Strategies for organizing spices

Day 13 of our 31-day January GetButtonedUp Challenge was all about organizing spices. The problem most have with spices is that they lack an organizational structure for them, resulting (inevitably) in a big, hot jumbled mess.

A cluttered and disorganized spice shelf/drawer/bin wastes precious moments, which makes the entire meal prep process more stressful than it needs to be. It also is probably costing you money too; if you can’t find the spice you’re looking for, you’re more likely to buy duplicates. In fact one challenge participant admitted to having 3 bottles of cinnamon she didn’t even know about…

So what are the secrets to whipping a spice cabinet, or drawer, or basket, or…whatever into shape? There are really only two pieces to this puzzle: containment and arrangement.

Part I: Containment

Some people organize their spices in drawers, others in pantries, still others on cabinet shelves – or even along the back of a stove. No matter where you put them, you need a way to keep them from spreading out in a jumbled sprawl. Fortunately, there are a lot of ingenious ways to do just that.

An expandable spice drawer insert

I personally use one of these expandable spice drawer inserts in my kitchen and I love it. At $17.99 from, it is one of the best $20 I have ever spent.

A revolving spice rack
Whether you go with a specially made revolving spice rack, like this one from Pfaltzgraff, or a simple lazy susan, like Michelle does in the picture below, both make containing AND finding the spices you’re looking for much easier.

Plastic bins
Challenge participant, Elli, uses a simple plastic bin to great effect in her pantry. This is a wonderful option if you want to keep your spice jars from taking over precious pantry shelf real estate unnecessarily.

Other great options include wall-mounted spice racks, magnetic spice bins that you can keep on a fridge or even on a metal tray, or built in spice drawers (Sheila, yours made us jealous!).

Great ideas for organizing loose spices

Two of our challenge participants, interestingly both living outside the USofA, had loose spices to organize. Buying in bulk is a wonderful way to save significant amounts on spices – but it also poses an interesting organizational challenge.

Filomena cleverly recycled old fruit juice bottles as spice jars, which is a wonderfully inexpensive way to achieve a uniform look.

Joy also used recycled jars, although on a larger scale – think Folgers vs. apple juice. While not all the bottles she used were the same, they do have a useful degree of uniformity based on their relatively large size.

Other free upcycle/recycle ideas for containers include: mason jars, old jam jars, and baby food jars. Just be sure to go with jars that have a wide enough opening to fit in a tablespoon.

Another, albeit more expensive, option for containing loose and bulk spices that ensures uniformity is to purchase a set of jars.

The Quattro Stagioni Spice Jars available at The Container Store for about $2 each have a wonderful shape and mouths wide enough for a tablespoon.

Take your organizing one step further by creating labels for each one. Cut out a little round sticker for the top or a rectangular one for the front and write what’s inside with a sharpie. If you want each label to have the same shape, use a label template like this one we created. Print out on a sticker sheet and cut around the outlines.

Part II: Arranging them intelligently

To alphabetize or not to alphabetize, that is the question.

Fundamentally, it comes down to you and how your brain likes to categorize and organize. Personally, I’m a fan of organizing by type of cuisine. So I arrange the Indian curry spices together, the sweet baking spices together, and so on. But the bottom line is: whatever is more intuitive to you is what will work best. The one thing you can’t do is skip this step. Trust me, it’s the fastest route to spice perdition.

Cathy, a challenge participant keeps weekly spices on the lower shelf, large jars on the next shelf up and the ones she only uses occasionally up toward the top. Looks pretty darn organized, doesn’t it.

{feature photo via: Dav.I.Son – amazing tutorial on how to transform baby food jars into magnetic spic holders}

Tell us about your spices? Are they organized or a mess? If they’re buttoned up, what’s your system? If not – how much time (and money) do you think you waste because of it? Challenge participants – how long on average did you spend organizing your spices? Has it been worth the energy?