Even if you cook a lot, it can be tough to keep your kitchen organized. When you’ve gotten used to things being a certain way, it can be tough to break out of that. And when you’re continually buying food, it’s easy to toss it into a cupboard without taking the time to organize it. However, both of these things can quickly lead to a disorganized kitchen that just doesn’t work for you.
Fortunately, there’s a straightforward solution to this problem: adopting a first-in, first-out system. This isn’t a brand-new system by any means. It’s the same thing grocery stores and professional kitchens use to ensure they aren’t selling new produce while old produce rots in the back of the fridge.
Essentially, the strategy is to rotate your food anytime you bring home groceries or put leftovers away. Put new items in the back of your fridge or cupboard because they’ll keep longer. Then, bring older items to the front so you remember to use them before they go bad. So not only does it remind you to use it, the first-in first-out system cuts down on food waste while saving you from mysterious and gross smells at the back of your fridge.
Another important aspect of this organization method is consistent labeling. Before you run for the nearest Staples, keep in mind that labels don’t need to be anything fancy. In fact, you can achieve a more organized kitchen with just some masking tape and a marker or pen. The visual reminder of when you cooked or bought something is a simple but effective reminder to eat it before it goes bad.
Before you put something away, just slap a piece of tape on it with what it is and when you made it (or when it expires, for things like cereal). That way, you don’t have to give a second thought to whether that chicken you made last week is still good.
The benefit of this system is creating a more organized environment just by using what you have. So while you can use organizing as an excuse to buy a set of new containers, it certainly isn’t necessary. Containers make it much easier to put your pantry in order, though, so you may want to round up glass jars or transparent plastic containers. A set of containers that are all a similar shape will be the most helpful. Not only will this help you get the most out of your space, you won’t have to search through a pile of mismatched Tupperware to find what you need.
So aside from tape and markers, the only other thing you really need is a set of containers to store dry goods in. These make it easier to see what ingredients you have on hand. The other upside is that you won’t end up with 3 half-used boxes of penne taking up room in your pantry. Transferring things like dry pasta, cereal, and even baking necessities like cocoa powder and chocolate chips makes them easier to stack in a pantry. This is one of the most important steps to reducing clutter.
Once things are in a labeled container, it’s time to start thinking about how to put them away. A first-in first-out system requires visibility to succeed. The most beautiful labels in the world aren’t going to do you any good when they’re buried three layers deep in half-empty containers.
Some rules of thumb here to make sure your labels face outward, so you can see them, and to make sure the container size fits the portion of food within. A half-empty soup container takes up a lot of room that you could be using for other things in your fridge, for example. Even though it’s an extra container to wash, the space you’ll save is well worth the minor inconvenience.
Adopting this system may take time, and it takes some work to implement and maintain. However, if you can make the time to keep up with it, it’ll streamline and maybe even help you enjoy your kitchen time more.