How to Organize Your Pantry If You Have 20 Minutes … or 2 Minutes

updated Feb 9, 2021
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Someone looking into kitchen pantry.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Whenever it comes time to organize the pantry, our family’s typical cycle goes something like this: I clean out the pantry and try to get the kids to help me. It takes the better part of a day. I rant and rave about how we all need to put things back where they belong. People try. People stop trying. Pantry becomes disorganized again, and I begin having trouble finding things. As I look for things I can’t find, I discover the true state of the pantry and the cycle starts over again. 

Rather than a multi-hour overhaul every few months, I’ve finally learned that regular maintenance is the answer. A little effort in the form of a quick cleaning session will save you hours down the road. Here’s how to show your pantry some love if you have two minutes or 20 minutes. Put in the time (just a few minutes here and there!) to keep your pantry in pretty good shape.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

How to Clean Up Your Pantry in Just 2 Minutes

Credit: Zoe Burnett

If you have just a couple of minutes to clean your pantry, you’ll have to focus, but you can do enough to make a visual difference and help keep items from getting too out of line.

Try to tackle these tasks while your coffee is brewing, the microwave is running, or you’re waiting for that soup pot to fill.

  • Put out-of-place items back where they belong: Scan the shelves for boxes and cans that were put on the wrong shelves and put them back in their right spot. Grab the chip bag that was put in front of canisters and put it back in the basket it goes in. 
  • Decant items that are in bags, if you have containers: If your system includes decanting rice, flour, snacks, or whatever, and you need to refill some containers, do it. This way, you can toss bags and boxes that make the pantry look messier than it is. 
  • Straighten boxes, containers, and cans: Taking a few seconds just to line things up and straighten them out has a big impact on the overall look and feel of your pantry. Line up containers, cans, and boxes, and straighten up small bags in baskets. Your pantry items will look like they’re standing at attention and your pantry will seem instantly refreshed. 
  • Sweep the pantry floor: Between spilled pet food and shed onion skins, your pantry floor might harbor more dirt than you’d expect. Sweeping it gets rid of temptation for pests and cleans your pantry up. If your pantry is more of a cabinet situation, sweep up a shelf or two — even if you’re just working around boxes and cans.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

How to Deep Clean Your Pantry in Just 20 Minutes

Credit: Zoe Burnett

If you have a little more time to clean the pantry, you can make good headway in achieving a more organized space.

While you wait for your dinner to roast, do all of the above, plus everything on this list.

  • Scan for expired or no-longer-needed items and remove them: Do this as you complete the rest of this list.
  • Sort cans and boxes on shelves by type: This takes straightening cans and boxes to the next level. Put all the same types of cans, like diced tomatoes and black beans together, and boxed items, like crackers and cereals, together. Grouping like with like is a major organizing move that allows you to see what you have, what you need, and where things belong. 
  • Put containers in order by type: In addition to canned and boxed items, categorize your containers. If you decant, put the flours and sugars together. This way, you don’t mistakenly think you’re out of wheat flour when it’s just hidden behind the chocolate chips in the wrong section of the pantry. 
  • Straighten items on turntables: Turntables are easily overlooked when there are boxes, bags, and cans to tend to. But spending a few minutes to place items on your turntable so they are easily seen and easily reachable, by putting taller items in the middle, for example, brings order to these all-important pantry places too. 
  • Straighten loose items that are in baskets: If you use baskets, the bags and smaller items you put in them inevitably get tossed on top of each other and mixed up. Take a few minutes to sort like with like and stand everything up vertically so you can see what you have and get it when you need it. 
  • Move items that live on the floor and sweep/wipe the areas underneath them: This is a bit more than a quick sweep. Take out the items you might store on the floor and sweep the entire floor beneath them. If you have a cabinet situation, take everything off the shelves and wipe it down.
  • Add labels: Labels will be your best friend. They’ll help you see what’s what and they’ll direct the other members in your household where to put things. Label anything that needs it — even the side of a shelf. (Tape is fine if that’s all you have!)
Credit: Kitchn