Day 2: Organize Your Pantry

Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry | Best Pantry Organizers | Easy Ideas for Organizing and Cleaning Pantry | Purge Your Pantry
This is our second day of the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge.  Read Day 1 HERE.

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I should probably warn you from the start: we are going to be doing a lot of cleaning, organizing, and taking inventory this month! (I never said it was going to be easy!) One of our main goals for the month is to get into the habit of using what we have, rather than buying more. Another goal is to realize and appreciate all that we do have, which is easier to do when our things are cleaned, organized, and inventoried. Sometimes all you need is a fresh look.

If I had known you were going to put us to work I never would have signed up for this challenge! Just kidding! My pantry is a mess but you make it doable. — Zoey

We will be starting off our challenge for the next few days by planning our food strategy. I don’t know about you, but the second I start to think about trying to cook with only the food in my pantry and freezer for a whole month, I start to panic. My brain shuts down, and although my cupboards may in fact be brimming, all I see is “Nothing to eat.” Worse, I have found that when I am hungry I make my worst financial decisions. I am willing to spend more when I just want to get food in my belly as quickly as possible!

Our first day of our no-spend, month long challenge involved setting some ground rules and assessing where we were at. Today, we are going to channel that energy and momentum into organizing our pantries.

This particular task might be a little different than pantry cleanups you have done in the past. This time, we’ll be treating our pantries (and freezers) more like a store. It’s time to go through everything, assess what we have on hand, figure out what we need to use up (I’m looking at you, can of beets), and get a general handle on everything.

The first time I posted this guide, several readers posted panicked responses about if it was cheating to buy things like toilet paper, for example. I am in no way advocating that you should start collecting leaves from the backyard! However, this isn’t the time to stockpile and hoard either. Yesterday you should have given yourself an allotment for a few needed items. (For example, my family can’t go an entire month without bananas, and even the best bunch doesn’t last a whole 31 days.)

My husband and I decided not to buy any food except fruits, veggies, and dairy. After three weeks I had $200 left over. What an awesome feeling. — Stacy

When you go through your pantry and freezer, try to think creatively. Think of new ways to use up what you have on hand or ways you can stretch their use. You can make a great pasta dinner with some frozen broccoli, olive oil, and pasta. A big pot of rice, a few cans of corn and beans, and some taco seasoning can make a satisfying Mexican rice bowl that will keep your family sustained for at least a meal or two.

Think simple. And follow these easy steps to bring order to your pantry.

Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry | Best Pantry Organizers | Easy Ideas for Organizing and Cleaning Pantry | Purge Your Pantry



1. Clear out a large space to work on. If you plan to do your cupboards or if your pantry is in your kitchen, you may want to clear off a counter. If your pantry is in another area of the house, like the basement, set up a card table, and be ready to set things out, assess, and put back.

2. Remove everything from each pantry shelf, one at a time. Check expiration dates and watch for anything that may have spoiled or is beyond salvaging. Canned items should not be bulging or leaking. Place open items in a cupboard or separate section. I like to keep my unopened items in the pantry, then place items in my cupboards once I’ve opened them or once they’re in use (like baking soda, flour, pasta, and so on).

3. As you clear each shelf, wipe it down thoroughly. You can use a multisurface spray, or try a few tablespoons of vinegar diluted in three cups of water. Add a little dish soap and a few drops of your favorite essential oil, and you’ve got a spray that will freshen and clean without chemicals.

4. Write down each item as you go. Use our handy-dandy Pantry Inventory Worksheet to keep track of all your items. This will become your go-to list when you’re meal planning. Plus, it’ll save you from running back and forth to the pantry for every ingredient. Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry | Best Pantry Organizers | Easy Ideas for Organizing and Cleaning Pantry | Purge Your PantryGet your printable pantry inventory worksheet here.

Are you surprised to discover items you weren’t expecting to find? Didn’t realize you had seven cans of corn on hand or an unopened box of cereal that was hiding in the back? Great! Write it down and remember. You may be getting creative with these treasures in the next few weeks.

5. Put back your pantry items in a clean, logical order. You’re going to want to do it just like the grocery store: each item should be faced towards you, stacked in a way that’s easily accessible, and the most popular items should be placed at eye level. If you have several of the same item, check expiration dates and put the oldest item to the front.

6. Sit back and bask in the beauty of your clean, organized pantry! Don’t you feel calmer now? If you’re still feeling ambitious, try tackling the freezer! Use the same process and see what you have stored up.

Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry | Best Pantry Organizers | Easy Ideas for Organizing and Cleaning Pantry | Purge Your PantryGet your printable freezer inventory worksheet here.

I did this last night and I was so proud this morning when I opened my pantry and everything was organized. Doing this one day at a time makes it seem possible to spend nothing this month! —Angie

If you’ve found you’re missing a few staples and you know you can’t substitute or make it through the month without (or your family might mutiny and boycott the whole process), some folks use this time to pick up these limited items (which you should have allotted for on your worksheet yesterday).

Others like a challenge. If you feel it’s better to take an all-or-nothing approach: go for it! Ramen for the month? Hooray! When we did the plan we ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, and I was definitely craving something different by the end of the month!

But you know what? We made it through—and I just know you can do it too!

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By the way, throughout this challenge, there will be many different worksheets and printables for you to use. I suggest you print them out and organize them together in a binder or folder so you can journal as you go.  Be sure to follow @RuthSoukup on Instagram and post your own photos using hashtag #31daysLWSZ for a chance to win daily prizes.  (Get more information about our Instagram giveaway HERE.)  Remember, I will be broadcasting LIVE each day on Periscope (usually between 10am and 11am EST).  You can find and follow me at @RuthSoukup.  Finally, be sure to check out our BLOG TOUR page, where you can find all sorts of additional ideas and inspiration from other bloggers who are taking the #31dayLWSZ challenge this month too!


