A well-organized and aesthetically-pleasing spice rack was never at the top of my priority list—not because I don’t love order and pretty things, but because there always seemed to be something more important to do.
Then, 2020 happened. I was cooking more, I had already tackled the bigger cleaning and organizing projects and I saw an influencer gushing about her spice drawer on Instagram. Now was the time. With a little research and a lot of thought, I was able to design the perfect system that is both functional and stylish. Here's how you can do the same:
Take Stock of What You Have and Need
Believe it or not, spices have an expiration date. When they “go bad,” it doesn’t pose a health risk; they’re just less potent and the flavor of your food suffers. According to the spice gurus at McCormick, whole spices (such as peppercorns) last between 3-4 years and ground spices (cumin, paprika, chili powder) last between 2-4 years. Ground and whole leafy herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary) have the shortest shelf life at 1-3 years.
When I started looking at the expiration dates on my spices, I was shocked by how many were past due. I also had a lot of combos, like “poultry seasoning” or “taco mix,” that I hardly used. Some I bought because they were a good deal. Some had never even been opened. One was for a special dish I made for a party and then never again. There were also quite a few duplicates.
Having a big picture view helped me to assess what my must-haves were (that Everything But The Bagel seasoning wasn’t going anywhere) and what I could part with. If you’re unsure of what to keep, think about the most commonly used spices. This exercise was also a reminder that when making a one-off dish, it’s better to shop the bulk aisle and get the exact amount you need instead of buying a full jar that will just collect dust later.
Really Think About Your Space
At one point, our spices were crammed together at the bottom of our pantry. I realized a better spot would be in a cupboard near our sink. Not only would that keep pantry items from encroaching but the shelf was at eye level and would be more easily accessible when cooking. (Note that I didn’t choose a cupboard near our stove, as heat can spoil spices. A cool, dry, dark spot is ideal.) In my first apartment, I had virtually zero cabinet space. Magnetic spice containers that stuck to my fridge were a lifesaver. You can also store them in a drawer, on the back of a door or in a “hidden” rollaway cart. Every space will be different, but take the time to really think about yours and how you operate in it.
Next, pick from the plethora of organizational tools — risers, drawer inserts, lazy susans, the accordion-style rack. Ultimately, we went with this tiered organizer with drawers. I liked that it had a tray on top where you could put additional spices or oils and it can hold at least 30 jars. Everything has a place and you don’t have to go digging. It’s also a pretty classic design that fits with a variety of styles and looks nice if you decide to display it on a countertop.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Beautiful Label
The thing that made the biggest difference for me was also one of the smallest things. First, I bought a bunch of glass jars and a funnel off Amazon (this set comes with labels, but I was influenced by the aforementioned influencer to snag these chic minimalist labels off Etsy). Then, I gathered up all my spices in different sizes and from different brands and stores and one by one turned my collection into just that — a beautiful, cohesive collection.
While this step may not have been the most important, it has certainly brought me the most joy. It's made it easier to find what I’m looking for and made me excited to tackle some new recipes. Plus, they look just as at home in my kitchen as they do on the 'gram.