Major Help in Pantry!!

EPaineApril 18, 2011

Hi everyone, I am super embarrassed to be posting my disgusting pantry on here but i am in need of some major help with it! As you can see it is totally cluttered and i just cant seem to organize it correctly. It is super small to hold all my food items 35X24deep 8.5' ceiling. So my question is how can i fix this problem? Should I take down the builders wide wire shelves and install narrower shelving on all 3 sides? I use pretty much everything in there (if i could find it)Please Help!! Thank You

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I would try working with what you have first and then tweak the system and add new things if that doesn't work.

The first thing I'd do is to pull everything off of the shelves and put like items with like items. Boxed goods need to be next to other boxed goods so they fit on the shelf together better. The canned goods need to be together. If you had some baskets or tubs, it would work to help group together things like pastas or package seasonings like taco seasoning. Light stuff like bags of chips or bread could go in a basket too so it doesn't get squished.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 11:12AM
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Wow! It cheers me to know someone besides myself has a challenged pantry. My pantry is a little larger and deeper, which is a blessing and a curse. Stuff just gets lost in the back and it's hard to get to without knocking things to and fro. I do sort and shuffle to organize every so often but the key to my pantry system is to keep like products together. Soups together, beans (brown beans chilli, pinto, etc) together. Other canned vegetables together. All tomato products together, etc. If you have room in your kitchen cabinets for certain items that you use often, take them out of the pantry. I keep all bread products, chips and crackers in a large drawer in my kitchen; oils, vinegars, soy, hot sauce, etc on lazy susans in a kitchen cabinet by the stove.
It looks like you have room to put shallow hanging shelves or baskets under your pantry shelves, which would be good to put small packaged products. I have a basket that houses baking condiments, nuts, raisins, powdered sugar, cocoa, etc) that I don't need to have at my fingertips. I also use large tubs to store sugar and flour that sit on the floor of the pantry (storing extra for my canisters). I see you have some door storage as well, which is something I'm going to add to my pantry.
The key is (and I have to work at this constantly), everything should go into its proper spot, however you decide to organize. Once something gets tossed in, everything seems to get crazy again.
The Container Store has many organizational products. You'll love it once your pantry is the way you want it -- it's actually kind of fun getting it there. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 2:15PM
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Don't be embarrassed... this is life! I agree with the like with like system. But before you buy any storage boxes, you may want to begin by gathering some boxes you already have, just to see what would fit and what wouldn't. Try shoe boxes or emptied cereal boxes. These will be on loan to the pantry organizing project until you know what sizes to buy to suit your space. I see you have a number of food items in cellophane wrappers. These will stand upright and be more manageable in a box. I use plastic berry boxes for envelopes like salad dressing and enchilada mixes. Organize your food using the FIFO principal: First In, First Out, so newest items go behind others.

Once everything is arranged you could label major areas with index cards and attach them with twist ties so others in the household will be more likely to return things to their own space. Be sure things kids use are stored at their eye level (e.g. cereal boxes).

I have no kitchen pantry and would love to play with your space! Have made the most of my four lazy susans... labels help a lot.

Please post your after photos so we can all applaud!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 3:49PM
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Definitely empty it and sort out the products by type before you do anything. You probably have duplicates you don't know about, and expired goods.

Decide how you want to arrange things. I have food types together (condiments, cereals, grains and beans, ... )

Then, corral the bags of stuff into some sort of container so they aren't flopping all over the shelves - either put the bags in baskets or empty them into rigid walled containers. Line up cans of identical stuff front to back and stack them if you have to.

