life in a tiny apartment.

September 23, 2015

life in a tiny apartment: organizing the spice cabinet | reading my tea leavesTip #131: Organize your spices, not your cabinet.

A perfectly organized spice cabinet is a thing to aspire to. But in a tiny apartment rental the likelihood that there’s a cabinet that’s just right for neatly storing and displaying your spice collection is, well, not likely. And, if I may be so bold, I say forget the urge to buy a dedicated, rolling, door-hanging, shelf-hugging, doo-dad that will likely only half-work and won’t fit into the next place you find yourself. Ditto investing in expensive magnetic jars that you might tire looking at stuck to your fridge.

Instead, I say, organize your spices themselves. If they have to be stuck into an awkward corner, at least they’ll be properly labeled and neat all on their own.

In tackling my own hodgepodge of spice jars and bags and boxes, I resorted to the ubiquitous and dirt-cheap mason jar. A dozen four-ounce jelly jars was more than enough to handle everything that I had on hand already. Instead of using the two-piece canning lids they come with, I bought a stack of solid metal lids that I’d be able to easily take on and off without, say, spilling the cinnamon. I used washi tape and marker to label the lids. And I’ve stacked my jars according to frequency of use. Red pepper flakes in the front, coriander in the back, and so on.

Note: If you live in a tiny apartment and have many more than a dozen spices, it might be time to do a little soul searching about how many of those you use regularly. Storing dried herbs like thyme, or parsley, or rosemary, for instance, might be something that you decide to forgo in favor of buying fresh when you have the need. Similarly, it’s wise to keep in mind that spices have a shelf life. I love buying spices from markets that allow you to buy from bulk bins in just the amount you need. That way you won’t be stuck with a huge jar of Aleppo pepper that you’re still trying to make your way through a 1/4 teaspoon at a time, twenty years down the road. If twenty years sounds like an exaggeration, take a peek into your grandmother’s spice cabinet. And then add twenty more. It’s a problem. Nobody wants forty year-old Aleppo pepper.

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  • Reply Jodi September 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    A family in Sydney made the news recently after they visited their Grandma and all ended up in hospital with severe food poisoning. The culprit? Hot chocolate powder that had expired in 1991! x

  • Reply Ella September 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Very cute! As an avid cook of international cuisine, especially Chinese, Indian, and Mexican food, a larger spice collection is worth it (fenugreek, cardamom, white pepper, Szechuan pepper, and 5-spice are a few of the spices not found in every American pantry that I use regularly). In order to keep things manageable if not minimalist, I do the same as you and leave out anything that's better fresh. I also keep whole seeds only—coriander, cumin, fennel, celery, allspice, etc.—as they're more versatile and maintain their potency longer. Toss a few seeds in a mortar + pestle, or whip out the coffee grinder (after a quick dry wipe-down) for a finer consistency.

  • Reply Christine Amorose September 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Love this! Definitely might be putting it into effect in our new place 🙂

  • Reply emily September 23, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Yes – agree about the fresh herbs and the whole spices and the uniform containers! We also use a brick or two stood up on the long, skinny end to stack the back row so we can see all the spices better. Tends to work in new spaces, too, bc it's versatile. In our current tiny place, we've needed the vertical space the brick was taking up so we built a 2-brick sized wood shelf and store more spices underneath.

  • Reply Kim P September 23, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    This might be really stupid but I didn't know you could get solid lids for mason jars. That is a game changer. Thanks for the info!

  • Reply k.f.r. September 23, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    I love this post! I do it already but I'm using the small Weck jars. It's very cute (never did I think I would get compliments when opening my cabinet) but I have to say it is quite a pain to take those lids on and off. Stacking? Forget it, unless I have a slighter larger Weck jar to stack on top of. I may have to update my spice cabinet with your jars.

    Another good reason to do this, and a somewhat happy accident for me, is that storing your pantry goods in jars keeps the tiny bugs out. I was in the middle of the jar project when I found that my pantry was infested with flour mites (ew..) and so the jars fixed that.

    Bulk spices was such a boon to my cooking and baking. No longer did I have to buy a spice jar full of something that I would use hardly ever or never again. Plus, my co-op lets us bring our own containers so no more wasting plastic bags!

    • Reply admin September 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Ah! The ever-present conundrum with Weck jars! So pretty; so unstackable!

  • Reply Jessica September 23, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    In those little jars so many possibilities! Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply Kathy September 23, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    This is definitely something I need to do. You should see my spice cabinet – yikes!

  • Reply jenn @ beyond the stoop September 23, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    a spice collection of only 12!!?!? blasphemy!!! when you've got kalustyan's at your fingertips and ethnic foods practically walking themselves to your door… you must indulge! our spice cabinet is bulging, but I'd have it no other way. we forego the coffee pot and the toaster for the important things in life! 😉

    • Reply admin September 23, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      life without a coffee pot?!? impossible! 😉

  • Reply Cait September 24, 2015 at 2:06 am

    I've been using mason jars for my spices too, and I miss the drawer in our little house where I could see all the lids spread out and grab what I needed – and it was still an overflowing drawer. Now a tiny corner of our apartment kitchen cabinets is stacked with spices, but I won't get rid of any – I have a lot, and I use all of them generously. I grew up in the Middle East and enjoy making Arabic food (so I'm drooling over Sahadi's website!!) as well as Indian and other cuisines. Those two alone require a good selection and there's no substitute! I LOVE fresh herbs but it's cost prohibitive to me to use them alone, especially since when I do need them, it's several full bunches going into an Ottolenghi dish or some such thing. But, I'm with you on the mason jars! And apparently the fact that it will never be organized here….I need to at least label the front of my jars now 🙂

  • Reply Angela S September 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I did this years ago, after trying the magnetic ones, mason jars are sooooo much better. My grandmother had canned good from the 80's in the early 2000's so I can imagine what her spices were like!

  • Reply Laura Johns September 25, 2015 at 4:25 am

    erin, your ideas are always beautiful! I've been looking on pinterest for spice storage idea, but couldn't find anything as nice as this – thank you! a project for my weekend 🙂

  • Reply Cussot September 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    I just use a bit of epoxy to glue the lids to the rings, but those pewter ones are beautiful.

  • Reply Andrea October 6, 2015 at 2:46 am

    I have way to much spices, but I love to cook with them… Maybe I have to be realisitc about them, like you say…

  • Reply T November 3, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    is that washi tape? would love you rec for where to get it!

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 4, 2015 at 8:02 am

      Yes! I’m partial to the original MT masking tape brand! It’s the one you typically see in stationery stores and the like and very available online too! So many pretty sizes and patterns and colors!

  • Reply Rona November 5, 2015 at 4:29 am

    I put this organisation tactic into use yesterday– I bought a dozen 100mL jam jars which stack easily. Cheers to newfound space in my cupboard! I couldn’t quite whittle my spice collection down to 12 though, so there are a few offending non-uniform spice pots remaining. Thanks Erin for the brilliant idea!

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