Use Up the Pantry Clutter

Pantry Clutter: 

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.

As we clear the clutter, this week we’re focusing on pantry space. When you look inside the cabinet where you store your food, you don’t want that organized space to be taken up by food that you don’t eat. Think of ways you can incorporate some of that food into your meals this week.

If you have an excess of food, save yourself grocery money this week and use up some of what you have. We’ve been trying to see if we can make it for one more day before a trip to the grocery store each week, so we can reduce some of the food that’s been sitting in the pantry for a while. I don’t know why we have so many canned goods; we don’t use them very often, but they’ve been around for a couple of months already. We’re also using up some of the ingredients that I bought when I was trying to get creative at the grocery store.

The idea for a pantry is that you will be ready to cook dinner, you’ll save money, and you’ll save yourself from last-minute trips to the grocery store. It works better when it’s organized and everything is used regularly.

I use serving platters and bowls to organize my pantry, instead of storing them away and only using them for parties. Try consolidating packaged snacks into a snack basket, and clearing out the almost-empty boxes. The canned goods are on a lazy susan so I can access all of them. (more pictures)

Some people use a pantry as food storage for emergencies. When I showed how my fridge gets rather empty before I go grocery shopping, some expressed concern about what we would do in emergencies. I don’t store emergency food in the fridge or freezer. If the power goes out, it would all be lost! I count more on dry or shelf-stable foods that we normally eat such as dried fruits, nuts, beans, rice, pasta, and peanut butter as part of my back-up plan for emergencies.

I think the foods you plan for emergencies should reflect your grocery list. This way you’ll use them regularly instead of storing them all year and letting them go to waste. So yes, in case of a blizzard, the food storage in my pantry usually looks more like peanut butter, wine, beans, and cereal, not MRE’s.

May is the beginning of moving season, so if your house is on the market or you’re moving soon, definitely straighten up the shelves and use what you have instead of moving it.

If you stock up on sales, take a week off from shopping and use what you have so you can fully realize those savings. If you’ve bought extra to have some to share and donate, drop off those canned goods and clear up some room.

What kind of foods tend to remain in your pantry for a long time?

clear the clutter

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Chicagogirl says:

    I seem to accumulate canned soup and cake mixes. Both have been valuable to have at times but neither are favorites so they get passed over.

  2. Great tips Rachel! There are just two of us and after our recent move to a smaller home, I decided that we would purchase just what we needed, not extra. I’m limited to one upper cupboard and two shelves in the pantry closet so that also prevents me from going crazy. Eating mostly fresh food helps too.
    Diane | An Extraordinary Day´s last post…Joy! Counting blessings.

  3. Great idea. A few times a year I try to go on a grocery shopping strike for a week or two to use up the older odds and ends from the pantry. Our meals get really creative during this time. ;-)

  4. I’m doing the same thing this week with my freezer! Time to use some stuff up…
    Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Ways I am Like My Mom

  5. This makes a lot of sense! Actually, as I’m writing this, we’re making a “clean out the fridge” dinner. I think pantries should work similarly. It’s a good place for long-term food that you don’t necessarily go through as often as the fridge, but you should only buy what you know you’ll use within maybe 6 months.

    We try to use at least one can of something from the pantry a day. Whether it’s tuna for lunch or corn with dinner, we go through our pantry pretty quickly that way.

  6. Ginger says:

    We have 3 tins of smoked salmon that were received as Christmas gifts from people who wanted us to know they had gone to Alaska. We love fresh slamon but stuff in a tin just gags me. Time to pass it on to someone who will apreciate it!

    • Jessica says:

      Are there any small furry creatures in your life? My dog would go crazy for something like that :-).

  7. I’ve gained two really helpful insights from your post: a reminder about the purpose of a pantry, and using good platters and serving bowls as organising tools for packets and other items. Thank you!
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Read your unread library

  8. Honestly, nothing much. And I always feel good when the fridge is pretty much empty before we go on a big shopping trip. One of my goals for this year is no more wasted food. It’s been easier than I thought it would be.´s last post…Time to happy upOr, what’s gratitude got to do with it?

  9. Honestly, nothing much. And I always feel good when the fridge is pretty much empty before we go on a big shopping trip. One of my goals for this year is no more wasted food. It’s been easier than I thought it would be.´s last post…Time to happy upOr, what’s gratitude got to do with it?

