In this article, Small Pantry Organization: From Unorganized Mess To Organized Bliss, I will show you how to take a small unorganized pantry and turn it into the functional organized space where you can find plenty of storage. I will share how I took my small pantry and did a complete makeover which now gives me plenty of space to store many of my essential items.
But before digging into my small pantry organization, let me give you a little bit of an introduction into when and how my pantry organizing journey began.
In February 2020, we bought an 1100 sq. ft. outdated 1950’s house and it took our contractor 3 months to renovate the whole place. Of course, a small house also comes with a small kitchen and this is where my pantry organizing journey began.
Before My Small Pantry Organization
When we moved into our new home, I knew that I only had a few cabinets to work with to store our pantry essentials. My initial needs were to find a place where I could store our pantry essentials so I could keep our kitchen counter space as clear as possible. During that time, the cabinets beside the refrigerator were the perfect spot for these items and the right side closet beside the side door was designated to store our cleaning essentials.
At that time, my needs were met, I was able to store all of our pantry items and to keep my kitchen counter space clear and usable. However, after a few months, as it was turning to the winter season, I realized that the small trash bin under the kitchen sink that we were currently using was not going to work during winter. Our house does not have a garage so we needed to take the trash out to the backyard. In winter time, going out to the backyard to throw out trash on a daily basis created discomfort for me and my husband. Besides that, the need for additional storage space became evident because storing pantry items inside the kitchen cabinet became more and more challenging. So I knew then, that I needed to utilize the right side closet not just for storing cleaning essentials but also for other pantry items.
My First Improvement To Meet My Need For Additional Storage Space
In order to meet our need for additional storage space and a spot for bigger trash bins plus a space for other pantry essentials, I decided to make full usage of our right side closet. Instead of just storing our cleaning essentials, I would use it for our trash bins and other pantry items as well. To do this, I bought few organizing products to help me utilize every inch of space and so that I could store many items as possible. Here are some of these organizing products:
Storage Helper Shelf – that helped me to create two rows of space which resulted in allowing me to store more items.
Rice Container – this was used to store 25 lbs. of rice that we buy regularly. I bought a container that will store the exact amount of rice that we prefer to buy. A container that is too small would create a need to use multiple containers and more work while a container that is too big would result in under utilization of pantry space. It also help me to know when its time to buy a new bag of rice. See my article for more about why The Size of Pantry Container Matters.
Airtight Food Storage Containers – I placed it in between the rice container and the storage helper shelf so there was no unused space.
Organizer Bins With Handle – to have available container or space when the need arises.
White bins From Ikea – I used these small bins to store small items.
Grocery Bag Dispenser – I chose the multi-holes design to store all of our grocery bags for easy access. The multi-holes design makes it easy for me to pull out a bag whenever I need one. If you will notice, the bag dispenser is longer than what I needed for the reason that I cannot find a shorter bag dispenser with the same design. However, I was happy with the result because I did not need to mount it into the wall and just needed to place it in a slanted position and this made it easier to take out a bag and to put it back.
Two Trash Bins from Ikea – 1 for our trash and 1 for recyclables.
For the cabinets beside the refrigerator, I bought two can dispensers and made some rearrangement of the items which resulted in saving one drawer. This is good proof that the more organized your space is the more items you can store.
Can Dispensers – I only ended up with this kind of can dispenser because of space limitation. It is the only dispenser that fits in the pull-out drawer.
Using some organizing storage products and a few changes, I was able to meet the need for additional storage space and I was able to designate space for bigger trash bins.
5 Easy Pantry Organization Steps To A Well Stocked Pantry
My first pantry organization improvement was working fine for a while and I was pretty content. However, I noticed that I had a hard time in identifying what items I needed to buy and what items that I did not need to buy. It ended up that I eventually started asking my husband to go back to the grocery store because I missed something that I needed.
In my article Framework Of Organizing Discipline: The Japanese 5S System, making unnecessary trips to the grocery store is one of the 7 household wastes that can be eliminated using the framework of organizing discipline. Any household waste can cause stress and anxiety which means there is a need to eliminate any type of household waste so you can relax and just enjoy being at home. And because of this issue, I was urged to come up with new changes to my small pantry organization method. I wanted my small pantry organization to help me come up with the right grocery list so I could have a well stocked pantry and eventually eliminate the unnecessary trips to the grocery store.