Shallow shelves installed between some of the wider ones would add a serious amount to your storage capacity.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 8:55PM
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We have a deep closet in our kitchen. It has wooden shelves, not adjustable, that were there when we moved in. I really didn't know how to use it at first, but started looking around for unused containers and ended up finding a bunch of long, narrow tupperwares, one that I had lost the top to, many that I just didn't use very often. I put those in and organized canned goods in them. Then I found more unused, mismatched long narrow boxes/trays around the house and organized other boxes, salad dressings, etc. in those. There is still room behind them on some shelves where I store large, not often used items (The large bottles of vinegar and oil that I pour into smaller bottles that I leave out, etc.) On other shelves I have some of those free standing wire shelves that hold more containers. These long, narrow boxes act as drawers, and work really well.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 10:12AM
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The first thing I notice is the amount of head room between items and the shelf above. That's that empty space between the shelf above and the top of the things on the shelf below. You can minimize headroom by moving shelves up and down, depending what is on the shelf. So, when you group your like items together, keep that headroom in mind. Cereal boxes and cracker boxes come to mind for higher headroom space, canned foods for a lower space.

I also notice how things have become piled on top of other things. Piling and stacking walk a fine line, both in convenience and appearance.

If there is a Container Store in your area, a trip just to browse would give you some excellent ideas for bins, containers for food, etc. Just don't get carried away the first time you go!

Good luck, and thanks for sharing the pictures. It really helps to see what you are dealing with.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 11:56AM
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I recommend using your computer to browse for photos of organized pantries. There you will "see" some of the good ideas mentioned above, and get a vision of what your pantry might look like, and it shows how things are grouped and how to use a selected number of other organizing aids like a few bins or stackers as mentioned by the other posters.

In addition to using plastic bins or containers to organize small "like" things that won't stand up, you may also have some stuff that is used together, and put it in a single bin. We have done that primarily baking supplies--the baking soda, powder, vanilla etc in one spot--or anything like that that fits how you cook.

After organizing, there is also a trick to staying organized. You usually need to put the things back where you got them from, or then you can't put some other thing away (it may only fit one spot) and then you've got stuff shoved everywhere; or you can't find it so you buy another. I can't always get my family to see that it is not that dear mom is so compulsive but that sometimes certain things are where they are for a logistical reason, like shelf height or depth.

You might find that the wire spacing itself is a problem for some small things that teeter but would do better on a solid shelf. That's fixable if it turns out is an issue with enough things; otherwise the bin approach works.

A lot of this is trial and error, which is why there are some good suggestions about using "temporary" containers to see how it works. Also changes as you go through life stages (needing to store certain baby foods or kid snacks, for example) or food cravings!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 2:59PM
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Thank You all so much for your comments! I did some reorganizing and it still seems cluttered but alright for now. I will be going to the container store and redoing the whole thing, but for a few days or so this will work! When i look at the photo of all that clutter I laugh and say OMG is that really my pantry!! Thank You All again!!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 9:49PM
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OMG! I wish my refrigerator looked that good inside! Good job. The Container Store will give you many ideas for continued organization. You have also inspired me!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 12:00AM
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I went to a talk given by a Professional Organizer. She gave us a lot of tips. She mentioned her favorite store is The Container store. I would start this project by pulling everything out, lay it on the floor, put Like With Like, then assess what you need-dividers, hanging racks, standing racks, etc. Good luck! You inspire me to tackle my own pantry closet, which looks a lot like yours! I don't have a camera, so I can't post before and after photos. Again, good luck!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 8:07AM
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You need MORE shelves in there. More closely spaced.

Look at how you have stacked stuff on stuff--that's because you really only have FIVE shelves. This is a hugely, hugely common problem w/ builder-installed shelving.

So, get a handyman to help you.

And rip out the builder's shelves, and put in a set of adjustable shelves. (I vote for not using wire)

Space them much closer.

The one problem w/ closely spaced shelves is that it's hard to get to the stuff in the back--and since your pantry is very deep, that's an additional problem.

Therefore, consider installing shelves that pull out (try in the center, and laying the canned goods on their sides in those (again, space them closely--only enough space for a fat can of crushed tomatoes to lie on its side).

If you put in wooden shelves, you can undermount the pullout on one of the shelves. (Or you can use an Elfa system, which mounts to the back wall and has brackets that will hold a basket underneath a shelf.)

Put big, lightweight stuff on the top shelf (cereal--unless your kids can't reach it there), and big heavy stuff on the floor (dog food, kitty little, huge bags of rice if you use them).

