(Ed: I disagree, and - like I said yesterday - I'm so excited to peep at WilliamB's pantry shelves. Aren't you?)
* * *Arrange for visibility.
Put taller things behind shorter things. Unless you have many of one item, stagger your columns.
x x x x x
x x x x x
Not like this:
x x x x x
x x x x x
Stack similar items on top of each other. Use a riser, shelf or stair-step to lift the things in back over the things in front. Use some tall skinny containers.
Store like with like.
What exactly is “like” depends on you. It could be all screws together, or all drywall fasteners together, or all baking flours together but cornstarch with the Asian ingredients. It could be shape, by taste, by being used together.
Use the right shape of container.
Rectilinear is more efficient than circular. Lids that stick out over the container use up space for no good purpose.
Use the right type of container.
By which I mean boxes/bins/cans. Bins are easier to stack and organize than bags. Bins are unlikely to break and spill. Bins can be easily be labeled. Bins don’t slump over each other or slither off the shelf. Many different containers can be put into a bin, that bin can then be pulled out all at once. A pile of shoe boxes is easy to work with, a pile of shoes is not.
Let me repeat that – label. Let me try again: label your stuff!! Name and maybe date should do it. If you store your spices upright in a drawer, write the type of spice on the lid. If you store 13 types of hot sauce in a fridge door shelf, write the type on top. If you don’t do this you’ll spend half your life lifting jars up and putting them back again. I can’t speak for you but that’s not how I want to spend my life. Doing this also helps you when you get to surveying, below. Sometimes a pix is better than words. The classic examples are shoes and kids’ storage bins but I’m sure there are others.
It’s harder to organize many different kinds of things than just a few kinds of things. So if you have lots of different things, look them over and decide if you really need that many. For example I own dozens of TellFresh storage containers but only 5 different sizes of them.
Spend some money. (Maybe.)
If you have some money to spend, getting the right containers and labels really pays off. After many long years I found TellFresh (available at the Container Store, a company that does not, alas, pay me each time I sing their praises). They come in many shapes and sizes: tall short, fat thin, round square rectangle. The lids don’t stick out over the edges. Some lids fit more than one container. The containers are stackable. They’re dishwasher, microwave, fridge, and freezer safe. For simplicity and storage efficiency, get as few sizes as you can manage. I use five, from 1c. to half gallon.
The other thing that’s worth spending some money one is labels. I use rewritable labels on my reusable containers. The Container Store (again) has a kit of 3 sizes of label, Sharpie, and eraser. These labels are dishwasher, microwave, fridge, and freezer safe. Mine have survived years of use, washing, and freezing. (And still the Container Store doesn’t pay me to shill.)
Every now and then look over what you have. I don’t mean a glancing look, I mean a thorough investigation. Pull it out, touch it, draw it (photography doesn’t work it), whatever it takes to really perceive what you have.
This time last year: Mrs: One, Evil Fridge: Zero, Inklings Paperie: Seventy-Two