How to Create a Functional Pantry | Long Term Pantry Organization

pantry organization

My husband hoards spices.

He’s a great cook, so he needs lots of spices on hand whenever he gets in the mood to put away his Senior Chief hat and put on his Chef hat.

But it’s annoying to hoard spices because they take up SO MUCH space.

So about three years ago I overhauled one of our pantries. That that time, we only had 2 small pantries. I wish I could say we had one great big huge walk in pantry, but we just don’t.

I’m stuck with multiple small pantries that we’ve had to create ourselves, with one permanent pantry.

That one is pretty much just a small closet with shelves…a very tight space where all of our spices migrated to, which ended up being UNfunctional. The other pantry we had at the time was just a small cabinet pantry where we kept dry food items.

Again, it ended up being UNfunctional as well.

{there was no such thing as a walk in pantry back in the 1800’s, like Eisenhower’s birthplace here}

I love systems that work and I view a functional pantry as a system. But how do you put a functional system in place?



How often do you use each item in your pantry?

  • Whatever is used more frequently needs to have priority in your plans over items that are rarely used.


Do you find yourself digging around to find certain items in your pantry? Are things “buried” behind other items? This happened with my seasoning packets such as taco seasoning.

The packets were together in my pantry, but not accessible because they migrated each time something would get moved in the pantry. I solved this problem by hanging a basket on the wall in the pantry to stash the packets. I can easily see them, grab them, and they’re out of the way. Nothing will ever accidentally get placed on top of them or in front of them.

  • Use a “first in first out” rotation system. Older items get moved to the front as new replacement items are purchased and placed into the back.
  • If you are transferring your dried goods into large mouth jars with lids, you may want to consider writing the expiration date on the label of the jar.
  • Chalk markers are easily erasable.


I’m a firm believer that not only does everything need its own “home”, each part of the space in your kitchen needs to be designated for similar purposes.

  • Group spices according to “type” of seasoning (BBQ, Italian, etc)
  • Set up sections of your pantry according to the function of the items so whenever you’re doing that type of . For example, place baking ingredients and accessories in close proximity to each other.
  • If you have enough space in your pantry, consider storing small kitchen appliances in them to free up countertop space in the kitchen.


Is it easy to reach?

  • Everything in the pantry needs to be easy to get to. If you find you’re frequently having to move items out of the way to reach something else, it’s time to re-think your flow. Same goes for reaching for items and hitting other items in the meantime.
  • You need to consider all the steps involved in reaching for your pantry items. Included in this is time for decanting (transferring contents into a glass jar that is sealed).
  • A grocery run needs to include time to allow for the decanting process.


I love cooking, and whenever I open the pantry, I want to be greeted with an inviting, fun feeling that helps support my joy of cooking.

Does your pantry need a theme to help you feel joyous while cooking, or do you just want it to look organized?

So when I was deciding to give my pantry a make-over, I wanted a THEME. Specifically, I wanted an “Old Country Store” theme.

A country store that has a candy store and sweet shop in it also. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Cooking is fun, so let’s extend that fun to the pantry so we can get the maximum enjoyment out of our efforts. Or at least that’s how my brain works.

So I searched for examples of old country stores.

And since matching clear containers are boring, I incorporated a mixture of metal, wood and glass to organize my pantry.

{the top hard to reach shelf is where the candy shop is located inside my pantry}


{my vinegar bottles match!}

Personally, I dislike the idea of everything in the pantry being “matchy matchy”.

  • Placing every single thing into its own container out of the packaging is the “ideal” way to set up a pantry, especially because certain items like flour and sugar need to be decanted. It looks nice also.
  • You don’t have to spend a ton of money on purchasing containers and baskets for organizing. There are plenty of cheap ideas for containing your items. While many of the containers in my pantry were purchased new (half price though!), some of them were given to me, and some of them are items I already had around my house.

But staring at a bunch of matching labeled clear containers seems so boring to me.

{the official baking shelf in my pantry}


  • Once you’re done with analyzing how you use your pantry, start the physical part of organizing your pantry by emptying your pantry.
  • Purge any items that are outdated or that you know you’ll never use.
{our spice hoard after I emptied out the pantry for its make-over}
{I used a metal organizer from Hobby Lobby to organize my regular seasonings. My husband’s specialty seasonings are now hanging on the door in an organizer that was on clearance at Home Depot}
  • Once the shelves are empty, clean them!
  • Then start the process of putting everything back according to how you use the items.

Since we have a ton of spices in our pantry, , I had to divide ours up into sections. I purchased a door organizer to hold the cuisine specialty seasonings.

{Living in Texas means we have a lot of rubs and meat seasonings}
{Our Asian sauces have their own shelf as well}
{Cajun and southwest seasoning rack. Easy to see, easy to grab}


  • Once you’re all done with organizing your pantry, the real test of its functionality is if it STAYS organized through usage.
  • Come back to your pantry a couple weeks after you’ve given it a makeover and see if the system is working. Fix whatever is out of whack. If things aren’t getting put back into the proper place, that might mean your pantry isn’t set up right.
  • Or it might mean that your family doesn’t know where everything goes.
{My initial vision of how to organize the pantry changed after it was in use over a period of time. So I had to readjust my placement of our items}
pantry organization
{pantry evolution…some rearranging took place a little while after it had been in use}


  • Everyone in your household needs an overview of the new pantry system. If they don’t know the system, then your organized pantry won’t stand a chance.
  • Take a few minutes to show them the system and explain where and why everything is in a certain place.
  • Whenever a child is in the kitchen during cooking time, send them to get ingredients from the pantry. This will help them get familiar with the system. The more they use it, the easier it will be for them to remember where everything belongs.

And that’s it! Over time you’ll have a realistic fully functioning pantry that pretty much keeps itself functioning in an orderly fashion!

  • Susie Pugh
    February 1, 2021 - 4:57 pm

    Just read your article regarding “The Pantry”. Loved the article especially the suggestions and the pictures. Great article!!! Keep up the awesome work.

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