5 Tips for Organizing Your Spices

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

If you’re an even slightly adventurous cook, chances are you’ve amassed an impressive collection of spices. And that’s great; spices are great — yay, spices! But figuring out how to organize all those little jars and tins is a perpetual challenge.

Maybe, like me, you’ve tried a few different approaches over the years. Perhaps you’ve invested in a special rack for organizing your tins of thyme and bay leaf only to find that it didn’t quite fit (almost!) into your cabinet. Or maybe you’ve splurged on those Pinterest-pretty jars only to find that they weren’t quite as pretty, or very practical, in person.

Over time, I’ve learned that the solution to the eternal spice organizing conundrum (or kitchen organizing quandary, really), is understanding yourself, your cooking style, and your kitchen — and don’t forget to measure your cabinets and drawers before you buy!

Here are five tips to help you finally find a spice arrangement that works for you.

1. Take inventory, then purge ruthlessly.

First, you must assess: What have you got? What’s expired? That expensive bottle of saffron purchased during the original run of Gilmore Girls and only used once? Let it go. Spices lose flavor over time, so dump anything aged and obscure to free up space for the seasonings you actually use.

2. Prioritize the spices you use frequently.

Think about what spices your favorite recipes and cuisines call for and make sure that they’re easily accessible. That might mean moving your everyday spices to the front of the spice cabinet, or it might mean carving out a special place for your go-to seasonings.

Prolific bakers might store cinnamon and other baking spices with the flour and sugar. Personally, I prepare a lot of Indian, Ethiopian, and Mexican dishes, so I keep turmeric, garam masala, berbere, dried chiles, and the like all together in one drawer, separate from what I consider my basics needed for less piquant fare.

If you have room to keep all your spices in one spot, that’s great, but remember that grouping flavorings together according to use can maximize your personal efficiency and expand your storage options.

3. Understand who you are and organize accordingly.

When it comes to choosing the right system, it’s also crucial to know yourself. Are you a highly visual person who also happens to be the neat-and-tidy type? A magnetic spice rack with pretty tins to display might be just the thing. What if you’re visual and tactile, but not especially neat? Spices arranged on a lazy Susan but tucked inside a cabinet could be your best option, since you can easily scan and grab without having to arrange all those jars just so. And if you’re more of a verbal, linear thinker, like I am, alphabetizing your spices will make you happy.

4. Find storage space close to your workstation (if possible).

The best spice setup I ever had was a built-in cabinet on the end of an island where I did all my prep work. My jars were laid out in long (alphabetical!) rows, so I could see everything at once, and spices were always handy.

Sadly, I’ve moved a couple of times since then and since not all kitchens are created equal, sometimes you have to get creative. My current kitchen offers more drawers than cabinets, so I have two dedicated spice drawers, with inserts to keep jars from rolling around.

If your kitchen layout makes stocking spices near the workstation impossible, consider portable trays, boxes, or racks that you can pull out while you’re cooking, then tuck away during cleanup.

5. Think twice before investing money in organizers.

The Container Stores sells almost 50 spice storage products, and a quick Google search serves up dozens of DIY options. In short, there’s no shortage of choices when it comes to spice organizers — the trick is finding the right ones for you.

While I love the look of spices stored in small Mason jars or in a matching set of glass-topped tins, I’m a working mother of three children who prefers to be practical. I don’t have time to refill fancy containers using a special funnel or wipe smudges off my spice jars after every meal. On the other hand, a weekend cook who hosts a lot of dinner parties might find decorative storage to be ideal.

Your turn! How do you organize your spices?