Organizing|Organizing Projects

5 Pantry Organizing Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

All organizing projects need the flexibility of adjusting and adapting over time. When we renovated our pantry in 2012-2013, I had a few unrealistic expectations of how our pantry would function. I learned a lot from the mistakes I made and created a few solutions to remedy the problem.

When we took on our pantry last year, I needed a lot of help! We went from chaos to heaven – it was truly an amazing difference and helped us so much. 

Organized pantry with pantry and food items

I shared my Pantry Reveal, as well as 10 tips for organizing it.  You can also see a post answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the pantry here!

As I’m sure you can predict, with two small children it didn’t stay this pristine. Here is my pantry a few months ago (a year after the reveal):

Before image of pantry before organization

Not horrible, I suppose, but certainly not as neat as I would like. So I began to evaluate what wasn’t working for us. 

As an organizer, you would think this would all be second nature. But, I quickly learned that in order to maximize our pantry space, we need to make some changes in the way we stored our belongings and food, and how we used the space we already had.

As follows are the five pantry organizing mistakes I didn’t realize I was making…

Small Pantry Organization Mistakes & Solutions

Using the pantry as a storage solution

Sometimes, our pantries turn into the junk drawers of closets. They turn into the alpha of all catch-all storage solutions for rarely used appliances, empty storage containers, and a whole slew of other odds and ends that really don’t have a place anywhere else.

For us, it was our DVD collection and player that never made it to the living room. It was only supposed to be temporary, but we all know how that goes! Since our previous reorganization, we’ve relocated these items to make room for small attachments to appliances and other food storage items.

Pull out basket of DVDs and DVD player

As a good rule of thumb when organizing, it’s important to put like with like.

Otherwise, you spend precious time and energy searching and digging around the random items (like a DVD player) to make grocery lists or take inventory. Then, the disorganization creates even more chaos and that’s how you end up with duplicate items and waste!

Pull out drawer with small appliances and attachments

It’s a vicious cycle that can only be stopped by giving everything a place to live – permanently.

Improper food storage

I never thought you could store foods improperly, but this is definitely a thing! 

Did you know that some produce items aren’t exactly neighborly with others?

For example, I recently learned that it’s not a good idea to store flour and cumin next to each other. Flours and meals absorb the scents and flavors of other food items nearby. Keep this in mind when you are mapping out your pantry plans.

Storage baskets and containers inside pantry

Air-lock containers can help with the “contamination” and flavors spreading around. These are usually clear, containers with a locking lid. Plus, clear containers are a great way to display your dried foods in a practical and aesthetically pleasing way.

Here’s another great idea: If your fruits and vegetables tend to go bad before you are able to eat them, store them outside of the pantry or in an easily accessible spot. Warm, dark pantries encourage foods to rot quickly.

This used to happen to us often, so we keep our fruits on the counter for easy access. Now, I have a place to store dried pasta and snacks.

This was a great solution as my boys grow older. One shelf and one basket were not enough!

Using the wrong labels

I never anticipated using the wrong labels would be an issue, but as many times as my boys change their minds about their favorite snacks, I have found myself labeling and re-labeling over and over again!

When we first organized the pantry, I used printable labels that were applied directly to their containers. It was a great idea until I needed to update the labels. 

Square plastic containers labeled and filled with snacks

Instead, I now use the Martha Stewart for Avery Chalk Labels. The chalk pen makes it easy to write on the label and simply wipe them off if something changes!

Snack containers with chalk pen labels

Keeping everything labeled makes it easier on yourself and others who may be helping in the kitchen. 

Ignoring valuable real estate

My biggest aha! moment when reorganizing the pantry space was all of the valuable real estate that was ignored!

Pantry doors closed

My biggest piece of advice when reorganizing a pantry is to maximize your pantry space as best you can! 

When we inset the top of the pantry to make the shelves easier to reach, I was completely okay with sacrificing the space…and I’m not sure why I thought I needed to.

If you are anything like us, you also have an abundance of canned foods. They always seem to overflow into other areas and hide behind each other making it impossible to see what you already have!

I’m not sure why it took so long to realize I had two blank doors, but my pantry door organization has been a game-changer.

Inside of pantry door

I bought two inexpensive can/jar holders that slip over the tops of the door and are the perfect size for cans and even seasoning packets.

Over the door canned good organizer on pantry door

This is one of the best pantry storage tricks out there, and I even implemented it in our former home. It opened up so much space in the drawers and on the shelves, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it to begin with!

Pull out drawers of canned goods in pantry

Not keeping a pantry inventory and system

Not implementing a system for your pantry is a recipe for chaos and frustration. Creating a system should be a part of your pantry planning and layout phase. Structure your pantry in such a way that benefits you and your lifestyle. Utilizing a system for storage, cooking, and keeping inventory will help your sanity tremendously!

Now, we use the “first in, first out” rule. When we purchase in-bulk products that we use often, we bring any leftover “inventory” of that product to the front and place the new items directly behind the older ones. This way, the older things are used up and don’t expire before the new ones.

Basket of duplicate food items

As we are unloading our groceries, we automatically unpackage granola bars, fruit snacks, and anything else that is packaged individually, and place them in their respective containers. This way, a lone breakfast bar inside a box isn’t mistaken for five breakfast bars. This keeps our inventory accurate and prevents fruit snack emergencies!

