Published on May 6, 2020

It always seems like the tiniest spaces are the most difficult to keep in order—and that’s especially true in the kitchen. When you have boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese, cans of chickpeas, and jars of marinara sauce all jumbled together, you’re not only likely to feel discouraged from cooking—you’re also pretty much guaranteed to buy things you already have, miss the ingredients you’re low on, and generally make mealtime more stressful than it has to be. But the right small pantry organization can help.

Whether you’re working with a slim wire shelf or just a single cabinet, it’s possible to optimize the space you have for all the assorted dried goods and snacks you want to stay stocked up on. So we turned to the experts—and it turns out that it’s not as hard as you’d expect. Here, Ría Safford of RíOrganize and Corrie Jackson of Maison Haven share their best small pantry organization ideas. 

Work with the pantry you have, not the pantry you want

“You can’t do Costco-scale shopping if you have two cupboards,” Safford says. If you stock up on too many things, then you’ll always struggle to make it fit in the limited space you have to work with. That said, if you do need to buy in bulk, you can keep your pantry tidy by creating an overflow area elsewhere in your home: a shelf in the garage, a corner of a coat closet, or even the space on top of your refrigerator are valid options.

Measure before buying any tools

According to both Safford and Jackson, shelves, turntables, and baskets are all valuable investments if you want to maximize your storage space—but if you don’t figure out exactly how big that space is, you can end up with purchases that are too big, too small, or just not right for your pantry. Every inch counts, so a bin that doesn’t fully reach the back of your cabinet won’t be that much of a help.

Don’t underestimate decanting

Yes, dried goods do look prettier when they’re poured into clear glass or acrylic jars—but it’s not just for Instagram. “Think about how much is really in a bag of chips,” Safford says. “A canister can hold five bags in the same amount of space.” Rice, beans, pasta, and snacks can all be easily stored in reusable canisters—but size, again, is key. Make sure they’re large enough so you’re not left with a ton of overflow.

Designate a refill station

Still, you’ll inevitably end up with some spare noodles or chips—so it’s best to keep them all in one spot. A simple basket or spot on a spare shelf makes the perfect “refill station” (you can also use the same spot for your excess purchases. “And always, always check it before you go grocery shopping,” Jackson says. “That way, you never end up with multiples.” 

Customize your zones

When it comes to arranging the items in your pantry, your lifestyle and cooking habits are a key factor. Safford and Jackson both recommend sorting things into different zones and not necessarily grouping products by type, but by use: snacks in one spot and breakfast essentials in another. Jackson has even noticed more and more clients making room for “wellness zones”: spots for healthy treats, supplements, and powders of all kinds.

What’s most important is making sure the layout of the space works for you. “At the end of the day, you want your essentials to be the most accessible,” Safford says. A small turntable with your everyday spices, oils, and more makes keeping your pantry stocked and cooking your meals a cinch.

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