Q: My kitchen pantry is a mess. I can never find anything in it, and I seem to run out of space every time I go to the grocery store. Do you have any advice about how to make it work for me?
A: A lot of kitchen pantries are hard to organize because they were not designed with efficiency in mind. They end up serving as dumping grounds for items you just want out of the way.
Maybe yours has deep shelves that make it difficult to reach items in the back — ever wonder where those canned peaches that expired two years ago went? Or maybe it lacks handy storage for rarely used kitchen gadgets, resulting in their being shoved wherever there’s room to spare.
Changing your pantry setup, and putting a little more thought into what goes where, can help you reclaim the space and prevent it from backsliding. The best part: like all effective home improvements, it can improve your overall wellness by saving time, reducing stress and making everyday life a bit easier.
Whether you’re considering a full remodel or just looking for some DIY options for small-but-impactful improvements, here are a few tips that can make a big difference.
First, find out what’s in your pantry and what you actually want to keep. Even if you’re not organizing, it’s a good idea to conduct occasional food inventories so you can use food before it expires. If you are organizing, inventory is your first step. Identify what food you’re already storing, determine whether or not it should even be there and remove anything that doesn’t belong.
Food is not the only thing you store in a pantry, and you may want to inventory small appliances too. Even if you only use these tools occasionally, you’ll still want to be able to find them when you need them. If your kitchen is overflowing with these things, giving them a home in the pantry can free up valuable cabinet, counter and drawer space. But as with food, making room for them means knowing what really belongs there.
Add storage and logical organizing solutions. If you’re remodeling, the sky’s the limit. You can add shelves, drawers and maybe even counterspace in your pantry, depending on how big it is, of course. We’ve created modest pantries for small spaces and full-sized butler’s pantries for larger houses — with cabinets, pull-out shelves, space for appliances, wine storage and more.
Of course, a radical remodel isn’t the only way forward. There are plenty of DIY options, too. It might be possible to remove deep shelves and replace them with free-standing units with wire mesh drawers. If your pantry has a door, you can add storage with a hanging organizer. You may also consider racks for canned foods and sodas.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can add risers on top of existing shelves to increase storage or insert rotating Lazy Susans for more convenient access. There are so many budget-friendly possibilities. Just look around online for some inspiration and you will learn pretty quickly that all of this is very achievable!
Choose containers wisely. Many people use sets of containers to help them organize, particularly dry goods. This takes a little more effort at the start, but putting staples like flour, pasta, sugar and similar items in stackable canisters is a great way to maximize space because they allow you to stack things that you wouldn’t ordinarily put on top of one another (e.g. a bag of flour, a box of crackers and a bag of pretzels). But it’s important to use the right containers in the right way. Make sure they’re airtight and transparent — if they’re opaque, you’ll need to be diligent about labeling.
By the way, food isn’t the only thing containers can manage. Plastic storage bins can effectively corral small similar appliances and kitchen gadgets together.
Before you start putting everything away, think about how often you use them. When you’re getting your new pantry set up, don’t just think about what fits where. Consider how often you use certain things, from foods to appliances, and what items logically go together. Put baking ingredients in the same place, keep the snacks in an easy-to-reach spot (or not if you want to keep the kids out), and so on.
If you use your slow cooker every couple of weeks, make sure you can get to it without having to move a bunch of other things first. Save the back shelf spots for things like the bread maker you pull out once a year. Or if you’re feeling really bold, consider moving that underused appliance to the garage, storage unit or donation bin.
The first step for making any home feature work as intended is getting organized. You’re on the right track. Good luck!
Paul Kocharhook is the owner of Pathway Design + Construction, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to [email protected].