Two weeks ago I challenged you all to pick an organizing project to complete in the near future.  I chose my spice shelf, which has been a total disaster since we moved to our new place in March.  My due date for this project was EOD Sunday August 4th and I succeeded!  Here’s a rundown of the organizing project.

The Before

spicesbefore1I chose our large corner cabinet near the sink to hold our spices. As with all corner cabinets, this shelf is DEEP!  On the one hand, this is great.  You can store lots o’ stuff in there.  On the other hand, since you can store lots and lots o’ stuff, it’s easy to lose track of everything that you’re storing in the cabinet and it can be hard to reach everything.  This was exactly my problem with the spice shelf.

The top shelf of this cabinet (which is too high for me to reach without a step stool) holds large bowls and serving platters.  Ones I use occasionally are toward the front and are easy enough to pull out (once I climb up there).  The second shelf stores our oils, vinegars, and baking liquids (vanilla, molasses, honey).  I bought a large OXO lazy suzan for these items and it works greats!  Everything has its place and is easy to reach.  I tried using the same lazy suzan for our spices, but it didn’t quite work.  There were still multiple rows of jars, most of which were the same height.  This meant I still couldn’t see what was what past the first row.  So I ignored the problem until this week.

The Process

Step One: Assess the situation.

I followed the same process I use when starting pretty much any organizing project, which I wrote about last week.  I first removed everything from the shelf and took stock of what was buried in the back, taking a few notes as I went.  As I took a look at each spice jar, I kept in mind a few questions to keep me on track.

  1. What spices don’t use?  Toss them. Toss them right now before you start feeling guilty about wasting. Again. Just like you did when you packed this spice in Wisconsin.
  2. What spices do I want to keep?  Name a recipe (or two) that uses this spice that you actually cook.  Quick!  If you can’t think of anything, put it in the toss pile.
  3. What spices am I low on and want to replace?  Start making a list right now.
  4. What additional spices do I need?  First and foremost, you need a specific purpose for each spice on this list.  Some spices I ran out of recently and some I needed to start cooking out of our new Indian cookbook. (Side note – so excited for this!  I’ll let you know how this works out for us!)

Step Two: Sorting and Categorizing

I cook a lot, so after going through all of the spices, I still had a fair number that were going to remain in my kitchen.  If I wanted to be able to find the spices quickly when they were back in my cabinet, I needed to establish an order before they were put away.  Only you (and whoever else cooks in your house) needs to understand the order.  What makes sense to me, might not work well for you or anyone else.  Here’s some ideas for categorizing your spices.

  1. Alphabetical
  2. Type – peppers, baking spices, seeds, savory spices, etc.
  3. Popularity – most used in the front, least used toward the back.
  4. Container size – small guys in front, larger ones in back, so everyone can be seen.

I used a combo of #2 and #3 (and #4 actually).  There are some spices I use every week and others only occasionally.  I wanted those more popular spices in the front of the shelf, so I could grab them quickly.  For me keeping similar spices close together made the most sense.  All the red peppers will be close together, so I can decide which one I want in a particular dish, on the fly.  Keep the oregano and basil next to each other, and so on.  Finally, most of my containers are the small, squat Libbey vibe jars.  I have some Penzeys containers, which are much taller, so it made sense to put those toward the back, so they didn’t block any of the Libbey jars.  Keeping the Libbeys close together makes me feel instantly more organized, so I wanted to keep that feeling going.

Step Three: Actually Organizing the Shelf.

I still needed to answer the question, “How to create organization in a large, deep shelf?”TieredSpices

A 3-tiered shelf organizer was my solution, which I picked up for less than $20 at The Container store.  They had several options, but I was a bit limited since my Libbey glass jars are a bit wide at the base.  What fit best was an expandable shelf, made mostly of white plastic, with grey grippy stuff on the shelf.  I’m not a big fan of using plastic, but that was what was going to work best in this situation, so I went with it.

Tip: Sometimes, no matter how much pondering you do about a project, you won’t know how a new product will work for you until you’ve lived with it for a couple of weeks.  So, whenever I buy something to help me organize, I keep the stickers and tags on it until I’m sure it works for me.  That way, I have no trouble returning it!  The Container Store is especially good about returns becuase they understand that you need to get a product into your space to really decide about it.  The downside is that if you end up keeping the product, you will have to eventually get those stickers off!

The After


Our most popular spices are on the ground level.  Its a coincidence that these are all red and yellow, but they sure do look nice color coordinated as well!  Next, I grouped our baking and chai spices on the left hand side of the shelf, with the larger Penzeys jars on the top shelf.  For the remaining spices, I kept similar spices together (including containers that still need to be filled – that trip will have to wait until next weekend!).  Seeds stayed together and powders in another group, again keeping the spices I use more toward the front.

I’m really happy how this shelf turned out!  Active organizing time was probably about an hour; total project time around 2, including my trip to the store.  This was time very well spent!  Now not only can I find my spices I need, I won’t groan at the sight of my spice jars.  Plus, you can really see how cute all of the jars are!

A Final Note on Labels

This project actually has one final step for me – labeling each glass jar.  Some of the spices are actually labeled.  I started the project back in Madison.  In the middle of it, my printer ran out of ink, so a lot of the labels aren’t dark enough to see and a lot of the jars didn’t even get labels to begin with!  We are currently living without a printer, so until I get access to one that will print my labels, I’m going to use a homemade grid I typed up quickly in Excel on the inside door.  The grid lets me know what I have and where it lives on the shelf.  Although, if all works out as planned, I’ll barely need to look at the list!

SpiceGrid2Here’s the file if you’d like to make your own chart.  It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. SpiceChart

5 Thoughts on “The Spice Project

  1. This is brilliant. I love how well-thought out everything is. Nice work!

  2. So helpful that you posted your thought process on each step. And I love the grid in the door idea! Genius!

  3. Annette on 11 August 2013 at 1:54 pm said:

    I really like your labeling! They look really nice, and hanging the layout by the shelf is really great idea. I tried labeling our jars with whiteboard marker, mostly because that’s what I had at the time, but silly me, the labels rub off whenever I use the spices. I’ll have to look in to printing some. Did you just buy some special clear labels from an office supply place?

    FYI to anyone looking for a platform like that, but doesn’t live near a Container Store, I found one a Target a few months ago. It looks really similar, has similar grippy stuff too.

    • Yep, I had some small clear Avery labels in my office supplies drawer. Those are nice because Word has label templates, so you don’t need to worry about spacing or anything. Another idea would to be to use a label maker. My brand sells clear tape (in addition to the regular white).

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