During this time, I already knew my must have pantry items and the positioning of the pantry items in my closet pantry. If you are still in the stage of figuring out your pantry must haves, read my guide on Eliminate Food Waste While Keeping A Well Stocked Pantry and Pantry Organization Ideas And Guidelines to know the key steps in pantry organization and to know what pantry items to place where in your pantry cabinet or shelf to promote easy accessibility.
Below are the additional changes that I made in my small pantry organization in order to help me to come up with the correct grocery list which made my grocery shopping much easier and even more efficient. Hopefully these will help you to achieve the same:
1. Measure Your Pantry Dimensions – Get out your measuring tape and measure the dimension (the depth, the width and the height) of your pantry shelf or cabinet as shown below. The dimensions of your pantry shelf or cabinet will give you an idea of what organizing products you should look at aside from it functional design, an organizing product that will fit in your pantry closet or cabinet.
2. Identify and Prioritize Pantry Items That Run Out Of Often – Take note of pantry items that you regularly run out of. In my case it was canned goods and cooking sauces. Also prioritize them during your space allocation so you can store the right inventory level based on your family’s needs. In this way, your pantry will never fall short again.
For my cooking sauces and some condiments that are opened and I am currently using, these are placed in a drawer beside our stove. For cooking sauces and other condiments that I like to keep on hand but not opened, these are placed in the pull out drawer of the cabinet beside our refrigerator.
3. Designate A Specific Location Per Pantry Categories – All pantry items under the same family, function or category should be placed in one location as much as possible. Remember to follow the F-F-L Method (Function – Frequency of Use – Location) to know what pantry items to place where, this will avoid unnecessary bending or stretching when reaching your pantry item that you use often.
During the space allocation, I made sure that all my canned goods would be in one spot and that I would have enough space to store all of them because canned goods are one of the pantry items that I run out of often. However, I could only fit 4 can dispensers and there was space left that I did not want to leave unused. Fortunately, that space was good enough to store the boxes of noodles that are also part of our pantry must haves. So, even though noodles and canned goods are under different categories, I made an exception to the rule. This is always acceptable so you can make the most of the space that you have to work with.
Note: You will notice that I placed two different canned goods in one can dispenser, see can dispenser with label “whole and diced tomatoes” and “mackerel and black beans”. I did this to maximize the usage of each can dispenser. For example, I stock up on more whole tomatoes than I do with diced tomatoes so I placed the diced tomatoes on top of the whole tomatoes. This allows easy access to both of them.
For items that we use once or twice a month, I placed them on the uppermost part of the shelf. I also repurposed the old towel holder and use it to hold a few rolls of tape and scissors that we use when we open our packages and when we need to return a package.
4. Buy Organizing Products That Will Maximize Your Pantry Space – If you are trying to make use of an existing closet where the shelf distance is far apart just like my closet pantry, see the picture above (distance between each shelf is 17 inches), you need to find organizing products that will help to maximize the space. Do not be afraid to mix and match different organizing products until you find the perfect organizing products that will work together! See also 17 Easy To Follow Cabinet Organization Ideas For Small Kitchen to know how to use your kitchen cabinet space effective because a well organized kitchen is a prerequisite to having a well organized pantry or vise versa.
Can Dispensers – I bought additional sets of the same can dispensers when I did my first pantry improvement. This is the right can dispenser based on the pantry space I had available. Although I really prefer can dispensers that use the First In First Out system design, my space limitations did not allow it.
Expandable Kitchen Shelf Rack Organizer – this is a great organizing product to maximize your pantry that has shelving that is far apart. This organizing product will help to make another shelf without using a single nail.
Lazy Susan Turnable – when I bought the expandable kitchen shelf rack organizer, I was looking to find ways to how I could use the space under the expandable shelf rack organizer to store my other canned goods that will not be placed in can dispensers. This was a good way to allow me to easily access these items and also allow me to easily spot canned goods that I need to replenish. And the classic Lazy Susan turntable checked all the boxes.
The combination of 1 expandable kitchen shelf rack, 4 can dispensers and 2 Lazy Susan turntables helped me to utilize 75% of the space. if I did not use the expandable shelf rack organizer the following would happen:
- I would only utilize 64% of the space.
- I would only use 4 can dispensers.
- I would have no place to store my other 23 canned goods.
For my cleaning essentials, I placed a Lazy Susan organizer on top of the storage helper shelf to make it easier for me to access cleaning products whenever I needed them. Then I placed 2 small bins under the helper shelf to store my cleaning rags and garbage bags.
