Confident home cooking
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Musings

The Joys of Being Organized

by Nick

Let me show you something:

spice stuff

What holy hell is this?

There are probably 40-50 different spices shoved in that drawer and every time I would go to find one, it would cause me to have a level 10 migraine.

I knew it was a problem when I started selecting recipes to cook based on the spices that were on the top of the pile.

This was, without a doubt, the worst spice situation I had ever seen in my life and over the weekend, I set out to make it right.

Bottle Selection

If I had my way, spice companies would all have to standardize their jars.

There would be three sized: small, medium, and large. The bottles would have to be labeled on the sides and top of the jar.

Is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes.

Out of the 40ish different spices I had in my drawer of doom, I probably had ten different bottle designs which ensured that none of them fit next to each other or stacked easily and none of them were labeled in the same way making it impossible to organize them.

So I threw them all out!

Ok… not all of them, but I did pick a bottle design that I liked (4 ounce, round, glass, flat lid) and only kept jars with that basic description with just a few exceptions.

I picked up a few dozen empty jars that I liked and used those to start my new organizational system.

jars

Sweet new jars.

I found my empty jars at a local health food store (Vitamin Cottage). I would also recommend checking out Target for empty jars. At a minimum, you can also find them online. My Spice Sage has a cool selection of various spice containers. I went simple to keep my costs down. My empty jars cost about $1.40/jar so it cost me about $35 to buy all new jars.

Starting the Process

Step one in reorganizing this disaster of a drawer was just to pull every single jar out and figure out what I was working with. I lined up everything on my kitchen counters which took up pretty much every inch of counter space I had.

spice

Whoa.

The most shocking thing about doing this (and one reason why it’s really important) is to identify duplicates.

I had some really impressive duplicates. Apparently, I can never remember whether or not I have coriander.

Memory problem.

My worst example of duplicates was fennel seed. It’s a spice that I don’t use frequently so I could never remember if I had it or not. I had FIVE (FIVE!) different fennel seed jars from various spice companies.

Just by clearing up duplicates, I knew I could free enough space in my small drawer to probably hold most of my main spices.

Making Inventory

After I had everything pulled out of the drawer, I made a complete list of every spice that I wanted to label. It is easier to make labels all at once rather than running back and forth to my computer.

So I just made a list!

list

I think I had 41 spices on this list and I missed a few. My total printed spice list was around 45 I think. What can I say? I’m a spice guy!

I printed up small labels that could be read from a reasonable distance that I could fit on the tops of the jars. Arial font, 11 point to be exact.

labels

Nice labels.

The Fun Part

For me, the fun part of this project was combining jars, pouring stuff into my new, clean glass jars, and labeling everything.

Obviously, a lot of my spices had overflows since I had so many versions of them. When that happened, I did one of two things:

1) I first tried to identify if one of the versions was super-old. If it was possible, I would taste or smell them and see if they were still good. For example, I had a mustard spice that had to be many years old. It tasted like nothing. Mustard should not taste like nothing.

Old spices get thrown out!

2) Assuming the spices are good (most whole spices keep for a long time), then I just made a reserve bag of the spice and moved it to a spot in my pantry. When my jar gets empty, I can look there first before running out to the store.

labeled

Coriander problem solved.

Everything Back In Its Place

Once I had everything labeled and old stuff discarded, everything fit perfectly back in the drawer.

I did not bother keeping old jars and bottles. I just recycled them all. I’m on a mission to convince my wife that I’m not a hoarder…

new

My new drawer!

How nice does that look?!

When I open it now, my brain doesn’t try to revolt against me! It’s a complete breath of fresh air.

Organization is Important

From someone who is admittedly not the best at keeping things organized, I’ll be the first to say how important it is.

Just taking a few hours to organize this one bad part of my kitchen has already paid big dividends. Not only does it make it more fun to use my spices, but it makes it easier to find the spice I want which saves me time and probably money because I won’t go out and buy a replacement for spices that I already have!

What’s Your Organization Issue?

Do you have a problem area in your kitchen that you need to reorganize? Leave a comment! Maybe we can figure out a solution.

If you have tips on organization, also please leave a comment. I need all the help I can get!

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37 comments on “The Joys of Being Organized

  1. My problem is volume. I buy most spices by the pound from an Indian store, it’s the same price as a small supermarket jar, but the volume is taking over my kitchen, half a fridge shelf and two cupboards!

  2. I had all my spices over my oven in a cabinet, and everytime I tried to reach them (being only 5’0) I would drop 2-5 bottles in the food I was cooking at the time and all over the floor. I got sick of the situation and bought a huge cabinet to put in my tiny kitchen just for spices. I ordered jars from Penzys and have them on turntables inside the cabinet by region/popularity (most use) etc. It’s made a world of difference!

