Small pantry organizing mistakes – the things professionals urge you to avoid


Having an organized pantry is key to running an efficient kitchen. However, many people make small mistakes when organizing their pantries that can lead to frustration down the road. Professional organizers know that avoiding certain common pitfalls can make your pantry setup work better for you in the long run.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the top small pantry organizing mistakes that the pros urge you to steer clear of. Knowing what not to do can help you set up an organized system that makes your life easier. Read on for tips and insight from professional organizers on how to avoid the most common small pantry organization mistakes.

Failing to Purge Before Organizing

One of the biggest mistakes people make when organizing their pantry is trying to work with their existing mess rather than starting with a clean slate. Professional organizers always recommend clearing out your pantry completely before putting back only what you use and need.

Trying to organize around existing disorder leads to makeshift systems that don’t work well. Stale food and duplicate items end up remaining in the pantry because there wasn’t a full purge before organizing.

Begin your pantry organization by:

  • Removing everything from the pantry
  • Checking expiration dates and tossing anything past its prime
  • Donating unopened non-perishable items you no longer want
  • Recycling or trash any food packaging and containers you don’t need

Once your pantry is completely empty, wipe down the shelves and sweep the floor. Now you have a blank slate to work with to create your organized pantry.

Not Categorizing Items

Simply putting food items back on the shelves randomly after purging leads to future frustration. The key to creating an efficiently organized pantry is categorizing like items together.

The pros recommend grouping foods into logical categories like:

  • Baking essentials
  • Canned goods
  • Condiments
  • Snacks
  • Grains and pasta
  • Beverages

Take time to think about how your household uses various ingredients and food items when deciding on categories. The goal is to group foods so the items you use together are stored together.

Some other categories to consider are:

  • Breakfast foods
  • Lunch foods
  • Dinner foods
  • Holiday items
  • Pet foods

Failing to group like items together is one of the biggest small pantry organizing mistakes.

Not Purging Leftover Food Categories After Organizing

You spent time thoughtfully purging and categorizing the items going back into your pantry. But many people stop there when organizing their pantry and don’t realize there’s one final purge step.

Once all your sorted foods are back in the pantry, take a look for categories or foods that didn’t end up fitting your new organized system. Be prepared to further purge ingredients that don’t align with how you cook and use foods.

Some common categories that people end up removing after the initial organize include:

  • Bulk dry goods purchased that never got used
  • Freeze dried ingredients for camping or emergency kits
  • Specialty flours or cooking oils you no longer use
  • Holiday baking supplies outside of that season
  • Ancient herbs and spices that are no longer fresh

Take a hard look at anything that looks out of place in your new category system and consider if it’s really still a needed pantry item. This final purge helps you narrow down your ingredients to just what you actually use.

Not Grouping Food Types Together Correctly

Mistakenly grouping foods that aren’t used together is another common pantry organizing mistake. Take time to think about how ingredients work together in recipes and meals to group them logically.

Some examples of ingredients that should be grouped together include:

  • Baking powder, baking soda and yeast
  • Olive oil, vegetable oil and cooking sprays
  • Canned beans, tomatoes, vegetables and broths
  • Vinegars, soy sauce, teriyaki and oyster sauce
  • Flour, sugar and baking mixes

Double check your category groupings against how you actually cook. If you find yourself rummaging around for certain ingredients every time you cook, your category organization likely needs some tweaking.

Not Organizing Foods By Expiration Dates

An important organizing detail for pantries is putting foods with the closest expiration dates in front. But many people forget this key step.

Always be sure to pull foods that expire soonest to the front of a category group. Periodically check dates and rotate newly purchased items to the back.

This avoids finding expired or stale foods when rummaging in the pantry later. Getting in the habit of regularly checking dates keeps foods fresh and reduces wasting product that goes bad.

Not Utilizing Shelf Space Efficiently

Filling shelving from front to back and bottom to top is important for maximizing pantry organization. Make a plan when first organizing on the best use of all available shelf space.

Some tips include:

  • Use top shelves for foods used less frequently or lightweight items
  • Store bulky staple ingredients like flour and sugar on lower shelves
  • Place small items on lazy susans or shelf risers to better use shelf space
  • Install extra shelf dividers to better split up categories

Wasted vertical and horizontal space leads to a disorganized looking pantry. Use all the cubic footage available by planning an efficient space usage layout.

Not Labeling Shelves and Bins

A common organizing mistake is neatly categorizing foods but then failing to label where everything goes. Months later, you’ll forget what system you set up!

