How I Organized my Pantry for FREE with Empty Jars {Organizing on the Cheap}

I’m so happy you are here with us this week for 5 Days of Organizing – more than 20 bloggers will be bringing you daily inspiration for organizing every aspect of your life. And with back-to-school days breathing down our necks, we all need it!

Have you ever been frustrated by all the creative organization ideas you see in magazines and on blogs, only to realize that you simply can’t afford (or don’t want to spend the money) all those gorgeous bins, boxes, baskets and other containers? Me, too! I’ve learned to organize my home (uh, to a certain extent) without spending an arm and a leg, and I’ll be sharing my tricks with you all week long. Stick with me for great cheap organizing ideas!

Psssstt! Scroll down to the bottom for your chance to win $50 in cash from Authentic Simplicity!

The pantry is one of those areas that’s just difficult to keep organized, because it’s intended for storage, but is constantly being used. If you’re anything like me, all day long, you’re opening the door and either putting something in or taking something out. It’s a recipe for disorganizational disaster! (Yes, I’m aware I just made up a word. The red squiggly line was a dead giveaway.)

The pantry also rapidly becomes an unmanageable mess because of the packaging our food comes in, which is usually a temporary plastic or cardboard container. By “temporary”, I mean it was never intended to last beyond the life of the food it contains, and is therefore easily destructible. What’s worse is that all those temporary packages come in ALL different shapes and sizes. I suppose it would be boring if all the manufacturers decided to standardize their packaging just so we could all have neat cupboards… but it would also be awfully nice!

Of course, you could remedy this little problem by investing in a set of matching and stacking containers that fit neatly on your pantry shelves, like the Tupperware Modular Mates set or Anchor Hockings Square Glass version. The problem is, either one of those will set you back by quite a bit; and if you don’t have room in the budget for an *organizational products* line item, you will likely want to research cheaper options.

Well, guess what? I have a cheap option for you. How about FREE? Doesn’t that sound nice?

Make your very own customizable set of glass dry food storage containers simply by recycling the glass bottles and jars yourself instead of throwing them in the recycling bin. 

The Benefits of Re-Using Empty Jars

  1. You save them from the landfill, or from going through the recycling process.
  2. You save money by not purchasing empty containers simply for the purpose of filling them.
  3. Plastic storage containers can leak chemicals into the food; glass is a safer option.
  4. Glass can go from freezer to fridge to pantry with ease, whereas plastic is a little less stable.
  5. Glass is clear, so you can see at a glance what each jar contains; you can also see at a glance what is in your pantry without having to shift piles of bags around.
  6. The glass jars, while of different sizes, are generally all round and therefore line up nicely in rows so that your pantry looks much neater and better organized.
  7. The glass jars are re-usable over and over and over again, and last MUCH longer than plastic.
  8. Glass is dishwasher-safe.

How to Organize Your Pantry with Empty Jars & Other Containers

  • Start out by saving every single glass jar that would otherwise end up in the recycling bin or trash can. Over time, as you develop your own personal system, you’ll learn which jars work really well and which ones you don’t really want to keep. You’ll get a feel for the sizes you use most often and the shapes that work best for you.
  • Wash them thoroughly and remove the labels by soaking them in warm water. If the label is really stubborn, you can usually remove it by applying a paste made of equal parts baking soda and coconut oil.
  • Store the empty jars in a handy location where they are easy to access when you need to fill them.
  • Whenever you buy bagged food from the store, pour it into one of your jars as soon as you come home.
  • If the food item is not readily identifiable (some grains, like barley, oats, wheat, and the like, can be difficult to differentiate), label the jar. (You can get as fancy as you want with this. I just use a Sharpie because it’s simple. And I like simple.)
  • You can “assign” specific jars to specific foods if you want; for example, if you come across a really large jar that’s perfect for your copious amounts of rice/oatmeal/wheat flour/etc. Or, when a jar empties, you can just wash it and return it to your stash of empty jars, ready for whatever food comes down the pike next.

What Jars Should You Save?

Unless you make ALL of your food completely from scratch, by which I mean you make your own coconut oil from coconuts (good for you!), then you likely already have a good number of jars in your pantry just waiting to be emptied and refilled. Speaking of coconut oil, oddly enough, Tropical Traditions is my favorite source for good quality glass storage jars. Not only do I love their raw honey, I love the perfect size of the raw honey jar! It’s great for making sour cream, or for storing a fresh batch of sunflower seed butter. And their quart jars of coconut oil are wonderful for storing different kinds of grains, or nuts, or flours, or seeds, or… just about anything! I think what I love most about their jars is that they are straight-sided and made of a very clear glass, which makes them perfect for storage purposes.

Other jars that you can use for pantry storage:

  • spaghetti sauce
  • jam
  • peanut butter
  • pickles (Leave them open in the sun for a day or so to get rid of the pickle smell. I have one de-pickling on my balcony as we speak!)
  • salsa
  • molasses

The sky’s the limit, really. If it comes in a jar, it’s fair game!

What to Store in Your Jars

The wonderful thing is that these jars can be used for liquid and dry goods, and in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry. So once again, the sky’s the limit! Whatever needs to be stored, chances are, a jar will fit your purposes. Pretty much any food that comes from the store in a plastic bag (or from a bulk bin) gets relocated to one of my empty jars, as does food I make from scratch at home (sour cream, yogurt, freshly ground flours, etc.). For example:

  • Grains (brown rice, wheat berries, barley, spelt, oat groats or steel cut oats, quinoa, etc.)
  • Beans
  • Flours (small jars are especially great for leftover bits of freshly ground flour that you don’t need in your recipe)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Chocolate Chips (ahem. very important.)
  • Whey
  • Yogurt
  • Sour Cream
  • Bacon Grease
  • Agar Flakes
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Granola
  • Broth
  • Yeast
  • Flaxseed
  • etc. etc. etc.

Of course, these jars aren’t limited to the kitchen! They can find countless useful organization purposes all around the house, so there’s never really a good reason to throw one away.

Do you keep your empty jars? What is your favorite use for them?

Click on the box below to find all the great blogs and topics to help you get cleaned up and organized! I’m especially loving all the ones that focus on natural and healthy ways to keep you organized, as well as the budgeting and simplifying themes. Also, you can have a chance to enter multiple different giveaways, including a free copy of my own eBook, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox!