My Birthday Pantry

Even organizers need to do some organizing around their own home sometimes, and I’m no exception. About 20 years ago I organized our pantry with Elfa shelving, but since then the design of Elfa has greatly improved. The paint on the walls was peeling so the whole thing needed to be scraped and repainted. Also, as time progressed my storage needs have changed, so I wanted to maximize the space and make it more efficient. Our pantry is one of the most utilized spaces in our home, and I was ready to invest some time and money into making it a happier place. So, for my birthday this year I asked for a new and improved pantry! 

There were some things about my pantry that were driving me crazy:

This is my old pantry - I hated the trays all stacked on each other and the overhang on the shelves. It was so hard to see what I had and what I needed to buy. Can you see the peeling paint? Ick.

This is my old pantry - I hated the trays all stacked on each other and the overhang on the shelves. It was so hard to see what I had and what I needed to buy. Can you see the peeling paint? Ick.

  • Our trays and serving platters were all stacked on top of each other, so they were difficult to access. 
  • The shelves in the old-style shelving were not adjustable, so I was stuck with the way they had been installed. Unfortunately, the upper shelves were spaced far apart (based on how I originally used the space) so I had to get on a stool to reach everything that was stored up there. 
  • The brackets and overhangs on the old-style shelving made it difficult to access things that were in the corners.
  • It was a challenge to keep up with what was in the pantry, so I sometimes bought too much of some things, and ran out of others - I wanted to design a better system for organizing each type of food so that I could easily tell exactly what I had and what I needed.

The first thing I did was to take everything out of the pantry. This gave me a great chance to throw out expired canned goods and take a good look at what I had. Once I finished that, I sorted everything into groups that made sense to the way our family shops and cooks (for example, Mexican food was one important category!).

Here is what our living room looked like with all of our pantry stuff spread all over! It took me a while to figure out how to categorize everything and find the right containers.

Here is what our living room looked like with all of our pantry stuff spread all over! It took me a while to figure out how to categorize everything and find the right containers.

Next, I got on the phone with the Elfa designers at the Container Store, came up with a good plan, and ordered my shelving (which was on sale!). Important note: when designing a closet or storage area, I like taking my time on this step. I usually try to get at least 2 different opinions from the Container Store design team, because in my experience the design improves with input from more than one person.

When I went to the Container Store to pick up my Elfa, I spent some time with the VERY helpful and knowledgeable sales people and picked out these multi-purpose bins  (also on sale) that I thought would work well to hold all of the different categories of food. Even though I love the look of those beautiful pantries that are featured in magazine articles (that have everything stored in colorful cloth containers or baskets) I knew that I needed a bunch of them and wanted to save some money, plus I like using clear containers so that I can see what they hold. I also bought a new container for my paper bags and a bin for potatoes & onions. Important note: whenever you redesign storage in a space like this, make sure to make a list of what you need containers for (the more specific the better) and measure everything so that you can get exactly what you need.

I switched from boring white to a cheery yellow pantry!

I switched from boring white to a cheery yellow pantry!

After removing all of the old shelves, spackling, sanding, and painting, I hung the new shelving. Since Elfa is adjustable, it was helpful to be able to experiment with how far apart I hung the shelves. It all hangs from one horizontal rail, so it is easy and quick to install. It took me a while to get it all situated, but it eventually it worked out and everything found a home - one of my favorite definitions of being organized is “having a home for everything,” and this is especially helpful in a pantry where everyone in the family needs to be able to find things and put them away.

Target sells these cute chalkboard stickers, and I got a chalk marker at Michaels that has the look of chalk but is a bit more permanent (it can be washed off with water, but doesn't smudge like chalk). Once I labeled all of the bins, it is easy to find everything, and I'm not tempted to buy more than I need because I can easily see what I have already.

These Elfa shelf dividers are also great in a closet to divide stacks of sweaters or separate purses.

These Elfa shelf dividers are also great in a closet to divide stacks of sweaters or separate purses.

I solved the problem of the trays and serving platters all being stacked on each other by using a deeper bottom shelf and placing a few Elfa shelf dividers between the trays  - awesome!

Also, keeping our baskets on the upper shelves instead of heavier bulk foods make so much more sense. When you take everything out of a space and start over, many times you are able to rethink where you have always kept things and solve nagging problems.

The finished pantry makes it super simple to find anything we need.

The finished pantry makes it super simple to find anything we need.

We are all enjoying the finished product.  This may have originally been a birthday gift for me, but ultimately it was a great gift to our whole family. It is amazing how much we all appreciate being able to easily locate anything we need in our new and improved pantry.

If you are frustrated by your pantry (or any other area of your home) please contact me - I'd love to help you transform your home to be more functional and efficient, making more "space for life!"