Maximize small pantry organization with these 15 tips and ideas for how to organize your food storage space and make the most of what you have available.
When we originally redid our pantry in 2012, I really tried to give the project a lot of forethought and create pantry organization systems that would remain neat forever. Of course, that was wildly idealistic! In any organizing project, you are going to need to adjust and adapt as time passes. Today I’m sharing my top fifteen best small pantry organization ideas, including some of the pantry organizing mistakes I corrected. Some of these are old classics, and a few are things I learned with time and perspective. I hope they’re helpful to you.
How to Organize a Small Pantry
The thing you should keep in mind as you go over these tips is that the key to organizing a small pantry is to make the very most of the space you have. Be careful about what you bring into it, which may mean keeping bulk storage to a minimum and prioritizing the things you need most. It may also make sense to store bulk items elsewhere and use the small pantry to hold just the small quantity you use most often.
15 Small Pantry Organization Ideas & Tips
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1. Start with a blank slate
Whether you’re building a new pantry or tackling a small pantry organization project in your existing space, it’s easier to come up with a plan when you have a fresh, blank slate. If you’re working with an existing space, this is a great time to do an audit and dispose of any expired food and wipe the shelves down.
2. Plan your small pantry organization out really well
The best way to begin the planning process is to make a list of all the challenges you have with your current small pantry organization and brainstorm ways to solve them.
For example, the former closet that served as our pantry was deep. It was difficult to access things that were in the back of the deep shelves, so I opted to set back the upper shelves in our makeover.
This is just one example of a way to design the space so it best serves you and your family. You may find that you have a lot more bulk goods that need a home. In your case, the deep shelves may actually be a good thing! Make the space work for your unique needs and with the things you already have.
3. Create a small pantry organization system
Not implementing a system for your pantry is a recipe for chaos and frustration. Creating a system should be a part of your pantry planning and layout phase and should be determined before you put things inside. Structure your pantry in such a way that benefits you and your lifestyle. Using a system for storage, cooking, and keeping inventory will help your sanity tremendously!
We use the “first in, first out” rule. When we purchase bulk products we use often, we bring any leftover “inventory” of that product to the front and place the new items directly behind the older ones. This way, we use the older things up and they don’t expire.
There are many apps and printables for keeping track of what’s in your pantry, but I honestly find that the best and most reliable systems are simple and visual.
4. Put like with like
As a good rule of thumb when organizing a small pantry (or really any space!), it’s important to put like with like.
Otherwise, you spend precious time and energy searching and digging around the random items to make grocery lists or take inventory. Then, the disorganization creates even more chaos and that’s how you end up with duplicate items and waste!
When you begin to put things back into your pantry, create sections by category. For example, a baking shelf, a canned goods area, an area for cooking jars, a baking section, and/or a snack section. This will be unique to your needs, but you get the idea!
6. Decant items into clear containers
I am a big fan of using glass jars in every room, and I think it truly helps to keep a space neat. You can measure quantities more efficiently.
Items I decant into clear containers include:
- Chips, crackers, and pretzels
- Dry goods such as beans, rice, and pasta
- Nuts and seeds
7. Corral loose items with baskets, trays, and crates
Rather than having a bunch of small items kicking around, it’s so nice to keep them neat and contained by corralling them in pretty baskets, trays, and crates.
As we are unloading our groceries, we automatically unbox granola bars, fruit snacks, and anything else that is packaged individually, and place them in their respective basket. This way, a lone breakfast bar inside a box isn’t mistaken for five breakfast bars. Or better yet — there aren’t completely empty boxes taking up valuable space on the shelf (are anyone else’s kiddos famous for that?).
5. Make it pretty
Now, this isn’t a requirement, but I have definitely noticed that I’m much more likely to keep my small pantry organized if it’s pleasant to look at. That goes for pretty much any organizing project. I chose storage items in the categories I just listed that are fun to look at and it encourages me to continue to use them and keep my systems running. There’s nothing more satisfying than opening a pantry and seeing everything organized in nice containers and baskets!