  10. Yay! A pantry post! I just spent the last two days cleaning out and reorganizing our pantry and spice cabinet, all the while having your posts on this in mind as my inspiration. Tossed many many old and unused spices. And as part of my pantry re-org, we moved all the can goods (except the canned beans) into an empty shelf in the adjacent laundry room. We have way too many canned goods for my comfort – not a great variety of them, but obviously purchased for dishes we used to make but now rarely eat. And I just hang onto them. The only other item that tends to hang around too long in our pantry is pasta. Because we are planning to transition to a whole foods diet, we will be eating less and less of our old dishes, so I need to figure out a way clear these foods out of our pantry.
    Thanks for these tips and reminders, Rachel!

    • A really good way to clear out unused canned goods is to donate them to your local food kitchen. My 82 year old mother works at her church’s food kitchen, and they always appreciate donations.

      • Yes, a great idea! My 74 year old father works at his local food pantry also – I should have thought of this on my own :)

  11. I have been working on changing our diet by cutting out most processed/prepackaged foods and making more things from scratch. So some of my pantry clutter includes boxes of seasoned rice mixtures and similar items.

    I usually try to have at least one day a week where I am trying to use up pantry foods that have been around a while. Some of them probably just need to go in the trash, too, if I would look at the expiration dates!
    Elizabeth@ReadySetSimplify´s last post…Weekly Menu Plan: 2 weeks! 4/29 – 5/12

  12. Thanks for the encouragement. The pantry has been on my to-do list for awhile now and your post may be the push I need to start using some of that food and clean that cabinet up.

  13. I don’t have very many canned goods (from the store, that is – I do have home canned tomatoes, green beans, salsa, etc. in the basement) and I almost always empty my fridge before going shopping. When my sweet mother-in-law visits, I think she feels like we have no money for groceries because she always tries to fill my cupboards/fridge up. But it is that way intentionally. :D

    In the past I’ve seen online challenges to eat from your pantry/freezer for a month. I could not do it for a week. I do try to stock up on dry foods when they go on sale and since I have a chest freezer now I do buy ahead more for the freezer. But I don’t actually have a true pantry so my one shelf designated for canned goods can get pretty bare sometimes. And I’m fine with that. :)

  14. Dried seaweed! I research what are healthy additions to our regular menu and do my best to incorporate it into our meals. Some go better than others. Seaweeds is slow one.

    The kids love seaweed snacks, but not cooked seaweeds.

  15. I’m super guilty of this…I have a can of coconut milk (??) in my pantry that is who knows how old and a few other odds and ends. My pantry becomes a dump zone too for vitamins, band-aids, flashlights, etc… I got pretty mason jars for flour and stuff that I use and it looks a bit better, but I think it’s time to clear some stuff out! I love how practical your family is and you make me want to simplify more and more :)

  16. Jessica says:

    These comments make me wish for a pantry round robin :-). Canned tomatoes go with everything, and I have a whole bunch of exotic spice blends that would make a great stir fry with coconut milk. But the quinoa has been in there for a year (I really like quinoa, but I’m a noodle-haulic) and I apparently have some deep inner need to believe I will someday start liking brown rice. I think the worst is the six boxes of food coloring, none of which have any red or yellow. And I really don’t use food coloring :-D. It might be time to pass those along to a coworker who does. I refuse to take the unflavored gelatin along on my cross country move!! There’s also a can of corn that I keep hoping will transfigurate into beans.

  17. We have been on an “eat the pantry” mission for the last 3 weeks. I’ve been to the grocery twice and spent a total of $60. I have 4 tins of canned green beans that I seem to be unable to eat and I’m perplexed as to why I bought them in the first place. Plus a can of Spam. I love your ideas for organizing. I’ve got a tiny pantry and I’m loving the idea of a snack basket to save space.

    • Jessica says:

      Canned green beans are not bad in a potpie or shepherd’s/cottage pie.

  18. We seem to magically acquire canned veggies and baby-friendly snacks (applesauce pouches, etc).

    I tend to buy canned veggies “because they’re so cheap” – and then never eat them because they don’t taste very good.

    The baby-friendly stuff I stock up on when they’re on sale. I do keep some of those in a basket – but I like the idea of using large serving bowls too, thanks for the tip!
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…History by Three: Which Era?

