I wish I had paused for a moment in my focused determination to clean up my cupboard to pull out m y camera, take a picture, and preserve an image of the chaos that was our spice rack.

I can now only express the disorder in words. multiple tiered racks, supporting jars of a dozen different shapes and sizes, precariously balanced by sheer force of will as half-filled, crumpled baggies with gnarled twist-tie labels filled every available space. There were multiple jars of the same spice multiple times over, each labelled slightly differently. Nothing was stackable. Nothing was findable. To delve into the darkness while a hot stove simmered nearby was to risk a collapse of the system as spice jars fumbled onto the countertop below. Jars has been re-used so commercial labels had been taped over with label-maker labels, which had been crossed out and rewritten in sharpie.

It was not a good system.

Over the last couple weeks I acquired two dozen small, 125ml mason jars.

When I posted the photo on social media of my completely spice rainbow at the end of this process, the question I got asked multiple times was “Where did you get those jars!?”

At the grocery store. Nothing special. They were just the smallest canning jars with metal lids. It’s not so much the jars as the effort to DECIDE to do this.

I pulled the spices from the cupboard and through force of time and will (and a few spice induced sneezes) consolidated like spices in jars, tossed some obviously well-past-due inventory, and at the end of the process had neatly arrayed glass jars full of colourful spices.

The beautiful thing, and having used them for a short while, is that the wide mouth jars make for a perfect opening to both (a) extract spices as needed with a measuring scoop, and (b) refill the spices without precision tools. The narrow “spice jar” that everyone is familiar with is likely great for shipping spices across grocery supply chains, and definitely simpler if you’ve got three or four in your cupboard, but we were well past that.

As for labels, the approach I’ve taken at the moment is two-fold.

First, I generally have a sense of the colour of the spice I’m looking for. Not having labels on the sides of jars is aesthetically much nicer, but one needs to know their spices. I do, but realize that this approach will not work for everyone. At the end of the day, I’ll be able to narrow what I’m looking for down to two or three jars and then look at the label, but for those who need a system with a better “at-a-glance” approach, this might not be it.

Second, I had contemplated buying a couple dozen new lids with a nicer look to them. The nice thing about mason jars is that this old system is both standardized and modular. There has been lots of simple hacks now sold as retail. For example, I had for a few hours put into my Amazon cart a set of chalkboard topped lid replacements and a set of coloured chalk markers. This was going to cost me more than the jars themselves tho, so hitting the order button gave me some pause. Instead, I dug some black paint out of a different cupboard (the art supply cupboard, which may be a different organizational project itself!) and painted the lid inserts one-by-one.

A gold and silver sharpie let me express some creativity on the fresh black surfaces, and the result was —in my opinion — a unique collection of spices and a much needed fix to the spice cupboard chaos that had frustrated me for years.

Spice nirvana achieved.

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