Pantry Sanity

I am a highly organized person.  My mother?  Not so much.  Adventurous and willing to try something new, yes.  But organized?  I think not.  Some day I will show you her studio.  It’s truly frightening.

While my parents were away I ransacked their cupboards in an attempt to make sense of the chaos that reigned within.  I’d like to share with you three simple tips that will make negotiating your own spice cupboards or pantries a little bit easier.

#1: Bags are Bad

As I have said, my mother is always willing to try new things, and as a result I’m pretty sure she owns every spice imaginable.  Some of them she keeps just for the jar they came in.

The problem is that all these bags (and boxes) clutter up your space.  You push them aside when looking for something else and the next thing you know, they have been shoved to the back of the cupboard, upside-down, and have emptied their contents into the crevices of the shelf.

The simple solution to this is to put all your stuff in jars.  Think of it as recycling.  That pasta sauce jar you just emptied would be handy holding your collection of pinto beans, yes?  My mother has a vast collection of vintage glass jars, as well, so it was worth it to put them to good use.

I prefer glass jars for the obvious reason that the contents are always visible, but also because glass cleans easily and doesn’t absorb odors.  This means that when you transfer the contents of one half-empty jar into a smaller jar so you can use the bigger one for something else, all you will need is a quick rinse and you’re set.


As I mentioned before, my mother likes to try new things, and we have a myriad of spices in the cupboard.  You can trust me on this: you may think you’ll be able to identify something later on by smell and taste and colour alone, but you’ll be wrong.  You’ll be very wrong.  Remember that spices lose their potency over time and more than once I have mistakenly added ground oregano when I meant to add corriander.  It does happen.   So make sure you clearly label all your little jars.

Mystery items are never fun.

Glass jars also lend themselves very well to my labeling technique.  Instead of using adhesive labels that peel and which eventually need to be soaked off when the jar is empty, I write on the glass itself with a permanent marker.  I don’t have to worry about peeling or tearing or fading, and when I’m ready to re-purpose the jar for another spice, a quick rub with the scrubby side of the sponge and it’s gone.

#3: Arrange with Purpose

When it comes to your cupboards, you have to accept the fact that your Martha Stewart prowess in kitchen aesthetics does not apply to what goes on behind closed cupboard doors.  While it may seem like a good idea to organize your things alphabetically, or even by colour (I’m looking at you Cait), this will not do you any good when you are cooking for twelve people and you can’t find the yeast.  Most of us just don’t have the space to be THAT organized.

Organize your items by usage.  This means that the stuff you use most often should be in front, even if it’s the biggest item.  Things you use all the time can even be kept on the counter, ready to go (see our Salt and Pepper Dish).  The stuff you don’t use as often can be shoved to the back — but not to fret: if it’s nicely labeled in a clear glass jar you will be able to find it any time!


Author: allythebell

A corgi. A small boy. A sense of adventure. Chaos ensues.

11 thoughts on “Pantry Sanity”

  1. I used to organize my mother-in-law’s kitchen cupboards. LOL That usually lasted about a week. I notice that you’re working on a corner cupboard. What about utilizing a small (Rubbermaid or Ikea) Lazy Susan?


  2. Okay sooooo… I’ve been keeping all my spices in the freezer. And I can’t for the life of me remember WHY. I know I don’t use spices on a consistent enough basis and I think that’s why I was keeping them frozen, in order to preserve them. (i.e., I’ve got cumin that I use at least once a week, but it’s like four years later and I STILL can’t finish that sucker.) Do you have any idea if freezing them actually does anything? Invis says it takes up too much freezer space (it does), but I’m not sure we have the counter space for it either!


    1. Are we talking ground spices here, like the powdered stuff? Generally, as a rule, ground spices lose their aroma after about a year, regardless of whether they are frozen or not. So I would replace your old stuff. You can keep whole spices for a couple of years longer.

      When I freeze herbs I generally do it for the fresh variety only — I freeze them whole in plastic bags, or I make pestos and other purees, or herbed butter, or herbs in broth in ice cube trays. The rest of them are stored in glass jars in my nice dark cupboard.

      Heat, light, and humidity spoil spices more quickly, so I wouldn’t recommend building a spice rack for your wall, unless you are prepared to put your spices in opaque tins with a good seal. Lee Valley has some good ones, but buying in bulk can get pricey.

      Dark cupboards are best, really, though I know in your tiny space that is an issue. This is a very interesting conundrum.


  3. Well I can definitely still taste the cumin and the chili. (They’re ground.) Although perhaps they’re less pungent than they once were and I may not be able to notice anymore. I’ve got paprika I probably haven’t touched in two years though. I suppose that should get ditched.


    1. They probably are less pungent but you’ve gotten used to them.

      Maybe the best solution for you would be to build yourself a little spice rack, maybe to go on the wall above your clever pot holders. Use opaque tins for the spices to keep out the light and make sure they have a good seal for the humidity. These ones are pretty good, and then there are various forms of wall-mountable racks that are reasonably priced.

      Or you could move. There’s always that option. 😛


    1. Yes, it is a tricky one for your particular situation. I would go with the spice rack. It’s not ideal but in your case with so little space I think it’s probably the only option.

      If you care that much about your spices and don’t want to argue with Invis anymore, that is. 🙂


  4. It is snowing on your blog, did you know that? Seriously. I am not on drugs I swear. And it’s just your site.



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