  19. You are channeling my thoughts! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with some of the Pantry stuff I have. I love making tomato based beef stew so I have way too much tomato sauce and tomato paste in the pantry. I have a few other items that my family have bought and didn’t eat when visiting and now I’m stuck with them.

  20. Huh – my clutter culprits are ‘healthy’ things that I try and don’t finish the entire packet of, due to lack of inspiration for using it up. Stuff like that half a packet of quinoa, and of navy beans, and of barley etc. Eventually I get around to using them, but only when I do a few weeks of cooking through the pantry like you’re suggesting.

    I’m also not great at finished off packets of chips or crackers, and they go stale.

  21. I hate having pantry clutter, but my husband likes the panty to look “full”. Hmmmmmm? I agree stuff that gets used should be in the pantry and you should use it. Have a little extra just in case, but not too much.

  22. Cans of beans and tomato sauce by far. For some reason I can never remember how much of these items I have at home (if any), and always buy more ‘just in case’. They’re easy to use up, but I could usually cook chili for 20 at any given time!=D
    Juliette´s last post…Summertime Shoes

  23. We aren’t big hoarders of food, I used to buy extras of everything so I had canned foods on hand, but we never needed them. Now I check the very small pantry before I shop to know what I have. I tend to buy the same thing if I don’t know whether we have it or not. So checking before the trip is super important. The other thing I do is buy less snacks and use what we have instead of buying new every week. Otherwise they go to waste. Have a fabulous day!
    Jenn´s last post…What to do before vacation

  24. We used to have a lot more in the pantry that we don’t use, however, over the past year or so I have been trying to only buy things that we will actually use. So, now it seems that our pantry ends up being emptied by the end of the month (before we do our big grocery trip for staples). I think that having food on hand in case of emergencies is important, and like you, most of it is not in the fridge. I keep a lot of dry beans/popcorn/rice/quinoa/pasta on hand, and seem to be able to make a lot of different meals out of those with whatever fresh veggies we have on hand. I like to be able to make food based on what is available, and cooking with grains seems to work well that way! Now if I could just have an over abundance of canned tomatoes…
    Heather´s last post…living what you love

  25. Romney says:

    It turns out we don’t really like it cooked. I only use it to stop bread sticking to the tin. Must make sure when it runs out I don’t automatically replace it with more polenta.

  26. I actually sorted out my cupboards this weekend (i am from the UK so i don’t have a pantry) i did combine all the snacks into a basket i brought from the pound shop. So i felt good when i saw your suggestion and had done it already :o)

    Also when your cupboards/pantry is organised it is easier to remember what you already have when you do go shopping, it is typical of me to come home with a load of one item only to discover i already have about 3 of that same item when i am not organised.

  27. Alicen says:

    I’m guilty. I have bought cans of things to make a specific recipe, only to end up not making the recipe. I should go through and clean it down to the things we use regularly. I also have a husband who likes the fridge to be full. But I find the more full it is, the more food I waste because I just can’t see it and forget it is there. I also have 1/2 jars of food in the fridge that I need to get used up. Obviously they weren’t my favourite, but they’re just taking up valuable fridge real estate and I should eat them up or get rid of them.

  28. Courtney says:

    We live in a very rural area and the nearest grocery store is a 30 minute drive, so we keep our pantry and freezers stocked. Our family of five could probably live for three months or more off of the food that’s in our house. Being able to cut down on trips to the grocery store is a huge plus for me, especially in the winter when the weather is treacherous. Oh, and we have a generator to keep our freezers humming along in the event of power failure.

  29. My neighbors (and now we) call this “living off the hump” (like a camel). We do it with the freezer occasionally too.

  30. Kate S. says:

    I was one of those people that expressed concern about your emergency food supply, but wanted to say that I never meant you should stock extra gallons of milk and frozen meats for an emergency . . . you can live without those things short-term. I commented because you said you have no produce left at the end of a week until you go shopping again. A little bit of extra produce goes a long way to keeping your digestive system functioning and providing nutrients that are nearly always lost in “shelf-stable” and canned goods. And almost all produce is good for a few days at room temperature, so long as you keep it out of sunlight, so lack of electricity wouldn’t mean its demise.

    We use our pantry to store home-canned goods, and dry goods like pastas, rice, beans, too, but we make sure we have extra produce, too. Of course, a lot of this is influenced by our distance from a grocery store–when you have a minimum 20-minute country drive to reach any food source (other than your own garden) you learn to be prepared.

