The general reaction that people have after their spice cabinets or drawers are organized is ‘Wow!’ It’s such a great feeling to go from this:
Hooray for the matching bottles and labels!
But how about if you don’t want to buy new, matching bottles and labels? You can still have a stylish, organized, spice cabinet or drawer!
Take a look:
To achieve this, we have to do the not-as-fun job of going through each bottle and picking what you’re keeping, and what has to go.
The Must-Have Spices
According to Bon Appetit magazine, the 25 spices on the following list are the basic must-haves of any kitchen. My suggestion is to buy only what you need for now, so you’re not spending a fortune on a spice that you won’t use until 6 months from now for that amazing Thanksgiving apple pie!
- Apple Pie Spice (combo of cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg, so skip this one if you have the others)
- Bay Leaves
- Chili Powder
- Cinnamon – ground and stick
- Curry Powder
- Dill Weed
- Garlic Powder
- Ginger – ground
- Nutmeg – ground
- Onion Powder
- Black Peppercorns (they insist on whole, which you grind on demand in your pepper grinder, and I totally agree! So much better than the pre-ground stuff)
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Vanilla – extract and beans
How To Organize Your Spices, Step By Step
Step 1. Sort Through What You Have
Go through your spices and toss the ones that have expired or are more than 2 years old. If you bought in bulk a few years back thinking that you were saving money, but you still have three quarters of a giant bottle left and you just want to cry at the thought of tossing it, I totally get it! Do what’s ok for you. You might need to keep that giant bottle and use up more of it so you feel you’re not wasting money, and that’s ok! As long as it’s not moldy and doesn’t smell weird, you should be ok. Just keep track, and if you find that the flavor just isn’t there anymore, you’re better off buying a small jar that’s fresh.
My suggestion when buying spices is to buy small amounts, 1 to 2 ounces, and refill as you need. This way, your spices will be fresh when you need them. If you buy the huge, club-store size of any spice, you might end up owning it for 4 years or more! Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience with the giant jug of garlic powder…
Spices will lose their potency after about 2 years if you store them in a cool dry space. Also, the less air and moisture they’re exposed to, the better they’ll keep. So giant bottles that are only a quarter full won’t keep as well as smaller bottles with less space for air in them.
Step 2. Choose Your Containers
Decide whether you want to keep the original containers, or whether you want to invest in new, matching spice jars. There’s no right answer, and if you already own some spices, keeping the original container is obviously better for the environment than tossing that bottle for the sake of matching.
Again, to each his own. But here are a couple of ideas that might help:
- Next time you buy, try buying just a couple of ounces from a bulk supplier and refilling the bottles you already own instead of buying a new bottle and having to toss the old one.
- If you must buy new bottled spices, or you’re starting from scratch, you can buy all your spices from the same brand. Normally, these will come in bottles that are the same shape, and with labels that are the same color, making your spice storage look neater than having a bunch of bottles of different sizes, shapes and colors facing you each time you want to grab a spice.
- I know your next question is, “Is glass better than plastic for storing spices?” In general, I tend to gravitate towards glass because of the possibility of plastic leaching chemicals into foods at high temperatures – although the truth is that the plastic bottle would probably need to be at extremely high temperatures for that to happen. But because I don’t know everything about the supply process, I tend to favor glass. If I do happen to have a spice in a plastic bottle already, I’ll continue using that same bottle and refill it with the same spice for a long, long time. I haven’t noticed any significant difference in flavor between spices stored in a glass and a plastic container for spices of the same age.
Step 3. Arrange Your Bottles Nicely
If you’re dealing with multiple sizes of containers, and lots of differently-colored labels, group like with like. Trust me! You can have stylish spice storage in their original bottles! Take a look at this spice cabinet.
The cabinet above is in Kevin Curry’s kitchen (via The Container Store’s blog).
- The trick is to face the bottles in the same direction, each and every time to use them and put them away (in Kevin Curry’s kitchen photo, the bottles are turned sideways, I imagine because they wanted to hide the spices’ brand names. In your kitchen, turn the labels forward!)
