I’m a wannabe neatnik. I grew up in an undeniably chaotic house and, since I was little, I’ve always loved sorting and organizing. I’ve been slowly and thoughtfully working through the KonMari process, over the last two years, in between the daily cleaning up of toddler messes, and it has made a huge difference in my life. Still, I have areas in my house that constantly tend toward disorder. For instance, the pantry. How does this happen?!

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I am perpetually pondering the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I’ve decided that, in a small home, the struggle is establishing a place for everything. Sometimes there just isn’t room for everything to have its own, easily-accessible spot. While re-organizing my pantry (I believe for the second time this year, as I addressed it when I did spring cleaning), I acknowledged that this area of my home is one which will likely always need a little re-working a couple of times a year. Still, as I went through it this time around, there were a few things I found helpful to consider when organizing a tiny pantry:

  1. Organize by category of use, rather than item category. For example, in my tiniest cupboard, I organized a savory cooking shelf and a baking shelf and separated spices accordingly, rather than keeping all of the spices together. I also have some spices and oils stored along the back of the counter.
  2. Keep some items in the refrigerator. I always have way more empty space in my refrigerator than in my cupboards, so I keep bulk items such as flour and rice in the refrigerator.
  3. Consolidate recipe cards and paper and only keep those papers and cookbooks that spark joy. I went through every paper and card on my cookbook shelf and only kept recipes that I really remembered loving or that had true sentimental value, such as those written in friends’ handwriting. In this way, I was able to eliminate the huge binder that didn’t really fit on my cookbook shelf, and consolidate all papers and cards into the blue “STUFF” paperclip. 20161103-_mg_9500 Now, that paperclip-bound stack feels like a neat, little volume, full of lots of love and memories, rather than an overwhelming mess. Also, my favorite cookbooks are reorganized and everything on that shelf fits perfectly. I’ve pulled everything up to the front edge, to discourage clutter from building up in front of the books again. 20161107-_mg_9545
  4. Toss old spices that have been lingering for ages without being used. Every square inch of space is valuable!
  5. Make a conscious effort to use up assorted food gifts or get rid of them.

My pantry space, made up of old, 1972 cupboards, will never be the most beautiful spot in my home, but having it organized makes the kitchen feel much more efficient, once again.

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My shelves are now organized in this way:

  1. Essentials that need to be kept out of reach of little ones: the chocolate stash, coffee grinder that is rarely used, herbal supplements, medicine, band-aids.
  2. Cookbooks.
  3. Canned fruit, plastic ware, and oatmeal.
  4. Pasta and beans, with less-often-used items in the back, such as bread crumbs, coconut oil spray, and small containers of broth.
  5. Loose herbs, assorted coconut products, with kids’ snacks in the front, where they can reach them. My daughters have definitely contributed to upheaval in the cupboards, digging for snacks, so I’m trying to train them that snacks are only on the bottom shelf. Often there is also dried fruit on this shelf. (At the back is David Lynch coffee, which I bought for my husband as a rare novelty gift some time ago, because he has long been a fan of David Lynch’s work. Recently, we were watching one of our favorite old David Lynch movies, The Straight Story, and realized that both of the kitchens featured in the movie have the exact same orange countertops we have in our kitchen! It made the coffee bags seem even more appropos, though I don’t have anywhere to display them right now. Seeing the countertops in the movie also made us love our odd, old kitchen a little more, making it feel more storied.)
  6. Tea.
  7. Savory cooking.
  8. Baking.
  9. Countertop space, not pictured, with additional oils, spices, and vinegars.

As you can see, especially on the pasta and beans shelf, there are still a lot of items stacked on top of each other, or blocking other items. I can discern no perfect solution. I’m just doing my best with the space I have to work with and having a fresh start feels good enough, for now.

Do you have any genius tips or tricks for storage in a tiny kitchen? Do you find kitchen organization to be an ongoing process, that needs to be tended to from time to time, or have you perfected your system? I would love to hear in the comments below!

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Emily
Guest

You did a wonderful job! I like to use baskets to help corral similar items, but my cupboards are not quite as narrow as yours.

Aunt Laurie
Guest

The problem with pantries and kitchen cabinets is that sometimes we are in too big a hurry to put things back where they belong! Also, our cooking styles change, or we get tired of certain ingredients, and then they make their way to the back but do eventually need to be dealt with. Having snacks where the girls can get to them is a great idea! An idea that’s really helped me with spices (and I also use this with medicines in the bathroom) is to write the expiration year somewhere obvious, usually the cap, with a Sharpie. In January, it’s super easy to throw out the items which have expired.

Susan
Guest

Great job, Heather. You’ve inspired me as always! I usually clean out my pantry numerous times during the year. Always seem to get news stuff that doesn’t fit. I haven’t really thought through what arrangement would be best in my new smaller kitchen, now you’ve inspired me to think it through and get better organized again…
I like how your tidied up pantry still looks like real-life. In the magazines redos they always 1. Have lots of space
2. Have seemingly endless budget for beautiful baskets and bins
And 3. The tidied “after” pantry never seems to have much actual food in it!
I picture the moms saying, “sorry family, all we have are color coordinated grains, we will have to eat out from now on”

Natasha Palmer
Guest

This came at a good time for me! I’ve been frustrated lately with my pantry and kitchen cupboard spaces, most of which hasn’t been sorted since we moved a year ago.So I’ve been meaning to get to that, and now I’m inspired to do so! My spices and recipes especially are in a big mess which I’ve been avoiding. Mostly because I haven’t figured out a way to organize them yet so this helps a lot! Thanks so much! :)

silvia
Guest

I’m going to have to borrow that “Back To Butter” book…

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