I had a million excuses for why I hadn’t organized our pantry…
- Who sees it anyway?
- It will take forever.
- It’s working just fine.
- It will never be pretty with wire shelves so why bother?
Guess what, I was wrong on all counts.
Organizing our pantry is the best time I’ve spent on our home all year long. Even though it’s not a magazine-worthy makeover and still has tan walls and wire shelves, it’s made a huge positive impact on our lives.
We’ve made several exciting updates to our kitchen this year…big things, like new appliances. So I didn’t think organizing the pantry would matter much, but it might be the one change that makes me the happiest.
Now I smile every time the pantry door opens.
I probably would have put off the pantry organization project forever, if it weren’t for my kids. My two boys are now at the age (6 and 9) where they are in and out of the kitchen constantly for snacks. I can’t seem to keep the pantry door closed anymore.
I used to hide all the kitchen mess and clutter behind the closed pantry door. When friends or family were over for dinner or to hang out and we were in the kitchen, I’d always make sure to retrieve what ever we needed from the pantry. I became the master of slipping in and out without exposing my guests to the horrors on the other side of the door.
I know I sound a little dramatic, but I’m actually embarrassed to show you the before picture. I don’t even know how I let it get like this. I’m not sure how we every found anything in there.
So I finally gave in and dedicated an afternoon to The Great Pantry Purge.
It started with removing everything from the pantry, which made my kitchen look like it got hit with a tornado.
It doesn’t look like it in the picture, but I had a simple system.
- On one of the kitchen stools I had a large black garbage bag opened over the back of the stool to collect trash.
- The stuff on the island in the foreground was for donation. (In the end, I took four brown paper grocery bags full of donations out of our small pantry.)
- The stuff on the kitchen table was to keep and most of it, like the board games, went back in the pantry.
- The food was just out of frame on the kitchen counter.
One of the reasons I never wanted to tackle the pantry was the “Pinterest pressure.” If you look for pantry ideas on Pinterest, you’ll quickly see pretty wall paper, beautiful new shelves, vinyl decals labeling all the containers, and a fortune of pretty baskets and glass jars.
I didn’t want any of that. Mostly because I didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of replacing our wire shelving. So I didn’t think my pantry could ever measure up. Now, I think I was wrong.
Here’s what our pantry (with humble wire shelving) looks like now:
One of the things that helped me succeed with this transformation was functional styling. In the Styling Savvy course in Décorography, I teach Functional Styling.
Styling is arranging things so they look pretty. Functional styling is arranging useful things and everyday necessities so they look pretty too. I’ve always used functional styling strategies to keep my kitchen counters clutter-free. Now they’ve helped me reclaim my pantry too.
Here’s the simple organizing strategies that helped me transform our pantry:
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Think In Zones
As I was putting the pantry back together, I really thought about how we would use it. That allowed me to break the pantry up into zones. Let me walk you through each of them.
Starting at the bottom is the game zone:
My kids love to play board games, but the stack of games had gotten out of control on the bottom shelf of the pantry. Because they couldn’t get a game out without toppling over the whole pile, I noticed they were playing with them less often.
I wanted to neatly fit all the board games on one side of the pantry in half the space they were consuming before. By filing them like books, they take up less space and make it easier for the kids to get a game out.
That allowed me to remove the bottom shelf on the other side to make room for the kitchen step stool and the large dog food storage bin (that had been floating aimlessly around our laundry room).
The next shelf up is the kids snack zone and dry good storage:
Before the makeover, my OXO food containers were the only thing my pantry had going for it. To freshen them up, I added the diagonal striped labels using my favorite labeling tip from Jen of I Heart Organizing…
She recommends making easy, affordable labels by printing out clear labels on a label maker and putting them on top of pretty washi tape. Instant pretty labels!
I keep all of our dry ingredients in these containers. To make sure we don’t forget the preparation instructions, I cut them out from the package and tape them on the backside of the containers for quick reference.
