A professional organizer's guide to organizing your pantry

professional organizer leah schwartz tackling my pantry.

professional organizer leah schwartz tackling my pantry.

How to create a neat, organized pantry

My kitchen is my happy place.  Before I started cooking professionally, it's where I would go to be creative, relax and often procrastinate.  Now that the kitchen is my main workspace, I'm not just escaping there, but often needing to do some of my best work and thinking there too.  Although I'm not naturally a hyper-organized person, I do love being in neat, cleared-off spaces, and I've realized that a minimal, organized space is crucial to keeping the kitchen my happy place. 

Because Type A habits do not come easily to me, I've done my best to make systems when I'm cooking to help bring order and clarity.  Whether it's storing my spices in matching containers in a drawer or minimizing time in the kitchen by working next to the stove and using a garbage bowl, these little tricks keep me feeling neat and in control of my happy place. 

Recently, I was griping to my friend and professional organizer Leah Schwartz about the state of my pantry.  Instead of giving me a feeling of abundance, possibility or excitement when I was about to start cooking, it was starting to feel like a room that I wanted to shut the door on as quickly as possible.

Leah offered to lend her expertise to organizing my pantry.  I jumped at the chance...on one condition.  That we could chronicle her organizing system and share it with you so that you too could achieve pantry bliss on your own.  Also on the condition that Leah wouldn't judge me for being, ahem, a little messy.

In about 90 minutes on a Friday morning, Leah transformed my pantry using her 4 step process.  We worked on the pantry, but you could use these steps in any part of your kitchen or any room of your house.

Leah's 4 Step Professional Organization Process:

1. Walk through the space and highlight any obstacles.  Talk about how you want it to be different.

While my walk-in pantry might seem enviable to some, I consider it pretty essential to making my kitchen workable.  My kitchen cabinets are laughably high, meaning I can't reach anything if it's not on the bottom shelf.  My pantry therefore needs to store all my appliances, dry goods as well as equipment and containers I use for my job.

When I walked through with Leah, I told her that mostly I wanted it to look neat.  I wanted to be able able to find anything that I was looking for instantly and I didn't want anything on the floor.  I knew there were storage containers and professional equipment that I didn't need to access on the daily taking up prime real estate in the pantry too, so I wanted her guidance on what to shift around.

Step 2: Take EVERYTHING out and separate the items out into categories.

This was the most stressful part of the whole process.  Leah is actually trained as a professional counselor so she adorably prepared me for the helpless feeling I would have when the pantry was emptied and everything was separated into piles across my kitchen floors and counters.  I actually loved the idea of taking everything out because it made me less attached to the way things were.  

I used the following categories for my food storage: dried fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, oils, vinegars, salts, canned foods, pasta, extra spices and "international aisle."  

Step 3: Go through each category and discard what you don't need.

One cool thing about Leah's process is that she always works with what you have and doesn't make you purchase anything new.  Yay for minimalism!  I had all different kinds of bags and containers in the pantry and we shifted as much as we could to mason jars that I already had on hand.  Mason jars allow me to see what's inside, they match so they look neat in a cabinet, and the glass doesn't affect the taste of food the  way plastic does.

While I envisioned the final result being rows of adorable wicker baskets with chalkboard labels, I thought it was great that I got such a great space refresh without needing to buy more.  I could still go out and buy some neat baskets, but honestly I'd rather spend that couple hundred dollars on something else.  Like food :)

Step 4: Decide where you want each category to live in the new space, aligned with your new expectations for the space.

Leah helped me decide what to toss (not much food, but she mentioned most people have lots of expired goods in their pantries) and what to store elsewhere.  I had cocktail shakers I moved to the "bar" section of my kitchen, deli containers I moved to the cabinet I have food storage containers in and handfuls of those free reusable bags that I somehow keep accumulating.  

We put things back, making sure the categories were distinct and that I could easily reach the items I used most frequently.  

The final result?  Take a look below.

I'm still planning on purchasing these wall hooks* to hang my grocery bags and Leah's favorite label maker* to complete the space (I can't resist neatly labeled jars!)

What do you think of my happy place?  Share any of your favorite kitchen organization tips in the comments below.  

Want to learn more about working with Leah to help you get organized?  Visit her at makingthespace.com

**Note: This is an affiliate link.  Affiliate links don't change the price to you--or the fact that these are my true recommendations--but I wanted to make sure that you knew that.