Pantry Organization Categories: Why you should ignore them for some things

I am not one of those people that think pantry items need to be in a separate glass jar or glass container. I’m doing good to get everything IN the pantry, forget making it look pretty or using a label maker.

What’s important in a pantry space isn’t how it looks, it’s how it works. A pantry WORKS when 1.) EVERYONE can find everything and 2.) everything has a place.

The important thing that people miss when they organize a pantry is that your family members probably don’t care about it being pretty and organized. You have to make it easy and functional. The good news is if you are like me I’ve got tips on how to organize your entire pantry in a way that suits your family.

If you are lucky enough to have a large pantry or a walk-in pantry with loads of space, this post isn’t meant for you. 😁. If you have a small pantry, read on for my tips on an organizational system that will give everyone in the family easy access to the things they need.

Ignore the Categories For These Items

No two people have the same style of organizing. And people disagree about the best way to organize and how much organization is necessary.

I can’t be the only person with a husband that just wants to be able to see everything and he doesn’t care if it’s everywhere. My husband doesn’t see clutter or a messy pantry. And my teenager doesn’t care, he just wants to have his Milano cookies in easy reach. Can you relate?

If I want my pantry to be organized, I have to consider how they use it too. They don’t understand my categories, they only care about where their stuff is.

Here’s my biggest tip for an organized pantry: Create a shelf or shelves for each person. That way they know exactly where to look for their things and where to put them back (bonus points). Ignore what category their things are in. They can put vitamins, snacks, or whatever they want there.

Give them extra space to use as long as it doesn’t spill over.

What to Do With All The Rest

What about the things that are for everyone like food used for meal prep or paper goods? There are LOTS of things in a pantry that are “technically” for everyone. But my son has no idea where the marinara sauce is or the granulated sugar.

Is there one person in your family that does most of the cooking and the grocery shopping? That’s the person (you) that organizes all the other shelves according to the category they fit into.

After each person gets a shelf, everything else gets categorized.

List of Potential Categories:

Not every pantry has every category. Here’s a list of ideas and next I’ll explain how to choose the best ones for you.

To print a pdf of this list of potential categories, click here. The first step is to put a check by any category where you have at least 10 items in your pantry. If you have 10 items or more in a category, it makes sense to try and store those items together.

You can sort items together in plastic containers, on lazy susans, in a drawer, or on a shelf.

  • Baking goods and dry ingredients
  • Spices
  • Canned goods (you can divide by type, but I don’t)
  • bottled goods
  • Dry grains
  • Vegetables (potatoes/onions/garlic/chile)
  • Snacks
  • Pet food
  • Small Appliances
  • Paper goods (napkins, paper towels)
  • Vitamins
  • Oil & vinegar
  • Teas
  • Coffees
  • Pickling supplies
  • Canning supplies
  • Chips/crackers and granola bars
  • canned drinks
  • His Shelf/Her shelf (refer to above)
  • cleaning supplies

How to Decide Where Each Category Goes

Keep your person-specific shelves close to eye level. You have to make it easy for them.

If there are categories that you don’t use every week they should go on a higher shelf. I have to get a step ladder to reach my extra placemats and pickling supplies.

I store items for baking on a top shelf in a sealed tub because I don’t bake that much and when I do I just grab the whole tub.

I think it is a waste of time to empty different types of foods into glass jars or bins. It looks nice, but I care more about functionality in the pantry than beauty.

Kitchen Pantry Organization Supplies on Amazon

I don’t like to spend a lot on pantry bins, but I like clear containers. I love looking at the Container Store and it’s a great way to get ideas, but their organization bins are pretty pricy.

You can find more reasonable clear bins on Amazon. I like the ones from the Clear Space Store. They come in all different shapes and sizes.

I keep pet food in air-tight containers to prevent bugs from finding it. I keep these at the bottom so they can be pushed under the lower shelves.

Things that I use less frequently (like almond flour and coconut flour) I keep in a sealed bin all together on a high shelf.

I use affiliate links so I can afford to keep doing this. Hope it saves you time. See my disclosure policy.

Dollar Tree or Dollar General are great places to find storage bins.  

If you like a more practical approach to organization (vs an Instagram approach) you might enjoy How to Organize Your Tools, How to Store Sweaters for normal people or a garage organization checklist.

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