Simplifying Your Pantry: The Difference Between Cluttered And Well-Stocked

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A cluttered pantry can lead to food waste. Save your hard-earned money by simplifying your pantry and stocking staples you use and love.

My decluttering frenzy has moved to the pantry, spurned by an invasion of the dreaded pantry moth. I thought my supplies were well defended but those pantry moths can infiltrate a sealed jar easier than a spy passing through enemy lines.

It’s war.

And as I waged a strategic assault on my pantry, I noticed I had no less than seven (!!) types of rice: white, brown, Arborio, basmati, medium grain (in both white and brown), and wild black rice.

90% of the time, we eat either white medium grain or brown rice. 

That means all those other seldom-used varieties lurking in the dark depths of the pantry are easy targets (despite being in sealed jars) for pantry moths to slip in unawares and colonise. 

Before I knew it, occupation was complete.

My pantry was no longer well-stocked; it was cluttered. Cluttered with rarely eaten foods now being happily consumed by moths and needing to be thrown away. A waste of food.

I love this definition from Small Notebook about what makes a cluttered pantry. Point number three directly related to ours:

When your pantry is full of food, but you look in there and decide “you have nothing to eat.”

When your pantry is full of food that you would rather not eat as long as there are other choices available.

When your pantry is full of food that is “good to have,” but your family doesn’t eat it, and you won’t use it in a normal week.” [source].

The Difference Between a Cluttered and a Well-Stocked Pantry and Ways to Simplify

well-stocked pantry will save you money. It will mean you always have a meal to whip up at the last minute, saving you a trip to the store or drive-thru.  It can keep you fed in times of disaster.

A well-stocked pantry is one where you have an ample supply of foods you regularly eat on a weekly or fortnightly (maybe monthly) basis. A cluttered pantry is full of foods you rarely eat.

If you choose to buy in bulk, it’s worth only stocking up on just those few foods you eat on a regular basis. This way, you know you’ll cycle through your supply regularly, meaning less waste. And you’ll be able to keep a close eye on it.

Evaluate Your Current Pantry Situation

The first step in simplifying the pantry is to declutter. A minimalist pantry isn’t just about getting rid of stuff; it’s a mindset shift towards mindful consumption and organised simplicity to reduce waste and save money and stress.

To declutter the pantry, pull everything out and put it all on the kitchen counter, dining table, or the floor if you’re short on room. Look at what you have on hand. 

Do you have doubles of stuff? The last time I did this cleanout, I found three bottles each of sesame oil and teriyaki sauce, hiding in the back of our annoying corner cupboard. Oops.

Are there items that are past their used-by date and need throwing away?

Once you’ve sorted through your pantry staples, decide what items are worth restocking so you can maintain a simplified pantry moving forward. 

For example, for us, it’s worth storing white and brown rice in the pantry but not restocking the other varieties (see note in the next section below regarding variety).

How should you decide what to stock in your pantry and what not to?

If you’re not sure which foods (like spices) you use regularly, you can go through your family favourites master list of meals.

What is a master meal list?

It’s a list of meals your family likes to eat on a regular basis and meals you feel confident cooking. This list makes meal planning super quick and easy, as well as helping you grocery shop and stock up on specials and pantry staples. I now keep my family favourites master meal list in Notion and refer to it when I meal plan each week.

When planning your minimalist pantry, look at the meals you make the most and stock the pantry items for those meals. 

Simplifying your Pantry

Once you’ve decided which items to keep stocked, give it a good cleanout.

Get rid of any foods that are out of date, and consolidate any duplicate packets if practical (check used-by dates first).

When replacing items in your pantry, it’s better to put everything in its own sealed container. This helps keep pests (like pantry moths) out. I used recycled jars for many years, but as they failed to keep the pantry moth out, I stocked up on food storage containers when they were half-price (yes, I have a mishmash of different types from different places to keep the cost down and spread the cost out – it’s not an Instagram-pretty pantry). 

pantry staples in containers in corner pantry
Our real pantry. Not as Instagram-worthy, but practical.

Rectangular containers will save you space in the panty. The important thing is to get containers that seal tightly and are big enough to fit a whole packet of food, so you avoid half-empty packets in the pantry.

Finally, to use up ingredients you don’t want to keep stocked in your pantry, create a menu plan that uses up all these ingredients. That way, you can enjoy the variety without the waste.

Speaking of variety…

Eating Diversely While Keeping a Minimalist Panty

Eating a wide variety of foods is healthy – it provides you with a wider variety of nutrients. How does this mesh with a minimalist pantry?

