Taming Mom’s Hotspots | The Pantry

pantry organization

This is the second of a 3-part series updating you on my home organization projects!

Before I go any further, let me remind you that I am organizationally challenged. I like things tidy but I am hopeless at creating workable systems to keep everything in order. My method generally consists of throwing away anything that doesn’t fit.

I finally decided to hire a professional so I reached out to my friend, Darla DeMorrow of Heartwork Organizing. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for our home.

We started by tackling the major hotspots — the laundry/mudroom, kitchen island and passthrough areas. Although I told her that she’s not done with me yet. I have enough organizational projects to keep her busy for many, many months!

Our first project was a family command center. We put a bookcase in my kitchen to house important paperwork, charging station, telephone and office supplies. You can read all about that in my first post of this series: The Command Center.

This week we’re staying in the kitchen, and I’m going to show you my pantry! Then next week, I will unveil the pièce de résistance, my laundry room!

Home Organization: The Pantry

I have a small closet-style pantry in my kitchen. It came with the standard wire shelves that were not adjustable and frustrated me to no end when smaller items would tip over and get caught in the cracks. Not only were the smaller items unstable, there was a lot of wasted space since I couldn’t adjust the shelves.

At one point, trying to buy us some extra storage space, my husband installed a few shorter solid shelves in between the wire ones to allow for shorter items, so I had a real mish-mosh of shelving going on in there.

Add to that, I had no particular order to things. We just tossed stuff in there willy nilly, where ever they happened to fit on a given day. And because I don’t tend to keep a ton of food in my pantry, it ended up housing some appliances and paper products and other random items that don’t really belong.

Take a look at what my pantry looked like before Darla entered my life:

My Pantry Before

pantry before

There was a lot we could do with what I had to work with. In fact, we did spend a few hours the first day Darla first came to my house to assess the disaster. You can see our progress in a post I wrote a couple of months ago — Getting Organized for Back to School.

But I still couldn’t maximize the space with those static shelves, so Darla suggested installing a freedomRail shelving system.

Here is why Darla loves freedomRail, in her words. (And no, she does not work for them or profit for recommending them!)

They are the strongest steel in the industry, making them very sturdy. I love their proprietary anchor hardware, making them secure even if you can’t hit the studs. They are cut to size for each customer, making them a great DIY project. They are easy to uninstall, meaning that you could take them with you to a new apartment or home, which I have had clients do. Or you can repurpose them in another space in your home.

On the technical side, because they use unobtrusive brackets, a clothes hanging rod can span more width than with a traditional partition system. We didn’t use this feature for you, but some people really like that they can have up to 8 feet or more of hanging rod, without those annoying stops.

Mostly, though, you can reset the shelves any time without calling anyone or needing special tools. This means that you can use every inch of space for as long as you live there, even if your storage needs change.

By replacing the static wire shelves with the adjustable freedomRail system, I have so much more flexibility! Take a look.

The Pantry After

my new and MUCH IMPROVED pantry

Let’s break it down. You can apply these organizational techniques to any closet space you want to organize, even if you can’t or don’t want to replace your shelving system.

How to Organize Your Pantry:

1. Empty and reload.

Darla had me take everything out of the pantry. Only the things I really needed went back in. We got rid of outdated products (I even found a mozzarella making kit from 2 years ago!) and relocated things that didn’t belong to other areas of the kitchen. That alone improved the situation greatly. It even enabled us to bring up my crockpot from the basement and store it in the kitchen!!

We were able to fit the crockpot on the bottom shelf of the pantry, along with my blender that we use almost daily for smoothies.

Then we moved the popcorn popper and my le Creuset pot and wine chiller as well as our sandwich bags and napkins into the cabinet below my bookcase/command center, making more room in the pantry for food.

more storage YAY!

2. Containerize and consolidate.

Darla also taught me the value of containerizing. By taking products out of open boxes and bags and putting them in sealed containers, the pantry looks neater and you also save space. Because I have kids (and I clearly don’t teach them proper pantry habits) I had 3 open boxes of the SAME CEREAL in my cupboard. We emptied them and consolidated them into one jar, which saves me a ton of space in my pantry but it will also keep the cereal from getting stale.

You can use containers you already have. Be creative. I had some mason jars sitting around, and we started by using some of those and some of the food storage containers in my cupboard. You can also save jars from items you buy in bulk.

Or you can go shopping!

Because Target supplied a gift card to assist me with these home organization projects, I bought some stackable containers. I couldn’t decide between plastic or glass. Plastic doesn’t always last as well, and there are the BPA concerns. But glass can break, and it’s heavy. I ended up with some of each. I like both for different reasons.

I bought these Anchor Hocking square storage containers with aluminum lids in a few different sizes. I got mine at Target, but unfortunately can’t find them on the website to share a link. they do, however, carry them on Amazon.com. I like these for pastas, rice, quinoa and cereals. (The jars with white lids are just extra mason jars I had laying around. I had bought lids to use when I freeze chicken stock.)


I also bought these Click Clack Cube Canisters, which I love for snacks and chips and crackers.


And truthfully, they can be used interchangeably. I use whichever one is empty and the right size for the job. I did choose square over round because Darla advised that square containers are a more efficient use of space.

