If you’re fortunate enough to have a pantry in your home, chances are it’s not quite large enough. But even if it is, designing the space to be practical and organized will make it work better for you. A few changes can really make a big difference, so read on to find those that will work best in your own kitchen.
First, take stock of what you see when you open the pantry door. Is it a mess of various sized containers, bags and opened boxes? It’s tempting to open a bag of chips or a box of instant potatoes and then return it to the pantry, as is. But you’re only inviting bugs into your home by doing so. So let’s start at the beginning…
If you don’t already own containers that make good use of your space, you may want to purchase these first before the big day of purging, cleaning and organizing. There are tons of options – consider whether you want plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids (much lighter weight than glass, especially when full), glass containers, baskets – or a combination of these. Square containers line up better than round ones, and stackable pieces make good use of vertical space.
It’s always a good idea to use clear containers but labeling is helpful even when you can see the contents. It’s easy to mix up types of flour, sugar, and other pantry items that look similar. There are tons of labeling options, too, such as using chalk markers on glass, and chalk on vinyl labels. Use whatever you have handy at the moment and get creative in the future if you want to pretty it up.
Plan for a day when you don’t expect interruptions – perhaps one when you’re alone in the house for a few hours. Your first step is to remove everything from the pantry and purge. You may find food packages with expiration dates that have already come and gone. Toss them. You may notice that you use all the items, but you’re buying larger quantities than needed. Don’t replace these until you actually need the items again and then buy smaller sizes. Take notice of which items are still good but untouched. If that’s the case, be sure not to make that same purchase again. You might like the idea of eating dried fruit for a snack but find yourself with two unopened bags of dried apricots. Donate these items to your local food pantry if you know for sure you won’t be eating them.
Next, clean your pantry from top to bottom. Starting with a rag-covered broom, ensure there are no cobwebs in the upper corners near the ceiling, then wipe down shelving and even walls if needed. Sweep and wash the floor and let dry.
Once your old items are removed, concentrate on what you have left. Before transferring food into other containers, separate them into natural groupings. Pasta, tomato sauces, cans of vegetables might all be kept together, while dry cocoa powder and cupcake liners should be kept together in their own baking group.
If you have glass jars around the house, they make wonderful storage for items young children won’t be handling. For example, those cupcake liners fit beautifully in them – whether paper or silicone. Beans do, too, once you’ve opened a bag and used some of the contents. Small amounts of cornmeal, powdered or brown sugars, and other baking staples store wonderfully in mason-type jars. You can buy plastic, twist-on lids for these jars if you prefer them to the metal tops they come with for canning food.
For things that don’t fit well in jars or containers, such as packets of gravy, dry salad dressing and taco seasoning, smaller baskets come in handy. Don’t have any? Cut out the top side of a facial tissue box. The size works well, and the cardboard is sturdy enough to work as a container.
Use large baskets to hold all the fabric lunch bags your family uses. You’ll appreciate that you’ll find them all in one place on busy school mornings. Another use for these baskets is storage of bags of chips, pretzels, and cookies, which can easily fall over and are awkward to store since their contents crush easily.
A great use for a medium sized basket is to keep paper plates and plastic utensils. Storing them together just makes sense and you can easily pull out a basket to see what you have on hand. It’s also the right size to hold fabric placemats.
Consider using can racks, often three-tiered, in which cans of pop or vegetables are stored on their sides and roll forward as the first one is removed. They work as well in your pantry as they do in the fridge. In hard to reach corners, a good sized, sturdy turntable makes life easier when you give it a spin to find the items you’re looking for. If you have room for a tall, double-decker version, even better!
Wire racks work well inside your pantry. Typically, they hang from the bottom of your shelves and take up some of the space above the shelf below. A basket for onions and potatoes does a good job here. Another might be used for a theme basket – such as keeping all the ingredients needed to make your Saturday morning pancake breakfasts together in one spot.
If you have a small rolling cart you use in the kitchen, consider storing your larger kitchen appliances on it. Not only will the cart serve as an extra work surface as needed, but it will also store and then transport that large and heavy stand mixer or pressure cooker. But if you don’t have a cart that will fit in your pantry, be sure to leave lower-shelf room for these heavy appliances if you want to keep them there, rather than in your kitchen cabinets or on your countertop.
So where do you put what? There actually are some considerations that just make sense. For example, do you have kids at home by themselves getting snacks after school? If so, avoid glass jars for snack items, and put these foods in easy-to-handle wicker baskets on lower shelves.
A small stepstool is handy when kept tucked away at the bottom of your pantry. Wherever possible, heavier items such as water jugs, juice, and large cans should also stay low, while packages of paper towels can easily fill the hard-to-reach space on the highest shelf. If paper towels fall, no one suffers a concussion.
Allow some tall, vertical space for cookies sheets, cooling racks, serving platters and cutting boards. You can simply leave room at the end of a shelf for this purpose. Since the top shelf typically has the most vertical space above it, this area works great for these taller items (right next to your paper towels).
Make life easier on yourself. When storing canisters of sugar, flour, pancake mix and other dry staples, it helps to include a kitchen scoop inside each one. You can buy inexpensive bundles of four or six online and in many stores, and you won’t need to hunt one each time.
Finally, don’t forget about the inside of your pantry door. I’m personally a huge fan of the clear pocket, shoe storage bags. They generally come with a couple of hooks to hang over the top of doors, and work perfectly in your kitchen’s pantry, too.
Don’t have a basket for those gravy packets? Hang it in a shoe pocket. These pockets store smaller items wonderfully, and you see everything at a glance. Mints and gum, bags of seeds and nuts, containers of cupcake decorations, food coloring – the list is endless. Store it in a pocket. Many people ignore this very valuable space on the inside of the pantry’s door, but you can easily store 30 or more items here alone. Alternatively, you can install smaller coated-wire shelves here.
The concept of a practical pantry is using the space you already have more efficiently. I will say this, however. If you have just a few shelves and they are spaced way too widely apart (which is very impractical), it will be well worth the cost to have Mike at D4 Construction come out and do a redesign. You can reach him at +1 250-572-4812. He can install plastic-coated wire shelving if that would work better for you or arrange your shelving to be more suitable for your needs.
I hope you’ll use these ideas to get organized, toss out or donate what you don’t use, and streamline your valuable kitchen closet to make it the user-friendly and practical pantry you will enjoy using every day.