I also agree w/ the "corral things into boxes and bins" idea.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 9:00AM
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Here's another thing you could do, if you were willing:

Mount shelves on the inside of the door. The *prime* storage space is at torso height, which would mean covering up your window, but it would make things MUCH more accessible.

But you can absolutely put back-of-the-door storage BELOW that window. Me, that's what I'd do. I'd fill that area. (Probably you'd only get 2 rows, though)

The deeper the door shelves, then the shallower the inner shelves would have to get. But that would actually be good, bcs those really deep shelves make it hard to see the stuff at the back, and hard to get it out.

How much space is there between the door itself (when it's closed) and the front of the shelf? Most ready-made options are about 4 to 4.5 inches deep.

That would be a great place to store stuff that you use often, or that the kids should be able to get to. (cereal, drink mixes; vegetable oils, vinegar, etc.)

Some product ideas for you:

Rev-a-Shelf makes several styles, in lots of sizes.

Here's the biggest--20". (also avail in 11, 14, and 18-inch. You could get smaller ones, and put them side by side. ( has the best Rev-a-Shelf prices on the web, at least in my experience. I've used them a lot, and they're a great merchant. And Rev-a-Shelf's stuff is well made.)

These are 4.25" deep. It would be great to find one deeper, but you might have to get someone to make that for you.

These are less expensive, but also less fancy

this one is slimmer--only 4" deep, poutside depth I think. Designed to hold foil and plastic wrap. And so is taller, also (you can mix up the styles, too, y'know). Also avail. in

Me, I'd fill that door as full as I could.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 2:36PM
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Another option for dealing with your widely spaced shelves is a set of "risers".

Like these:

But, they may be too narrow, since they're intended for wall cabinet; you can make your own w/ blocks of Styrofoam or even shoeboxes. It might make it easier to see what's in the back of your shelves.

Another way to cope w/ too much headroom is to get a basket that slides under the shelf.
Likke these

They might have trouble going on your wire shelves, but hopefully they'd work.

I also added a shelf in a similar situation by simply wiring it to the shelf above. It was suspended, and would swing a little (but not a lot), and it was a shelf that didn't require me to hire a handyman!

If you were willing to line your shelves with something (could just be foam-core board cut to fit, actually), then you could use these sorts of products to create a second shelf in just a small area.

Of course, the stuff in front would block the stuff that's *under* the shelves, but you might find a way to cope with that.

There are can racks that are useful if you tend to use the same sorts of vegetables/soup/whatever.

Again you'd need to line the shelf so it had something firm to stand on.

If you got one like this, I can imagine that it'd be useful even if all the cans weren't the same type of veg. You just take the corn out from the bottom and put it back in at the top until you get to the peas.
Here's a cheaper one from Amazon.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rubbermaid's stuff--see their can storage especially!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 2:42PM
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Big thanks to Talley_Sue's "head room" mantra, I added and extra shelf to every shelf in my kitchen and used large turn tables for the hard to reach areas!

I claimed space for an additional pantry by pushing through the laundry room wall and adding kitchen cabinets. I bought extra shelves so I could customize head space.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 5:37PM
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Your pantry is exactly like my DD's so I wish you much success because her's has me stymied. But, looks like you are making progress.

Talley_Sue mentioned lining the shelves; I had HD cut Plexiglas for me to fit each shelf. It really helps sliding out the bins and keeping items stable.

Good luck, I'm eager to watch your progress.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 5:51PM
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Mustangs, thanks for posting your 'pantry' in the laundry area again. I must admit, I truly loved that picture of the washerwoman you used to have hanging in that spot!

If an over the door rack isn't an option, I would take out the wire shelves and put in shelves that came right to the molding on the door. It looks like about 3 inches, so you would gain about 420 square inches of space, albeit in smaller chunks. And following one of the above suggestions, have them be adjustable to minimize that headroom.

Have fun at the Container Store.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 10:08PM
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I would rather go to the Container Store than the most upscale boutique. I love that place--tells you where my mind is. I guess it's a good thing there isn't one anywhere me. Have fun!