Be sure to clearly label shelves, bins and baskets during your original organizing process. Masking tape, permanent marker or printable labels work for naming categories.

Consider labeling groupings like:

  • Baking ingredients
  • Breakfast foods
  • Canned goods
  • Chips and snacks
  • Condiments
  • Grains and pasta
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Spices and seasonings

Labels prevent the inevitable “now where did I put that?” when later trying to quickly grab an ingredient.

Buying More Organizing Containers Than You Need

It’s tempting to buy every pretty matching container and basket when organizing your pantry. But professional organizers warn too many bins can make systems confusing.

Try utilizing existing food packaging containers before buying new ones. Glass jars, reusable plastic containers and food tins often work perfectly for holding pantry ingredients.

If buying new containers, choose different shapes, sizes and colors for each category to easily identify them. And buy only what you really need to neatly hold each grouped ingredient. Too many look-alike clear bins leads to frustration finding the right one later.

Not Editing and Maintaining the Organized Pantry

An organized pantry requires ongoing editing and maintenance to avoid descending back into chaos. Frequently tidy and tweak your categories as how you cook and what you buy changes.

Some tips to maintaining organization include:

  • Keeping an inventory list of what you have and checking it before shopping trips
  • Regularly checking expiration dates and purging old items
  • Reorganizing if you change dietary preferences or how you cook
  • Only keeping staple items used frequently
  • Avoiding stockpiling more than you can realistically use
  • Reviewing if new ingredients align with your categories and uses

Make quick regular organization a habit. Don’t let an unused or unwanted item sit around cluttering your system.

Forgetting To Shop Your Pantry First

Before making detailed grocery lists, be sure to shop your newly organized pantry first. You might be surprised at ingredients you already have once everything is neatly categorized.

Get in the routine of meal planning by pantry ingredients on hand. Supplement with a focused list of any missing items needed for recipes.

An organized pantry reduces buying duplicate foods or extra items that never get used. Shopping your pantry first saves money and reduces food waste.

Not Grouping Like With Like Sized Items

An important pantry organizing tip is grouping like sized items together on shelves. This utilizes space more efficiently and avoids a disheveled look.

For example, group all same-sized cans together:

  • Smaller canned goods like tuna and beans on one shelf
  • Larger 28-32 ounce canned veggies and soups together on a lower shelf
  • Stand condiment bottles and jars of preserves upright together

Grouping everything from spices to cereal boxes to baking mixes by matching heights and widths avoids wasted gaps between uneven items.

Keeping Rarely Used Items Front and Center

When first organizing your pantry, it’s tempting to give prime real estate to specialty ingredients you rarely use, but want to remember you have. Don’t give your exotic spices, holiday serving pieces or impulse buys priority placement in your pantry.

Reserve easily accessible spaces for staple ingredients, kitchen tools and foods you use constantly. The pros suggest designating a “miscellaneous” shelf or high cupboard area for specialty or rarely used items. Keep your most reached for basics right at hand.

Common mistakes are keeping that souvenir mug front and center or grouping appliance manuals with cooking essentials. Avoid prime organization real estate taken up by items you rarely need access to.

Failing To Do A Final Tidying Before Finishing

You sorted, purged, categorized and labeled. Now take time to do one final tidying check before calling your pantry organization complete.

Scan shelves for anything that looks out of place or needs better spacing. Make sure labels are securely applied and straight. Do a last wipe down if there’s any dust or sticky spills.

Take a step back and look at the big picture organization. Make any final tweaks so you feel a sense of satisfaction with your finished tidily organized pantry.

Not Maintaining Proper Food Storage Conditions

An organized pantry isn’t helpful if you aren’t storing ingredients properly to maximize freshness. Be sure your categorized foods are in the right storage conditions.

  • Use cool, dark cupboards for whole grain flours and oils which can go rancid
  • Store nuts, chocolate and coconut away from heat and light
  • Keep potatoes, onions and garlic in a ventilated area, not sealed containers
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable baking ingredients like yeast, dairy and eggs
  • Transfer opened dried spices from tins into sealed glass jars

Improperly stored foods lead to waste, even if the pantry looks tidy. Proper storage conditions maintain freshness and prevent spoilage.

Forgetting To Leave Room To Grow

When first setting up your organized pantry, it’s easy to utilize every inch of space to neatly categorize foods. But leave a bit of room for your system to grow.

Space will be needed when adding new ingredients or food gifts into your groups and categories. Avoid cramming shelves to capacity during initial organizing. Things will shift around as you cook and shop.