  3. I love this idea, Nick! I might steal it from you. My husband keeps telling me he’s going to make me a spice rack to hang in our kitchen…but it just hasn’t happened yet. Either way, matching jars would be a nice touch to it. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Spices were the biggest problem in our kitchen too. I had the same problem of buying a spice over and over only to find that I had 3 other jars of it hiding somewhere. I also had them over the stove, which I know damages them (and, like Jessen, I always ended up knocking bottles onto the stovetop). The 2nd biggest problem was food storage. I keep pretty much every jar I empty and I keep buying “tupperware” so I had TONS of mismatched lids/containers. And the high, corner shelf where we kept the containers was really hard for me to reach. I started reorganizing about a week ago but still haven’t finished (the excuse I give myself is that I have a F/T job and a 7yo!) but it’s already so much better! I cleared out a HUGE shelf in the cupboard over the kitchen counter and moved all the spices there. Then I used the empty space over the stove for the storage containers. Even though I still have some random clutter kicking around I don’t get all tense and slammy when I come to make meals anymore!

  5. I’m lucky (I guess), I’m an organization freak. I keep my spices organized by taste profile, my pantry organized by process (whole grains & seeds, flours and meals, etc…) and call cataloged on a file. My husband thinks I’m a bit excessive, but let me tell you, I it saves a lot of time (for me, some don’t get my methodology.. lol)

    You know what I can’t keep organized? Containers. They always get jumbled up… ceramic with plastic, lids, etc. I can never find lids or the right size container. They always seem to be getting lost too. No idea why, they are like socks.

    I just want to start over, give everything I have left away, and find some new containers and system.

  6. Oh man, you’re right: I have GOT to do something with my spice cabinet. Every time I slide the door open an avalanche of cheap organic bagged spices from my favorite Indian grocery store come tumbling out onto me in all their fragrant glory. JARS. I need to just buy a ton of jars.

    Independence Day project, ahoy!

  7. My spices are a mess, again. We are getting ready to move and it has been on my mind to do something about it..

  8. I’d love to know how to organize kitchen utensils–they’ve all got to have those super fat handles nowadays, and I can’t fit them in my drawer neatly! :-( And to think, I’ve got one of those on-the-counter turnabout things holding half of it!

    1. I live in an apartment, and have a small “pullman” style kitchen.

      I bought a shoe bag organizer that hangs on the pantry door, and place all my hand tools in the shoe pockets. I have stirring spoons, spatulas, pancake flippers, fish spatulas, slotted spoons, serving scoops, rubber spatulas for baking, etc. etc. etc.

      IMO, the on-the-counter turnabout things just take up valuable counter space that you may need for cooking/baking.

      I also have extension curtain rods with springs, that I have underneath my top cabinets. I put S hooks on those rods, and place my glass measuring cups within easy reach (I keep 2 of each main size: 4 cup; 2 cup; and 1 cup.).

  9. We keep most of our spices in magnetic tins on the fridge. They have see-through lids and are labeled on the side as well. The spices that don’t fit in there go in the pantry, and those I often forget about. The bigger duplicate issue for me seems to be things like condiments, oils, and vinegars though. My pantry is terribly disorganized, and I have a habit of shopping without a list so I buy things just in case we don’t still have it. I discovered last week that we have 3 bottles (2 full, 1 almost) of balsamic vinegar….

  10. You may know your spices, but for someone like me, who is spice illiterate, there would need to be labels on both the lids and the bottles, to make sure that if you are using several bottles at 1 time, the correct lid goes back on the correct bottle.

  11. I recently started switching my spices over to new jars for the same reason, but my problem was then that I wouldn’t know when I first opened the spice and its expiration date. I got a big whole puncher (I think 3/4″) and dropped a circle into the bottom of each jar with the date it was opened and the expiration date written on it, with the writing side on the bottom of the jar so I could see it. Just a suggestion, though you may go through your spices much faster than I and not have to worry about the expirations!

    1. That’s pretty smart Tori. I use mine enough that I have a reasonable idea of what needs to be replaced, but a great idea nonetheless.

  12. I just organized my spice drawer too! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with ridiculous amounts of spices. And seriously, they should all label the tops of the bottles! Taking out the label maker is the next step for me, but I’m too lazy… For now I’m just storing the bottle flat/laying down so I can see the label.

