How to Organize Pantry Drawers
It’s amazing how life changes in just a few days. Last Tuesday, I shared how we were using our kitchen cabinets as a pantry because…literally…that’s the project I just finished and had planned to post. The very next day, that post went crazy viral on Google (which NEVER happens to me). While I’m sure it’s coincidence, Greg is fairly certain it’s because the whole world is trying to figure out where to stock all this extra food for the next few weeks. Today, I am back, as promised, to give a closer look at how we’re using our kitchen drawers to store food. In some ways, I’m glad this post is timed for now because you all might find it extra helpful. But this post too, is total coincidence with current events. In reality, I’m navigating this crazy time right alongside you, and sticking to my blog schedule as best I can brings me some sense of peace and normalcy! So…that said, let me show you how to organize pantry drawers (if you have them) so you can save cabinet/pantry space AND keep everything easily accessible!
Last week, I mentioned our current rental home doesn’t have a pantry in the kitchen. After weighing different options, we decided to dedicate a kitchen cabinet as a pantry. We picked this one (below), not only because it’s in the heart of our kitchen, but also because there are 3 generously-sized drawers right underneath it. This ceiling-to-floor layout essentially gave us the look and feel of the pantry we were missing. Yet it still provided some organizing challenges!
In all of our kitchens, I’ve actually never had to store food in drawers. When we first moved in and were weighing all the options, I was actually fairly opposed to it. Then I realized our Oxo food storage containers were a PERFECT fit (both depth and dimension wise) in our deep drawers, so I started to consider it more seriously.
Then in the rush of moving in and having a new baby in fairly short order last summer, I scrambled to make the other two drawers work for snacks by transplanting some containers I had on hand. While these book bins were absolutely ideal in our last home, they certainly did not make the best use of this drawer space. As such, a random hodge-podge of snacks has been floating around this big ol’ drawer for the last few months.
Since the single kitchen cabinet and these three drawers were our main locations for food storage, I knew I needed to make the drawers work better. Here’s what I did!
Standard-Sized Kitchen Drawers
Store Small in Small
Long-time blog readers will know that I’ve stored our spices, vertically, in bins for forever. This is actually one of my favorite storage solutions of all time, and I had a really hard time deviating away from something that has worked so well for so long. In fact, if you look back at the original pantry photos I shared just last week, you’ll see that I still have the spices in cabinet bins. But since space really is at a premium (especially now with some extra food on hand), I kept experimenting with ways to maximize as much space as possible. And that meant moving our smallest things (aka: spices) to our smallest drawer:
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of food items you can store in standard-depth kitchen drawers. In considering our own pantry stash, spices, tea bags, and spice packets were the most obvious (and only) options. As such, I finally broke away from storing our spices in bins (to free up cabinet space for other items that won’t fit in a drawer) and identified smart ways to store these smaller items.
Take Away: Match the size of the food to the size of the drawer. Small and/or flat foods are ideal for standard-depth kitchen drawers.
Take Away: Be flexible in your storage ideas. Just because something worked before, it doesn’t mean it still works. I was SO committed to using our tried-and-true cabinet bins to store spices vertically, that I almost missed this opportunity to make our pantry drawers function even better!
Tea Organizer | Drawer Spice Organizer
Use Food-Specific Organizers
Without proper organizers to hold small foods, there’s a high likelihood these items will roll all around and quickly become a mess. So once I determined which foods were going to be stored in our shallow kitchen drawer, I hunted down organizers that not only held those specific items but would also fit the dimensions of our drawer. I can’t even tell you how resistant I was to using up most of this drawer for spices, but I’ll now admit that with them all laid out, it sure makes grabbing what we need super easy and it sure looks great too!
NOTE! You guys know I decant pretty much everything in our home, and especially our pantry. But over the years, I have specifically NOT decanted our spices because I was never able to find spice bottles/jars that would hold an entire jar of spices while still being fairly space conscious and easy to store. I was often left with duplicate sets of spices (the pretty jar and the leftovers) which defeated the whole purpose of decanting in the first place. That said, there are LOTS more options available these days and now that I have them displayed in such a visible way, new spice jars might finally make an appearance! If you have some generic bottles you love and that fit an entire jar’s worth of spices, let me know!
No matter what you use to corral food items in your drawers, there’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Choose containers that fit your drawers. This may be a no brainer, but you mainly want to ensure your drawer(s) will close. Take measurements, hunt Amazon, and find containers that fit not only the width and depth of your drawer(s) but the height too.
- Choose containers that will hold your usual stock. There is no point buying a spice rack that holds only half your spices. So don’t just measure your drawer, but “measure” your stock as well. Make sure that what you buy will hold all your specific items.
- Secure bins to the drawer. Every now and then, you’ll be lucky to score dividers that use up every single inch and fit perfectly. But most times, you won’t. Nothing is more annoying that organizers that slide around every time you open the drawer, so use clear Command Strips to secure containers to the bottoms of the drawers.
If you look closely under the corners of the tea holder, you’ll see the clear Command Strips I’m using!
- Make use of “channels.” When containers don’t fit perfectly, you can arrange them in such a way to create spaces, or channels, between them. These channels can be used to hold smaller, slender items. By getting really creative with your container arrangement, you might be able to create channels on all sides in order to take advantage of every single inch in your drawer.
Deep Kitchen Drawers
I realize most “standard” kitchens don’t have nice deep drawers. And admittedly, it’s these deep drawers that really allowed us to create this “pantry without a pantry.” If you do find yourself with nice deep drawers, here are some great ways to keep them both organized and functional!
As I mentioned above, you absolutely need to consider food size when figuring out what foods to store in what drawers. But another thing to think about is how often foods are accessed and by whom. In general, drawers are much easier to open (especially by little kids) than cabinets, so use ease and accessibility to guide your food placement.
