Organization

A Messy Girl’s Guide to an Organized Pantry

This small organized pantry closet on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

How To Organize a Small Pantry: narrow pantry closet with labeled baskets of food and canned goods

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I was not born with the gift of organization. And as much as my parents tried to instill it in me, it never quite took. Whaaaaaaat??? If you know me in real life that’s no big surprise.

And unfortunately, no one else in my household seems very inclined toward organization either. (I’m still holding out hope for B, but at 6 she’s much better at getting things out than putting them away). So as you might imagine, keeping our pantry organized can be tricky.

Pantries are one of the most challenging spaces to organize (and maintain) because there’s so much turnover- things are always leaving, and new, often different, things are taking their places. This makes it hard to make long-lasting categories and stick to them.

Once upon a time our pantry was a crazy hot mess! Can you believe that? We had a shove-it-back-in-wherever-you-can-fit-it sort of system. Fun as that was, it didn’t work very well.

A couple of years ago I did a major re-org, and that involved a bit of investment to get good solid baskets, a can rack, and modular drawers. I still move things around once in a while, but now it’s all much more under control. If I can do it, then I promise there’s hope for you too!

How to organize the pantry…

1. Gather your supplies

Don’t you dare go shopping for pretty containers yet! You’ve got some work to do first my friend. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • a few hours of designated time (maybe over 2 days)
  • some kind of cardboard boxes, baskets, or containers to sort things into.
  • post-it notes
  • pen or marker
  • shop-vac or flexible hose vacuum
  • cleaning wipes, spray, etc.
  • trash can & recycle bin close by

2. Pull everything out & Declutter

This can get a bit overwhelming, so I recommend taking it one shelf at a time. Throw away the stale chips, expired anything, old opened bags of snacks no one likes, etc. as you go.

It may help to ask yourself, “Are we really going to eat this?” It’s not that different from any other organization and purging task. Though the stakes are a bit lower- it’s a can of pickled beets, not your grandma’s wedding dress!

I recently came across an unopened box of turmeric tea that I bought on a healthy spree. I was tempted to stack it back in one of my piles, but then I asked, am I ever going to drink this tea? The answer was “No”.

It’s no longer taking up valuable space in my pantry. And that’s exactly how I want you to think about the storage space in your pantry, even if it’s large. It’s very valuable, and you don’t want to waste it!

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

3. Make Pantry Organization Categories As You Go.

As you pull things out, begin sorting them into categories. It’s okay if you don’t have your categories set in stone yet. Just get a basic idea. Here are my current categories:

  • snacks
  • pasta & grains
  • sauces
  • condiments
  • cereal
  • canned goods
  • Asian food
  • breakfast
  • fruit & nuts
  • rice

And then I have drawers for a few specific items. (I keep my baking ingredients in a kitchen cupboard).

Your categories will depend on your space and what makes sense to you. Sort them by country or continent, meal, etc. Figure out what is most helpful for the way you cook.

And it’s okay to have a miscellaneous category, as long as it’s not a very big container. If everything is ending up there, you need different categories.

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

Who knew I had 5 unopened bottles of sesame oil???

4. Clean as you go

This is a great opportunity. Take a few minutes and wipe down your shelves, vacuum up the onion skin pieces on the floor, etc.

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

5. Line your shelves

Since I have wire shelving, I like to use plastic shelf liner. This helps ensure that if something leaks, it doesn’t end up dripping down to the next level. I just rolled it out and cut it down to size with scissors.

6. Decide where everything will go in the pantry

With this most recent re-org, I decided to try putting the snacks down low so the kids can reach them. I got tired of them dragging step stools over to the pantry. We’ll see how it goes. I also have their juice boxes and other school lunch-making supplies down low where they can reach them. You can see the school lunch-packing station HERE.

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

7. Shop for containers!

Now that you can see what you have, you know what you need to store it in. I like low bins & baskets because they help corral things, and you can easily see and grab things out of them.

