Nine Ideas to Organize a Small Pantry with Wire Shelving

If organization befores and afters are your thing, well, do I have a treat for you today! I think I like organization makeovers even more than full room makeovers because it isn’t just about adjusting design and aesthetic; it’s about creating systems and improving functionality with smart solutions. It’s tricky though. Because we all have different sized spaces, filled with different “stuff”, with different needs, it’s highly unlikely you can take a page of The Container Store catalog and replicate it to a “T”. And, if you did, the chances of it working well for you aren’t great. It’s about coming up with ideas for your own spaces that will work for your own stuff with your own family. A lot of us don’t have the luxury of a large, walk-in pantry; I’ve even seen pantry rooms with windows (#dreams #goals) and while I am sharing ideas to organize a small pantry with wire shelving, most of the principles will still apply for even the dreamiest food storage spaces ;).

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NOTE: All sources and organization solutions can be found linked at the bottom of this post.

Here are the full stats for me (and my pantry):

  • Family of two (no kids)
  • (Plus three dogs)
  • Cook dinner most evenings and we are home 99% of the time
  • But, we try to only keep a lean stock since we meal plan, weekly
  • We do shop at Costco and buy some items in bulk
  • We have a reach-in, small pantry closet with wire shelving that we don’t want to change at this point

Pantry organization ideas

It was a real struggle to capture the photos in this post. The pantry closet is in a corridor with zero windows (natural light) and the inside is so tiny, I couldn’t use a tripod or get a full shot with even  my widest angle lens. Nonetheless, you will be able to see what a huge difference there is from where we started to how our pantry looks today. As I share the solutions and ideas that worked best for our space, I’ll share nine tips to consider when you’re tackling your own.

START FROM SCRATCH

Most anyone will tell you this but seriously, don’t cheat. Take every single thing out of your pantry. EVERY. SINGLE. LAST. THING. My kitchen counters were already cleared so as I pulled everything, I separated items into categories. And, I checked the expiration date on every last item. The two most shameful discoveries- a can of beans that expired in 2009 (which means it made its way through multiple moves), and bread crumbs that expired in 2012. I actually had a few organizational pieces in the pantry (like the can risers I’ve used for years and even the Elfa door system from our last house that made the move with us), but I never actually took the time to fully organize and implement a system. And when you don’t, this is what ends up happening…

Overflowing before of an organized pantry

Another thing- you can have as many baskets and containers lining the shelves as you want, but if they aren’t dedicated and the correct size for what they are allocated for, it won’t do you much good. Here’s the crazy part. Of course, we purged expired food (we didn’t have much that needed to be tossed other than that), and with some simple solutions and refining, here is where we ended up. Keep in mind- most everything shown in the first picture is, in fact, still in the pantry.

Organized pantry before and after for tiny closets with wire shelving


SCROLL & TAP TO SHOP THE ORGANIZATION


Sort, organize like items, and purge. I had multiple freezer bags filled with picnic plasticware that I knew we would never use. I sorted and kept the nicer silver and gold, and sent the rest with Dave to donate to his break room at work.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BACK OF THE DOOR

The back-of-the-door baskets were my first introduction to Elfa about five or six years ago. This one has a clamp on the bottom and top and attaches with no screws. You can customize the baskets with the number and sizes you want, depending on what you plan to store. Here is what it looked like before last week…

Cluttered Organized pantry before

And here is how we transformed it.

Organized pantry ideas for small reach-ins

It allows the main pantry shelves to be free from Costco-size bottles that will ultimately transfer to the fridge, a container of chip clips, a shelf for baking (sprinkles, cupcake liners, etc.), and finally, an organized space for koozies. Speaking of koozies, we had a huge basket filled with them before I started the project. I kept the koozies from special events and to keep things “responsible”, I allowed myself to keep ONE from each wedding we attended (not the three and four we had somehow ended up with).

Door organization ideas for pantries with koozie storage

COME UP WITH A SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR YOU

Depending on your categories (which should become apparent when you take inventory of your kitchen counter piles), your system may look different from mine. If you have kids with a ton of bulk lunch snacks or, if you have zero dry snacks in your home, your needs may be totally different. Our solutions are based off of what we keep in the pantry… not what I think we need. Here is where we started (obviously, NO system in place)…

Before of a small cluttered pantry

and here is where we ended up after categorizing and storing our food appropriately.

Food storage in a small kitchen

I actually had two expandable shelves for cans before, but one was the “original” and one was the “large”. The “original” doesn’t hold full sized cans as well and since that’s what we really needed, I traded the smaller in for two large. They actually expand wider than what is shown but the shelf bracket restricts how far I can expand them on our shelves. (If you use a full Elfa shelving system, you don’t have to worry about this ;)).