Ideally everything would match, but this isn’t a perfect world and very few people have the luxury of overhauling all of their storage containers at once. I’m collecting things as I go so I’m still using some of the mason jars, and I do have two kinds of stackable containers jockeying for attention. Maybe one day I’ll relegate one type to my cabinets and keep the other in my pantry. Cuz my cabinets . . . they still need some of Darla’s organizational magic!

The rope baskets you see are holding potatoes and onions. I also picked up those at Target. I bought them for use in the laundry room, but I had extras so we used a few in the pantry.


3. Prioritize by weight and use.

Darla likes to keep heavy items (appliances) on the bottom, the most used items at eye level, and seasonal or least used or items kids need to stay away from on the top. Notice how she put that griddle in the middle. I’ve always kept it up high, but since it’s heavy and used often, she rearranged my shelves to make room for it in the middle.

4. Use the 2×2 rule.

Stack things only 2 high and 2 deep. Any more than that, and you lose stuff in the back.

5. Ensure adequate lighting.

I discovered the value of this advice in the laundry room, where we actually installed a second fixture to give us more light. But it bears mentioning here as well.

6. Label everything.

If you can’t see into your canisters or containers, labels are a must. A label maker is your friend! You don’t really need labels with clear containers, so we opted not to use them in this space.

7. Remove or cut off box tops.

If you DO use some of the boxes your food comes in, it looks neater if you remove the tops and trim ragged edges. Darla cut off the top of this Celestial Tea Sampler container, making it look neater as it houses my extra K-cups. We went ahead and used the Newman’s Own box of coffee K-cups because it had a neat cut out, but as it gets used, I will empty it into a smaller container to conserve space in my pantry.


Also note how there is no lid on the jar of my running GELs. Crazy, that would have NEVER occurred to me! But it looks neater, and it allows them to all fit without squishing them.

It bears mentioning that I went and joined Costco after my first consultation with Darla and before she came back to help me install my shelves and organize the pantry. That definitely created an extra challenge because I now have a lot more food to store in this space!

And yet. We did it!

She even managed to fit in an extra shelf when we were almost done with the project — requiring us to remove almost every shelf (and the stuff housed on it) to make space. But it is worth the effort.

The top shelf we created is perfect for lightweight bags of chips and odd-sized items.


The Last Frontier: Under the Sink

Before she left, Darla had one more surprise for me — this rollout under cabinet drawer set to contain the clutter under the kitchen sink. Take a look at the before.


This space always confounds me. I had even tried using some of Darla’s techniques by putting my dishwashing tablets in a bowl and my sponges in a plastic container. But it was still a mess.

This nifty metal drawer contains most of my products in one neat little spot. I love how the one drawer has dividers for smaller items (like my sponges). You can use the drawers separately or stack them as I did.


And now under my sink looks like this! Neat and tidy!


Which makes me a MUCH happier mama!

I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable it is to work around my kitchen with an organized pantry (and under sink cabinet as well). I would love to have Darla help me go through every cabinet, but that’s not really practical. I’m going to do my best to apply her techniques and work through each space as time allows.

Next week, we will unveil my new and much improved laundry room. It is a BIG transformation. I can’t WAIT to show it to you!

Meanwhile, here is a list of products we used in this post.

Where to Buy

As a Target Inner Circle member, Target provided a gift card to assist me with this project, but I still contributed much of my own time and materials. As always, all thoughts and opinions and rabbit trails in this post are very much my own.

Be sure to subscribe to my Musings so you don’t miss part three of the Taming Mom’s Hotspots series . . . The Laundry Room!

And DON’T MISS my Target Ticket post and $50 Target GC Giveaway!!!

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18 Responses

  1. I love the stacking drawers under the sink. Helps you make the most out of the available space that you have and look neat while doing it. It’s so much better that way as opposed to a bunch of supplies just tossed under there and not in order.

  2. Okay, how much do you charge, and when are you coming to my house to do this? You don’t live far…..I can arrange for Starbuck’s. And sangria.

    Seriously, what a great job! I need to do something with the area under my sink.

  3. Great write-up, Jo-Lynne! Happy you are loving it. As luck would have it, my site is down today, but anyone who wants more organizing tips can request my free 31 Simple Tips. Just email me at Darla at HeartWorkOrg dot com, and I’ll email them to you!

  4. That looks incredible! I need to stock up on more glassware for storage now that I’m expanding our “bulk” section. Pinned this post for inspiration.

  5. Wow!! Love it. I have been thinking of upgrading/reorganizing my pantry – at the moment it is filled with 2 bookcases – thats great but I would like a little more depth. I have a very deep closet in my kitchen that I need shelves installed in to make it more efficient – I’m going to check out Freedomrail! Love the double baskets under the sink!! Enjoy your new organized world!!

  6. It’s funny to stumble upon this post right now, since I spent many hours today organizing my own pantry. I can be organizationally challenged too, but it feels so good to get things in order. Your pantry looks great!

  7. Our pantry is a mess and on my list of things to do in the next month or so along with the rest of the kitchen redo. Yours looks AWESOME! Nice work Darla! AND…I LOVE that under the cabinet storage unit!

  8. Great ideas! Thanks for the tips. I love the shelf for just the griddle, that appliance is so hard to store, love your idea! I have organized many times but things don’t seem to stay that way. Love the under cabinet storage items, will be shopping for that soon!

  9. Love this series, I’m betting you can extend it beyond a 3 parter:) I could absolutely use the under the sink organizer and BB&B always has those 20% coupons. Looking forward to part 3 (and 4, 5, 6 ect.:)

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