Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Monday Mission: Get Spicy! (& Organized)

October 30th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Monday Missions

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to organize your spices.

Impact Ratings: positive + time-saving!

Level of Commitment: Baby Steps

When we moved last December, unpacking forced me to start from scratch with spice organization. It was refreshing.

You probably have nothing forcing you to do it right..except a Monday Mission. You know you have to do these, right? Totally required. So clear your kitchen table, and let’s get busy!

This is the final mission for Organizing in October, which I hope has inspired you to make some positive changes in the way your kitchen is set up.

I’ve captured my momentum so well from Andrea‘s visit when she helped me out with the rest of my kitchen organization that I completely finished unpacking and organizing our storage room (a bigger job that you’d think after 10 months living in a house!), and my central work station in the dining room has nearly finished its transformation from a pile of papers to a functional, inviting space.

Can you feel the peacefulness seeping out of my ears?

I know, I know…a Monday Mission on a Tuesday. Yesterday I had to post about that amazing eBook bundle sale!

Start from Scratch – Pull Everything Out!

This is how I started when it was time to organize spices:

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It’s a lot easier to do this right if you (1) know what you have, including back up bulk spices, and (2) really commit to the process and let it spread out so you can see everything at once.

I ordered a new spice turner:

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and made sure it fit in my cupboard and could turn:

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It just barely fits front-to-back! This brand is fine, although everything with moving parts seems so inexpensively made nowadays compared to the old spice turner I have from my childhood.

I put ALL my spices out on the table:

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Lots and Lots of Spices

Most likely, the more you cook from scratch, the more you’ll (1) use your spices regularly and (2) accrue a greater variety of spices.

I’m guessing there’s one more spicy trend in your kitchen – you’ve got your favorites, spice jars that get grabbed much more often than others.

My goal in organizing my own spices was to make them easy for me to grab and uber-efficient for baking and cooking tasks.

That meant my system had to:

  1. Keep everyday items lower and near the location they’ll be needed – stove, baking counter, or staging ground for lunches/meals.
  2. Incorporate a method to find what I needed – I have alphabetical and categories.
  3. Include storage for backup spices to refill the main jars.

I began by thinking about categories, since I knew all my spices wouldn’t fit on the same turn table, and they certainly don’t all need to be incredibly accessible.

My Categories

As I learned when Andrea visited and talked about how she organizes her kitchen, everyone thinks differently. You’re going to have to look at your array of spices, think about the place(s) you want to store them and locations in the kitchen you use them, and figure out your own system.

Mine are like this –

Spices I use often

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This pile includes both cooking and baking spices. I considered trying to split up and have cooking spices near the stove and baking spices near my mixer, but there were too many that would cross over anyway: dill, Italian seasoning, ginger, even onion powder, when ‘baking’ tasks include making homemade dressings.

The bulk bags are in this pile because I had a lot of jars that needed to be refilled or topped off while I had everything out. After doing that, the bulk spices go in another category in deeper storage.

spices I store in the refrigerator

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I read once that chili powder and dried chilis should be kept in the fridge for best quality, so I do. I used to keep cumin in there as well, but I go through so much of it that I now have a jar of cumin and chili powder in the cupboard and the backups in the fridge.

One shot wonders

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This pile includes spices that I use on only one thing, like St. Peter’s spicy fish seasoning or curry powder, as well as stuff I just don’t use often, like citric acid (for cheesemaking) and specialty blends like Jamaican Jerk and Balti.

They are destined for the top shelf of the spice cupboard.

bulk seasonings

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I buy a lot of things in bulk, spices included. These are my backups.

the "I don’t know" pile

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I wasn’t sure how space would play out on the new 2-tiered turn table, so I left some "middlers" to be portioned out when I saw what kind of space I had left. This photo appears to include beef bouillon (blue lid), which was thrown away. Winking smile

Time to Alphabetize!

With this many spices, the only way I’d really be able to find things properly is by alphabetizing. I’d tried this before, but there were too many jars on a little turntable, stacked on top of each other, and too many that I used often mixed in with those I didn’t use often…so they got out of order quickly.

I can honestly say that in 10 months of hardcore cooking, my spices are still in alphabetical order.

Okay, they’re doing really well on the bottom rack, but the little guys on the top could use a bit of attention. I’ll do it this week while you all are clearing your tables!

Here are the "use often" spices, divided into tall and short for the turntable:

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See all that stuff behind on the counters? They are clear today! Yesssss!

