11 Ways to Organize Your Pantry

Are you a first-time pantry owner and don’t know where to start organizing your pantry? Maybe you moved into a new house or apartment and you have different storage spaces than you did before.  If you are in the midst of a pantry overhaul, you are undoubtedly looking for better ways to organize your pantry.

Be sure to check out all of our ideas for ways to organize a pantry, and pantry organizers.

Here are some ideas and strategies to help you start organizing your pantry space. But first, some important questions about your food buying habits.

The Myth of Orderly Pantry Shelves

If you only have a few  matched food cans in a category, there will not be enough cans to neatly line up, as in this pretty picture below.

Orderly preserved food on a shelf.

Do you buy jumbo-sized cans? Do you buy in bulk? Are you feeding a family, or are you a couple or single-person household?

Do you have multiple locations in your home where you store food?  Do you have a small pantry in the kitchen for proximity to cooking and bulk storage elsewhere outside of the “kitchen triangle?”

These questions should spark a list in your head of the food categories that you need to find room for. Can you foresee any category that has 5 or more cans?

REALITY CHECK:  If you only have 1-3 food cans within a category, you will NOT be able to achieve the effect of impressively lined up can organization. When buying your can organization, keep that in mind.

You would be going head-to-head with food preppers if you had that much identical food storage in the home. I truly believe in food preparedness, but some people need to realize why their pantry doesn’t look pretty like the ones in the Pinterest pictures (or the grocery store).


Walk-in pantry design style example.

If you do have multiple cans (think 12) then can organizers that work with the principal first in first out will work. If you are buying can organizers and don’t have enough cans to fill up the rack, you could be wasting your money. They are typically designed to hold 12-36 identical cans of the same kind. If you have a hodge-podge of cans, this type of can storage is not going to work well.

When you have lots of food cans, your pantry can feel like a mini-grocery store. That is exactly the goal of some pantry owners, and that is commendable. You are prepared for unexpected guests and hurricanes, good job!

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Shoe rack uses as food pantry storage.

Shoe rack uses as food pantry storage.

Ways to organize a pantry

Here are both traditional and non-traditional ways to organize a pantry. Choose which works best for your personality and lifestyle!

  1. Throw the food in and shut the door. This might be the preferred method for closet pantries.  Of course, sooner or later, the system collapses and no one in the house gets to eat due to lost food.
  2. Assign a home to each food type. Group items into types and zones:  Example:  cereal shelf, canned foods shelf, snacks, all tomato products, etc.
  3. Organize food items alphabetically. This is particularly effective with small spice containers and spice storage.
  4. Organize food items by purpose. Baking items together, breakfast foods together, etc.
  5. Organize foods by meal. Noodles and spaghetti sauce are stored together, cream of chicken and noodles for a casserole dish.
  6. Organize food items by most used. Store most-used items at eye-level.
  7. Organized food items by “kid-friendly.” Put items like cereal, or beverages, where kids can reach them easily (or not!).
  8. Organize food by color. Place all your “green” things on one shelf and mark the edge of the shelf green, such as peas and beans).  On another shelf place all orange things like carrots and peaches, etc. On another place all red things such as beets, catsup, tomato sauce,  cranberries, etc. For another shelf place all yellow things: corn, pineapple, and mustard. A white shelf could include: macaroni, potatoes, onions, apple sauce. This is strongly Marie Kondo – maybe what works in the clothes closet doesn’t work in the pantry closet!
  9. Organize by weight. Heavy objects like cans on the bottom shelves – light objects like napkins and paper plates on top shelves.
  10. Organize by size. Bulky items (or items purchased in bulk) go on the floor.  This method could also be called “it fits where it fits!”  depending on if that awkward space next to the air duct is the perfect place for a skinny jar of spaghetti noodles.  Of course, tall items in the back, short items in the front for maximum efficiency.
  11. Organize seasonally. Soups and stew for many people would just be a fall/winter meal.

Lastly, take the best, leave the rest!  Most pantries are a combination system that borrows from the above styles (even the throw it in and hopes it stays!). Let us know your ninja strategy for organizing in the pantry, we’ll add to the list!

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