Dealing with a small panty closet (even worse, a small deep pantry) can be the most frustrating things a pantry owner faces. How do you best organize tiny pantry space?
Underneath my charming little walk-in pantry's surface, was a closet organizer's nightmare. On one side were deep shelves - caverns of space that was a clothes closet in a past life. This little awkward pantry was hopeless to organize, especially the non-adjustable shelves.
I needed to find small pantry organizers to make this nightmare go away.
Best small pantry organization strategies
Organizing a small pantry space doesn't just mean finding the right pantry organizer. It can mean a combination of different organizers that improve worst-case scenarios.
I prefer to use both deep pantry shelf organizers and layering (one organizer in the back of the pantry shelf and another organizer in the front of the shelf, such as a pantry bin).
I tried out several different types of kitchen pantry organizers - there were clear winners and losers!
If you have roll out pantry shelves in a kitchen cabinet next to a refrigerator, your strategies will be different. Spoiler: what worked for this small walk-in pantry didn't work for the kitchen cabinet pantry!
Small pantry organization ideas for deep shelves
Let me introduce you to my small, walk-in pantry. At it's worst, the shelves are too deep, and I have a narrow pathway. I tackled each challenge in my small walk-in pantry. FYI, this pantry also had a style update! See "1970s Small Pantry Makeover."
Most deep storage containers on the market will be, at the most, 16" deep. Any bigger than that and they become too heavy to lift when filled with canned goods. Layering strategies help, like putting large dishes and baskets in the back part of the shelf, and pantry bins in the front.
Overview. The small step-in pantry is only 4'6" wide by 3'7" deep. Two-foot deep, fixed shelves were built into the left side, with a "U" shape of upper shelves completing the leg on the back and right wall (but narrower depths).
The access dimensions to the deep shelf space measure 21"W x13"H and 22"W x15" H. The bottom "caverns" on the floor have a single half-shelf depth for smaller items.
Trying to figure out how to organize these deep pantry shelves was going to be a challenge!
Step-in floor space to reach items is minimal. An accordion door takes up a portion of the 2'0" door opening.
Here is a picture of the small walk-in pantry in need of organization. Note the 24" deep pantry shelves on the left (mentioned earlier, it was a former clothes closet). Tucked in beneath these (and not viewable in the picture) are recessed 16" deep shelves that are difficult to access.
For this article, I'm not going to focus on the 12" deep shelves, you can see how I organized them if you follow the link to the makeover. This pantry story is really about the relationship of the awkward space, the deep shelves, and the narrow walkway. Pretty standard challenges for small walk-in pantries.
To see the before and after of this pantry makeover, go to "1970s Small Pantry Makeover."
Organize cans in a small pantry
Like most people, I was intrigued with the idea of 3 tier can organizers. These can racks aren't the only game in town. Canned food can also be stored in pantry drawers, bins, or stacked on shelves.
I was lukewarm on the 3-tier metal pantry can rack after using it. Although it seemed to be a crowd favorite, it wasn't for me. I give the pros and cons of each can storage solution below - you can decide for yourself, or leave a comment about your personal experience.
USE A METAL PANTRY CAN RACK TO ORGANIZE CANS IN PANTRY
A 13-inch deep 3-tier can organizer rack was placed in the back of a 21-inch deep shelf, leaving eight inches of space in front. The can rack filled up most of the width of the cabinet (17" width rack). Highlights:
- when fully loaded, the can rack would be difficult to move
- the can rack was impossible to back load for "first in, first out" usage
- a can rack only works great with multiples of the same food
- this can rack holds 4 green bean-size cans in a row or 5 cream of chicken-size cans
Wow! That adds up to 12 green-bean size cans per tier, which means 36 cans when fully loaded.
But... I am not a user that would have that many identical cans in storage at one time. The space would likely end up half full (or half empty, whichever way you look at it).
A small, plastic bin fit on the front remaining shelf space for miscellaneous items.
A metal magazine rack fits perfectly in the void next to the can rack and is filled with small mushroom cans. It's my favorite pantry organization hack!
Note that 1" of space is added to the clearance of the rack when cans are loaded on top.
Pantry bins as can organizers
The "clear" winner for deep pantry can organizers for deep shelves was the M Design Pantry Storage clear plastic bins. These nifty clear pantry containers proved to be very remarkable. The company somehow chose the best widths of pantry containers that could provide the broadest range of service for can storage and other foods.
The most obvious advantage is that clear plastic storage bins allow you to see the label of the can easier. Note that this type of storage is just above waist level and easy for me to pull out.