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(Closeup, in case you wonder what I keep on hand…)

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So gorgeous, so organized!

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If you do put spices in the fridge, they need a small space in the door or a nice box or basket to keep them from rolling/sliding around everywhere in your fridge. Keep them easy to grab!

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This was my initial organization of bulk backup spices. I’ve since changed to one small box for little bags and one large box for big bags and try my best to keep them in alphabetical order as well. They are stored in the basement on a shelf.

I’m already planning on Organizing in October being a yearly series, so bulk food storage and stocking up will be a video series next fall! If you’re a member of GNOWFGLINS eCourses, you might want to check out October’s thank you video – it’s step by step everything you need to know to truly purchase and store an entire year’s supply of food, all REAL traditional foods! Wardeh and her family are amazing! The video can be purchased a la carte, too.

One strategy I have tried and failed at is to keep a list of backup spices. I always forget to update it for some reason, so it works better for me to simply write a spice on my shopping list the second I pour off the last granule into the main jar. Then I buy a new backup and all is well.

I wonder if I would do better with something like the pantry list at Plan to Eat – it automatically updates your shopping list when you need something, so I would be hitting two birds with one stone. I think it would be just right if I had a smart phone and could access it that way. I have a dumb phone, so Plan to Eat (and the KS group with 16,000+ recipes!) is better for me as a place to store and find old and new favorite meals.

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And last but not least, way up on the top shelf is another little turntable holding my "don’t use very often" spices.

For this place, I really should make a list of what’s up there and tape it to the inside of my cupboard door. The options don’t rotate very frequently, and I’ve had a few times when I was searching all over three different places for something because I couldn’t remember what category it was in.

Breaking the System

For efficiency’s sake, I totally go out of alphabetical order for one special group of spices: the pumpkin pie blends.

Especially this time of year, but really all through the calendar, I make a lot of recipes that call for the same 3-4 spices: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

After getting them out one by one at least once a week and then taking at least a full minute just to get them back in the "right" place, I realized life would be easier if they lived next to each other like this:

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My cinnamon is actually in two places, in a huge container next to this turntable and a small shaker container in our "breakfast cupboard." (See the video of the breakfast cupboard and more HERE.)

I also discuss how I thought about baking supplies and spices, including the fact that salt, baking powder, and baking soda are also neighbors for the same reason, in the video at the end of the "Top 10 Do it Now Tips for Organizing Your Kitchen" post.

In case you don’t think like me at all – everyone can’t, the world would self-destruct I’m sure – here’s Andrea’s method of Organizing Spices and her Pantry Stockpile (warning! Not real food! *insert evil laugh here* That’s what I get to tackle when the tables are turned and I visit her kitchen!).

How do you keep your spices organized and current?

Got Some Reading Time?

Winter is a great time to cuddle up with a good book, don’t you agree?

I’ve got 34 of them for 87 cents each – read more HERE.

The Family Camping Handbook also has one day left on its end-of-season $3 sale (it is not included in the 87-cent bundle).

Rather Watch Videos?

OraWellness is sponsoring a HealThy Mouth Summit with 20 top-notch speakers teaching about fluoride, mercury fillings, cavity-free kids, gum disease, crowns, old fillings, and more.

This event, November 11-18, is incredibly absolutely free. My sensitive teeth and I will be watching a few of the videos (perhaps while oil pulling!). I’ll try to share more as the start date approaches, but suffice it to say that clicking HERE for more info and to register for free is definitely a good idea.

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If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and will earn commission through those links. I also affiliate with OraWellness and GNOWFGLINS. Plan to Eat is a sponsor receiving their complementary mention. See my full disclosure statement here.


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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Heather

    After working in a pharmacy while putting myself through college I organize our spice cabinet much like the pharmacy organized drugs. The “fast rack” (shelf I can reach from the stove) has my most used spices lined up on a three tier mini-shelves in alphabetical order. I use these so often I don’t have to look when reaching for them. Everything else is located on the upper shelves (that I need a step to reach) on the same three tier mini-shelves in alphabetical order. Same story for my fridge and the bulk stuff in the pantry. Inside the cabinet door is a list with locations for my husband and soon my son.

  • Katherine

    My spices used to be in alphabetical order, but then I realized the same thing you did with your pumpkin pie spices – I tend to grab the same groups of spices at a time, so now they’re by category (my mental categories) – taco/Mexican food spices (chili powder, cumin, garlic, onion powder), Italian spices (parsley, oregano, etc.), and baking spices (nutmeg, ginger, extracts).

