How to Take Your Pantry From Messy to Hyper-Organized

Streamline your cabinets so you’ll actually want to cook.

Photos by Rebecca Hart

An organized pantry comes with plenty of upsides: you can save money because you’ll know exactly what you have in stock, you might be compelled to cook more, and you can stop any critters in their tracks by avoiding the sticky spills and stray crumbs when everything’s packaged and sealed in containers and bags. But if you haven’t given your pantry a good clean in months (or years!), it can be a daunting task.

RealSimple.com’s Art Director, Rebecca Hart, recently tackled her messy pantry. “We have a large pantry, but it still felt like I didn’t have enough room for all the food I was buying and it was disorganized and overflowing on the shelves,” she says. “Everything was being piled on top of each other and I couldn’t find anything—I would buy things I already had because I couldn’t remember what was in there.”

Since the main issue with her disorganized pantry was the overflowing bags of food, she took stock of the grains, nuts, and pasta bags in her pantry and placed them in clear food containers. Her advice: Divide and conquer, and take your time. “If you aren’t sure about the size, buy one at a time to test out which sizes work for you before getting a large amount of containers,” she says. “You can always add more later. I bought so many and it can add up cost-wise, but think of it as an investment since you can use it for years to come and it will help you stay organized.”

The results made a big difference both in terms of space and money. “I’ve actually gotten more free shelf space back because I can stack the containers on top of each other and in front of each other. I can fit three times as much food on one shelf,” Hart says. “It’s great to be able to find what I’m looking for and now that I can see everything it inspires me to cook a variety of items. When I went grocery shopping, I could visualize the bins and what was low and needed to be replenished.”

For more pantry organizing ideas, we asked storing and organizing expert, Emma Gordon of Clutter.com, for her best tips:

  1. Keep Things Within Reach
    Avoid having your family members mess up your painstakingly-organized pantry by making the most-used items easy to find on one shelf or area. “Keep the items they eat on a regular basis accessible so they don’t have to move things around,” Gordon says.
  2. Hang Stuff Up
    “Save shelf space by using an over-the-door hook to store lunch bags and soft coolers on the back of your pantry door,” she says. If you don’t have a door, you can put up temporary hooks on a blank wall to hang bags.
  3. Get Rid of Boxes
    “Save space by unboxing individually-wrapped items like granola bars, sunflower seeds, and chips and gathering them in a basket marked ‘Snacks,’ so your kids don’t have to tear apart the pantry to find them,” she says.
  4. Use the Floor Space Wisely
    “Always keep food off of the floor,” Gordon says. “Use the floor of your pantry for appliances, pet food, extra containers, or beverage cans.”
  5. Pack Away Rarely-Used Appliances
    You probably aren’t going to use your ice cream maker 365 days a year—and if it’s taking up prime pantry real estate, you’ll want to find a new home for it in your kitchen. “Store appliances you use infrequently in another closet, or up on the top shelf of your pantry,” she says.

For more decluttering tips, check out 6 smarter ways to organize your kitchen and five pantry space savers.