We all can't all have sparkling pantries with pristine organization (gasp!). I would like to think that my personal anthem of "a messy desk is the sign of a creative thinker!" can be applied to my pantry.
The point is, I don't want to treat all of us pantry lovers the same. There is going to be a little disarray with some of us at times. Luckily, there are strategies that can help every pantry owner at every level of organizational strength.
What defines a messy pantry
A messy pantry has food items mismatched in groups, with no sense of an organization plan. In addition, piles of food items can accumulate on shelves, floors, and other pockets amounting to a heap. It is difficult to find food items back in a messy pantry.
There are different tolerances to what one would call a messy pantry. Let's not put this all on one person. In a household there is sometimes teamwork going on keeping a messy pantry... messy. That same team can put effort into keeping it tidy, too.
How to clean a messy pantry
To clean a messy pantry, remove all items from the pantry. Wash down all walls, shelves, doors and other surfaces. Sort out the food items into any multiples of the same kind, being careful to toss out expired items.
Before placing food items back on the shelf, consider an overall organization plan that includes where canned food and boxed food, etc. will best be located. Purchase pantry organizer containers that will best achieve sustained organization.
How to organize a messy pantry
Below are common strategies to keep a clean pantry. I've put a bit of a spin on it to help those who are a little more challenged at keeping a clean pantry (myself included!).
Take a hard look at your pantry organization structure
If you don't have enough shelves, purchase more shelves or another pantry organizer for your food items. A good organization structure gives you "landing" places where you can quickly remove food from a shelf or organizer or put it away. The old adage "a thing for everything and everything in its place" rings true if you are to have an organized pantry.
If you find yourself hopelessly struggling to stay organized or confused where to put the food or find it, this core issue needs to be addressed. Valuable time is wasted searching for items that should be easy to find.
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Keep pantry friends together
Try to keep your related items in the same spot. For instance, organize your cans on the same shelf, cereal on the next, etc. To take this one step further, you can organize "friends" by meals. For example, spaghetti noodles and spaghetti sauce can share a spot together, ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice.
Add better pantry light
Always use overhead lighting for easy visibility. Often times, your pantry can be very dark without the aid of effective lighting, making an already challenging process of finding your items even harder.
Keep pantry items visible
Make sure that every item in your pantry is clearly visible. If you have deep pantries, make an effort to "layer" your containers so items in the back can be brought to the front for viewing. Layering means putting one container of food items behind another container of food items. Or use pantry helpers that "step" so you can see everything at once. These strategies make managing your food easier.
Shallow shelves are your friend
Shallow shelves prevent food items from getting lost. Most pantries don't have gobs of same-food multiple cans. Realistically, it's probably only 3-5 cans of one type. A shallow shelf will assure that you always see what you are looking for. Shallow shelves are especially useful for locating tiny and specialty items.
Discard the non-players and reward the MVPs (most valuable players)
Make note of the products you really use, such as cereals, cans, etc. If there is food that you rarely, if ever use, discard them sooner rather than later.
Consider purchasing your more popular food items in bulk to save money. Again, this is only necessary if you use a particular item often and you know you will continue to do so.
Labeling works wonders to find food back in a pantry
Make sure all your food is clearly labeled, especially those in containers or glass jars. It does little good to purchase a pantry container if you can't tell at a glance what each product is. Even worse if you forget what it is!
Remember, if you are the chief pantry keeper in the house, no one knows the system if it's only in your head. Roads have signs to prevent accidents, pantries need them, too! Help your family members or apartment roommate to see and understand your system with better labeling.
Decant or not to decant pantry items?
Decanting means removing food from the original box and putting it in another storage container. This is done for the purpose of keeping bugs out, but also to save space in the pantry. My guess is that if you struggle to keep your pantry tidy, decanting is not for you.
Another good point about glass is if you transfer things to glass, they have the potential to get knocked off the shelf and break. It is a good argument. The potential is less for glass jars from the grocery store. The more we handle glass storage jars, the more the potential there is to drop and break them.
Make a decision about the nonfood items
Cookbooks, shopping bags, brooms, aprons, and vacuum cleaners - oh my! Maybe some of them shouldn't all be in your pantry. Removing some of these to different locations might be the key solution that keeps your pantry easier to manage. Have you happened to notice how much you are tripping over things?
Don't forget small appliances, too. We ask so much of our pantries, maybe they need to be restricted to "food only" duties.
A tidy pantry is in reach of everyone. If it falls into disaster again, that's ok, I get it, no judgement!