Small Pantry Organization Favorites
8. Use labels
When I originally planned the pantry, I labeled everything. Now I only recommend labeling things that need differentiation, such as different flours or snacks that look similar (gluten-free vs. regular, etc.).
However, be careful not to use the wrong labels. I never expected using the wrong labels would be an issue, but as many times as my kids changed their minds about their favorite snacks, I labeled and relabelled repeatedly!
When we first organized the pantry, I used printable labels that were applied directly to their containers. It was a great idea until I needed to update. They didn’t peel off neatly!
Instead, I now use chalk labels for any snack storage containers that need a label. The chalk pen makes it easy to write on the label and simply wipe them off if something changes!
9. Be strict about what gets stored in the pantry
Sometimes, our pantries turn into the junk drawers of closets, a catch-all storage solution for rarely used appliances, empty storage containers, and a whole slew of other odds and ends that really don’t have a place anywhere else.
When you’re thinking up small pantry organization ideas, you really don’t have the luxury of using up valuable space with random items. It’s time to declutter and give those things a new home! An example was our unused DVD player and DVDs that used to be stored in the pantry. Those needed to go for obvious reasons.
10. Use slide-out storage
One of my favorite features in our pantry was having the drawers for cans and other items that slide out. I feel like this is a must for any deep space that isn’t easy to access.
We built the drawers from scratch, but there is a kit available here that is pre-built if you want to implement this in your own small pantry.
11. Create or use adjustable shelves
When we designed the pantry, we adopted the concept of adjustable pegs and holes. In every section, we can adjust the drawer and shelf heights with our changing needs. We haven’t found that we had to do this very often, but I appreciate that the option is there.
If you have a wall mounted shelving system in your pantry, chances are that they are already adjustable. A favorite tip for wire shelves is to create a solid surface using wire shelf liner.
12. Don’t forget about valuable real estate
When we inset the top of the pantry to make the shelves easier to reach, I was completely okay with sacrificing the space… and I’m not sure why I thought I needed to.
I bought two inexpensive wire door shelves that are the perfect size for cans and even seasoning packets. I gained back a bunch of storage area, and the shelves fit perfectly when the doors were closed.
13. Create a divided area for cookie sheets and cutting boards
In my experience, cookie sheets tend to get the raw end of the deal in the bakeware cabinets. They end up at the very bottom of the stack, meaning you have to take everything else out in order to get to them.
If you don’t have a designated cabinet already, storing cookie sheets and cutting boards upright in the pantry on a storage rack can be a major game changer.
14. Store less-used items up high
If you’re like me, you probably can’t reach the top shelf easily. You can store a folding step stool in your pantry, but it’s still a hassle to take it out every time for frequently needed items.
Instead, organize your pantry in the way you cook. For example, if you make a lot of soups, store the broths and canned items within quick reach. Keep the flours and sugars on a higher shelf if baking isn’t a regular occurrence.
15. Pay attention to proper food storage
I never thought you could store foods improperly, but this is definitely a thing! Did you know that some produce items aren’t exactly neighborly with others?
You should never store apples and potatoes together. Potatoes and onions are also best separated. Flours and meals can absorb the scents and flavors of other food items nearby. Keep this in mind when you are mapping out your pantry plans.
Warm, dark pantries encourage foods to rot quickly. This used to happen to us often, so we now keep our fruit on the counter for easy access. Now, our small pantry is a place to store dried foods, canned foods, and snacks.
I hope you found these small pantry organization ideas helpful! Creating a system for a particular space in your home can be a lot of work, but I find it’s always worthwhile. With minimum maintenance, our pantry stays very organized, even with my kids going through it constantly. You can learn more about my pantry, including the answers to FAQs, here!
If you tackle this project, please share it by tagging me on Instagram @ninahendrickhome. I love to see your organizing projects!
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