Raise your hand if you’ve been topping your oatmeal with a shake from the same giant jar of ground cinnamon you’ve had since college. It’s OK. But real talk, your spice rack needs to be organized, and now is the time to do it. Sure, it’ll be tedious, but it’s not like I’m asking you to clean your oven. A spice rack cleanup will probably take no more than one hour. Just put on a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to and get going.
Organizing and cleaning out your spice rack is a deeply personal process. Some people really do cook with 15 different spices on a regular basis, while others more likely only use a few. The degree to which you buy spices really depends on your cooking style. For example, a former roommate of mine once bought himself a large, expensive tin of saffron threads, used them once or twice, and then proceeded to leave them in the back of the cabinet, forgetting all about them. I found the mostly-full jar months after he’d moved out. Don’t let this happen to your spices. Buy bigger jars of what you think you'll use regularly, and small containers of things you bought to make one recipe. Some stores even sell spices in bulk, so you can be as frugal as you'd like.
According to spice manufacturer Simply Organic, some spices age and lose potency more quickly than others. While whole seeds and barks like cinnamon sticks or fennel seeds will stay fresh for two to three years, ground versions of these spices begin to lose intensity after one year, as will dried herbs like parsley and oregano. Of course, you can finish off that two-year-old jar of chile powder in your shakshuka sauce if you really don’t want to waste it, but trust me when I say the next batch you make with a fresh jar of the seasoning will be a lot brighter.
To begin the spice rack purge, pull out all your little bottles and jars, and divide your spices into sections based on how regularly you use them. If you can’t remember the last time you used something, and you didn’t recently restock your pantry, it’s very likely time to toss the spice.
If you store your spices standing up in a drawer below eye-level, make labels for the lids. It seems ridiculous until the next time you’re shuffling the jars like mad, because you’re 95 percent sure you have cardamom somewhere. If your spices live on a rack, use the rack’s size to determine how many spices you should own at one time—don't let extra jars spill out onto the counter or another cabinet. Of course, you can always buy a bigger rack (and not to give you too many ideas, but for a time I kept all my spices on a little liquor cart… but I’ve since pared way down).
Ultimately, unless you use any spice or herb regularly, it’s a good idea to buy smaller containers. You’ll use them up while they’re at their freshest, then you can start the whole process again.