Living Smart: Ideas to organize your pantry cabinet

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The key to a decluttered kitchen starts with pantry organization ó but tackling shelf upon shelf of cans, boxes and bags of food can be daunting.

Professional organizer Erin Kelly says her company, Chicago-based Arranged by Erin, frequently gets calls from homeowners looking for help with their out-of-control pantry cabinets.

"Itís a time thing," she says. "People get very overwhelmed. Thatís why a lot of them call."

While a home organizer can organize your pantry for you, you can also do it yourself with a few pointers.

Create categories

When it comes to organizing the pantry, grouping similar items together is critical.

"The important thing is to zone your pantry," Kelly says.

Make one section for pasta, one for canned fruits, one for vegetables, one for spices and so on, Kelly advises.

Grouping items by category will help you cut down your cooking time by eliminating the need to hunt through the pantry for a certain item.

"The best thing is to pull everything out, wipe (the pantry) down and put it all back by category," Kelly says.

If you have a child or relative with allergies or special dietary needs, keep their items on a separate shelf or in a certain "zone." Kelly also recommends labeling items to help a nanny or babysitter know which items are OK for each child to have.

Save money with storage

Creative storage options wonít just keep your pantry cabinet neat ó they can also save you money.

People wind up buying duplicates of items because they canít see what theyíve got hiding in the depths of the pantry, Kelly says.

"Itís tempting to stock up, but I donít need three ketchups in my pantry," Kelly says. Deep pantry shelves can add to the problem, making it difficult to see whatís in stock.

Retailers like The Container Store and Target sell clear storage containers that are perfect for storing items like spices, packets and pastas, Kelly says.

Plastic stair-stepper organizers are good for storing items like canned goods, making it easy to see whatís there, she adds. Stackable shelving and wire baskets can also help you declutter and keep items visible.

Being able to see what you have will help you re-evaluate the way you shop, saving you time, pantry space and money, Kelly says.

Once you can see what you have, you can make a running list of whatís in stock and what needs to be added to your weekly shopping list.

Find a spot for overflow

If your pantry cabinet is just not fulfilling your space needs, it may be time to find a place for your kitchen overflow.

Kelly cautions against using a garage or mudroom for extra food storage, since that can attract mice.

"I like the idea of shelves or cabinets in the basement area," she says.

Kelly recommends basement storage for items that arenít used every day, such as pots, pans and extra canned goods.