Likewise, leave a bit of empty space in storage containers. Don’t pack flour and sugar bins completely full. Things settle and you’ll need room to neatly add more.

Give your categorized ingredients just a bit of room to grow and shift as your pantry evolves.

Not Planning For All Household Members

When first organizing a shared kitchen pantry, it’s important to think about all the people using it. What one person sees as logical categorization may not work for someone else.

Consider the needs of:

  • Shorter family members who can’t reach upper shelves
  • Children who help themselves to snacks after school
  • A spouse who does more cooking than you
  • Teenagers who tend to forage for food

Make sure categories and shelf heights work for everyone. You want your new organized pantry to be universally helpful, not frustrating, for all household members.

Forgetting To Include Kitchen Tools

An organized kitchen isn’t just about the food ingredients. Don’t forget to also tidy and categorize cooking tools as part of your pantry system.

Group all cooking equipment in one spot for easy access:

  • Wooden spoons, spatulas and tongs
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Mixing bowls
  • Baking pans and casserole dishes
  • Graters, peelers and food prep tools

Integrate these everyday cooking tools into the same organized pantry system as your food ingredients. Items used together should be stored together.

Not Integrating Appliance Manuals and Food Storage Items

Another organizational mistake is keeping small appliances like food processors and instant pots separate from pantry storage areas. This leads to rummaging when you need a manual or accessory.

Incorporate these items into your new organized system:

  • Small appliance instruction manuals
  • blender and food processor attachments
  • muffin tins, cooling racks and cake pans
  • plastic food wraps and aluminum foil
  • lunch bags and storage containers

Group these items with associated cooking gear and appliances to have everything in one handy spot.

Forgetting the Value of Miscellaneous Storage

The seemingly random stuff that doesn’t fit into main categories still needs a home in your newly organized pantry. Don’t let these miscellaneous items clutter your pretty categorization scheme.

Have a catch-all shelf, bin or area for things like:

  • Tablecloths and special occasion serving pieces
  • Vases, pitchers and drink dispensers
  • Cookbooks, recipe holders and binders
  • Seasonal cookie cutters, platters or mugs

Assign a miscellaneous space so these items don’t get shuffled around your logical categories. Then you’ll always know right where to grab them when needed.

Not Considering Traffic Flow and Ergonomics

When first setting up your organized pantry, think about how you move through the kitchen when cooking and baking. Position your new categorized systems to align with kitchen workflow and traffic patterns.

Consider details like:

  • Storing cooking oils and vinegars near the stove
  • Positioning snacks and school lunch supplies near the exit door
  • Having a coffee station close to the breakfast nook
  • Keeping pots and pans near the sink and dishwasher

Make your pantry setup intuitive based on how you naturally move about your kitchen. This avoids bumping into someone trying to reach around you in a cluttered space.

Forgetting To Assign Shelf Zones

Clearly delineating different shelf “zones” avoids items creeping around and mixing together once you’re organized. Use shelf dividers or labels to define set areas.

For example:

  • Upper left shelf corner: Less used specialty baking items
  • Middle right shelf: Breakfast foods like cereal and oatmeal
  • Lower left shelf: Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Top right shelves: Infrequently used roasting pans and holiday dishes

Defined zones help family members put things back correctly. Without shelf zones, organized categories start blending together again over time.

Not Optimizing for Ergonomics

An organized pantry needs to be optimized for comfortable use by those cooking in the kitchen. Don’t just categorize items neatly – make the system easy to access.

Ideas to improve ergonomics:

  • Place heavy bulk items on lower shelves
  • Use risers, racks or shallow bins to pull items forward for visibility
  • Make sure shelves aren’t so high that shorter people can’t reach
  • Install pull-out cabinet drawers for easily accessible storage
  • Use vertical space efficiently with stacked containers and risers

An ergonomic pantry avoids aggravating back, neck and shoulder strain. Optimize your organized system for pain-free access by all household members.


Avoiding common pitfalls is the secret to keeping your newly organized pantry tidy over the long haul. Once you categorize ingredients and supplies, maintain the system by continually editing and purging as needed.

Integrate cooking tools and appliances into the same organized area. Plan zones and space to allow your categories to shift and evolve as your household needs change.

Keep readily used staples conveniently at hand. Match storage methods to the needs of all family members using the pantry.

Staying aware of these small organizing mistakes – and sidestepping them – leads to a polished pantry setup that simplifies cooking and reduces waste. Use the expertise of the professionals to help you avoid future organizational frustration and keep your pantry tidy.