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How to Organize Your Herbs and Spices

Updated on May 23, 2020
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I started organizing four years ago after having downsized from a considerably larger space. Clever alternatives win the day.

You Can Save Space and Time in Your Kitchen

My mother has had the same problem many home cooks experience: she has a lot of herbs and spices, since she loves to cook, and she has a lot of little bottles, jars, and packets rattling around in her kitchen. When it is time to prepare a meal, she pulls out bottle after bottle, looking for something in particular, and the bottles fall over. I have tried to talk to her about the time and space she wastes, but she just doesn't see this as a problem for her.

My mother is retired, so she has the spare time. She lives in a house with a big kitchen, so she can afford the space. As for me, I run several businesses, and I live in an apartment with a small kitchen, so I had to come up with a way to organize my spices so I can find what I need quickly and where they would take up as little room as possible.

I discovered that there is a way to not only eliminate all the space and hassle, but also to keep your spices fresher, too—and not only that, but the solution to this problem is cheap and easy, although sneeze-provoking during the process. And, best of all, you will be able to find any herb or spice in just seconds, because you will know precisely where to look! So, let's get started on organizing those herbs and spices right now!

You will need just a few supplies, some of which you probably already have handy, and about an hour or two of time, depending on how many herbs and spices you own, to get completely through this project, but it should make everything much more accessible and organized, and you won't accidentally knock over any glass jars and break them, as has happened to so many cooks, time and time again!

If your herbs and spices are overflowing, it may be time to get organized!
If your herbs and spices are overflowing, it may be time to get organized! | Source

How many jars of herbs or spices (or both) do you have?

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So you think you have a lot of herbs and spices? By the time I finished organizing, tt turned out that I have over 100 different herbs, spices, and blends. Try finding a particular spice in that many identical bottles!

Glass Jars and Bags of Spices for Sale in Street Market, Nessebur, Bulgaria, by Cindy Miller Hopkins
Glass Jars and Bags of Spices for Sale in Street Market, Nessebur, Bulgaria, by Cindy Miller Hopkins | Source
Brother QL-800 High-Speed Professional Label Printer, Lightning Quick Printing, Plug & Label Feature, Genuine DK Pre-Sized Labels, Multi-System Compatible – Black & Red Printing Available
Brother QL-800 High-Speed Professional Label Printer, Lightning Quick Printing, Plug & Label Feature, Genuine DK Pre-Sized Labels, Multi-System Compatible – Black & Red Printing Available
If you are going to be doing a whole lot of labeling, I highly recommend this labeler. I got one for a Christmas present more than ten years ago, and it is still going strong (and everything in my house is very neatly labeled, too)! I use it for not only my herbs and spices, but portable hard drives and flash drives, CDs and DVDs, shelves, boxes, and just about everything. Labels make organizing infinitely easier! The label software that comes included with this makes printing the labels easy and quick, without wasting expensive label paper.

Get Organized!

The first thing you must do is to pull all those herbs and spices out of whatever shelves, nooks, racks, cupboards, and wherever else they are hiding in and make a complete inventory. If you have four half-used jars of the same spice, throw away any stale spices (this will be the last time you have to do this). When you have finished, combine partially-used jars or packets of fresh spices or herbs together, so that you can see how much you have.

Next, take a box of sandwich-sized or snack-sized plastic zipper bags. One spice or herb at a time, make a label (do not write directly on the plastic bag, because you can compromise the integrity of the bag—a permanent marker contains chemicals that will eventually degrade the plastic) for each one, then put it on the plastic bag, and carefully empty the spice or herb into the zipper bag. If you carefully press out all the air you can, you will keep your spices fresh much longer, because the air will not oxidize the spices, as happens when you leave them in the original jars. (The air inside the jar will make the spices stale, even if it is only a very little air.)

What You Will Need

Brother Personal Labeler Machine, White (PT90)
Brother Personal Labeler Machine, White (PT90)
I started many years ago with one of these labelers, and I still use it when I am going to be away from the computer and something needs labeling, especially in the garden. This is a great low-tech solution if you don't want to mess with software and don't want to be tied to a computer.

Now that you have a bunch of neatly labeled plastic zipper bags, it is time to alphabetize them. Then place the alphabetized bags into a plastic shoebox, and use plastic file dividers to mark the alphabetical divisions.

Bumkins Snack Bags, Reusable, Washable, Food Safe, BPA Free, 2-Pack – Crocodiles & Turtles
Bumkins Snack Bags, Reusable, Washable, Food Safe, BPA Free, 2-Pack – Crocodiles & Turtles
If you are concerned about the environment, get these reusable snack bags. They can be washed and reused many times. Otherwise, you can just use regular "snack"-sized plastic zipper bags.
Labeled spices are filed in alphabetical order
Labeled spices are filed in alphabetical order | Source

As you see, the bags I got from Penzeys I just kept as is and folded them over to fit into the shoebox. You could empty them into a snack bag if you need them to match, but I am fine with the eclectic look as long as I can find what I'm looking for.

Now That You've Arranged . . .

If you cook a lot, it is quite possible that you will fill much more than a single shoe box. Simply use as many shoe boxes as you need to get the spices in. Try to leave a little extra space, or "wiggle room," in each box, just in case you find a new spice or spice mix you wish to add to your collection!

Now that you have finished, label the shoe boxes. Arrange the spices in whatever order makes the most sense to you. Some cooks will want to divide them into sweet and savory, others into spices or herbs, and others into different categories. The great news is, it doesn't matter. Arrange them in whatever way makes sense to you, and if that doesn't work out well, you can keep improving your method until you are happy with the result. My spices are alphabetized, because that is what works for me. Simply pull the labels on the shoe boxes off and replace them with new labels!

Shoeboxes full of spices arranged on pantry shelf
Shoeboxes full of spices arranged on pantry shelf | Source

As you can see, I should have ordered the economy size package for shoeboxes, but I'm willing to live with the unmatched ones. This is my collection of over 100 different herbs, spices, and spice blends. You can imagine the hassle I went through trying to find the one particular herb or spice in a hurry with that many jars, bottles, and tins on hand!

Sterilite 17511712 6 Quart Clearview Latch Storage Container with Plum Handles
Sterilite 17511712 6 Quart Clearview Latch Storage Container with Plum Handles
Make sure you match the size of your plastic shoe box with the size of your alphabetized dividers and the size of your snack bags. Be sure to remember to measure the height of the dividers and bags!

Now stack your neatly labeled shoe boxes on your pantry shelf, where the spices and herbs are protected from light and heat. When you need a particular spice, herb, or spice blend, simply pull out the shoe box that is required, open the snack bag, and dip your measuring spoon in to fill it. Be sure to press the air out of the bag afterwards, and your herbs and spices will stay fresh, organized, and easily accessible for everyone! Far superior to glass jars or tins, where the air will oxidize and age your spices.

If you live with roommates, or in a house with multiple cooks, each of whom wants control over his or her own stash of spices and herbs, simply color-coordinate the labels and shoe boxes, so that each person knows what belongs to them. From now on, you will be able to avoid all the arguments about who got into whose Vietnamese cinnamon! If, like me, it works best for you to keep everything alphabetical, you can also use color-coordination to identify blends, sweet and savory, child-friendly (not expensive and not too hot), or those extra-spicy condiments that need careful supervision. In any case, let your imagination run wild and eventually you will discover what arrangement works well; with this flexible system, you can experiment until you find exactly what works best for you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 classicalgeek


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