How to Use Kitchen Cabinets as a Pantry
Without fail, in each and every house we move in to, there is always one specific space that requires a complete re-imagination from what we were doing before: the pantry. In the 8 homes we’ve lived in, we have not once had a “similar” pantry layout, meaning our previous organization systems don’t nicely transfer over to the new house. Since the pantry is something we interact with day in and day out, not having a “just right” system in place usually leads to quick and total pantry chaos. And like clockwork, once that happens, I move “Figure Out the Pantry” to the top of my list. Our current house provided a challenge we haven’t encountered yet: no pantry at all! It’s something I immediately noticed when examining the pictures in the MLS listing and worried about as we moved in. It quickly became clear that we were going to have to use the kitchen cabinets as a pantry.
This isn’t my ideal situation. As such, I worked hard to make it as functional as possible and wanted to share the strategies we used (with great success!) in case you are faced with using kitchen cabinets as a pantry too!
I’ll mention up front that we are currently using 2 kitchen cabinets in addition to 2 kitchen drawers as our pantry. BUT! Today, I want to chat specifically about how to outfit kitchen cabinets as a pantry. The tips and tricks I’m sharing today can be applied to any size and number of cabinets to contain any types of food (including foods we’re currently storing in our drawers). Next week, I’ll dive deeper into those kitchen drawer strategies so stay tuned for that!
Where to Put the Pantry?
I am super particular about having everything in one spot. Whether it’s toys, craft supplies, or in this case…food…I don’t like items spread out around the house or even within a single room. It just makes for extra work and effort to find what you’re looking for. So even though we have a nice big island full of pull-out shelves and some other (more spacious) cabinets, I tried to find an area that would allow us to create the “feel” of a pantry by having all of our food in one spot. The tall cabinet next to our fridge, which also has three good-sized drawers right underneath it, was the ideal location not only for its size but also because it’s central to where we do almost all of our food prep.
Take Away: Consider these factors when deciding which kitchen cabinets to outfit as a pantry: Where are the cabinets? Are they easy to get to? Is there enough space/cabinets? Are the shelves adjustable? Are the shelves deep enough or too deep? Can the cabinets (or set of cabinets) hold what you need to store? Can you reach all the shelves in the cabinet(s)?
How to Make Kitchen Cabinets Into a Pantry
While I love that these cabinets go all the way to the ceiling, it didn’t take long for items to get lost on the top three shelves (since I can’t reach them without a stool). Additionally, most of the shelves were rather short, so we had to cram things in any way they’d fit. It didn’t take long before we started just stacking items and putting foods anywhere just to get the doors to shut.
Ready to see some before photos? I still can’t believe we lived with the cabinets like this for a good 6+ months!
Before I could create some order in our pantry, I knew I had some sorting and purging to do first. And as I like to do in ANY space I’m organizing (whether it’s a whole room or a tiny drawer), I relied on my simple SPACE method. This doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. In fact…in just an hour, this is what I did:
As I emptied the cabinet, I sorted all the foods into logical, intuitive categories.
Since I was going to touch every item anyway, I went ahead and made sure each item was still usable and worth keeping.
- Made a donation bag for foods I kept passing over week after week.
- Merged half-used bottles of spices and like oils/vinegars.
- Eliminated bulky packaging wherever possible (more on this below).
- Tossed anything that was stale or past the use-by date.
I then spent a good amount of time assessing all the different piles and categories. Specifically:
- First, I broke apart really big categories into more specific, smaller categories to make it easier to find things.
- Next, I considered which items needed to be stored in their own dedicated containers (e.g., rice, pasta,) and what could be grouped into bins and baskets (e.g., spices, canned goods, etc).
- Lastly, I considered other areas throughout the kitchen (e.g., the drawers beneath this cabinet) and what would best fit there.
These considerations allowed me to refine my categories and start to visualize what could be stored where.
Next, I considered the cabinet itself in order to identify the best solution for that cabinet.
- After taking some measurements, I determined that the 3 top shelves spaced tighter together really did allow for optimal storage. Had I moved any shelf up or down, each one would have either been way too short or way too tall for everything I needed to put in this cabinet.
- I then played around with different bins and baskets to see how I could make the most of every shelf. You’ll notice I ditched my favorite Y-weave baskets (that were carried over from our last pantry) because they really weren’t optimal for this size cabinet. After playing around quite a bit, I ultimately landed on an arrangement that not only best used every inch of available space, but also fully contained everything I needed to store in logical categories.
- With the bin arrangement set, I loaded all the foods into the clear containers and used Post-It Notes as temporary labels (not shown).
Once I had all the foods put away, I continued to futz (<– technical term) until I was completely satisfied with the location and functionality of each item/category (e.g., less-used items on top, commonly-used items lower down). Once done, I labeled each bin with a gorgeous new label.
The final step was to load everything back in, and step back and enjoy not only a really great looking pantry, but one that is also really functional!
Take Away: Kitchen cabinets don’t naturally work as a pantry. As such, you do need to spend some time figuring out how best to store the foods YOU need to store in YOUR specific cabinets. Not only consider the size and shape of each food item, but also how often you use it and how to best store it so that you can get it when you need it.
I thought for sure our pantry situation in this house was going to be challenging the entire time we lived here. But it turns out, this quick, function-focused makeover has really improved our kitchen experience for the better. I’ve just shown you how to outfit your kitchen cabinets as a pantry. Next, I’ll highlight a few things that are working really, really well!