On the other side of the pantry at this level is the kids snack and lunch center:
There were three important things I did to make this snack and lunch area functional:
- I put the snacks at kid level. They used to be up higher and the kids had to ask one of us to get them a snack. They are old enough now to grab their own. (We do keep only healthy snacks down here, and we monitor how many they’re tacking.)
- Taking off the outer packaging and organizing the snacks in plain view, makes this a grab n’ go station for the kids, so they aren’t rooting around a bunch of half empty boxes. I adore these divided pantry bins for keeping the different types of snacks separated.
- I dedicated some shelf space for the lunch boxes. Before the kids just crammed them anywhere and I felt like I was always moving them to get to something I needed for dinner. Now they have their own shelf space right next to the kids snacks.
On the next shelf up we store adult snacks and dog stuff:
The goal in this zone was to make our snacks easy to grab, but in a separate area from the kid snacks. We don’t want them confusing our protein bars for their granola bars. I used another divided pantry bin for our protein bars. We always keep a few different kinds on hand.
The adult snack area has my favorite new feature of the pantry (hint: we love nuts!), which we’ll talk about more in the Grab N’ Go section below.
Where the shelves meet in the corner, I use OXO turntables to hold canned goods and baking mixes. The turntables make the corner of the pantry so much more functional.
On the other side of this level, we also have a section for chips, which we don’t snack on, but use for some meals.
On the far right side, is the dog zone. We keep treats, a few cans of wet food, and a basket aptly labeled “dog stuff.” It holds special treats, medicine, and toys.
The last shelf (because after The Great Purge, there’s nothing on the top shelf) holds a random assortment of things we want to keep out of reach of the kids.
On the corner turntable, I keep all the cleaning supplies we use regularly in the kitchen. Off to the right we keep large containers of protein for shakes.
On the other side, I have a basket for baking and party/holiday stuff, like paper straws and egg-dying supplies. In the wooden bowl we’re currently keeping a small ration of Halloween candy for the boys. We keep it up high as a signal to them that they need to ask for help and permission to have candy.
Make It Grab N’ Go
One of my favorite things about the new pantry set up is that almost everything is grab and go. That means all the snacks we grab for daily are out in clear bins. We can easily find what we’re looking for. It also has made grocery shopping easier because we can quickly see what we are low on.
The best thing in this entire pantry is The Turntable of Nuts. All my paleo friends get it. The nut situation was dire before. We had bags and jars all over the place. One of the things we are in and out of the pantry for most frequently is a handful of nuts to snack on.
I used this divided turntable to create nut storage. It can be used as a desk organizer too, but I found mine in the kitchen section at The Container Store. After a long hunt for something to store our nuts, I knew this was it. It can hold and compartmentalize five different types of nuts.
The only downside was it didn’t come with a lid. Thankfully one of my rarely used pot lids fits over top just fine and is easy to remove so we can access all the nuts at once.
My husband takes nuts to work to snack on too. He likes to package them in small snack bags, but he takes more of some kinds than others. This container and the small plastic scoops make the process easier for him.
Now instead of riffling through bags and unscrewing lids constantly (okay, let’s be honest, the lids never made it back on the almonds and cashews), we can lift one lid and grab a variety of nuts.
Don’t Make Everything Visible
As much as I love seeing our nuts and snacks on display in plain sight, I didn’t want everything in the pantry visible.
I wanted to keep visual clutter at a minimum, so I put the baking and party supplies in a basket. It looks neat on the shelf and disguises all the random stuff inside. Same with the dog stuff.
Let There Be White Space
I don’t ever want my pantry to be crammed full again. I love all the “white space” I have now. I think if you can, it’s important to leave some empty shelf space. It makes the whole pantry feel more spacious. It also allows the light to flow down through the wire shelves. (There’s one pro to keeping the wire shelves!)
Get Creative with Containers
After organizing all the main zones, I had a few odds and ends left over without containers. Instead of buying more containers, I shopped my house for creative solutions.
I’m using two old drawers to store extra coffee and tea:
I’m used a wooden salad bowl for the candy stash and I used an old dog food bowl to hold the small amount of canned dog food we keep on hand:
These creative containers add a little more color and texture to the pantry.