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Organizing the Pantry in 10 Minute Blocks

pantry shelf

Each October I deep clean and reorganize my kitchen. I know the holidays are right around the corner and I want my kitchen completely decluttered and ready for the extra cooking and food preparation that I do for the holidays. The first place I like to focus on is the pantry. Today I’m talking about organizing the pantry in 10 minute blocks so that it’s not overwhelming. If I can do it you can, too.

The kitchen is one room that requires daily upkeep and maintenance but despite that daily care there comes a time to go beyond the wiping down of counters, refrigerator shelves, and cleaning the floor.

My pantry in particular is in real need of a good redo. I do not have a large pantry so it can quickly become overcrowded and disorganized. The whole pantry looks overwhelming. But I know I can do it over a few days by doing each shelf in 10-minute segments of time.

Organizing the pantry one shelf at a time

I start with the shelf that holds canned goods and back up staples. I have a plan for this shelf but somehow that plan has fallen apart.

It’s important for me to understand why this happened.
  • Normally I only buy what I need for the week at the grocery store. But over the past year some of my favorite staples were not on the shelf  when I went to the store. When that happened I bought a substitute and got a bit creative with my menu.
  • But on another week’s trip to the grocery store I might see that item that was not there the week before so I would pick up a can or two even if I did not need it for that week. My shelf is not that big or deep, so this makes it crowded.
  • For many reasons it is my habit to shop at the grocery store on Friday after my workday is done. Sometimes this is later than I would like and by the time I get home from the grocery I am tired. Therefore, I just open the pantry door and shove things in – hopefully on the right shelf – but not in any real order. 
  • Sometimes because of the size of the can or box I just put it on another shelf entirely and then that further messes with my plan.

Right now, this shelf is a mess. I must move products to get the ones I want. Probably, there are items that have gotten pushed to the back of that shelf that are not even good anymore. 

Time to start the organizing the pantry 10-minute challenge!

I pull out the Pantry – Chose 1 shelf card from my deck of Organize Your Home 10 Minutes at a Time. I set my timer for 10 minutes and follow the steps on the card. 

  1. Remove all items from the shelf and wipe it down.
  2. Toss any expired foods.
  3. Sort all food items by type.
  4. Put any foods in a donation box that you are not likely to eat but which have not yet expired
  5. Put small packets (taco mix, onion soup mix) into a container or basket. 
  6. Return items to the shelf by type with the soonest to expire in front. 

Group the items by type

sorting the pantry items

As I removed the items from the shelf, I grouped them by type – soup, fruit, protein, condiments, etc.

I got everything back on the shelf right at the 9-minute mark. Two items had expired and there was nothing to donate from this shelf. I did not use containers on this shelf, but I know I will on shelves to come.

This shelf is now organized, and I don’t have to move items to see what I have. Also, by just touching each item, I remind myself that I have some items that I want to work into a menu soon. 

Done in just 9 minutes!

pantry shelf - done

Organizing the pantry shelf was done in 9 minutes. The other shelves will take less time. In fact, there are a couple of shelves where I may get two shelves done in a 10-minute time segment.  Keeping the food grouped by type helps me see what I have and lets me make a quick inventory before heading out to the store. This keeps me from buying duplicates. 

In conclusion

It’s easy for pantry shelves to become overcrowded. Analyze why it happened. Then make a plan to keep it in shape. For one thing, when I come back from shopping and I am too tired to put things carefully away, I can give myself permission to put them on the shelf right in front and then know that the next day, I will take a couple of minutes to order them to plan. If I do decide to buy something that is not on my needed list for the week, I will place it in the correct place on the shelf and plan to use it soon.

I challenge you to look around and find one area in your home that you could declutter in 10 minutes or less. Then just do it! Just for fun send us pictures of your project on our Facebook page Ask the Organizers Diane and Jonda. You will feel so much better when you see the organized space you have created!

 Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, award-winning author, as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands-on organizing and virtual organizing.





  • Seana+Turner says:

    What a fun little task, and so rewarding because we look in the pantry every day! I recently cleaned mine out as well. My daughter and her husband had been living with us during COVID, and the pantry had gotten out of hand. I was constantly stocking up and knew it had become a mess. When they moved out, I determined to tackle this project. I put on old movies and went at it, and it took me awhile. As you say, I didn’t have to do it all at once, and I didn’t. I worked in sections, and that felt very approachable.

    Happy to say it is now finished. I even bought a few new containers to make it look nice, and I love it!

  • I love your explanation about how your pantry got cluttered. It’s so important to understand why things happen. And while it may or may not prevent it from happening again, just having that awareness is a great start to potential habit change. Your process for breaking a task down into small, doable time segments is excellent. So often, we feel the task is so big and overwhelming that we do nothing. But knowing that SOMETHING can be done in a short time is often enough to get us going and then continue.

    Your card deck is brilliant for helping people with this process. Setting a time boundary and then doing a short task.

    It was wonderful seeing you at the ICD conference! Thank you so much (and Diane too) for your being an conference sponsor and for your ongoing dedication to ICD.

  • October is a great time to declutter the pantry! I love that you did it in a short 9-minute window. That’s wonderful!

  • Lucy Kelly says:

    Wahoo, you got this done in under 10 minutes! I think many of us have developed the habit of buying a little extra during the pandemic, this is a solid reminder that if we’re not using it, it’s just kitchen clutter.

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