Thank you Barbara! I wish we lived close to each other as the laundry lady is still in my garage. The consignment shop wouldn't take it and I couldn't sell it a a garage sale. I can't bring myself to throw it away. Obviously it isn't something that has broad interest.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 8:26AM
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Do note that neither one of Mustangs's closets is quite as deep as EPaine's. Close, but not quite. If you have to reach in the back and lift stuff "up and over," the headroom is necessary. The goal is to eliminate the need to lift stuff up and over.

And Mustangs solved the problem of not being able to get to the stuff in the back by creating "drawers" w/ those pull-out bins, so she "pulls out and lifts up."

And I like rjvt's tactic of having the stuff in the back be strategically CHOSEN: large items that don't get used as often. Easily spotted (bcs they're big), stuff you'd want bad enough to pull out the "drawer" in front, stuff you need infrequently enough that the extra effort wouldn't be annoying.

Like, the stash of extra paper towels or napkins, extra flour, huge bottle of vinegar that you decant, etc.

Another point I'd like to make: The goal is not to stuff as much stuff in there as you can. The goal is to **be able to get to things easily**. So don't worry as much about maximizing every inch, not until you have strategies that make it sensible to use the inches you do have.

Mustangs, if you ever get to NYC, we should go wandering through The Container Store together. (It's right across the avenue from Bed Bath & Beyond, so we can wallow in it!)

Oh, and I think you should decoupage that laundry lady to the front of the top closet door! (or don't you like it anymore?)

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 2:19PM
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Am I the only one who hasn't seen Mustang's laundry lady? Mustangs, would you post it for us, please?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 2:39PM
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It's a deal Talley_Sue! I use to work in mid-town and down-town but haven't been there in awhile but I'll take you up on the offer to do The Container Store! That would be awesome to meet you. We have get togethers all the time with the Cooking Forum members. Oh, and I still love my laundry lady. I'm going to take it out of the 34" X 43" frame and see if just the picture will fit somewhere.

Cross, Thanks for your interest in seeing my laundry picture. I replaced her with the cabinets.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 4:55PM
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Cathy, would she fit (just the picture without the matting) right above the countertop, if you framed her smaller?

I kind of hate that she's not in her rightful place too!

A friend of mine who is an artist, had a lot of prints he didn't want to get rid of, and put them on the inside of the cabinet doors, so when the doors are open he can still see them. His kitchen was interesting when the doors were open!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 5:59PM
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Inside the door--Brilliant!! I'm going to try above the end of the counter; if not then inside the door. Salvaged either way! Point of interest--CdL has been in my laundry room so she knows how small it is.

EPaine, Sorry for hijacking your thread. I wish I had your pantry door instead of my bi-fold thing.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 6:10PM
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Oh, your laundry room looks BIG to me!!! (This comes from one who has a laundry closet.)

What I do know is how beautifully organized it is!

For the original poster...I find it helps to get stuff out of the packaging and into their own containers. I have a preference for Lock and Lock because you can also pack it in a cooler, or take it along when you want. There are all shapes and sizes, which would make putting your pantry together a breeze. QVC has a huge selection.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lock and Lock

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 8:34PM
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I agree with CdL about packaging! It is your enemy especially in the freezer.

Another practice that I have is consolidation. I see some of your products that have just a little bit left. For example, you have a bottle of olive oil taking up a lot of room--pour that bit into the unopened bottle of olive oil--there's usually enough head room in the new bottle. If it isn't a "magic bullet" product I'll even combine different flavors of things like jams/jelly or cereals in order to eliminate jars, bottles, boxes.

CdL, yeahbut you have that fabulous Luna Laundry System!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 9:23PM
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I am so impressed with how much help & many hints & links all of you have given EPaine. You are a wonderful example of the beauty of forums when they work well.

