My previous kitchen was small — so small that it necessitated the use of vertical space to store my collection of jars (on a shelf suspended above the counter) and spices (on a magnetic board screwed to the side of a cabinet).
I’m in a slightly bigger kitchen now, but have the opposite problem: plenty of drawers and cabinets, but no vertical space for storage.
For someone who keeps over 80 varieties of herbs and spices on hand, it’s an organizational challenge. But I came up with a simple DIY spice drawer that doesn’t require building any wooden racks or inserts, or buying yet another ill-fitting tray that fails to maximize the space I have.
It’s a neat, elegant, and functional system for labeling, storing, and sorting all my containers, and it’s such an easy project that I had to share.
(Plus, I’m an organizational geek to the highest degree and surely there must be others like me?!)
I’ve been using this system for three years now (and developed recipes for a cookbook in this kitchen!) and the main question I get from everyone is: Would I do it again in my next house?
Even if my kitchen is a cluttered mess and my sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, my spice drawers are always a place of calm that makes cooking fun again.
I like the simple one-piece lids on the jars because they give more control over how much I dispense (I’m often prying off the shaker tops on other spice jars and find them to be a p-a-i-n).
These narrow measuring spoons fit perfectly in them. (That’s the actual set I have, and I use the narrow side for spices. I like the rounded side for liquids.)
However, those that prefer the convenience of shaker lids may find these types of jars more practical. Either option works great in this DIY spice drawer!
My simple 4-step solution for a DIY spice drawer
With herbs and spices, I usually buy them in bulk as they are much more economical. And by bulk, I don’t mean Costco-size containers with a lifetime supply of Italian seasoning.
I’m talking about the spices you can dispense by the scoop at markets like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and — my local favorite in Central Oregon — Market of Choice.
You can get a standard 4-ounce quantity of garlic powder for under $1. A specialty spice like za’atar might go for $2. Bulk spices can cost up to 75 percent less than the ones in expensive glass jars, are oftentimes fresher, and I highly recommend them over prepackaged spices.
That said, I do keep a few prepackaged spices on hand as some were gifts, purchased from farmers’ markets, or picked up on the fly on road trips.
So, I needed a DIY system that would work for both my bulk spices and prepackaged spices, keeping in mind the various sizes and shapes of all the jars, tins, and tubs.
Step 1: The jars
I came across these miniature Ball jars and immediately knew they’d be perfect for storing spices. They are an exact replica of the brand’s iconic mason jars, just scaled down to a diminutive 4-ounce size with a one-piece screw-on lid.
(Note that these specific jars are for storage and decorative purposes only, and are not suitable for canning.)
Step 2: The labeling
The miniature jars have a smooth side for labeling, and I found that an extra fine-point paint pen (I used this one) worked great on the glass.
Something to keep in mind: A water-based paint pen can survive a light rinsing, but comes off with soap and scrubbing so you can relabel your jars as needed. An oil-based paint pen is a bit more permanent if you’re labeling jars that will always hold the same spices.
Step 3: The filling of the jars
To transfer all my spices from the old tins to the new jars, I used this silicone funnel and found it super efficient for the job. It’s wide enough for whole spices like peppercorns, but narrow enough to fit the mouth of the jars.
Step 4: The organization hack of the spice drawer
As far as drawer organization goes, the most common method for storing spices is a tiered rack like this one (which, while expandable in one direction, still left a lot of unusable space in the drawer). A lot of ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets also have in-drawer racks that are custom-fitted to their systems.
But we’re renting right now, didn’t want to invest in beautiful (but expensive) wooden drawer inserts, and couldn’t find any generic racks that fit the exact dimensions we needed.
Instead, I found these soft foam liners and they are seriously game-changing! They can be cut to length with just a pair of scissors, and they work really well in shallow drawers where tiered racks may be too tall.
The design is stupid simple: a set of channels down each liner creates a groove that nestles your spice jars straight down the center. The groove holds all the standard sized spice bottles, including larger ones.
I arranged all my jars in the groove and love how they look in the drawer — so easy to spot, grab, and go!
I use my own method for sorting them by flavor profile: peppers, Mexican spices, Italian herbs, and Asian spices (all my most-used jars) in the first drawer, then sweet spices, Moroccan spices, and an assortment of prepackaged salts, rubs, and seasonings in the second drawer.
The drawers shield the jars from heat and light, so my spices have a longer shelf life. They also live right by my prep counter and stove top, so it’s made cooking a lot less confusing when I don’t have to rummage through a cabinet or shuffle through jars that get lost on tiered shelving racks.
Since I can clearly see all my spices at once, I always know when I’m low on something and can add it to my shopping list immediately. No more forgetting what’s around, or running out in the middle of a recipe!
So there you have it — quick, easy, efficient, and attractive spice drawer organization for geeky cooks like me.
I’ve linked all my sources below, including alternatives for similarly sized jars that come with different tops and lids (if you like shakers and such).
DIY Spice Drawer Sources
Ball Set of 24 Miniature Storage Jars | Ball Set of 8 Miniature Storage Jars | Encheng Hexagon Jars with Gold Lids | Paksh Novelty Spice Jars with White Lids | AllSpice Spice Jars with Black Lids and Shaker Tops | Talented Kitchen Spice Jars with Preprinted Labels and Shaker Tops | Sharpie Extra Fine Point Oil-Based White Paint Marker | Sharpie Extra Fine Point Oil-Based Gold and Silver Paint Markers | Sharpie Extra Fine Point Water-Based Metallic Paint Markers | SpiceLuxe Silicone Mini Spice Funnel | YouCopia SpiceLiner Spice Rack Drawer Organizer | Spring Chef Magnetic Measuring Spoons | 2lbDepot Copper Measuring Spoons | 2lbDepot Black Measuring Spoons
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on December 4, 2017.