Have you searched for pantry organization on Pinterest? An overload of perfectly centered wicker baskets, acrylic bins with beautiful labels, and rainbow-hued cereal containers…it feels unattainable. The photos may as well include unicorns. There is no way you could ever, on your small budget, create a space like that. Right?

Wrong! You can, RIGHT NOW, with the items you already own or on a very small budget. It may not get you 1.3M Instagram followers, but you will be able to make dinner without losing your mind.

Let’s get started.

1) Set aside the time

A pantry has many moving parts, so it’s going to take longer than your lunch break. This is an investment of time, but trust me – it will be worth it! Prepare yourself for it to look worse before it looks better. Send the kids next door to play, put on some Ariana Grande or Sia and let’s do this.

2) Take everything out

Don’t freak out. Remember I said it will get worse before it gets better? This is the “worse” part. I know you want to collapse into a heap, but I won’t let you. If you lose counter space and you can’t see your cat or find your phone, you’ll be fine. You don’t need those distractions anyway. Try to sort into categories as you go, one little bag of rice at a time.

3) Throw away anything that’s expired or gross

Ok – your friend gave you that loose leaf tea when she asked you to be her bridesmaid. So sweet. You hate it, though, and have never used it.  But – agh! You feel bad! What if she comes over? Friend, she does not want you to live like that. Chuck it. Same with that fancy BBQ sauce with cloves and honey. No. If it doesn’t share the same date as the current year we are living in, it needs to go.

4) Combine like with like

How many different bags of quinoa can come from one store? A bajillion. Check their expiry (off pasta and bread will smell sort of like an attic or an old barn) and then combine! Put them all in the same container or bag and keep moving. If you have 45 jars of pasta sauce, keep 2 and move the rest to a place where you store your extras. If you don’t have any more room, then please stop buying pasta sauce.

5) Think about where it makes sense

Now that everything is sorted, not expired and valuable to you (I see you eating that mini-bag of Cheetos from Halloween), it’s time to think about where it’s going to go. What’s important to you? Do you use seasonings and spices like a bartender from Coyote Ugly? Those need to be as accessible as possible – think eye level. Paper goods should be kept up high (less dangerous if they fall and not needed on a daily basis). Keep heavy items, like large juice bottles or oils, on the bottom shelves. I recommend keeping your onions and garlic in a porous container (like, ok, wicker) and in a darker spot.

6) Sort by category

There is a standard smattering of categories when sorting your pantry. If your ketoveganpaleo diet requires more, than do it! Live it up! Just make sure that where it “lives” makes sense. Here are my 9 go-to categories (divided by typical shelf):


Canned goods

Non-refrigerated veggies (onions, garlic, potatoes)

Paper storage (paper plates, towels, ziploc, etc)

*If you get stuck, think about where it lives in a store (Oh dear God, please do not reference Superstore here because you will lose your mind like my husband did that one time he tried to find cinnamon).

7) Contain!

Chances are you have a few extra containers lying around. If you don’t, some of the stuff you just discarded might be perfect. That old tea tin could hold loose sugar packets. Clean out that big peanut butter jar to store dry nuts. If you have lots of similar items in bags, that’s fine. No need to go out and buy the perfect size container. Corral them in one basket or bin so they don’t roam freely.

My suggestion for items like grains, flours and sugars is to find a container that works and then invest in similar products. My friend who is a baker needed big bins from Dollarama for all her different kinds of flours. I can get away with a mid-size pop top containers (available on Amazon, Winners and Home Sense). I would suggest only going with one kind that stacks neatly together (think square and rectangle – try to avoid round and oval as they waste space). I also prefer NOT to use big heavy glass containers as I find them really hard to use. Have you ever dropped 4L worth of oats? Not cool.

8) Label your little heart out

I used to think I was too good for labelling – true story. I thought I was so good at organizing that my kids and husband would be able to just KNOW. Telepathically. THEN I started labelling things and no one asked me questions anymore. OK, not totally the truth but it cut down on the questioning by about 1,000%. I like a few different label makers (DYMO and Brother brands are great). I also love a good sharpie, masking tape or chalk!

9) Leave space, for goodness sakes!

This one time, as I was pantry-pinterest surfing, I came across the most amazing, five-tiered beauty. Everything was gosh darn perfect. I lingered long enough for my husband to look over at my screen. “Where the heck are you supposed to put the new bag of chips or the extra cereal?!” I searched for an answer but he was right. It was chock-a-block full with beautiful Evian bottles and multi-coloured pasta boxes.

If you have multiples of any item, store the rest somewhere else. Unless you have a chef’s pantry and it is as deep as the Red Sea, in which case you don’t need any of my advice so you can stop reading. Leave some breathing room because inevitably, you will buy more things. Your perfect row of Perrier will become presumptuous and annoying.

10) Rework it till it’s perfect (ish)

Here’s the main thing about being organized that everyone needs to know: it is not a magic cure for all your problems. It requires consistency, creativity and maintenance. The beauty of finding the right system is that this process will become SO much easier. If you know where it goes and there is space to put it there, why wouldn’t you?

Organizational systems are not one size fits all (neither are we). A system that works for someone else might look like foolishness to you. That’s ok! There is no judgement here! Even if you hire someone to create a space for you and it’s not working  – tell them! Get excited. You will eventually find what works for you!

What happens if you do all this and it still doesn’t work? Well, read #10 again and try not to panic. Remember, you are NOT disorganized. You just haven’t found the right system. Don’t give up, don’t give in and now you can go look for your cat.

About the Author: Sara Verwymeren

Sara Verwymeren is originally from Long Island, New York and has been in Winnipeg since 2011. Her love of organizing transformed into a career after helping numerous friends and family members de-clutter their homes.