We’ve all been there. You open the pantry and it’s a complete and utter mess. How can you decide what to eat when things are in disarray? The lack of organization isn't just keeping you from preparing dinner — it can make your brain hurt. (Ugh!)

When pantry shelves are cluttered and disorderly, it can be difficult to envision the meal possibilities. If you can identify with this situation, it may be time to add this project to your fall to-do list. Here are a few tips to make your pantry less chaotic and at the same time make dinnertime a little easier.

  • Think clean: It’s a good idea to wipe down the surfaces every now and then for sanitary reasons. You can use a soapy rag to remove any stickiness, spills or stains. Or consider taking an unconventional approach. You might need to use the vacuum as well to remove any crumbs.
  • Purge: Organizing your pantry is also the occasion to consider what you might not use. For instance, maybe you have 5 cans of unexpired black beans and you don’t foresee using them anytime soon. You might consider donating them to a food bank.
  • Throw away those boxes: Boxes take up unnecessary room, especially when you have lots of half-empty ones. When unloading all your groceries, it’s worth taking the extra time to put the contents into plastic, glass or metal containers. For instance, put your flour, sugar, chocolate chips, baking powders, cereals and noodles into large see-through containers. Bins and baskets also get the job done. This will avoid clutter, look clean and help you see all that you have more clearly. You might have to spend some significant money up front to purchase these organizational tools but the fruits of your labor will be well worth the initial investment.
  • Tidy up: As Marie Kondo would advise, “tidy up.” Every week when making your grocery list, go through your pantry and take stock of what can be discarded or re-arranged. Throw all empty items away, realign boxes and containers and wipe down shelves. This will also help you avoid the disappointment that comes when you excitedly grab a snack box only to realize it’s empty. Plus staying on top of any messes can help you prevent it from getting out of hand, so you don’t have another disaster on your hands.
  • Pay attention to placement: Place your most-used items in the easiest place to grab and other less-used items out of the way. This is likely going to be at eye-level. Grouping items that can go together for a quick meal can also save you time. Labels are a great way to help you take inventory of what you have on hand.

Next time when you come home from a long day at work, tired and hungry, you will be rewarded by a clean pantry and an easier time finding what you need for the recipe at hand. So channel your inner Martha Stewart and make time for this project. Your future self will thank you! What other projects are on your short list?

Lauren Caggiano

Lauren Caggiano

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based copywriter and editor with a nerdy passion for AP Style. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, thrift shopping, fitness and travel. Learn more on her website: www.lovewriteon.com.