ACRYLIC PANTRY BINS WORK AS A CAN ORGANIZER
These stackable, clear plastic acrylic pantry bins by M Design stole the show! They turned out to be an exciting solution for deep shelves and a surprise win as a can organizer. Highlights:
- able to easily see the label contents
- can load for "first in, first out" usage
- stackable clear acrylic pantry bins are easy to move around and pull out with handle
- these clear acrylic pantry bins are long! Sixteen inches!
- narrow clear pantry bins can hold 5 green bean-size cans in a row or 6 cream of chicken-size cans*
- wider clear acrylic pantry bins fits chicken broth boxes, small food boxes, and things like water bottles
- clear acrylic pantry bins come in lots of sizes and look great
The leftover shelf space amounted to 5 1/4" - enough to tuck in jumbo-size cans or bottles of vegetable or canola oil in the back.
Although you can't stack the clear acrylic pantry bins when tall items are in them, they neatly hold their contents. The only negative was that the pantry bins could only be purchased in a pack of 4. The investment was well worth it because of the flexibility of storage options (see below). I highly recommend these stackable clear acrylic pantry bins.
*For anyone doing the math, six of the clear pantry bins would hold 30 green-bean size cans, a little less that the can rack organizer, each solution taking up about the same amount of space.
Using wire shelf organizers as a jar organizer
Other organizers for the pantry did their jobs well, too. Organizers like the humble wire cabinet shelf rack was just the right answer for large jars and can organization, as was an expandable shelf. These were part of a layering strategy in my pantry "holes."
ORGANIZE CANS IN PANTRY WITH CABINET SHELF ORGANIZER
I had a few wire cabinet shelf organizer racks that I never used. I cycled through all of them until I picked the jumbo-size. It does one job and it does it well, organizing large food jars and cans. Highlights:
- 22" wide cabinet shelf organizer rack fully fits the 24" wide space, which includes legs
- the cabinet shelf organizer rack is 7 1/2" tall, 10 1/4" deep, and leaves 6 1/2" of headspace to fit cans on top
- cabinet shelf organizer rack nicely holds large peanut butter containers, jumbo-size cans of peaches, mayonnaise and salad dressing jars and soup cans stacked three deep
This budget-friendly kitchen cabinet shelf organizer rack was perfect for large items that take up precious pantry space, but not used routinely.
Using the layering technique, the cabinet shelf organizer rack was placed in the back of the shelf, and wire pantry farm baskets were placed in front of the cabinet shelf organizer rack. If you're interested in a larger shelf organizer rack, here is a 17" one on Amazon.
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Expandable pantry shelf organizer
EXPANDABLE PANTRY SHELVES OFFER TIERS FOR CANNED GOODS
I would definitely mark an expandable, stepped shelf organizer as a good solution for fixed, deep pantry shelves.
- all food items on the steps are visible
- large size expands to fit shelf width
I'm using the expandable tiered pantry shelf for a pantry organizer for cans and jars. The kitchen shelf riser is for all of my single item canned goods that don't match anything. They're most likely an odd item I probably bought for a recipe and never used! The tiered shelves are generous and fit jumbo-size cans, so it's a nice solutions for your large peach and pear cans or cans of stew.
The wire pantry bins are in front of the expandable pantry shelves and can easily be moved to get to the back shelf items.
An tiered shelf for canned goods allows the pantry owner to view cans of all shapes, sizes, and food types, with easy accessibility.
Wire pantry baskets
PANTRY BASKET ORGANIZERS, STRAIGHT SIDES
I was glad to save my budget and reuse these pantry wire farmhouse baskets with straight sides. Highlights:
- the pantry basket organizers make it ideal for storing boxed food
- pantry basket organizers works well with bagged food, too
One of the pantry wire baskets was used to store crackers in front of the cabinet shelf rack in the back of the shelf. A few odd items were tucked in beside the pantry wire basket, since it didn't take up all the space. The pantry basket organizer can easily be removed to get to the cabinet shelf rack in the back.
I also had wire farmhouse baskets with tapered sides, those didn't work well for anything! I would reserve the wire baskets with tapered sides only for decorative purposes.
Using the layering technique, the cabinet shelf rack was placed in the back of the pantry shelf, and wire pantry basket storage was placed in front of it. The other pantry basket organizers are being used on top of a rolling cart in the pantry.
Stackable wire baskets, open front
STACKABLE OPEN FRONT STORAGE BINS WORK FOR CAN ORGANIZATION IN PANTRY
These stackable, open-front pantry bins (wire) were placed in front of the expandable pantry shelves. The open front pantry bins don't take up the full width of the shelf, but can slide to one side to see the contents in the back of the shelf.