Other Helpful Tips!
Grocery Shop First
If you are setting out to create a pantry somewhere in your kitchen or home (or even reorganize a “real” pantry), I strongly recommend you do so immediately following a full grocery trip. If you’re going to make the effort of adjusting shelves, corralling like items, and finding the right spot for your “usual” pantry stock, you need to have those items on hand. Otherwise, you might mis-judge the size/quantity of certain items and end up with everything not fitting once you are fully stocked!
Take Away: Stock your pantry first, organize second!
Whenever possible, eliminate the cardboard boxes and plastic/paper bags foods come in. Not only do all these colorful, busy packages create visual chaos in your pantry, but the packaging eats up potentially valuable space. You will be able to store so much more (and always see your stock on hand) if you get in the habit of “decanting” your pantry items.
Take Away: Removing packaging is a habit REALLY worth getting into. If you’re not sure how to start, I have a full guide here!
If you’ve been reading my blog for even just a minute, you likely know that my solution to pretty much every organizing problem is bins and baskets. But this is my solution in this specific case for good reason! Bins, baskets, boxes and containers:
- Help you take advantage of shelf depth.
- Keep shelves tidier since things don’t fall over as easily.
- Are easier to pull down off shelves than single hard-to-reach items.
- Keep like items together so you know where to find them.
- Allow you to get rid of unsightly, bulky packaging (therefore allowing you to store more).
- Help corral small snack items such as granola bars, fruit cups, etc.
In our specific pantry, I can’t over-emphasize what a different the 9 clear bins made in not only keeping the space tidy, but being able to get everything down. That said: not all bins and baskets are created equal. If they don’t fit on your shelves properly or they don’t hold what you need them to hold, they aren’t doing you any good!
Take Away. Take the time to find just the right size, style, and type of baskets for your shelves and specific foods.
Handles are Helpful
I cannot easily reach the top three shelves in our “Pantry Cabinet,” so when I was looking for bins and baskets for our shelves, I intentionally looked for ones with handles (that still fit our cabinet depths). These handles make it possible for me to pull down each and everything in this cabinet without a stool!
Take Away: Baskets with easy-grab handles are a great way to take advantage of really high shelves!
So… a few weeks ago, I did a whole post about how to hide basket clutter. And you might remember that while I was outfitting our playroom baskets with faux fronts, I also made cardboard fronts for these clear pantry baskets. Interestingly enough, it took me about 0.2 seconds to realize I didn’t like the solid fronts in the pantry! Why? Because I want to be able to make my grocery list by quickly glancing at my pantry and seeing what’s out. I don’t want to have to pull down each bin just to see if I have peanut butter on hand or if we’re running low on spaghetti. Although some canned goods are stored toward the back of the bins, I can usually still see what we have on hand without pulling anything down!
Take Away: Clear containers not only look really clean, fresh and pretty but they also help you keep tabs on your pantry stock at-a-glance.
Don’t Stack Too Deep
Long-time readers might remember we once had a super deep pantry (I even showed how to take advantage of that depth without losing things here). However, in the case of less deep kitchen cabinets, I don’t recommend stacking too deep. Not only can it be harder to get things out of cabinets if they’re buried, but it can be really difficult to even see what you have on hand. In the event that you can or need to stack items in front of each other, consider varying the heights (short in front, tall in back) so that you can always see everything on hand.
Take Away: Even if you don’t corral things into bins, using the shortest-to-tallest strategy can work for a lot of different items: pantry staples (e.g., flour, sugar, etc), cans and sauces, jars and bottles, spices.
At the top of this post, I mentioned I wanted all of our food items in one single spot. But that just wasn’t realistic. A single cabinet (and the two drawers I’ll show you next week), just didn’t provide the space we needed for some of our bulkier things. For example, cereal boxes and bags of chips. So right across from the refrigerator is one lower cabinet that we adjusted to hold these bigger items. This is not my “picture perfect”/everything-in-one-spot solution. However, its size and proximity to the other cabinet made it an obvious choice for these spill-over items!
Take Away: If your kitchen doesn’t have an existing pantry, you will likely need to get creative and be flexible in your storage solutions. Consider out-of-the-way cabinets, coat closets, and garage/basement shelves for non-perishable, bulky or back-supply items.
Consider Your Drawers
Finally, kitchen cabinets aren’t your only alternative for carving out pantry space. Kitchen drawers, especially deep ones, can be outfitted to hold a lot of food too…see our drawers in detail HERE!
I’m not gonna lie…not having a pantry was kind of a bummer to me. Not only do I love a good, organized pantry, but our family has become accustomed to snacking and cooking from a central food location. Using our kitchen cabinets (and drawers) as a pantry took a little while for me to wrap my brain around. But once I finally took on this organizing project and identified some really functional solutions that are truly working well, I will admit not having a pantry doesn’t bother me one bit anymore! It’s just yet another example that smart organizing solutions can help you make sense of pretty much any space!
If you too have to use kitchen cabinets as your pantry, I hope this post gave you some good ideas. Like I said, next Tuesday, I’ll give you a closer look inside our kitchen drawers. But first, back here on Friday, I have a fun and so easy craft project perfect for any book lover! See you then!