8 steps to declutter your pantry without setting your house on fire in frustration

Kinderling News & Features


The family pantry is the bane of my existence. I never have enough of what I need and am guaranteed to have five versions of things I don’t. I’ve moved house seven times, and the same tin of corn has followed me each time. And I hate corn.

Anita Birges is a professional organiser. She makes decluttering such an art that she's even made a business out of it. In the face of condiment categorisation catastrophe, I turned to Anita to come up with a fool-proof (or at least ‘me’ proof) battle plan for taming my disorganised dumpster-fire of a pantry.

1. Set aside time

The pantry can become a bit of a culinary dumping ground for families, so properly organising it does take time; Anita recommends setting aside a whole day to get it done.  

“You have to put time aside for this,” she advises. “It's not a little project you'll do in the morning. That doesn't work. If you try to do it that way, you’ll get actually more frustrated with decluttering … because you feel like you put in this time and you end up with everything on the table. The kids come home and everything you have cleared out then gets shoved back in the cupboard and you have to start again later, without the goal actually being achieved.”

Listen to Anita on Kinderling Conversation:

2. Buy containers for sorting before you start

Anita recommends investing in some large, 10-litre tubs before you start sorting. She suggests using one tub for food that can still be eaten, and a sturdy garbage bag for food that is past its use-by date (not its best-before date – we’ll get on to that later).

You will also need to sort the items you take out of the cupboard into their own sections - for this, you’ll need some smaller tubs. Group similar product groups together, like baking ingredients, kids' snacks, and everyday items like oils.

3. Clear a space

“Set yourself up the right amount of space, because you've got to get everything out of that pantry somewhere," Anita warns.

To properly sort through the years of tinned food and multiple jars of marinade, Anita recommends setting up a desk or table beside the pantry. It's easier for you to see what you’re really dealing with when it's right there laid out in front of you, plus you’re not tripping over things in piles on the floor!

4. Clear. Out. That. Cupboard.

Everything needs to come out of your pantry - this is probably going to be equal parts liberating and gross, so prepare yourself.

As you remove things from the cupboard, Anita says to immediately put them in either their food group piles on the table, or the bin. Also check the use-by date on everything as you go.

“As I'm pulling things out, I am decluttering and sorting at the same time," says Anita. "I'm looking for an expiry date or a best-before date, and then I'm also sorting into whatever section that product is. It might be rice and grains, might be dried fruit, might be kids' snacks, might be baking - but as we go, we're sorting.” 

5. Know the difference between Use-By and Best-Before

One thing that does surprise some people is that there is a difference between 'use-by' and 'best-before' dates.

“Best-before means it loses its freshness, but it won't kill you ... but that soup is not going to taste really good. If the use-by date has passed though, it could harm you. You'll find that a lot with liquids and ointments - that they have 'expired' dates. It's not worth it."

6. Clean, clean and cleaaan

Once you’ve rid your pantry of food, grab your gloves and cloth, because you’re about to clean your little heart out.

“Give it a good wipe down,” Anita starts. “Go into all those crevices in your shelves.”

There are holes in your pantry walls for you to change the height of your shelves; while these are incredibly handy, they’re also where pantry moths like to hibernate.

“So get in there [in the shelf support holes] with some tea tree oil on a Q-tip, and clean those all out as well," she says.

7. Get to know your space

Once fully cleared and cleaned, measure out your space. A big problem with a lot of pantries is that 80 percent of the available space is 'lost'. The deep shelves mean we can’t access anything beyond what’s right in front of us.

“What we're going to do is we're going to kind of look at the size of your stuff. You obviously want to have oils and vinegars on one shelf, but often they don’t fit. Most pantries have adjustable shelving, so instead of putting the oil and vinegar half here, half there, you just open up your shelving by adjusting the shelves!”

At eye level

The most valuable real estate in your pantry should be where your everyday items go.

“Between your waist and your eyes or the top of your head is prime real estate," Anita says. "Everything you use in that area is the stuff you use almost every day; cereals and oils and vinegars, spices, condiments, spreads.”

Up high

Anita suggests you place the less-frequently used items on the shelves above or below eye-level.

"Looking above or below at your less frequently used items, you're looking at your canned items and your flours and your rice and grains and pastas, because you don't have to eat pasta every day. All the things you don't use every day, you put those up higher."

Down low

This is where you should put your heaviest items.

“I always keep the bottom of the pantry for heavy appliances or bulk items like bottled water or poppers," Anita recommends. "You also don't want heavy appliances above shoulder-height, ever! But in pantries I see people put their heavy things like rice cookers up high. I like to bring it down to the bottom."

8. Invest in some organising tools

While you’ve been clearing and cleaning, you will have already sorted the pantry contents into their groups. Now is the time to sort these groups into the containers.

For jars and tins, Anita recommends investing in a wire shelf insert that raises things up so you can see them – sort of like a mini stage. Not only does this mean your foods look nice, but you can actually see what you already have - no more ending up with seven jars of pesto. 

So. Much. Pesto.

Here are some ideas for products and shelf inserts to help your pantry product presentation:

  • Use tier-shelving like this one from Kmart, or this from IKEA to keep smaller items easy to see.
  • Store perishable foods in plastic cereal containers of various sizes, like these Clip Fresh containers from Target.
  • If plastic isn't your bag, there are plenty of glass and eco-friendly options online like the Pyrex range from House.
  • Make the most of those deep corners with handy corner racks like this one from Kmart.

Organising your pantry is no easy task, but once you’ve climbed to the perilous pantry peaks to dust, clean, streamline and organise, you can plant your flag firmly in the summit of Pinterest-worthy-pantry goals.

Plus, maybe now you’ll have more room for special mummy and daddy treats!