I used

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!
This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

Over time, I’ve added a few things. One is this awesome Chrome Canned Food Storage Rack. This makes things so much simpler. Now I can see that I have five jars of mayo and I should definitely not buy more! As you can see, I like to keep a few things that are not technically cans on here too.

I also added some modular drawers on the floor level. I chose these Sterilite Modular Drawers because they’re 18″ deep and make good use of the space. I keep onions and potatoes in two, and the others are reserved for kid snacks and school lunch supplies.

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

8. Put everything away.

9. Label Everything!

Labels may seem like an afterthought, but I strongly recommend you don’t skip this step! Labels help encourage the long-term success of your organizing project. Especially in a kitchen where multiple people are using the pantry. I made these easy wood chalkboard labels for the baskets and shelves. You can check out my tutorial.

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

I also used these great ONUPGO Chalkboard Labels from Amazon for the drawers.

I’ve bought several different brands of chalkboard stickers over the years, and these are definitely the best and longest-lasting ones I’ve found. They also come with a good chalk pen!

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

Whatever kind of labels you choose, be sure the system is flexible. It’s a good idea to keep some extras on hand. I change up my categories from time to time, and I want the labels to be easy to change too!

This small organized pantry closet  on a budget with shelves and baskets is full of cheap and easy ideas to keep all your food visible and easy to access!

Here are the products I used, with links below the collage:

A few more things to consider as you organize your pantry…

  • The ultimate goals here are to 1: be able to see everything, and 2: be able to easily access (and put away!) everything.
  • Shallow shelving is always better than deep shelving in a pantry, unless you have drawers or slide-outs.
  • Light and bright is best- if you have dark shelving or a dark pantry, consider painting it white. We did this with my mom’s pantry and it made a huge difference!
  • Consider lighting things up! Check out these URPOWER Motion Sensor LED Strip Lights.
  • Try to find your balance between pretty and utility. I find that if I have matching containers, things will feel more organized, and therefore I’m more likely to keep things put away. But at the same time, this is really a utility space, so it’s not going to look like some of the gorgeous pictures you see on Pinterest with only four glass jars perfectly aligned on each shelf. That’s okay. (I wonder where those people keep the rest of their food?)
  • And finally, now that you’ve got a great system in place, take 15 minutes every month or so to make sure things are where they belong. This is also a good time to re-evaluate your categories and make small changes if necessary.

Ok, good luck! Let me know how your project goes in the comments!

More Kitchen organization ideas…

Easy DIY Giant Magnetic Spice Rack

Create a School Lunch-Packing Station

How to Organize Baking Supplies

Small Laundry Room Makeover

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14 Comments

  1. Hey! Can I just say that I’ve been scouring through Pinterest for actually useful pantry organization tips and yours really hit the mark? A good blend between aesthetic but ACTUAL FUNCTIONALITY(!!!!) and useful, but general tips for helping someone who is generally organized, but having difficulty with understanding a pantry to get started! I loved what you said about the quick turn over of a pantry – that is one of my struggles and I love that your tips include shallow shelving and budget friendly options.

    Thanks!

  2. What shelves do you have? The back wall in my closet is slanted which is super annoying so finding wire shelves that attach to the walls on the left & right might work for my space. I can only find ones with the long metal pieces that go on the back wall. Thanks!

  3. Love your ideas and am ordering the lights today! Also hoping to be able to do a store pickup for new bins during this Coronavirus quarantine! I am tackling closets and THE PANTRY! We are empty nesters and I can’t figure out how it is so messy! I am having problems corralling the partial chip bags, crackers, croutons etc that I put in zip locks and then forget I what I have! Thank you for the ideas!

    1. Hi Emily! My low grey baskets are about 12″ wide and 5″ high, and 15″ deep. Are you looking at the white Sterilite baskets? The large size of those should be pretty close to the same size as the ones I’m using. Hope that helps! And let me know if you have any more questions!

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