Start the year with a simple resolution: An organized pantry

Start this year by organizing your pantry the way professional chefs do.

  • Why some items don’t play well together in the pantry.
  • How to get in the “pantry zone.”
  • What to do to enjoy pantry perfection through the year.


Do you go to your pantry, quickly grab what you need and then shut the door as fast as you can? Is it because the sight of cluttered shelves, mysterious jars and long-expired canned goods make you feel a bit stressed?

Understandable. And really, your anxiety is no surprise, since more and more studies show that clutter can have a negative effect on well-being and may even raise levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. A disorderly pantry may be a small thing, but when it’s staring you in the face every day, it can feel like a very big deal indeed.

That’s why a brand new year makes it a great time to create a freshly organized pantry.

Take organizing tips from the pros

Who better to get tips from than the experts who make their living in the kitchen? They can show you a thing or two about keeping your pantry clutter-free and ready for action — even if all you’re whipping up is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Check out some of the ways professional chefs keep their busy pantries organized. Then you can start (and continue) the new year with pantry perfection.

Check out some of the ways professional chefs keep their busy pantries organized. Then you can start (and continue) the new year with pantry perfection. Although it may sound daunting, setting aside an hour to organize can save you tons of anxiety and money (so you don’t buy what you already have) throughout the year.

  • Before you start, clean the slate. As tedious as it may be, you’ll want to empty out your whole pantry. Then clean it thoroughly before you fill it back up. It’s the best way to help keep the space organized for a longer time.
  • Put like items with like items. The best reason to categorize items is so you can find what you’re looking for more easily and quickly. Put oils together, herbs and spices together, vinegars and sauces together, and so on. On the other hand, some items don’t play well together in the pantry and should be kept apart. For example, onions and potatoes spoil faster when they’re in the same storage bin. Flour shouldn’t be near strong-smelling spices such as curry powder — it will absorb the flavors.
  • Put a label on it. Can’t say it enough: Most professional kitchens have every single item labeled and dated. Sure, it may be overkill if you’ve got clear jars, but putting the date outside the container is just as important as knowing what’s inside it. You’ll avoid the guessing games about whether a food is expired and will also prevent waste by using foods sooner rather than later. Most chefs don’t worry about fancy labeling — a bold marker and colorful paint or washi tape will do the job. 
  • Get in the zone. Creating zones is a simple strategy that can cut time doing meal prep, help you avoid hunting for must-have meds, and curb interruptions to grab snacks for the kids.
    • Medicines: Set your prescription and over-the-counter medicines together, but out of reach of little hands. Include other remedies such as chicken noodle soup, saltines and lozenges.
    • Snacks: Create a kids’ snack zone by storing containers with age-appropriate treats and healthy snacks on a low shelf that’s easily reached by youngsters.
    • Cans and sauces: Place canned vegetables and fruits together which can help when you’re following a recipe. With sauces and mixes right next door, meal prep will be a breeze.
    • Starches: Have a designated “starch” section where you can store noodles, rice and mashed potatoes.
    • Get in the zone for other items too, from staples to meal fixings: a place for everything and everything in its place.
  • Give the “big stuff” a home. Large-sized items — think, family-size cereal boxes, 2-liter beverage bottles, even pet food bags — require a lot of space. Plan the place where you’ll want to make room for large-sized items. It may even mean doing a little carpentry, but it’s well worth it to have a shelf or two with enough room to accommodate tall items.  You can also plan to empty chip and cereal bags into sealed (and labeled) clear plastic containers.

The pros know: Even perfect pantries don’t last forever

Chefs have to be vigilant about staying on top of the condition of their pantries. After all, they’re in the business of safely serving tasty, fresh food. In the same way, you’ll want to make it your business to check on your pantry all through the year. Toss out old foods, clean up spills and make tweaks to fix what’s not working or has fallen into disorder.

Doing frequent pantry checkups over the coming year means you can face the next new year with one less thing to stress about and a pantry you can be proud of.

Find a doctor

Are you concerned about your stress levels or other mental health issues? The Swedish behavioral health department can help. Find a doctor you can trust in our provider directory.

Related resources

8 Tips for Keeping Your Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

The American Cleaning Institute

Culinary Herbs

Cooking Your Way to Health

Spring Cleaning for Health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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