At the start of the year, I looked in our pantry and it was out of control.
I had no idea what was in there because it was such a mess.
If you have deep pantry shelves like me, you may have a hard time keeping your pantry organized. And perhaps you think you don’t have enough space for storage since not all the space is easy to use. Things get lost in the back of your pantry, especially on the upper shelves that are hard to reach. It’s hard to know what you have and what you need.
If you have a small kitchen and need to clean and organize your pantry to make the most of every bit of space you have, but you don’t have an entire afternoon to devote to the project, I feel you. I organized my pantry by using 15 minutes here and there, improving it over the course of a few weeks.
As a trained coach, I like to recommend breaking a project down into small steps so you get quick wins, feel less overwhelmed, and ultimately are successful.
It’s also helpful to set a deadline for yourself as motivation to get the job done. I wanted my pantry done before Adam’s family came to visit, so that was my goal.
Today, I have a 5 step process for creating an organized pantry with deep shelves. So it’s easy for you and your family members to maintain.
Use little bits of time to tackle these projects and create an organized deep pantry.
How to organize deep pantry shelves
STEP 1. PURGE
Purging is a great way to ease into your pantry project. It can be super satisfying as you toss things out and free up space.
First, throw out trash and expired food. I’m embarrassed to say that we had so much trash in our closet! Old chip bags with nothing inside but a bunch of crumbs. And cracker and cereal boxes with less than a single serving left in them. And old expired canned food.
I purged the pantry 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there. First, I pulled out all the empty food bags and boxes. Another time, I went through canned goods and jars and pulled out expired items. And a 3rd time, I purged the bottom of the closet and dragged over a stool to get the top shelves.
Once you’re done purging, it’s a good idea to pull out other stuff that doesn’t belong in the pantry. Bring a box and grab all the stuff that’s randomly shoved in there. I found empty storage baskets, a tray, marshmallow skewers for s’mores we never made, an old Swiffer, a food vacuum sealer, and a decorative plant that I hid there before company came. All of that went to other spots in the house.
Now it’s time to consider what else needs to be in the pantry. Are there things you can remove from the pantry and store somewhere else?
Likely you want your pantry to hold the items you use on a daily basis, so you have easy access to everyday items. Things like cereal, noodles, rice, canned and jarred goods, and nutrition supplements. And anything else that your family needs regularly.
Consider removing the following things from the pantry:
Condiments for daily cooking. Items that are used when you cook, like oil, vinegar and spices, may work better being stored in a cupboard or drawer above or below your stove so you can grab them quickly as you make food. I use a spot beside my stove, a drawer, and a lazy susan turntable under my stove for these items so I can grab them and put them away without stepping away from the stove.
Bulk food items, food bags and wraps. If you’re a bulk shopper and buy food for the next several months, can you store it in a separate storage room elsewhere until you need it? Things like bins of protein powder, sodas or coconut water, bulk oats, cereal or rice, and canned foods. Can you store multipacks of sandwich bags and food wraps elsewhere? We store ours in a cabinet in the garage.
Once you’ve decided what needs to be in there, it’s time to put similar items together into categories.
STEP 2. CATEGORIZE
Think in terms of categories. And sort through what you have and put similar items together. Like dinner food, canned goods, breakfast items, grab and go snacks, chips and crackers, baking items, nutritional items, pet food and pet treats. Again, take just 10 minutes here and there to do this.
You may encounter miscellaneous items that don’t seem to fit in any other category. A great option is to find a home for them outside of the pantry, if you can. Adam had 2 small bottles of club soda, a small ginger ale and pineapple juice that didn’t need a full category of their own. Since he uses them to mix drinks, it made more sense to store them in his bar.
STEP 3: MAP OUT ZONES FOR DIFFERENT CATEGORIES
Think about how you and your family grab things and put things back.
At eye level in the middle of the pantry, it’s a good idea to put the food items you use on a daily basis, like breakfast items and snacks. Put them lower down if you have little kids in your house who need to get them.
On a lower shelf, place dry goods and baking items. Brown sugar and flour are heavy so it’s easier to grab them from down below than from up above your head.