  31. We don’t tend to have a very big stock of items in the pantry. We tend to keep a fair amount of pasta and pasta sauce, as we eat that a lot so I stock up when it is on sale. But it usually rotates pretty fast, so no particular item stays in there more than maybe a month. When I do have the stray items, they are usually cannned goods I bought for a recipe, ended up not making it, and used the rest of the needed ingredients for something else. For example, I might have a can or two of beans I bought for chili, ended up not making it, and used the other ingredients in something else.

  32. On May 12, the US postal service will be collecting non-perishable food (in my area they give it to Feeding America). Gather up those things you won’t use and donate them to people who are truly hungry. But, please, give only those things that are not out of date.

  33. Every January I go through our pantry and pull out all the half used bags and boxes. We put them on a tray on the counter, and commit to using them up before the end of the month. It leads to some very interesting creations (craisin-almond-mint-chip-cookies, anyone?) but it’s fun, and get things out of the way.

  34. Heather says:

    Wow, you not only described my pantry to a tee, but my fridge and freezer as well. Thanks for the inspiration to do some kitchen decluttering! I give myself a guilt trip every time I look into my well-stocked cupboards and feel zero interest in cooking/eating any of the contents therein. Time for me to get real, donate or use what I can, and get comfortable with having unused space.

  35. we have pasta, rice, granola bars and snacks for the children’s lunches. the only canned items we buy are an assortment of beans ~ pinto, black, white, etc. i use the bottom two rows for homework supplies and art/craft projects. on the top shelf i have some hidden mommy treats (those of the hershey’s variety) that i don’t want the children to notice… i keep those in a cute basket. so far they have not been curious enough to ask what’s up there.
    sandi´s last post…getting ready for the party

  36. yes! you know, i want to save $ this next month since we have some bigger expenses coming up at the end of june, so i think we will use some of our pantry stuff up like you suggested.
    charis´s last post…15 things that i love

  37. Andrea says:

    What really helps me keep my pantry in check is the fact that it is the size of a shoebox, correction, toddler sized shoebox! Due to some medical issues I have really gotten away from processed foods and the only canned foods I buy are black beans, tomato sauce and diced green chiles. That’s it. It is nice to be able to glance when making my grocery list and see if we need dried beans, pastas, and baking staples. For me, I have found that getting away from canned and processed foods my toddler shoebox sized pantry isn’t overflowing and I’m no longer wasting any food, yey! It took me years to get to this point though. I really love to read everyone’s tips and suggestions, thank you as always for the continued inspiration!

  38. Yes yes yes! I love this idea…no trip to the shops for me this week, I will eat what is in the pantry instead :)
    Thanks Rachel!

  39. I was just thinking about this last weekend. I have random cans of beans, veggies, soups and opened boxes of pasta. They are things we don’t typically eat like butter beans…I must have thought it was a good purchase at the time. It’s definitely time to use up the stuff. It would save us some money on our next shopping trip!
    Mel@TheDizzyMom´s last post…Lose the Baby Fat: The Journey Begins

  40. This weekend is the postal canned food drive, so if you have good food that is not expired, but you know you won’t use, this would be a good weekend to donate it. I know I find that I have purchased things for specific recipes only to make something easier and have the ingredient stay in the pantry forever. All you have to do is put it in your mailbox and the postal carrier takes it for you.

  41. Living through a job loss and another job cutback has taught us to live off the pantry. my kids kinda roll their eyes at beans and soup and rice…but it keeps us full and has helped reduce the grocery budget.

    Personally I think we Americans tend to stock-up our pantries because of a rainy-day mindset and that’s good and all IF you use the stuff in there. If you just accumulate for the sake of doing it, then you’re wasting money. I’d rather have a leaner grocery budget and use what we need each week than build up tons of reserves that just go bad.

  42. I’m a long time reader and I find these posts (and comments) so helpful that I have to start contributing!

    Rachel, you’ve mentioned that you usually make soup once a week and usually have that for lunch. I love that idea. So…..I’m inspired to make soup with some of my ignored pantry staples. Seems easy and economical….two of my favorite things!

  43. hah, I definitely don’t have this problem at the moment! We just moved and I’m working on refilling the pantry! Its a good reminder to buy specific items (like chopped cans or water chestnuts) only when I’m planning on using them right away!
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Week 38…39…Where Did The Time Go?