The trick to avoiding eating the same thing every day while keeping a simple pantry is to use your menu plan to plan a wide diversity of foods and only buy what ‘specialty items’ you need, in the amount you need, from week to week (of course, if you find yourself eating it every week, stock it in your pantry in bulk and save).

You can buy many staples in specific quantities from bulk bins in the supermarket, health-food stores, local bulk-food stores, or farmer’s markets. It’s not as cheap as buying things in larger bulk quantities, but if you end up reducing waste, it’s more cost-effective in the long run than buying in bulk. Store the amount in the fridge until needed.

Managing a Simplified Pantry

It’s easy for the pantry to become unruly. 

Not going to lie – you can often find me shoving things into the pantry willy-nilly on shopping day so I can get on with other stuff already. And if something is on sale and I’ve stocked up, the combination of a messy pantry and sales prices means I end up with three bottles of sesame oil. 

So efficient pantry management also has to include a bit of thoughtful organisation and maintaining inventory occasionally to avoid waste.

Some organisation tips that help me include:

  • not over-filling the pantry, so it’s easier to see what we have
  • doing a regular audit to take stock of what we have and what needs using up before expiry – maybe once a quarter
  • grouping similar items together for easier identification 
  • using clear containers and labelling everything (although some of our labels need redoing)
  • arranging foods by frequency of use, placing regularly used items at the front at eye level for quick access
  • using tiered shelving to see more of what we have on hand

Managing Use-by and Best-Before Dates

Another aspect of pantry management is keeping an eye on expiration dates and adopting a rotation system to reduce food wastage. This is especially important for items you stock up on.

For example, we stock several cartons of long-life cream. It’s great to have on hand for desserts or cream-based dishes, and we don’t have to worry about it going off like fresh cream. 

To ensure we use it before it goes off, we use the FIFO method – first in, first out. That means we rotate our pantry staples and use the older items first by simply putting the newer ones behind the older ones. 

Rotating pantry items doesn’t eliminate the need for a pantry audit every now and then, but it does reduce the number of things that get forgotten at the back of the pantry and thus waste. And a simplified pantry makes the process of rotating stock and keeping an eye on dates much easier.

Two other tips for expiration date management include:

  • wait for a container to be empty before emptying fresh food. For example, if you decant new rice on top of the old rice in a container, the stuff at the bottom never gets used, and it will eventually get pretty old.
  • write the used-by date on the container. To be honest, we don’t do this for everything. Rice or flour, for example, lasts ages, and we go through it pretty quickly, so I don’t worry about using it up before it goes stale. Desiccated coconut, on the other hand, is something we use but not as regularly, so I use a bit of masking tape and a Sharpie to write the best-before date on the back of the container. 

Doing an audit and meal-planning recipes that incorporate items nearing their used-by date can reduce waste. 

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Blank Pantry Checklist to Keep Track of Your Staples

The staples you keep in your pantry will depend on what you like to cook. One person’s honey might be another person’s agave.

For this reason, I’ve created a blank pantry checklist that you can put your own staples on. The checklist is useful for restocking and stocking up on staples. You can download it by clicking the image below.

A simplified pantry is a lot less overwhelming than a cluttered one. Less clutter means less waste and an easier time meal planning and meal prepping. A simple, minimalist pantry doesn’t mean an empty one. However, it is one where the stocked items have been carefully chosen and deserve the title ‘staple’ as opposed to once-in-a-blue-moon food.

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  1. Those moths can be a real pest! My mum’s generation used to put a bay leaf in items like flour to deter the pantry moth. Other ‘trick’ I use is put items in the freezer for a few hours when you first buy them…then put in containers in the pantry…reasoning? The eggs of these moths are often already in foods at the processing/packaging stage and will eventually hatch in sealed containers. The freezing is supposed to kill the eggs…seems to work for me.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Mmmm, eating moth eggs :).

      Thanks for the tips Maria! Freezing works well for me too…when I actually do it :).

  2. Pam @ Hooks and Hills says:

    I also have 7 types of rice in a very cluttered pantry, now you mention it!. Oops! Thank you. I shall address this :)

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Cluttered pantry?…you must be a foodie too :).

  3. BAZINGA! I was just staring at my panty in disgust; so instead of cleaning it out, I walked away and made myself a cup of tea and opened up your blog – are the pantry Gods trying to tell me something? LOL

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      LOL, I think they must be.

  4. I literally just did a eat from the pantry post on my blog. Great minds think alike

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Awesome! It’s a great way to use up stuff :)