I also placed a wire storage basket on top of another storage helper shelf to store bottles and other items. Underneath this I placed an old decorative bowl to store my produce items (produce based on the weekly meal plan). From there I utilized the top part of my rice container by placing a small bin containing my teas and my grandson’s juice boxes. As I mentioned earlier, so I would not waste any space, I placed my pasta container (to store left over uncooked noodles) in between the rice container and storage helper shelf. This was the only place I could store the pasta container (its too tall for my other cabinet).
Note: The Produce Section underneath the wire basket is allocated for produce items based on a meal that I plan to make within a particular week.
Wire Storage Basket – good for storing bottles and other heavy pantry items.
5. Use the Labeling Method To Designate Specific Locations For Each Pantry Item – using labels is the best way to designate a place for every pantry essential. Labels will help your loved ones to locate items easily and labels will also direct you and your loved one where to put them back.
Pantry Basket Labels Clip to designate the location for my pantry closet.
Use Your Pantry Label Beyond Content Identification
Take advantage of what labels can do for you and your loved ones. Labels convey instant information that will definitely help you to control your pantry inventory and will help you to come up with a correct grocery list. In my case, from working in the manufacturing industry for a very long time, I have learned the benefits of using labels and why labels help to control inventory of a particular item. However, for a long time, I refused to apply that labeling method in my own home because I thought it was not necessary and only applicable in the business industry. That was until coming up with a correct grocery list was becoming an issue in my house.
That was when I came to the realization that using the labeling method (part of “4th S” of the 5S System) that I learned from work could also help me to solve my problem at home. Using labels for all of my pantry must have items definitely helped me to control my pantry inventory level and helped me to quickly spot what item I needed to buy. Thus, it also helped me to come up with a correct “to-buy grocery list” as well as helping me to maintain a well-stocked pantry.
1. Use Labels To Quickly Spot Items That Are Missing – when it’s time for you to make a grocery list, labels can help you to identify what pantry items are missing and pantry items that you need to buy. This way you will not miss writing down items you need to buy.
2. Use Labels To Know The Quantity Of Pantry Items Must Haves You Need To Buy – when you designate a specific spot for your pantry must haves, you can easily know the quantity of each pantry item you need to buy. For example, using the picture above, you can easily know what you need to include in your grocery list such as:
- Panko Bread Crumbs – 2 boxes
- Oyster Sauce – 1 bottle
- Stuffed Olives – 1 jar
- Kalamata Olives – 1 jar
I use Caddy Tote and Easy Peel Address Labels to designate a specific allocation for cooking sauces.
3. Do Not Put Labels On Pantry Items That You Only Use On An Occasional Basis – all pantry items that are not part of your pantry must haves or not part of your grocery list should have a designated location but should not have a specific label. It should be labeled under a generic name like “others” just like the picture below:
The can dispenser that is labeled “others” is designated for pantry items that are not part of our Must Have items. It contains different pantry items under different pantry categories. Those are the items that I buy because I want to try something new or items that will satisfy our occasional cravings for other food aside from our regular food staples.
4. Use Labels Effectively And Do Not Over Do It – Only put labels on items that are part of your grocery list that match your family’s needs. A label with an empty spot is conveying information that the particular items are missing and it is time for you to buy them. However, if you do put a labels on items that are not a part of your must haves, the same information will be conveyed to you and therefore it will trigger you to put that particular item on your to buy list. This will cause you to end up with items that you barely use that may result in having items that reach their expiration date before you even get the chance to use them.
See my article, Eliminate Food Waste While Keeping A Well Stocked Pantry, to know how to come up with A Grocery List That Matches Your Family’s Needs.
Pantry Organization should be based on your needs and most of the time you need to keep changing your organization method to cope with your constantly changing needs and lifestyle. A small pantry should not be the reason why you cannot have an organized pantry because there are a lot of space saving organizing products that you can use to hep you maximize every inch of your space. Besides that, they can help you to arrange your pantry essentials efficiently. You also need to match the items in your pantry with the recipes that you cook on a regular basis so you will not end up with items that you barely use. Use labels effectively to help you to come up with the right grocery list which will ensure that you always have a well stocked pantry. This will help you to avoid making unnecessary trips to grocery store. Now, all you have to do is just Enjoy Being At Home because you have pantry organization that is working for you!