Last weekend I spent 10 minutes digging through my pantry for a bag of cashews. I needed them to make a vegan mac and cheese recipe I was excited to try. But my Sunday meal prep was derailed when the nuts failed to turn up.
A few hours later —after I had thrown in the towel altogether and parked myself in front of Netflix for the afternoon — the cashews magically appeared, peeking out from behind a jar of marinara sauce and a bag of all-natural dog treats I impulse bought at a street fair last summer. “People believe that every square foot of the shelving in their pantry should be used. As long as it fits, stuff it in," says Gilat Tunit, founder of Project Neat, a professional home organization company. “What people don’t realize is that this leads to wasted food, overbuying from lack of visibility, and zero containment of items.”
Well if that’s not a personal attack on my pantry...
Blessed with four, spacious (for a condo in Jersey City, New Jersey) pull-out shelves, I have put every single inch of square footage to use. On more than one occasion items have been swallowed up, only to be spit out months later, well past their expiration date. I often drop a chunk of change at the grocery store stocking up on items that are already there somewhere floating in the abyss. And just as often, I’ve been positive that I have that can of beans or bag of brown rice needed for a recipe, only to find out I was sadly mistaken (after giving my pantry a good rummage).
These all-too-common occurrences left me at one conclusion: There must be a better way.
And according to Tunit, who has solved pantry problems all across the tri-state area, there definitely is. When it comes to creating an organizational system in your pantry, Tunit says that “the main goal is containment: Create a system that will contain each category. It solves all pantry problems.” The biggest issue she sees with her clients is clutter and overload: “People just buy and buy and buy. What usually happens at a project is multiples get discovered that the client didn’t even know they had!” she says.
While I often blame my lack of organization on lack of space, I have a sneaking suspicion that Tunit is right: Given more real estate, I would simply find more items to stuff inside. To work more efficiently with the space I do have, we embarked on a 3-step process:
- Purge: Empty everything from the pantry. Toss what’s expired. (Nine canned goods, five bags of nuts and seeds, a tub of protein powder, and prunes from 2013 were harmed in the writing of this article.) While you're at it, give the shelves a good wipe down!
- Sort: Group foods by category. I.e. All flours together, baking items together, all snack items together...
- Contain: Choose the appropriate container in which to store each category of items and label.
If your pantry is a bit of a black hole, where no items have a permanent home, like mine once was, where should you start? “Bin your products into categories at the very least, and don’t overbuy,” says Tunit. Then: “Label, label, label! You can’t get lost about your products if they are all right in front of you and easy to find,” she says.
Here are her top picks for products that will help you organize and contain your non-perishables — and prevent you from ever having to rummage (and then run to the store) ever again.
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7 Products that will organize your pantry
“A bulk bin is amazing to have,” says Tunit. “Anything that doesn’t fit in your containers sections should be stored here and pulled out when your items are running low.”
Tunit says: “I love using spinners. I would say a lot of people don’t even assume that’s a great option for a pantry. There is nothing better really. It makes a massive different for lots of different types of items.”
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