5 Tips for a Tidy Pantry, According to Marie Kondo

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Marie Kondo on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images / Amy Sussman

From boxes of pasta and cans of beans to half-full bags of flour, it's easy for the kitchen pantry to become a cluttered and disorganized mess. And since most pantry-friendly items have a long shelf life, that mess isn't likely to disappear anytime soon. Luckily, Marie Kondo, tidying expert and founder of the KonMari Method, is here to help your pantry stay tidy and neat. Here are five tips to organize your pantry (and after your pantry is organized, check out Kondo's tips for organizing your spice drawer).

Tip #1: Discard expired foods.

First step, discard any expired foods. Not only will this help you get organized, it's also a great way to take inventory of the contents in your pantry. But if you find yourself with five cans of beans headed for the trash, know that there is some leeway when it comes to expiration dates. For example, rice, pasta and canned vegetables are all foods that last way longer than the expiration date. When stored properly, canned foods can last years in the pantry, so even if the expiration date has passed, it may still be good to keep (learn how to examine the can's viability here).

After you've purged the pantry of inedible foods, Kondo recommends keeping a list of the various expiration dates in one place, so you can easily keep track of when foods need to be used up.

Tip #2: Ask yourself whether cooking with it will bring you joy.

The KonMari Method asks users to pose a simple question when tidying a space, "Does this spark joy?", and the same theory applies when it comes to the pantry. Ask yourself, "Will cooking with this item bring you joy?". If you can picture yourself creating a recipe with the item or can imagine snacking on the item, keep it. If you can't, Kondo suggests letting it go with gratitude (or see tip #5 below).

For items that you're on the fence about, Kondo recommends having a "borderline stock clearance campaign," where you create a meal using any ingredients that are set to expire soon.

Tip #3: Store food upright and by category.

Make finding items effortless by organizing them into categories. Whether it's a category for dried foods, dry carbohydrates (like oats, rice, grains or pasta) or canned goods, you'll have an easier time accessing (and actually using) ingredients. Kondo also suggests storing items in an upright position, which makes it clearer to see where everything is located.

If you want to take it a step further, you can decant dry goods like pasta, oats or flour into matching canisters for a sleek, organized look. We love this 3-piece POP container set from OXO, which stacks to minimize the pantry space it takes up (buy it: OXO, on sale for $31).

Tip #4: Tackle the fridge, too.

While you're in a tidying mindset, organize the fridge, too. The same rule of storing foods upright and by category applies, so you'll have one easy system for every part of your kitchen. Kondo also suggests discarding any extra sauce or seasoning packets that you don't plan on using. For the ones that spark joy, keep them organized in a small container so they're not randomly loose in the fridge.

Another rule for your fridge: keep it about 30% empty. While 30% may seem like a lot, it won't stay empty for long, and will act as designated space for leftovers. By earmarking space for leftovers, you skip the struggle of finding room for those bulky containers.

Tip #5: Reduce, reuse, recycle or donate.

If you have a surplus of food that you know you won't consume, don't throw it away! Instead, donate food to your local food bank (Not sure where your closest food bank is? Use this tool from Feeding America to find one.) Or, give excess items to your neighbors, family or friends.

Kondo also notes that some foods can be repurposed. There are fun, creative ways to use expired items, from using green tea bags in incense lamps to dried pasta in arts and crafts. For any foods that can't be repurposed or recycled, you can compost or discard them.

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