Also, organize your pantry in the way you cook. For example, if you make a lot of soups, store the broths and canned items within quick reach. Keep the flours and sugars on a higher shelf if baking isn’t a regular occurrence.

Speaking of inventory, this always seemed fussy to me, until I actually tried it. Along with my free printable menu planner, this has made meal planning extremely easy and actually helped me save money in our weekly grocery budget. I no longer need to try to remember every little thing we have, and I don’t end up with unnecessary duplicates. Get your free printable pantry inventory here!

Pantry inventory sheet on clip board

After our simple changes, this is the pantry now! It may not be a huge difference, but we are making it work as time goes on and adapting when needs change. 

Even when you think an organizing project is done, chances are it isn’t going to be perfect forever – everything requires maintenance! Have you ever completed an organizing project, only to find that you were making changes shortly after? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

This always seemed fussy to me, until I actually tried it. Along with my free printable menu planner, this has made meal planning extremely easy and actually helped me save money in our weekly grocery budget. I no longer need to try to remember every little thing we have, and I don’t end up with unnecessary duplicates. Get your free printable pantry inventory here!

Inside of organized pantry

After our simple changes, this is the pantry now! It may not be a huge difference, but the plot of the story is making it work as time goes on and adapting when needs change. Even when you think an organizing project is done, chances are it isn’t going to be perfect forever – everything requires maintenance! Have you ever completed an organizing project, only to find that you were making changes shortly after? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! You can also see a post answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the pantry here!

Pin image of pantry with text overlay saying "5 pantry organizing mistakes you don't want to make"

20 Comments

  1. Darlene @ Castle Revival Says

    Hi Nina. I love your post! Pantries are a never ending battle at our house. I learned the hard way 2 houses ago when the corn syrup leaked down the back wall of the upper cabinet between the wall and the cabinet. It dripped down the back-splash below the cabinet for years (especially on warm days). Now I insist on storing sticky liquids, in their original bottles, inside a plastic container. Never had a problem since. Experience is the best teacher. ;)

    1. Jessica Says

      Ohmygosh I had the same thing happen with my corn syrup!

  2. Julie Says

    I line up my canned goods by content color. This means I can tell at a glance if I’m low on tomatoes or tomato sauce, green beans, corn, pineapple, etc. I’ve used this system for years and it really works for me. No inventory tracking required.

    1. Nina Says

      Post author

      Very smart system Julie!

  3. Andrea Says

    Where did you get the wooden drawers? Thanks!

    1. Nina Says

      Post author

      Hi Andrea, They were a DIY build :) Plans coming soon (finally)!

  4. Karen @ Dogs Don't Eat Pizza Says

    Fabulous! Where did you find the baskets and bins? Thanks for sharing – great tips!

    1. Miranda Says

      Hi! I was wondering if you oils post the dimensions of your pantry and shelves? I just love this!

      Thanks!

  5. Robyn Says

    We have redone our pantry as well and these are GREAT tips! Looks like it’s time for a re-evaluation of our pantry! :)

  6. Jo @ Let's Face the Music Says

    Very perceptive post pantry post. We have a new pantry and I can see exactly what you mean in each instance. My biggest nemesis: the plastic containers which I don’t like to use but husband protects like gold. Thanks for the advice. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  7. Amber Trumpower Says

    Hi I was wondering where you found the clear plastic snack containers? I have something similar for cereal, but I Iove that size.
    Thanks!

    1. Nina Says

      Post author

      Hi Amber! They are Oxo Pop Top Containers. I bought them at Target, but they are also available on Amazon :)

  8. Beverley Green Says

    I absolutely love your pantry…Love it!!!!! You got my wheels turning :-)

  9. Nikki H Says

    Where did you find the canned food racks on the doors? We have been looking everywhere, but we just can’t find them. Your pantry looks amazing, like I could live in there.

    1. Nina Says

      Post author

      Hi Nikki!

      We found them at Lowes- I can’t remember the brand, but they were with the cabinet organizers and etc.

  10. Sue Says

    Your pantry shelves are nicely organized to being with; love it! Thanks for the tips of what not to do too. I had to pin to keep for later as we want to build a nice pantry like this soon too. Have a nice weekend.

  11. Yasmina @ Mina and Her Blog Says

    Oops! These mistakes I am guilty of all. Great tips and love the way you replaced with chalk labels.

    Pinning it!

  12. Marei Says

    Honestly, I’m doing it all the time. It seems like it is not so hard getting the overall concept right – but it’s always the teeensiest details that make the result perfect. For me it is really the same things for most projects you tackle in any domain: 80% of the perfect solution take up 20% of the time, but the tweaking to make it to 100% perfect… :)
    But isn’t it great to know close to perfect you can get with that first leap? A great solace to me :)

  13. Beth ~ Gneiss spice Says

    I really enjoyed this post, and I really appreciate you how showed the the “middle” post of what the used pantry looked like I can’t image ever using the pantry inventory…but I like your other tips so much I just might give it a try! :-)

  14. Michelle Says

    Wow, what a gorgeous pantry! I didn’t see your original post, but I’m thrilled to get these tips after you’ve lived with it awhile! Thanks so much for sharing, it was really helpful as we are building a new home right now!