My mom is great at a lot of things, but organizing a spice rack is not one of them. Unfortunately, it seems she passed the trait down to me, because I have no idea how to keep mine from looking like a hot (or should I say spicy?) mess.
The way I have them stored in a drawer makes it impossible for me to know what is what without taking all of them out, which seriously slows me down when I'm cooking something and I'm on a roll. The tiny containers they come in aren't conducive to measuring, because they can't even fit a teaspoon. And somehow, I keep finding duplicates of spices I already have, usually when I can't find a spice I do actually need.
As I get older, I have less and less energy to deal with annoyances like a messy spice rack, especially when I'm in the heat of the moment testing recipes or preparing a dinner party. So I turned to Emily Fleischaker, founder of the kitchen organizational service, KitchenFly, for advice. Here are all the tips she gave me, plus some popular spice rack organization hacks from around the web.
Why do spice racks get so messy in the first place?
Fleischaker says there are three main things that can lead to an unruly spice rack: The containers you store them in, the spices you've had for years but never use, and the spices you always use but never have. If you can get these problems under control, you too can have an organized spice rack.
Before you do anything else, replace the spices you've had for ages.
If you're anything like me, odds are you have a bunch of spices so old, you don't even remember when you bought them. "Most people think spices last forever, so they don't throw them out even if they're 10 years old," says Fleischaker. They don't taste great, but they do take up space you could use for fresh spices.
And take note of which spices you use the most.
"People don't really think about or identify which spices they use the absolute most," says Fleischaker, "they just keep them altogether, and since they never throw any of them out, they end up taking a lot of space and getting disorganized." Try keeping a list of commonly used spices taped to your fridge, so you have a place to make a note when you need to remember to refill something.
Next, transfer your spices out of the containers you bought them in.
"Spices are sold in all kinds of different shapes and sizes of containers," Fleischaker explains, "so that can be hard to store." She says they're also hard to measure from, because you can't take a pinch or fit a spoon inside of them, and the tops with the holes that they're sold with make it impossible to control the quantity you use.
Instead, Fleischaker recommends transferring your spices from those containers to containers that are big enough to open and dip your fingers or a spoon in. She likes to use these 4-oz. food keepers (you can buy them here).
Label the containers alphabetically and with the same convention so that you can actually find them when you need them.
Fleischaker says it's common to see spice racks where two similar ingredients are nowhere near each other, because of the way they're labelled. "Don't label [something] 'ground cumin,' because then they won't be next to 'cumin seeds,' even though they're both cumin," she explains. So instead of reaching in the wrong spot for ground cumin the next time you need it, label it, "cumin, ground," so you don't have that problem.
And keep the labels where you can see them.
If you're storing your spices on a magnet strip, in a basket, or in a drawer, you'll want to put the labels on the lid so you can tell what's what without even having to pick it up. If you're keeping them on a shelf, put the label on the side of the spice container.
Protip: Want a cleaner appearance? Consider using jars with this smart alternative setup.
If you think labels look messy, do like Fleischaker and put them on the bottom of your spice container. That way you can have your cute, aesthetically pleasing spice rack, without the eyesores.
Make the spices easily accessible with a few affordable tools.
One thing is clear when it comes to spice racks: You want to use an organizational device that'll make it easy for you to get at them when you need them, without a whole bunch of hunting around. Of course, every kitchen is different, and some methods may work for better for some spaces and not others. Basically, you'll probably have to adjust the type of spice containers and organization you use depending on the storage method you choose.
For example, magnet strips that you can stick to the underside of a cabinet or the inside door of a cabinet are hugely popular, because you can just pop the spices off the magnet without having to fish around a drawer to find them. However, they aren't compatible with the plastic containers Fleischaker recommends. Instead, you'll want to use something like a metal tin with a surface wide enough for you to scoop a teaspoon or pull a pinch. You can buy the magnet strip here and the tins here.
Another great option is a revolving rack, because that allows you to showcase your well-organized spices, and also be able to grab them easily. You can buy one of those here. If you do use this, keep the labels on the side of the spice containers, so you can easily find what you're looking for with just a quick spin.
Fleischaker recommends using bins for other pantry staples that need to be corralled, like hot sauce. And you actually could also use this method for spices by stacking them upright with the labels on top of the lids. Buy them here.
If you don't feel like buying a bin to help you organize, you can do the same thing in a small drawer: Store your spices upright, alphabetized, with the labels on top of the containers. That way, when you open the drawer, you'll be able to find what you're looking for from just a quick skim.