Use the top shelf for items you need to store. Storing small appliances that you don’t use much is a great solution. We like to store wine there so the bottles can lie down horizontally and Adam can easily see what he has and grab out a bottle. On the other side of the shelf, we store paper towels, laying them horizontally so we can just pull one out.
Don’t forget about the vertical space on the back of your pantry door. Over-the-door storage racks can be great in deep pantries, since you may have several inches of space between your pantry door and your shelves. Hang a storage rack to store spices, tea boxes or whatever you need.
STEP 4. CONTAIN YOUR ITEMS
Containers will keep things in order if the food is likely to drop out of packages or it’s an item that gets out of control and takes over your pantry. If you tend to overbuy an item because you don’t realize you already have it, a clear container will help.
Before deciding on containers, I like to see how much I have in each zone. There are so many storage solutions out there. From clear containers and bins to baskets. Clear containers are a game changer for making the most of your storage space. I didn’t expect them to be. If you’ve watched The Home Edit on Netflix and seen all the beautiful pantries with clear bins from the The Container Store, perhaps you’ve wondered if they’re worth the money. I know I did. I’ve long been the person who saved old baskets and even old jewelry gift boxes and shoe boxes to use as storage containers. Cleaning out the closet, I found my baking extracts in an iPhone box!
Here’s what happens when you can fully see what’s in your containers, you know exactly what you have. You can see what’s in there so you keep the bins neater and it’s easier to maintain your system for a long time.
I wasn’t ready to spend the money to outfit the entire closet. But I did buy 3 of these bins from Amazon. One bin went towards Adam’s pasta, which piles up. We always overbought it because we didn’t know what we had.
One went for his bulk granola bars and one for his coffee that used to sit in massive store boxes that I hated looking at.
I couldn’t see ditching my baskets, so I’m still using them. Baskets are great if you have stuff that you want to contain but don’t want to stare at everyday, like dog pee pads and Swiffer pads. They can also function like drawers. I’m using two lower down for baking supplies and can easily pull them out to see what I have.
If you have many hands in your closet, you’ll want to label your baskets and bins to help everyone keep up the system by putting things back where they belong. Since it’s just Adam and I here, I decided not to label them.
What about decanting items? If you’ve watched The Home Edit, you’ve seen them remove food from packaging to store it in airtight bins. Everything from sugar to noodles to cereal gets dumped out of the package into their own airtight bin. So your cabinet has rows of clear bins.
Whether you decide to decant depends on money and time.
Do you want to spend money on buying airtight containers to decant? It’s a splurge to buy separate bins for everything. Instead of redoing your whole pantry, you can decide to only decant things that will stay fresher stored that way. If your cereal always goes stale because the bag never gets closed inside the box, then decanting will keep it fresher.
Also, ask yourself if you have time to decant everything when you come home from the grocery store. It’s a commitment of time to dump everything in containers after every shopping trip. If unloading groceries is already a task you dread, decanting will just add more time.
With your zones laid out and stuff in containers, you’re ready to move things to the spot where you want them to live permanently.
STEP 5. PLACE ITEMS IN THEIR FINAL RESTING SPOT
You’re almost done! Now place everything in its final resting spot.
Place larger items behind smaller items. Put items you use less on the back of the shelf and use the front of the shelf for open and often used food boxes and bags so you can easily grab what you need.
Use shelf risers for canned goods so you can see the labels. Stack similar items together. Put the cans you use most often in the front and lesser used cans in the back.
You may have to play with your zones over time and adjust things to get them where you want them. And if you discover new categories, your zones will need to shift to make space for a new zone.
What do you do with shelves that are too deep?
Place lesser used or taller items in the back of the shelf and shorter items or more used items in the front. Try shelf risers to make it easier to see what you have. Use a lazy susan to find what you need with the turn of a wrist. Place similar items in clear bins or labeled baskets so you can pull them out to grab what you need.
I hope this post is helpful to you as you organize your own pantry to make the most of your pantry space. By spending a few minutes here and there as you go about your day, you’ll have your pantry organized in no time! XO, Marya