Marie kondo pantry organization

How to Tidy Your Pantry (With Help From Marie Kondo)

There is no place in my kitchen that doesn’t need a good tidying up/clearing out. (It’s hard to say goodbye to vintage bakeware!) But my pantry was in the most dire straits. So, armed with my Marie Kondo techniques and my need for orderliness, I jumped in.

For those who are still unaware of the “KonMari” phenomenon, its creator, Marie Kondo, is an organizing expert who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The success of the book has led to more books and a series on Netflix called “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

Here’s Marie Kondo’s Advice in a Nutshell

The basic principles of the Marie Kondo tidying method (most relevant to the pantry) are:

How Does the KonMari Method Work for Food?

While there can be clothes, paperwork or books all around the house, in the case of the food, the category and location are basically the same. I took everything out of my small pantry and kitchen cabinets and laid out the contents on my kitchen table and counters. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but seeing everything out can be sobering. Do I really use all this? Do I really need all this?

As long as everything was out (and to procrastinate a bit before I jumped in), I wiped down the now-empty shelves. I also took the opportunity to wipe some peppermint oil along the edges of the shelves to discourage critters. Then, I transferred cereals, crackers, flour and sugar into air-tight containers

FYI: You can buy Marie Kondo’s go-to food storage container.

Kondo does not address food specifically in her book. But her ideas are fairly adaptable. For food, I translated “spark joy” to anything that wasn’t expired or stale or that I believed I would ever use again. It’s hard to think of baking powder, canned soup or cinnamon as “sparking joy,” but when you need pantry items and they have expired or lost flavor, it definitely sparks frustration and disappointment.

Tip 1: Just Toss What You Won’t Use

I tossed anything that was expired or stale and all the spices that smelled dull. I also started a “for the food pantry” box for anything that was good but I knew I would never use.

Just like Kondo anticipated, when I replaced the remaining “joyful” items pack in the pantry and cabinets, I discovered that I had multiples of several things—like Pam—because I couldn’t find them when I needed them. I only kept one of each.

Kondo is an avid proponent of vertical folding (as opposed to stacking) clothes in drawers. It’s sort of like filing your clothes. I was skeptical, but it really works! Anyway, while I don’t have any foldable food, having everything easily and neatly accessible is important in the pantry, too.

Tip 2: Use the Space Wisely

When arranging things on the shelves, I didn’t put anything in stacks. I also tried to minimize how often I put things behind other things. But if I had two cans of condensed milk, I did put one behind the other. I positioned tall containers (like flour, for instance) behind shorter ones (powdered sugar).

I didn’t want to waste all that back-cabinet space, so I created “bleachers” from some small boxes for my spices. You can buy similar things at the store or on Amazon, but the DIY version worked fine for me.

Yes, There IS Joy in a Tidy Pantry

In the end, while the ramen noodles and olive oil did not really spark joy, my organized shelves definitely did. I find myself smiling when I look in the pantry. Like mess encourages mess, neatness is also contagious. No backsliding yet—and I’m still down to one can of Pam!

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We Went Straight to Marie Kondo for Pantry Organization Advice

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If your kitchen pantry isn’t sparking joy, much less the slightest “what’s for dinner?” inspiration, it’s time to call in the arguable founder of the modern-day organizing craze, Marie Kondo. We went straight to the source to get Kondo’s pantry organization advice, and she delivered with easy, practical tips that anyone can follow (even if you can’t follow a recipe).

A pantry—and the kitchen as a whole—is one of the most difficult spaces to keep orderly, Kondo admits, but her top five suggestions, from how to categorize your ingredients to knowing when it’s time to say goodbye (with gratitude!) to worn-out tools, will get you there. Take notes, then take an afternoon to tackle the space once and for all.

Make Taking Inventory a Habit

Before you bring in your arsenal of risers and racks, “take the time to tidy all of your food,” says Kondo, noting what’s gone bad, what’s missing, and what you have way too much of. Then plan to do it all again in a couple months. “I recommend assessing your kitchen inventory regularly so you know what’s about to expire and can plan to replace it,” she notes.


Sort by Category

The KonMari pantry organization process involves tidying by food category (such as seasonings, dried carbs, canned goods, and baking essentials), not by individual ingredient or location. “Gather all items in the same food category in one area, then decide whether each item sparks joy for you or not when you are cooking,” says Kondo. Within each section, arrange the things you reach for most often front and center. The Costco-size container of oats you rarely dig into goes on the bottom shelf, toward the back.

Give Your Ingredients Boundaries

Stock up on the three B’s: bins, baskets, and boxes. That way items are contained so, say, your backup hot sauces aren’t knocking over every time you open the pantry door. Kondo stacks hers to make the most of vertical space—in fact one of her favorite organizers is this tiered, expandable spice rack, which lets her see every single label at a glance.

Evaluate Each and Every Kitchen Tool

Kondo recently said goodbye to some cooking gadgets that had seen better days: worn cutting boards, chipped knives, and the like. “I believe I used them to their fullest extent, and it was time to let go of them with gratitude,” she explains. (She upgraded to this sleek Japanese cutting board, in case you want to copy her.) Do the same with your tired tools, then invest in chic countertop storage. Kondo uses an in-drawer knife block to safely tuck chopping essentials away and a beautiful utensil holder to display her everyday items, like wooden spoons and tongs, within arm’s reach. 

Designate a Home for Everything

Kondo’s key to long-term pantry organization: Assign a place for each object, from spatulas to salt. “If items don’t have a designated home, they can easily clutter countertops and accumulate mess,” says the expert.

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