How to clean out your kitchen pantry for spring

'Place the most reached-for items at eye level.'
'Place the most reached-for items at eye level.' Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to cleaning, the phrase "out of sight out of mind" sums up my philosophy.

Every time I open the double doors of my pantry, I'm confronted with shelves sticky with goo of indeterminable origin, empty cereal boxes (thanks, kids) and countless random ingredients for recipes I never got round to cooking. When I close the doors, I instantly forget the mess inside. 

But there's only so long those doors can contain the chaos. Now spring has arrived, it's time to get cracking and clear out my pantry. 

Why bother?

Professional organiser Leesa Kotis, from The Clutter Bug, says a well-organised pantry can help the household run more smoothly and save you time, stress and money. 

"Knowing what you currently have in the pantry can save you doubling up on items, saving you a few dollars here and there," she says.

"You can avoid stress and anxiety when looking for something in the pantry because you'll know exactly where everything is."

Giving your pantry an overhaul also offers health and hygiene benefits. 

"A spring clean gives you a chance to eliminate any out-of-date foods that have been sitting in your pantry uneaten," Kotis says.

"It also uncovers any unwelcome visitors, such as mice or pantry moths and any foodstuffs that may have been feeding them."

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Pro tip: Avoiding a deep clean for too long will leave your pantry vulnerable to pantry moths and weevils.

Get cracking

What's the best way to tackle the challenge? Kotis suggests removing everything from the pantry and giving the shelves a thorough wipe down before sorting everything back in.

"Dispose of all out-of-date items and foods that have been infiltrated by mice, weevils or pantry moths," she says.

Make the most of your space, and keeps items easy to access, by using baskets or shelf organisers, shelf racks, under-shelf baskets and expandable spice racks, too.

"If most items are in a basket it is easier to pick up the whole basket and wipe down shelves," she says.

Next, Kotis suggests sorting items into groups. "Place the most reached-for items at eye level and items that are not used regularly on higher and lower shelves," she says.

Smaller items such as tinned fish can live in a basket or on stepped spice racks, for example. Larger tins can fit into a dispenser that stores them on their side, allowing them to roll forward as each one is removed.

For hard-to-reach corners of your pantry, a lazy susan is great for storing bottles of oil, vinegar and sauces, Kotis says.

Pro tip: Use square, or rectangular containers for dry foodstuffs. Round containers mean less storage space. Stick to one type of container so that that they stack easily. 

Get the look

If form is as important to you as function, and you want to achieve a Pinterest-worthy result, Kotis suggests using the same type of container for baking ingredients such as flour and sugar, and matching baskets to hold tinned fish, vegetables and spices.

Decorative labels – with writing or blank designs – can be found for sale online, if you want to go that far.

If you can't afford the time or money to go all-out, however, it may be best to steer clear of anything too elaborate.

"Are [the ideas] practical for everyday living, and easy to keep looking beautiful? Maybe, if you have the time and budget," Kotis says.

"Could you hide every single item in your pantry behind baskets or containers? Probably not, depending on the size of items."

Pro tip: Use chalkboard paint and chalk to make labels that can easily be changed or updated. 

Start good habits

Kotis spends 10 minutes a day running her eyes over the pantry and putting stray items back where they belong.

Unlike my "out of sight, out of mind" approach, Kotis's method will keep the pantry clean and organised.

She also suggests having a noticeboard or notepad close at hand to jot down shopping list items.

Pro tip: A weekly meal plan can help you keep your pantry tidy and organised, and will use up unnecessary items in your pantry.

So while it may seem easier to shut the pantry and just forget about the mess, Kotis's tips will get my pantry sorted in no time. 

All that's left, she says, is to apply the same method to my fridge.