EPaine, congratulations - you have already made such a difference.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 11:26PM
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I don't have a pantry - just shelves and drawers - but for a lot of my food storage I have started giving each item its assigned space which stays empty if I am out of that product. I'm not religious about it, and things get a bit off kilter when stuff is on sale and I buy extra! But the point is for my storage to be a bit like a store shelf, so I can see at a glance when I am out of something.

This works in the fridge as well as for non-refrigerated items. For the items I really want to be sure to have in the house, it works that when I am out of them, their space is empty. Because the task is really not to just organize the stuff you have, but to have the stuff you need!


    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:38PM
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I use these bins for my freezer & fridge but they'd work great for the pantry as well...I'll link them below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fridge Binz

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 1:43AM
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I agree with karinl--try to keep some spaces reserved for the bottle, box or jar you know you're going to replenish.this is part of simplifying and not having every food item in the house simultaneously just in case you might want it. I do find this a lot easier when just DH and I are home as we are both adaptable to fixing a meal based on whatever's there. It's harder when you have multiple family members bringing in their favorite products but you are the one who has to figure out where it will all go. That was my lament at times for "economy" sizes and I would try to say, the cereal goes here-- you can buy whatever fits!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 7:43AM
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A few weeks ago, I took off work for a full week (first time in a very long time) and each day, I devoted to reorganizing/decluttering one area. The first I tackled was our pantry. I had bought clear plastic containers (I can't be trusted with glass!) some time ago and finally put them to use.

I learned that for me, round containers don't work well - the square or rectangular shaped seem to give the most efficient use of space.

You can even store the containers on their sides and stack them if needed.

As mentioned already, I took most items from their original containers and transferred to the plastic containers.

For those food items that came with cooking instructions that I need to refer back to, I cut out the directions from the box and placed them in the container.

Once filled, most of the items are easily identifyable, but I did pull out my label maker and labeled a few just in case for DH.

For gravey and packets of sauce mixes, I stored them upright in a clear rectangular container that I salvaged from a long dead fridge that we had. Which reminds me - if you replace a fridge and are tossing it, remove the bins and drawers - they make great containers for organizing and are very durable.

I found we needed a few drawers to store pet supplies and arranged those on the floor of the pantry under our shelves.

Dog food and treats are stored in upright lidded containers. Ours aren't on wheels, but if you buy dry pet food in large ((20# & 40#) sizes, the storage containers on wheels are really handy. Or, you can put the containers on a plant dolly to make them easily movable.

For canned goods, I used the three-tier expandable shelf units that you can buy at wally world - inexpensive and gives you access to three rows of canned goods at a glance.

For chips and snacks in bags, I used one very large clear container - it's much easier to see what we have and none of the bags fall to the floor or get crushed.

Those are all of the tips that come to mind as I went thru my pantry. I forgot to take a before pic, but here is an 'after:'

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 4, 2011 at 3:13PM
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My pantry is about the same size as yours. I thought I had some current pictures, but the link below shows some older pictures and reasoning. (And this is a FABULOUS site for getting ideas for your pantry. I'm getting a 9'x9' walk-in pantry in our new house. I blame/credit it that site for it).

I re-organized mine a year ago, and this is what I've learned:

* the label maker is your friend
* packaged foods are not. I buy most of my foods in bulk. It's much cheaper, my 2-year old doesn't get swayed by logos, and i get to use my cute Target containers.
* i also like the containers because when I make my grocery list, it's really easy to SEE what I need more of.
* group like items together in whatever container makes the most sense: covered container, basket, bin...
*round-n-rounds (I'm sure there's a more official name) are great for cans and spices.
*teach other family members to keep up with the system (i'm blessed (?) to live with other OCD types (including the 2 year old)

Here is a link that might be useful: Other People's Pantries

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 10:35PM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

I get the plastic shoe containers at The General Dollar Store for $1. They are great for organizing.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 10:40AM
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Go to Ana White's website and see what she designed for her closet doors (and everything else there too).
My husband easily built one for our pantry door--for like $20.00!
At our house this is the "school zone" cork board for pics and menus/schedules, stores books, folders, supplies, etc. and then disappears when I shut the door :)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2011 at 10:53PM
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