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The kitchen is often the heart of the home, and a well-functioning pantry keeps that heart beating. That’s because this is where the groceries and kitchen staples live, and you need to use it multiple times a day. That’s a lot of pressure for one small space, so getting it organized to fit your needs is the key to keeping a kitchen going. But what if you have no idea how or where to start? You’re definitely not alone, so I asked the Phoenix-based professional organizer Leslie Lehr all of those thorny beginner pantry questions you’ve been wanting to ask a pro. Here are the best answers.
1. I’m a baker and I have no idea how to corral my many supplies. Where do you start?
Before you do anything, put all of your baking supplies on your kitchen counter, Lehr says. “You may have multiple packages of brown sugar and other things may have expired,” she says. Next, take baking staples like flour out of their original packaging and put them in an airtight container. “You can also repurpose Mason jars you might already have,” she says. “Next label the jar so you know what it is because flour looks like baking powder or baking soda.”
Lehr’s top tip: A label maker will work if you have one but a Sharpie is just as effective. Just be sure to write down expiration dates on the bottom of every jar or canister.
2. We have so many bags of chips in our pantry and they end up looking so messy. What can I do?
If you’re going to keep your chips, popcorn, and pretzels in their original packaging, use baskets to create mini zones of each type, Lehr says. “Or, to save space, open the bags, roll them, and wrap the bag with a rubber band,” she says.
Lehr’s top tip: If you’re going to use chip clips, keep them handy near your chip bags.
3. Everyone in my family likes a different kind of cereal and I have no idea what to do with the multiple cereal boxes. They take up a lot of space.
Lehr suggests using airtight cereal containers and labeling each. “This will not only save you money, but you’re also prolonging the life of the cereal,” she says. “If you have kids, this empowers them to pop the top and pour their own into a bowl.”
Lehr’s top tip: Remove cereal from its original packaging as you unpack your groceries. Then recycle the boxes ASAP.
4. I know there’s a right way to store canned goods. Is it best to organize by sweet and savory?
Yes, you should store your canned goods by category. This means all of your legumes — your black beans, your garbanzo beans — should go together. “Anything tomato, whether it’s salsa or stewed or sauce, should be stored together.” Sweet items like canned fruits or squeezable applesauce should be removed from original packaging and stacked or corralled in bins to save space, she says.
Lehr’s top tip: Stack canned goods by size and color to give your pantry a beautiful aesthetic while also keeping things organized.
5. I have so many bags of pasta and rice but can never find them when I look for them in my pantry. How can I make them easier to find?
Once you’ve done an inventory of what you have, make your pasta bags smaller by opening them, folding them, and wrapping them tightly with a rubber band, she says. “Then invest in containers for the items you use most often,” she says. “This way you know there is one designated container that’s where the spaghetti always goes and another is only for basmati rice.”
Lehr’s top tip: By planning where your dry goods will go, you’ll manage your inventory and avoid overbuying. “Most of us purchase items because we’re afraid we don’t have them at home,” she says “By staying organized you’ll save money on groceries you don’t need.’