Every household is a little different, but we like to have snack foods lower down so kids can get them on their own. Our top big drawer, therefor, holds all of our individually wrapped snack items. Like our other drawers, I searched for bins that made the best use of the space (both height, width, and depth) and were fairly budget-friendly. This compartmentalization not only looks good but makes it easy to find items since this drawer is fairly packed.
Take Away: Get rid of packaging and store individually wrapped items in smaller bins to compartmentalize and maintain order in deep drawers.
As I said in the beginning, I really didn’t think storing foods in our drawers was a good idea until I saw how brilliantly our Oxo containers fit. (So well in fact, I wonder if the dimensions of these containers are driven by standard drawer sizes?) It took a little bit of trial-and-error to find just the right layout, but once I did, I discovered I could store all of our pantry staples in this single drawer. This is a major win because these containers would have been really tough to store on cabinet shelves and still achieve the same accessibility and functionality due to their size and shape variations.
And when I say play around…I really mean it! These containers aren’t just a single layer. Both the Baking Soda and Cocoa Powder are two deep, meaning there are shorter containers under them! I would have never figured that out if I didn’t “Tetris” them like crazy!
Take Away: Experiment, experiment, experiment. Even if you think something won’t fit/work, give it a try – you might discover something that works even better than you imagined!
Label the Tops
Our Oxo containers have been labeled so many different ways over the years, based on how they are stored. When they sit on a pantry shelf, I label the sides. However, labels on the sides are essentially useless in this situation, so I labeled the tops!
I made these labels using my Cricut Joy with Smart Label. You can access the directions and file here.
I’ve labeled the tops of our Oxo containers before with great success (even opening them with wet/dirty fingers). I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how the Cricut Joy Smart Label is holding up, so I’m working on a full FAQ post…keep an eye out for that at the end of the month!
Take Away: Using lidded boxes/containers in deep drawers is an awesome way to store foods, beyond just pantry staples like flour and sugar. Labeling the lids is the best way to find what you are looking for, especially when you can’t see the contents/sides. If fancy labels aren’t your thing, dry erase markers right onto the plastic work great!
Shop My Pantry & Drawers
Below are the items I used to keep our pantry cabinets and drawers organized and looking fine!
- Handled Clear Bin
- Clear Pantry Bin
- Oxo Food Storage Containers
- In-Drawer Spice Holder
- Acrylic Tea Bag Organizer
- Cricut Joy Smart Label
Just as I mentioned last week during our kitchen cabinet tour, I really thought not having a pantry meant 3 years of food chaos. But by getting out of my own way and letting go of my “a pantry must be/look like this” perspective, I was really able to carve out food storage solutions that are truly working for us. Sure…one of the downsides of relocating so much means we have to figure this stuff out (and buy new supplies) over and over. But once the project is done, and I can fully see and feel the time and sanity saved day in and day out…it’s always, always, always worth the effort!
14 Comments on “How to Organize Pantry Drawers”
Penzey’s sells empty spice jars – the smallest is probably what you’d want for most things I see in your spice drawer.
“Oooh, that looks GOOD” is what I said, out loud, to my five year old when I saw the spices. What’s your opinion on drawers inside cupboards? As in, open the cupboard doors and pull out a drawer? I’m concerned it will be really annoying, but if it’s not I could totally do this in my cupboards!
Thanks so much Elisha!
Ummm…I don’t think it would be that annoying. If drawers really help you to make the most of the space AND keep items easily accessible, it would likely be worth it. Drawers are easier than boxes with lids!
Just my two cents!
Hope you guys are staying safe down there!Megan
Our new kitchen pantry has two doors that open to slide-out shelves/drawers.
The only “annoying” possibility is that both doors or in your case one door must be completely open for them to slide out. So holding items to put away can be tricky for us, but manageable for you. Hope this helps!
If anyone is not yet ready to buy bins or wants to test out the concept/sizes before buying, I often just rip the flaps off boxes to create a temporary bin.
Yes!!!! That is a great idea!
Thanks for sharing!Megan
Hi Megan – could you say how deep (in inches) your drawer is, or which Oxo container height was used? I clicked on the link, but there are quite a few sizes. Being stuck at home for 2 weeks will hopefully result in a little bit better organization! Thanks – stay well!
Hi again, Tenney!
Again, so sorry for the delay!
Our drawers are 7.25″ deep. The containers that fit are the 2.4 qt squares and the 1.5 quart coffee.
Hope that helps!Megan
Would you share the width and length of the drawers as well. Thanks.
I love the small 4 oz wide mouth canning jars for spices, the bonus being you can get your tablespoon inside it! No slanted drawer organizer needed, and Cricut labels would be fabulous on them, just like your divine OXO labels.
I have also noticed Costco often carries a turntable spice organizer and that buying 2 or 3 of those just for the matching glass bottles is cheaper than buying the bottles alone online.
Thank you for your organizing content during this time for us type-As! Longtime reader and big fan of yours in Massachusetts <3
Thanks so much for such a kind comment! I’m glad my content and ideas are useful during this crazy time!
And I LOVE your tip about the spice jars at Costco! Once this whole thing settles down, I will definitely check that out!
Hope you’re hanging in there!Megan
Saw this blog post about spice containers and thought of you! More container ideas:
Ooooo – that sure does look good, doesn’t it! Will have to think about how I could make that work!
Thanks for thinking of me and sharing this post – love it when readers keep an eye out for me!
Have a great week!Megan
These ideas are wonderful. Thanks for solving a perplexing problem in many kitchens and sharing your beautiful solutions. Love your ideas.