  13. I have my spices and decorating supplies (sprinkles, etc.) organized on 10″ plastic two level lazy susans in the cabinets near the stove. I just twirl them to find the one I’m looking for. Talk about expirations, when I cleaned out my Mom’s cabinet for her I checked hers and among the 4 parsley flakes she had one from 2000 and a tin of sage from 1979. She’s packed them everytime she moved! Its a good idea to know what you have and not duplicate. Don’t forget to check the dressings and condiments in the fridge!

  14. I had all my spices perfectly organized in labeled jars and alphabetized. But if I leave on on the counter, even if I am still using it, my husband just shoves it back into the cupboard. Needless to say it has become a disaster area, dispute my efforts to stay organized. No amount of begging, pleading or threatening has kept him from messing up my system. Grrrrrr….

  15. This brought a nice chuckle. I was there not too long ago and my solution was a bit expensive but has turned out to be perfect for me. I bought a cart from Container Store (that place has saved me over and over in the kitchen) that has 4 shallow drawers and 2 deep ones. I now keep all of my spices and baking goods…baking powder, salts, cake pans, towels and pot holders in it.

    It sits next to my stove which is the entry to my dining room so it’s typically not in my way but if it is…I roll it elsewhere. More importantly that rolling business is why I love it. Cooking at the stove, it’s there. Preparing dough for baking, I just roll it over next to the counter I use for that. On top of the convenience is the butcher block on top…more cutting room space? Perfect!

    This is similar to what I bought; getting one locally allowed me to choose the setup of shelves a bit differently but I just LOVE this thing!

    http://www.containerstore.com/shop/elfa/bestSellingSolutions/kitchen?productId=10014854&N=73671&gclid=COSh5Krl_bACFUYCQAodgXD5FA&sku=10033959&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=google_plusbox

  16. What do you use to paste your labels on the plastic jars. I am in the process of doing my spices too and instead of the computer-generated labels (which want to come off) I have been using colored labels with carefully hand written tags. Colors help me find the spice – deep yellow for mustard, red for chilies, plus I am determined to keep them alpha. Yes, having the same type jars is very nice. I am also looking into having some shorter jars for small amounts of spices. I love Barbara’s idea of a portable cart too.

    1. I just used sticky labels… i’m not sure how long they will stay stuck, but if they start peeling I was just gonna put some tape over them or something. Nothing fancy.

  17. I love and save all my “nice” jars, you know, the ones with nice lids, mason jars etc. I use them now for everything. I purchased some of those chalkboard labels so I can change contents if I need to. I did away with most of the plastic containers in my kitchen.

  18. Thanks for this post! I just got married recently, and combining two fully stocked apartment kitchens into one has been quite a feat to accomplish. What has helped immensely was buying some shelves to repurpose half of our laundry closet as a makeshift pantry… now if only I could get to the ironing board without having to un-pack the coat closet each time! But my biggest issue in the kitchen still is figuring out how to easily get to my large pots and platters, as they’re always piled underneath smaller plates/pots/pie pans/skillets.

    1. If you google “over door ironing board holder” you’ll find something like I use. It hangs over the top of the door. I have my ironing board hanging on the inside of my coat closet door. It works like a charm and I’m not longer digging for it. Hope that helps.

    2. My kitchen is long and narrow. If your kitchen is like that, you could purchase a “closet rod” that is about 2-3″ diameter and have it cut to as long as you need it. Then hang it from side to side of your kitchen, and hang your pots/pans from s hooks threaded through rings that go over the wooden rods.

      1. Awesome idea, Genevieve! Sadly, I don’t have any parallel walls in my kitchen, but i love the idea of using the vertical space… Maybe I’ll re-purpose a towel rack with some hooks to get the skillets out of the cabinets!

  19. I have a cabinet with a big lazy susan that is right next to my stove. I bought 3 plastic bins (baskets?) for my spices: one for baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, etc), one for my most used spices (black pepper, oregano, basil, garlic powder) and one for those spices that I only use for a few recipes (tumeric, onion salt, etc). I just pull out the basket that I need and look thru it. I don’t have to transfer them to another container.

    I need an intervention for my sprinkles habit, though! I did purchase a 2 step shelf thingy which works well for those in the bottles, but I’m having a tough time with the ones in bags or little tubs.

  20. I redid my spice drawers recently. I went to Cash and Carry (a restaurant supply store) and bought portion cups and lids, a total investment of $9.00. Then I printed out labels and stuck them on top of each portion lid. I can see at a glance everything I have and it was a bargain. The portion cups and lids are very sturdy and should last for years and if they don’t? Well, I still have about 70 of them left!

  21. You have obviously never had a problem with Pantry Moths (or drawer) or else there’s no way you would leave your spices unsealed and vulnerable like that! :)

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