  1. Kim
    October 2 at 08:37AM

    OMG I have been planning on doing this for MONTHS and MONTHS…. You have no idea what I am up against.. this will take me the entire weekend :/ so I guess I will be reading the rest of the challenges … until Monday and trying to implement in between. Any advice for those of us the work 40+ hours and run a child to competitive sports 3 nights a week 🙁

    • Ruth Soukup
      October 2 at 08:52AM

      The projects for days 3 & 4 will fit well with today’s task, so you should be able to work on them all together on the weekend. Honestly, that’s what I’m planning to do too! I totally feel your pain–just do the best you can, and give yourself grace! 🙂 Hugs!

    • Rose
      October 2 at 09:44AM

      I know what you mean! If it helps, (also being a mother who work over 40hrs) I clean out one shelf per night. 🙂

  2. JH
    October 2 at 09:17AM

    My pantry inventory will be very short! We had a pantry moth problem a few weeks back so I threw out almost everything. Ugh!! Looks like we can have dessert (many flavors of baking chips!) and Asian food (wasabi paste and chili sauce survived the purge lol). That’ll do!

  3. Lydia
    October 2 at 09:18AM

    I am trying the 31 day challenge. But I have a question: If you have a really good coupon and that item is also on sale at the store and its a food item that we go through a lot of, can I buy it?

  4. Dana
    October 2 at 09:50AM

    I wish I was doing this on a month where I didn’t need to lose a bunch of inches before a dress fitting on 10/31!! I could live on pasta and peanut butter otherwise! I still think it will work, just have to be more creative!! Buying cheap protein like eggs instead of dairy free yogurt!

  5. October 2 at 09:56AM

    I love this task for today… because I did the pantry cleanup/ inventory 2 weeks ago! Wohoo! But just when I thought I was off the hook, you reminded me of the freezer! … That is one place I tend to forget to clean and sort. Thanks Ruth!

  6. jackie
    October 2 at 12:38PM

    The post today was God-inspired (at least for me!). I have a rare day off – putting stuff away and decided to clean out/clean up my pantry – before i read your post! Woohoo! Now on to the refrigerator…
    PS – Love the idea about the pasta meal and the mexican meal – found all of those items this morning!

  7. Jessica
    October 2 at 12:38PM

    Excited to do this today!! I am very nervous about this challenge on the food front. I do not keep much in the freezer as far as protein goes. I also have a seafood allergy so there is no such thing as tuna in the house or other canned meats. My husband works a very physical job. Between that and how much fresh produce we use day in and day out our grocery bill WEEKLY for our family of FOUR is close to $300!! We eat very well and the leftovers are nearly always eaten the next day. (By eating well I am not meaning steaks and things like that)

    • Cara
      October 2 at 04:36PM

      This afternoon, I have been looking at my “More With Less” Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre . A cookbook like this one may give you new meal ideas to stretch the meat, and cheaper proteins you never considered before. Maybe there’s a copy at your library to check out this month for the challenge. 🙂 Good luck!

  8. October 2 at 01:25PM

    If anyone is interested in joining me I’ve created a group Pinterest board for bloggers and others to pin to along the way!

  9. Ambia Cooper
    October 2 at 03:53PM

    Went through my pantry, fridge and freezer today! On Tuesday I bought groceries to prepare about 10 meals, plus leftovers. After I went through my “food hoard” (I might need professional help…) I have 19 meals plus leftovers! With only about 6 items that I need to purchase to complete those meals! I hate to grocery shop so much that this makes me VERY excited! I may have had a few ADD moments where I got distracted and cleaned the vent under the fridge (who know if that has EVER been done. So gross.) and defrosted my freezer to get rid of the 3 inches of ice. All in all, a great productive day~ Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Margaret
    October 2 at 04:50PM

    I guess I should have waited a month. I did my pantry last month so it is in tip top shape. Freezer is always in good shape. We keep it clean and things rotated.

  11. Beth
    October 2 at 04:56PM

    OMG, I am so embarrassed!! I am doing the pantry inventory and I had NO idea I had this much food in there. To think I would find “nothing I wanted to eat” in there when I would look is sickening. There is plenty of good things to eat, I just couldn’t SEE it. Yes, some of it will take some preparation, but so what? I almost skipped doing this inventory but I am glad I did it. I have enough food to eat for a long time, and it will give me the opportunity to use my creativity. My grocery shopping list is usually medium long in length. This month it will only be milk and eggs. Thanks Ruth for getting me motivated to do this. How enlightening.

  12. October 2 at 04:57PM

    I have kept an inventory list of my freezer items for a few years, and although I have always thought a pantry inventory list would be nice, I lacked the motivation to get it done. Like you, I assumed it to be a bigger project than it actually was. Phew. So glad to have that done, and thanks for giving me that kick in the pants to just get it done!

  13. Tuffcookie
    October 3 at 01:07AM

    I have two freezers that are so full you cant see some items. We have been doing a lot of the challenge for 45 days now and still my freezer is full. We dont buy any fruits or veggies because we have a garden and have frozen some fruit from earlier harvest. How did I get all this? Tonight was a quiche with fresh spinach and sausage (traded). No complaints about the eating. I want to do this till the end of the year. Think thats possible?

  14. Crystal
    October 14 at 08:41PM

    Hi Ruth- I am so excited about this challenge. I am just now coming to the table so Ive decided to implement this for the month of November in my house. We are calling it “No Spend November” :)! Getting all the printables printed and ready!

  15. Victoria
    July 2 at 10:27AM

    Hi Ruth!

    It’d be awesome to also have a fridge section. Maybe I’m missing it…

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