Organized pantry ideas with can risers

SHELF LINERS EXPAND THE WIRE SHELF POSSIBILITIES 

One of the biggest downsides of wire shelving is not having a solid surface for not just food, but for organizers (like the expandable shelf). Shelf liners may not be necessary for every single shelf, but you can find them perfectly pre-cut HERE. Also, they are easy to cut yourself if they are too long. I didn’t measure before I “went for it” so some of my dimensions are slightly off 😉 Most of my liners are 12″x18″.

Organized pantry ideas for wire shelves

YOU DON’T HAVE TO LABEL EVERYTHING

I label baskets (that we can’t see inside or that are holding several items) for easy, instant identification, but labeling every single thing can be a difficult system to maintain. My rule is that if I label one bin out of necessity, I will label the others, also, but, I keep categories more general unless it’s a basket I have designated for a food item I always have on hand.

Organized pantry baskets with labels for pantries with limited space storage

I use these black chalkboard tags (they come in a pack with two sizes) and this chalk marker for my labeling.

Chalkboard labels for organized pantry baskets

If I have a clear container with pasta, I don’t label it “pasta”. If I have a clear container of flour, I will label it, along with other containers (like in my spice/baking cabinet here). See the full spice/baking cabinet organization project HERE.

Organized Spice and Baking Cabinet- Kitchen Organization- favorite kitchen ideas for cabinet organization

USE TURNTABLES FOR HARD-TO-REACH CORNERS

Whether it’s a corner that is difficult to reach, a place that is hard to see/disappears, or you don’t want to put items in front of each other in a line, lazy susans are the answer to so many dilemmas.

How to organize a small reach-in pantry

A 16″ actually does work; it just overlaps the intersection of shelving a tad. I only needed the 11″ since the space to the sides were more valuable. Mine are categorized into salad toppings (one of our most important/frequently used), spreads, and cooking oils.

how to organize a pantry with wire shelving

FREQUENCY & QUANTITY CAN HELP DETERMINE BIN VS. CONTAINER

How often I use an item actually helps determine whether it gets corralled into a basket, or gets its own designated POP canister. For example, I love the cereal pourers (and maybe one day I’ll feel differently), but with us having multiple cereals on hand and buying different types often, it makes  more sense for us to keep boxes in a large cube on the top shelf.

How to organize your kitchen pantry in a small space

Brown rice, pasta, goldfish, ritz… those are items we always have on hand and always replace when we run out. They are permanent staples. They get their own designated Pop canisters. I love them (and you know I have them everywhere) for freshness and the style of easy seal they have, but also not having multiple cardboard boxes and plastic bags to spill out and get crushed is huge. I also only use plastic/acrylic food storage. When I am stacking/arranging on shelves, I only see potential accidents with glass jars. If it’s something I reach for often, I totally don’t trust myself. For us, glass would be reserved for the counter.

low cost, budget pantry organization ideas

My favorite POP canisters by far are the large slanted containers. I have them here for easy, reach-in dog biscuits and my new favorite- plastic bags. You. Guys. I had an unwieldy bag holder (with no elastic) hanging on a small nail before. It fell every time we shut the door. This compact slanted POP canister actually holds MORE than what I had in the designated, fabric bag holder.

Plastic bag storage in an organized pantry

You may remember, I also have one of these babies under the sink for dishwasher pods. Favorite solution ever. You can see my full post on organizing under the kitchen sink HERE.

Clear Pop Canisters for Pantry Organization

USE PROPER SIZED STORAGE

One thing that held me back before organizing the pantry is that I had several container and a lot of baskets lining the shelves before, but they didn’t make sense. They were too big (aka wasted space) and I couldn’t locate/sift through them, and several were awkward, too tall and obviously required more effort than I was willing to give to keep them filled with the content for which they were intended.

Pantry handle baskets for spice storage

OXO Pop Canisters pantry organization and storage ideas

You can look to some items you have on hand to see what could actually be useful (I did), but when it comes to the bulk of your bins, don’t settle for just “whatever you have”. Make sure they are the correct size, and, having the same repeated bin allows things to fit more nicely. You aren’t competing with edges and angles of multiple types of storage. PS: POP containers are designed to stack 😉

Dry stock for pantry storage and organization

Pop Canisters for pasta in organized pantry

Two items I did use that I had on hand were a couple of magazine files I laid on the floor to hold folded cloth bags, and a desktop file that was the perfect size for my huge stock of beverage napkins.

