Decanting is not just for wine. Decanting your dry goods, from sugar and flour to laundry detergent powder and coffee beans, has some real benefits for housekeeping.

What’s great about decanting

What does decanting do for your home?

  • It reduces waste. When you pour cereal from a big, opaque box into transparent canisters, you can see how much you have left. Just being able to see it can help you make sure you use it. Seeing how much you have keeps you from buying more when you have enough already. It also keeps you from running out , which can make a difference to your meal planning experience. Use airtight containers instead of leaving crackers and such in boxes or bags, and they’ll stay fresh longer, too.
  • Decanting saves space. Uniform containers make better use of your storage space. How many big boxes have just an inch of a product in the bottom, but still take up as much space as a full package?
  • It can be better for the environment. If you keep ingredients in canisters or jars, you can buy in bulk instead of in packages. Your local co-op or health food store may have bins where you can buy things like pasta by the pound, measuring it out into paper bags. Ordinary grocery stores may sell items like candy, coffee beans, or nuts in this way. You avoid sending extra packaging to the landfill.
  • Decanting increases efficiency. Stuffing everything into your cabinet or pantry by the size and shape of the packages can leave you with illogical storage. Using uniform containers lets you arrange everything in the most logical way. Clearly labeled containers let you find everything you need for cooking with the least time and effort. It also often works better. Measuring flour out of a paper sack is messy and inconvenient compared with using a well-chosen container.
  • It’s visually restful. A pantry or cupboard filled with uniform containers, neatly labeled, can give you a sense of peace whenever you reach in to get the things you need for cooking. Even the process of decanting dry goods when you get home from the market can have a meditative feel.
  • Your pantry will stay neat. Once you’ve put in the effort to organize your groceries in uniform labeled containers, your shelves will probably stay that way. It’s easy to put things back in the right spot.

What’s not so great about decanting

What are the challenges with decanting?

  • The cost of containers can add up. This is less of an issue if you re-use jars or collect containers at thrift stores. On the other hand, a good set of identical canisters can be a real investment in your home. If you follow through, you may find that the reduction in waste and the added efficiency make the cost worthwhile.
  • It can require some ongoing effort. While a well-organized pantry can save you a lot of time you won’t need to spend on pawing through boxes and bags looking for things, it does take longer to decant your groceries than to pile everything right onto the shelf out of the bag.
  • It works best if you buy the same things consistently. Your neatly labeled canisters of potato flour and quinoa aren’t as useful if you only buy those items once. Maybe next time you’ll choose almond meal and orzo. Then you’ll need at the very least to re-label your containers.

Make it work

If you decide that you want to try decanting, choose containers that fit your space and hold the amount of each item that you will buy and use. You might want to try it out on one shelf at a time. A shelf of breakfast foods or baking supplies is a good candidate. If that works well for you, you can move on to another section of your kitchen or pantry.

Label everything. You may think that you’ll remember which container is protein powder and which is flour, or that you’ll be able to distinguish between corn starch and powdered milk at a glance, but don’t count on it.

It’s easy to find pre-printed labels in many different styles and sizes. You can also choose blackboard-style labels or dry erase labels, so that you can change them as needed. Some homemakers print out labels on sticker paper or use a labelmaker. A consistent approach looks better, but it’s up to you.

If you need the cooking instructions or the use instructions on cleaning supplies, you can cut them out from the package and tape them to your container. Often, they’ll fit inside the lid. Either way, you won’t be left standing there trying to remember whether this the hot cereal prepared with one cup of water that cooks for three minutes, or the one with a cup and a half of water and 30 minutes of cooking.