    It’s an imperfect system because A) no one knows where anything goes except for me, which is usually okay because 95% of the time I’m the one cooking, and B) some spices just don’t have a home, so they’re just wherever they fit. You’d think with how OCD I am about things like books being alphabetically by author, I would have more organized spices. Maybe I’ll play with that system this week…

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Katherine,
    I could say this about so many areas of the house:
    “It’s an imperfect system because A) no one knows where anything goes except for me, which is usually okay because 95% of the time I’m the one [doing something], and B) some spices just don’t have a home, so they’re just wherever they fit.”

    Love it! :) Katie

  • Kathleen K

    Spice organization can be such a personal thing. When we were first married, ours were on a spice rack in perfect alphabetical order. Cloves, ground came before Cloves, whole, and so on. (Talk about OCD) 16 years later, I’m in too much of a hurry to stop and figure out the perfect alphabetical order (although I do admire those who do!) Now my spices are kept in two drawers. One for A-M, the other N-Z. No specific order in the drawers other than what is most frequently used is up front. It works well for us and worked well when my parents stayed with us and Mom cooked. If only I had wall space….I could alphabetize perfectly again…..

  • Sharon

    This series has inspired me to finally do something with my spice mess. I pulled everything out of that narrow cabinet, and found 3 chili powders, all faded to nothingness, and some very old cocoa powder. Now the bottom shelf has the spices (they were on the top shelf), with the ones I use often in the front, and others on risers behind. Middle shelf has baking powder and soda, muffin papers, box of salt, vanilla and other liquid flavorings. Top shelf has molasses and honey and small box containing spices I only use for pickling. Still wandering around the kitchen are the cocoa and teas that used to be there (currently with flour, which is fine for cocoa but not tea).
    Never again will I intend to make apricot-ginger scones, and end up with apricot-mustard!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sharon,
    LOL! Oh, yes, the ginger/mustard powder thing has nearly gotten me many times… :) Katie

    Sharon Reply:

    not even the dog would eat them!

  • Sarah via Facebook

    I needed to do this!

  • Elizabeth

    A few years ago I found a brand-new mechanized under-the-cabinet spice holder (you push a button and the spices rotate around the square so you can find what you need) at a yardsale. It holds all of my most commonly used spices (24 bottles fit) and is really quick and simple to use. It was $.50 well spent! I need some good ideas for storage of my bulk spices and extras so this is really useful.

  • Deb

    I finally figured out how to organize my spices a year ago…I’d been looking for a way for a while, because those round spice racks just wern’t doing it for me…I’d have trouble finding something, so buy more and then find I had several of them already. I found some pull down spice racks at wally…and yes, I know it’s not the best place to shop…but ya gotta do, what ya gotta do.

    When we moved, I made my hubby take them out and move them with us…and am still enjoying them now at our new home! I in fact, had to go looking for some more, to organize my new soap room…since I actually have a room just for my soap goodies in this new house, so went looking again. Wally didn’t have them…but my Mom found that Lowes did, so I went there and got a couple more!

    I wrote about them last year on my blog (link below)…the link to wally probably won’t help, but least you can see what I’m talking about, and if you like them, see if you can find some at your local lowes store. :-))

    http://dapperdoxie.blogspot.com/2011/11/organizing-my-spices.html

  • Margaret

    I am very impressed! This is great to see You are so comprehensive. It is very nice to be able to share our organizing thoughts. I must say though, I have to agree with the woman who commented on a picture of a perfectly organized pantry on Pinterest: “If I had known at 18 how excited I was going be at 35 to see this, I think I would have killed myself”

  • AmandaLP

    Last year, I splurged and bought spice jars, with shaker tops and lids, for all of my bulk spices. This is a lot easier to use when buying in small quantities out of bulk jars, and looks so nice!

    I have the “front row” which is all of the spices that I use on a regular basis, and “Indian row” with all my spices for Indian Food (cardamom, ginger, corriander, onion powder, tumeric, etc.)

    I should go through them before my Texas trip, as the spices down there are cheaper than here in NYC :)

  • Julie@teachinggoodeaters

    So jealous of all of your Penzey’s spices!! I only have a few right now, but they are my favorites and make such a difference in the taste of the food! Have you ever tried their Fox Point seasoning? It is my favorite “go to,” spice mix and is a really easy way to make veggies or eggs taste great! (Also really good on salmon and chicken!)

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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