Rediscover Your Pantry Space

For most folks, the kitchen pantry is a black hole. You open the door ever so slowly in hopes that a mound of fluttering napkins and canned goods will not tumble out as you search in vain to find whatever it is you remember shoving in there a few weeks ago. If you are like most people, you have multiples of every item because you simply could not find the original can of “fill-in-the-blank.”

Schedule an entire day for pantry rehab (preferably while the kids are at school). Here is the approach I take whenever I help an overtaxed mom rediscover her pantry. (I usually throw in a few house cleaning tips too, but I will save that for another day!)

Step One:

Remove everything. You want to start with a clean slate. Wash down the walls, shelving, lighting, and floor. Consider whether you want fresh shelving paper or a fresh coat of paint within your now empty space. It won’t take much paint so use some you already have. Hint: If you do not own a pantry but would like one, repurpose an existing cabinet, shelving unit, or old tv console. A fresh coat of chalk paint is the quickest way to give it a new finish and requires no stripping or sanding. Watch Annie Sloan’s how-to video for tips.


Step Two:

Turn around and look through all the items you removed. Think about how you want to use your pantry space. Will you store appliances used less frequently in there? Do you tuck away platters, cookie sheets, and oddly shaped pots? Are there items you no longer use at all which you can sell or give away? Pull those things out and box them up for Craig’s List or Goodwill. Then organize the remaining items by use or purpose. Here are some examples:

  • Baking items
  • Breakfast items
  • School lunch supplies
  • Pasta fixins
  • Specialty food items
  • Paper products
  • Oils and vinegars

You could also organize by complete meals grouping everything non-perishable you’ll need for complete dinners as shown here on Live Life Artfully’s Blog.


Step Three:

Look through your piles throughout the kitchen and take stock of containers you already own to help keep everything grouped. Chances are you have baskets, bins, plastic containers, and sturdy canvas bags galore which you can put to good use in the pantry. Make a list of items you need to buy to complete your pantry project. Make a second list of foods your pantry is missing. If you have space for an over-the-door organizer it is an ideal way to store kids’ snacks and items you need immediate access to. They make them specially designed for pantries, though I have found that hanging shoe organizers work just as well. Then go buy everything you need. Hint: a local thrift shop is a wonderful place to find storage containers at a much reduced cost.


Step Four:

Paint and/or paper your pantry. While it dries, place each grouping into your new containers. If you are feeling super organized, make your own labels on the computer or by using chalkboard paint and affix them to the bins so you know what each one contains. Place your groupings back into the pantry. Hint: consider how accessible you want those items before you place them. Do you really want your 4-year-old eye level with a container full of sugar?!?


Step Five:

OK, here is the hardest part of pantry organization – maintaining it! You cannot resume shoving things into your pantry following every grocery store run. Only add to the pantry items removed or items that fit into your categories. Over time you may need to adjust your bins and relabel them.

Keeping a useful and organized pantry is not very difficult, but takes time and planning! You can apply these same steps to closets, the storeroom, and any other space in need of some love!

About the Author:

Judy McGhee has specialized in cleaning and organization with The Maids of DC for more than 20 years. She offers advice on keeping a healthy and tidy home. Read her article about decluttering on A Parent in Silver Spring.


  1. Of course you know I like a pantry re-org 🙂

  2. Shannon S. says:

    I love these tips when I walk in there I am always overwhelmed. Thank you for breaking down the I agree maintaining it will be an issue