- If you’re placing them standing in a drawer, prevent your bottles from sliding around or falling when you open and close the drawer, which will mess up your stylish placement. You can do this using drawer dividers that keep all the bottles on one side of the drawer, or by placing your bottles within a box inside the drawer. Use whatever other materials you might have on hand to fill in space next to or behind your bottles so they don’t move around: tins of tea bags, salt and pepper pinch pots, anything at all.
Do you need to arrange alphabetically? There’s no right answer here either! If you have many bottles, this might work for you, and you’ll need to put the bottles away in order after using them.
Some people group spices by how often they use them – garlic powder and thyme up front, for example, if they’re used practically daily.
Others group spices by type – spices normally used for baking sweets on one side, savory spices and herbs on the other.
In other words, arrange them in the way that’s most efficient for you.
Step 4. Label Your Bottles
If your bottles are standing up in a drawer, and you only see the caps, then you must label the caps. The options:
- Buy ready-made vinyl labels like these and stick them to the lids
- Make your own labels using a label-maker, a Silhouette or Cricut with vinyl
- Print out your own labels on attach them to the lids with a few drops of glue. These won’t last as long as the other options, though
If your spice bottles are laying down in a drawer, or standing up on a spice riser in a cabinet, you’ll need a label on the side of the bottle, and you have the same options as above. Or, just make sure the existing name label is facing forward each time to put away a bottle if you’re using the spice’s original bottle.
Step 5. Do Quick Maintenance
To keep your spice ‘exhibit’ in great shape, you’ll just need to do a tiny bit of maintenance every once in a while.
- First, keep your bottles facing the same way. If they’ve moved around a bit, take 30 seconds while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew to turn them facing forward again.
- You’ll always have some spills. Just take your vacuum crevice attachment and vacuum up the space. I don’t take all by bottles out of the drawer when I do this. Instead, I take out 2 bottles and shift the other bottles around while I vacuum, then just shift them all back in place and replace the 2 bottles I took out.
- Don’t overbuy! Let me say this again, in Caps: DON’T OVERBUY. Buy the smallest bottle you need and refill if you can! I buy larger bottles of chili powder and cumin because those are 2 spices I use in large amounts regularly. Unless you’re using garlic powder by the tablespoon-fuls, please don’t buy the club store giant jug!
- Also beware buying those one-time spices (Apple Pie Spice, I’m talking to you). If you’re trying out a new recipe, and you’re not sure if you really want to make it again, check if you can substitute that spice with something else. In a pinch, call your mom to see if she has some in her spice cabinet. If you must buy it, buy the smallest amount possible.
- Some specialty spices come in envelopes, pouches or packets. You can always keep those in your spice cabinet “filed” vertically into a square or rectangular container. Once you’ve opened them, you should transfer them to a bottle, and label that bottle immediately!
- Give away, or toss, what you won’t use. Don’t let something sit in your drawer unused, going stale, because “what if I decide to make that 18-step gourmet recipe for Easter, and I need that spice.” Pass it on to someone who’ll actually use it, and be honest with yourself about the possibility of actually ever making that particular dish. Could you make the dish and omit this particular spice? Or borrow a pinch from your chef-neighbor?
- Don’t “lose” the small bottles in the back. Keep shorter and smaller bottles up front so they don’t get hidden behind larger bottles. If you can’t see every single spice you have in your cabinet easily, you won’t remember that you already have a bottle and you’ll buy a duplicate. And that just clutters up your spice cabinet and makes you think you don’t have enough space.
Don’t give up on your spice cabinet! It can look awesome and function really well with just a little clean-out and prep. And if you’re not into buying new bottles, use the original bottles! Make it all look pretty by keeping bottles with similar colors and labels together, lining small bottles in front, and labeling everything. Then maintain it by making sure you always know what’s in there at a glance, and don’t overbuy!
I’d love to see your spice cabinet! You can DM me a pic, or post it on social media and tag @fireflybridgeorganizing. I’m not here to judge; I’m here to celebrate every small step with you!