Congratulations! You did that big pantry reorg — you tossed out the stuff that expired 10 years ago, got all your bins and storage containers neatly lined up, and added all your favorite Pinterest hacks to make the best possible use of your space. Well done!
Now comes the hardest part: Keeping it that way! Here are a few tips to keep the space neat and tidy forever.
1. Put things back where they go.
You may have the pantry set up just right, but if your family doesn't realize that cookies go on the third shelf or that granola bars go in the blue bin, it will be an uphill battle keeping things in position. Label jars and bins, or even the shelves themselves. "You can be flexible on the materials — I love a label maker, but chalkboard labels or just a Sharpie and painter's tape work fine," says Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing. If you have kids who can't read labels, try pictures to help them help you out.
2. Set some rules.
Tailor your rules to your lifestyle and pantry-shopping pitfalls. For example, if you have a habit of trying (but not finishing) new kinds of cereal, make a "one in, one out" (as in, you add a new box of cereal, an old one has to come out). If you tend to over-buy and have duplicates, make a rule that you can only replace items that are less than a quarter-full. If you go wild with bulk purchases, set a limit to how many, say, rolls of paper towels you're allowed to buy at one time. Write down the rules and communicate them to people who are sharing your pantry!
3. Date your pantry items.
Most foods have "use by" dates, but those can adjust depending on whether the item has been opened or not. I like to quickly date dry goods like spices and baking items with a Sharpie, then try to use them up within a few months of the open date. This will help you with the next step.
4. Schedule a cleaning.
Put a date on your calendar for three months from now to give your pantry a deep-clean — empty the shelves, wipe them down with your favorite cleaner, scrub any grubby corners, and (once the shelves are dry) replace the items. That'll give you a chance to quickly check for evidence of pantry pests and to see if anything's past its prime. "It's also a good time to do a refresh and see if you need to stock up on seasonal items," says Tonia Tomlin of Sorted Out.
Those deep-cleaning sessions will be fairly quick and painless if you spot-clean in between. As soon as you see a spill, wipe it up. If you have a mess-prone item like a jar of honey or a pepper mill, set it in a little bowl to contain the overflow.
6. Revisit your system.
After about six months, have a sit-down with your pantry. Is the new layout working for you? Are there items you don't use because you can't see or reach them, or things you're constantly scooting out of the way to access the items behind them? Think about what you like and don't like, and tweak your system accordingly.
What else do you do to keep your pantry in order?