- Open-front storage bins contain "like" food items, such as canned tomato goods in one basket and canned fruit in the bottom basket
- The open-front design on the front allows easy access to pull out cans
These open front storage bins are a nice solution when storing foods in "zones" and related items together, such as baking supplies.
The open front bins also make a great holder for pouch-type food items and snack items.
You often see people put bulk food, such as potatoes, onions, and other vegetables in these types of stackable open front storage bins. It's good to have an idea what you will use these for before you buy them, because they don't work for all situations.
Large pantry bins
LARGE PLASTIC PANTRY ORGANIZATION BINS
I had a wide expanse of top shelf open, a good spot for large, semi-clear pantry organization bins. Highlights:
- large size pantry organization bins makes them flexible for many types of food items
- plastic pantry organization bins are lightweight
The pantry organization bins are 15" deep by 10" wide and store chips, cereal, and items such as rice/potato boxes. Behind this, large plastic food containers and baskets are stored (the layering strategy works again). I don't need a lot of these types of large pantry organization bins, but they are nice to have.
Rolling pantry cart
Rolling pantry carts are perfect for extra room in a small pantry. They can be rolled out of the way if needed to get to things behind hit. In my pantry, this works. In fact, I have two rolling pantry carts, one with drawers and one is a 4-tier rolling cart.
ROLLING PLASTIC CART WITH DRAWERS
The cheap plastic rolling cart with drawers fits perfectly in the bottom pantry storage section. As you can see, there is a half shelf that is hard to reach. The rolling plastic cart can glide out of the way to get to these back items. Highlights:
- rolling plastic cart with drawers holds paper goods
- rolling plastic cart is lightweight
- plastic cart dimensions are 15 5/8" deep, 22" wide by 27" tall
The rolling plastic cart with drawers are used to store paper plates, cups and plastic utensils.
I've had this rolling plastic cart with drawers for years, probably from Walmart.
SLIM ROLLING PANTRY CART
I had just enough room in my small step in pantry to fit a narrow rolling utility cart organizer. It took me awhile, but I finally located a metal rolling pantry cart on wheels that fit my needs. The cart was tall enough to roll in under a shelf to maximize my space. It resembled a library cart - it was slim.
This is not a super heavy-duty rolling cart organizer, but fine for my needs. I primarily needed an easy place to get to my slow cooker, which I use regularly. The large slow cooker/crockpot actually fits on the slim pantry cart shelf, I'm happy with that win!
I store my other small appliances on freestanding wire shelving in my laundry room, just off of my kitchen.
- slim pantry cart measures 23.62" W x 12.5 D" x 40.5" H with a 10" distance between each shelf tier
- slim pantry cart has a back bar on one side so items don't fall off and bars on top shelf
- room for baskets on top shelf of cart organizer for storage
- slim pantry cart keeps regularly used small appliances on two bottom tiers for easy access
- cookbooks have a place now on middle shelf of rolling cart organizer
Note: some slim pantry carts are so narrow that they appeared dangerous to me due to tipping issues, so be careful!
This is an ongoing experiment. It was very enjoyable to finally tackle this small pantry, but exhausting at the same time. There was a lot more thinking and pondering involved than I thought.
I hope that this article helped you to finalize decisions you have been trying to make. Don't miss other articles on the website that may feature specific pantry organizers more in detail! Happy organizing!
Cooler for food storage
COOLER FOR FOOD STORAGE
This cooler for food storage is used as a sugar and flour storage container. It's a good solution for me because it fits in this bottom hole of my pantry. Highlights:
- deep pantry floor solution
- can pull out cooler with the handle
- cooler lid slides off to retrieve baking items (not hinged).
- bins were placed on the half shelf above the cooler
- another basket sits directly on top of the cooler
For me, this cooler for food storage is the best container to store flour in and prevent bugs.
Using a cooler for food storage is a great alternative storage solution to store flour and sugar.
Worst pantry organizers
I can't have an article about winning pantry organizers, unless I mention the poor performing ones. Any pantry basket or bin with tapered size does not store canned goods or bottles and jars well - they waste space.
There were three losers:
- a shallow and stackable pantry basket (with labels) that didn't work
- a pantry basket with tapered sides that wasted space
- a lazy susan organizer/turntable
The shallow pantry baskets were moved to the entryway of the house for glove, mitten, and hat storage. They proved to be perfect!
I was hoping the stackable wire baskets with labels and straight sides would work, but they failed. Although straight-sided bins are usually flawless, they don't always work. This will be covered in another soon-to-be published article, so stay tuned!