11 Pro Tips for Maximizing Your Pantry Space

published Apr 12, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Clea Shearer

Why do the pantries on Instagram always look like bespoke food museums, while mine is a chaotic hot mess? If you regularly ask yourself this exact same question, you could probably use a food storage makeover. Whether you have a cabinet-turned-pantry or a closet-sized walk-in, making efficient use of your storage space is a challenging task. But don’t stress. We’re here to help — especially as we slip into a new year. This month is the perfect time to rethink your kitchen pantry, as you continue to stock up on winter supplies.

To create a more organized, streamlined space, we reached out to two professional organizers for helpful tips on maximizing pantry space. Here are 11 of their very best organization ideas.

Credit: Michelle Tam

1. Organize your pantry into zones.

“The chaos in your pantry actually begins as chaos in your head,” says organizing pro Amy Tokos. Although our organizational systems may seem like they make sense, they’re likely not “zoned.” Tokos recommends putting all like items together — drinks go with drinks, all of the convenience items belong together, and so on. “If you put your hot chocolate on one shelf, the sparkling water on another, and the tea and coffee somewhere else, that’s three different places you have to look,” she explains. Group like items with like, according to how you use them, and spend a lot less time searching for a specific ingredient.

Credit: Tess Wilson

2. Resist feeling like you’re supposed to decant everything.

You’re actually creating a space problem if you put every ingredient and snack into a jar. Tokos points out that this system always gets derailed when life becomes busy. Liz Bremer, a certified professional organizer and the owner of Put It Simply Organizing, adds that ditching the packaging will also have you guessing about expiration dates. 

Tokos suggests keeping items in their original packaging, while defining your zones with large baskets, tubs, or a simple label on the shelf. This will encourage the rest of your household to put items back where they belong. Bonus tip: Store boxes the skinny way (as pictured above) to save even more space. Chances are, if it’s something you regularly stock, you don’t need to see the front of the box in order to recognize what it is.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

3. Use baskets to stop the spread.

There’s no need to put every item in a custom basket, but if your potato chip collection is spreading out on an entire shelf, that’s an indication it should be corralled into a contained space. “Whether you use a pretty basket or a functional plastic tub is up to you and what you want it to look like,” says Tokos. 

4. Make sure parts of the pantry are kid-friendly.

Putting kid-friendly, parent-approved snacks together in one zone will encourage independence and keep sticky fingers from exploring the rest of your pantry. Bins with handles make it especially easy for little hands to pull out and grab snacks, says Bremer.

5. Rethink what you store on eye-level shelves.

“Put the stuff you want to be eating at eye level,” says Bremer. This can help minimize food waste and prioritize stuff that needs to be eaten first. In other words: No more half-empty boxes of crackers languishing on the hard-to-reach shelves.

6. Slide in some under-shelf baskets.

Under-shelf baskets are inexpensive and super efficient because they add storage to a previously unused space. “I personally use one to put the Tupperware lids in and store the bottoms stacked under it,” says Bremer. They’re also a clever place to corral plastic baggies and parchment paper.

7. Get a back-of-the-door rack.

If you’re a fan of buying backup bottles and cans but don’t have the space for them, this is a great option: Bremer loves a back-of-the-door rack for overflow items. It’s also handy for condiments that won’t fit on shelves. If you don’t have a pantry with a full-size door (maybe you keep pantry items in a cabinet), consider hanging one of these on the back of a nearby coat closet.

8. Use risers to double your shelf space.

To maximize wasted headspace, especially when it comes to taller shelves, Bremer suggests picking up a few risers to create more storage opportunities. Shorter items — like canned goods — can go underneath, and the sky is the limit for the upper level. (Well, the limit = the bottom of the next shelf, but you get the point.)

9. Add a freestanding shelf.

A freestanding shelf can be useful for backups and bulky items that just won’t fit anywhere else, notes Tokos. Bare-bones metal shelving is cost-effective and can be useful for “hidden” areas, like a walk-in pantry, while more polished models can look sharp in an open kitchen. Just avoid the urge to buy everything in bulk, which brings us to the next tip …

Credit: Ashley Poskin

10. Don’t overstock too much.

“Pantries are the one place where people feel invited to overstock,” says Tokos. Because pantries are hidden from plain view, we tend to cram extras and impulse purchases in them. But this results in disorganization, expired food, and general chaos. While it’s a good idea to have an overstock of things you regularly run out of, you don’t need extras of everything! Also, meal plan around what’s already in your pantry, urges Tokos, and adhere to a well-planned grocery list that reflects what you want to cook. 

Credit: Ashley Poskin

11. Avoid the urge to stage your pantry.

“Remember that Instagram pantries are staged,” says Tokos. In other words, even the most gleaming pantries don’t look that good when they’re actually in use. “Staged pantries have so much wasted space. I saw a picture the other day that had four inches of space between each item. We all know that stuff is going to get shoved together.”

What products and practices do you use to make the most out of your pantry? Share your ideas in the comments below.