I Marie Kondo’d My Pantry—and Here’s What I Learned

Can a tidy pantry spark joy? Absolutely!

There is no place in my kitchen that doesn’t need a good tidying up/clearing out. (It’s hard to say goodbye to vintage bakeware!) But my pantry was in the most dire straits. So, armed with my Marie Kondo techniques and my need for orderliness, I jumped in.

For those who are still unaware of the “KonMari” phenomenon, its creator, Marie Kondo, is an organizing expert who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The success of the book has led to more books and a series on Netflix called “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

Here’s Marie Kondo’s Advice in a Nutshell

The basic principles of the Marie Kondo tidying method (most relevant to the pantry) are:

  • You organize by category, rather than location. That means instead of going cupboard by cupboard, you pull all your pots and pans out at once to inspect.
  • Take everything out. Nothing should be left on the shelf.
  • Put back only the things that spark joy.

How Does the KonMari Method Work for Food?

While there can be clothes, paperwork or books all around the house, in the case of the food, the category and location are basically the same. I took everything out of my small pantry and kitchen cabinets and laid out the contents on my kitchen table and counters. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but seeing everything out can be sobering. Do I really use all this? Do I really need all this?

As long as everything was out (and to procrastinate a bit before I jumped in), I wiped down the now-empty shelves. I also took the opportunity to wipe some peppermint oil along the edges of the shelves to discourage critters. Then, I transferred cereals, crackers, flour and sugar into air-tight containers.

Kondo does not address food specifically in her book. But her ideas are fairly adaptable. For food, I translated “spark joy” to anything that wasn’t expired or stale or that I believed I would ever use again. It’s hard to think of baking powder, canned soup or cinnamon as “sparking joy,” but when you need pantry items and they have expired or lost flavor, it definitely sparks frustration and disappointment.

Tip 1: Just Toss What You Won’t Use

I tossed anything that was expired or stale and all the spices that smelled dull. I also started a “for the food pantry” box for anything that was good but I knew I would never use.

Just like Kondo anticipated, when I replaced the remaining “joyful” items pack in the pantry and cabinets, I discovered that I had multiples of several things—like Pam—because I couldn’t find them when I needed them. I only kept one of each.

Kondo is an avid proponent of vertical folding (as opposed to stacking) clothes in drawers. It’s sort of like filing your clothes. I was skeptical, but it really works! Anyway, while I don’t have any foldable food, having everything easily and neatly accessible is important in the pantry, too.

Tip 2: Use the Space Wisely

When arranging things on the shelves, I didn’t put anything in stacks. I also tried to minimize how often I put things behind other things. But if I had two cans of condensed milk, I did put one behind the other. I positioned tall containers (like flour, for instance) behind shorter ones (powdered sugar).

I didn’t want to waste all that back-cabinet space, so I created “bleachers” from some small boxes for my spices. You can buy similar things at the store or on Amazon, but the DIY version worked fine for me.

Yes, There IS Joy in a Tidy Pantry

In the end, while the ramen noodles and olive oil did not really spark joy, my organized shelves definitely did. I find myself smiling when I look in the pantry. Like mess encourages mess, neatness is also contagious. No backsliding yet—and I’m still down to one can of Pam!

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Cathryn Jakicic
Cathy Jakicic has written about everything from business and bacteria to beads and baking in her career —but she greatly prefers the last two. She is a baker and a crafter and loves to try new recipes for both.