then follow these tips to sort, decant and stack your way to a tidier pantry. Finding snacks, dinner supplies and baking essentials just got easier.
Do a big clean-out.
We don’t usually think of “decluttering” food, but professional organizer Shira Gill says this is a key step in tidying the pantry, especially when you want to make sure it’s stocked with essentials. “Take everything out, and get real about what you’re going to cook with,” she advises. Box up any unopened nonperishables and donate them to your local food pantry. Challenge yourself to spend a week incorporating all the little bits left over into soups, stews, pasta dishes and trail mixes.
(Mostly) disregard expiration dates.
According to the USDA, with the exception of infant formula, expiration dates can largely be ignored. Canned and jarred foods, dried beans and many sweeteners can last for years. (But discard cans with dents, rust or swelling.) For things that go rancid more quickly, like oils and whole-grain flours, use your nose as a guide, says chef Vivian Howard, author of This Will Make It Taste Good: “As long as it looks good and smells good, it should be fine.”
Pour into clear containers.
The experts we spoke to agree that decanting boxes and bags of food into see-through vessels is a must for a well-organized pantry. It saves space, of course — particularly when a package contains almost as much air as food. But you can also quickly see how much you have, making meal planning and grocery-list writing easier. As a bonus, it reduces the visual clutter in your pantry. And if you go with airtight containers, decanting will keep your staples fresh longer.
Use a matching collection.
This may feel fussy, but Gill says having uniform vessels “is one of those little things that make a big difference.” Your pantry will immediately appear more organized, and you won’t have to play find-the-matching-lid. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Joe Yonan, author of “Cool Beans,” uses mason jars and masking tape to manage his dry goods. If there are cooking instructions you want to save, cut off the label and tape it to the container.
Stockpile only what you love.