  44. We’re always doing the battle of the pantry. I can’t be trusted to buy any form of mustard, fancy crackers, jellies, or canned items. I always buy those items when we have plenty on hand. We really stock up in the winter, but now that it’s warm, I’m cleaning out, buying more fresh fruit and veggies and planning more meals around the grill.

  45. My pantry is semi-empty right now. I always have bottles of salad dressing that go bad. My diet and preferences change enough that I won’t use them.
    I threw out a big bag of brown rice recently that had gone REALLY bad because I wanted to eat better, but didn’t know how or take the time to cook brown instead of white.
    Saltine crackers- I do need them, but rarely. I would totally buy a box that’s about a quarter the size of the normal size.
    Otherwise, it’s often full of tomato sauce, beans, pb, jelly, ketchup, white or instant rice, other crackers, cereal, mac and cheese, other pastas, soups, nuts, canned chicken and tuna- all we will usually eat before it’s too old. I stock up on several of those because we eat them several times a week.

  46. sel in nz says:

    I find the internet to be a brilliant tool for random pantry items. Yesterday I googled ‘what to do with chickpeas’. Had no idea they could be used beyond hummus and falafels. Among many other suggestions, I discovered they can be turned into crunchy roasted snacks – yum.

  47. A great topic.

    I am constantly checking the expiration dates on my canned goods. I move them around to make sure the oldest ones are used first. I try to buy only what I know we will use in a few months.

    Every year around this time I Spring Clean My Pantry. I donate what has been sitting (and not expired) to the Post Office Food Drive.
    Donna´s last post…Small Projects Sew Along List

  48. When my pantry gets cluttered with a mish mash of ingredients that can’t make a meal, I bag them all up and set them aside. It’s not too long that someone is doing a food drive. One of our grocery stores always has a barrel out, too. In fact the post office food drive is coming up this weekend, I believe.

  49. This is going to make me sound much posher than I am, but we have numerous tins of foie gras we brought back from France in 2008. They don’t expire for a couple of years but we just never think to eat them.
    That, and mini packets of miso soup, which I always think we have none of, but then always locate twenty of as soon as I get home with more.
    Jess´s last post…Crying Over Spilt Milk

  50. It was my New Years Resolution this year to ‘not throw out so much food!’
    I have stuck to my guns on this as much as possible, but I have three kids and my eldest has autism and is a fussy eater. He has refused so many beautiful meals that I have prepared for him over the years. I’ve got to improve the pantry though so your post this week has been timely.

  51. Hi, Rachel! we have a smallish pantry for 6 grown folk, so nothing really lives in there too long. If it does, I toss it out since I have to spiff it up before I put groceries up. And my fridge is empty and shiny on Mondays when i shop – I just don’t have room to stock it up, nor is that practical. I do try to store leftovers, since I hate throwing out perfectly good dinners. we take them in our lunches or enjoy them on the weekend. If the power went out, I just hope hubby has enough charcoal. Dry beans would be out…but we could always fix oatmeal, I’ve plenty of that!

  52. Thanks Rachel! I am loving this post. (My husband is good at always giving me that ‘push’ I need to do this.) xoxo ~Sandi

  53. I just threw out all of our expired canned goods and spices. Now I have more room.
    Zipporah Bird´s last post…Bracken, Part I

  54. I have a love/hate relationship with my pantry. It’s not a proper pantry space, it’s where the fridge should sit, but our double fridge/freezer doesn’t fit in the space, so we bought some metal shed storage shelves to put in there. So it’s very deep and only 4 shelves (so stacking helps).

    I therefore have to go through it’s contents about every 3-4 months to take stock of what I’ve got on hand and be inventive. However since I’ve really started doing this, I buy less of what I won’t actually use. I tend to stock up on oats (make my own muesli), canned condensed tomato soup (I use this instead of cream for vegie bakes), jars of crush tomatoes for pasta sauce, bread flour and lately I’ve started buying my most used herbs/spices in bulk.

    Thanks to your redo of your pantry a while back I now have started making use of my left over jars, and I currently have a mixture of plastic and jars but it’s so much more organised instead of half open packets of stuff everywhere!

    Thank you for posting this, has reminded me I need to take stock of what I’ve got once again and be inventive!

    Keep up the fabulous work Rachel!