LEAVE SPACE FOR GROWTH & ADDITIONS

I’ve talked about this before but organizing doesn’t mean fitting everything in like a jigsaw puzzle. If you don’t have room for additions, your new system will quickly be destroyed. And, just because your pantry looks tidy doesn’t mean it can’t be maintained by the others in your home. Remind them to return items to where they found them. These are pantry bins, not rocket science 😉

Pantry organization solutions and what to clean out

Elfa Door Organizer | 3 Tier Expandable Shelf (Large) | POP Canisters (variety of sizes used) | POP Slant Canister (5 qt.) | Shelf Liners (available in several sizes – 12″ used here on standard shelf width) | Clear Handled Baskets | 11″ Turntables | Water Hyacinth Baskets (Small on Center Shelves) | Water Hyacinth Cubes (Large on Top Shelf) | Water Hyacinth Baskets (Large on Floor) | Black Label Tags | Chalk Marker for Labeling | Magazine Holders | Desktop File (on floor for beverage napkins)

For more organization ideas, visit my organization gallery HERE. Be sure to subscribe to receive my updates below so you don’t miss future projects!

Small Pantry organization ideas with baskets, risers, and pop canisters

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51 Comments

  1. 1.16.18

    Kelley this looks amazing!!! You did an excellent job on organizing your pantry and I have to say I am totally inspired. I have always wanted to try the storage containers for rice, pasta and cereals. Again great job my friend.

    • 1.16.18

      Jen, thank you!! We have been living with our new system for about a week and good grief does it make a difference!

  2. 1.16.18

    This looks so great. Organized, decluttered, and most importantly, custom designed for your family’s needs. This does look maintainable, which,in the long run, is the goal for any organizational system. Your tips are right on!
    Isn’t this such a good project for these cold winter days, after all the holidays are over? And I love projects that “show”, giving me a sense of accomplishment. Well done Kelley!

    • 1.16.18

      Sharon, thank you so much! I am right with you- the need for de-cluttering and accomplishment is real in our household right now 😉

  3. 1.16.18
    Lori said:

    Wow, what a difference! It looks amazing!

  4. 1.16.18

    Looks great Kelly. I am a huge fan of the shelf liners as well as the OXO containers. We too have an elfa door system that we love. I keep all our extra spices, oils, condiments, etc there freeing up shelf space. And, it’s easy to see what we have or what is needed saving a ton of time and money.

    • 1.16.18

      Lauren, isn’t the Elfa door system the best?! I think we have four in our house currently- one of my favorite things, for sure!

  5. 1.16.18
    Lisa P. said:

    So good! Thank you for sharing. I’m going to get a slant jar for bags too…brilliant!

    • 1.16.18

      Lisa, thank you! Those slant jars are one of my top five favorite things ever!

  6. 1.16.18
    Trina Garvin said:

    Hi Kelly,

    Your before and after!! What a transformation and it looks so nice!! I too sis this very same thing about two eeels age. My before was VERY similar to yours and my pantry is almost exactly like yours!! I wanted to get the expandable shelves for cans as I don’t really like mine in baskets( where they are now). When I was in the container store I saw that the shelves don’t have flat bottoms but I thought well I could use shelf liner. So, thank you for this post because now I plan on getting the expandable shelves and adding liner!! Here’s my before and after! I like my new pantry but I feel like it needs to be a bit more cohesive and maybe with the shelves I can make it look a little better! Any ideas you want to send me I would appreciate!!

    • 1.16.18

      Hi, Trina! I bet it feels so so good! And yes, those shelf liners make it so you can use the expandable risers on the wire shelves 😉 I would love for you to send me your before and after!

  7. 1.16.18
    Trina Garvin said:

    Arrggh.. sorry for all the autocorrects and trying to figure out how to send you a before and after.

  8. 1.16.18
    Montoya said:

    This is so great! Our pantry has been an awful mess since we moved into this place a year ago. Your transformation is giving me the motivation to start organizing it!

    • 1.18.18

      Montoya, I am so glad! Once you get started, it feels so dang good!

  9. 1.17.18
    Kathy Prince said:

    Love the organized pantry. Definitely on my to do list. But, what I’m green over are the small wire shelf extensions you have on the sides. I have room to add those and would love to know where to find them? Do you just go have them cut at the local big box store? Thanks for the organization posts. I love them.

    • 1.18.18

      Hi, Kathy! The side shelving was actually just standard with the house, but yes, the big stores can cut them for you 😉 If you go the Elfa route and build it out in store, you can create exactly what you want to your exact specs, too. Those are WAY easier to hang than these with the angled brackets.

  10. 1.18.18
    Anita said:

    Amazing organizd pantry. There is hope for me. Thank you for sharing your panty ideas.

    • 1.22.18

      Anita, haha! Thank you and absolutely! Good luck <3

  11. 1.18.18
    Ivory said:

    Absolutely perfect. The best yet! Now you must come to our house and help me organize like this. Wow!

    • 1.22.18

      Ivory, THANK YOU! And haha! I always get on an organizing high at the first of the year 😉

  12. 3.7.18
    Amy Hickman said:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have seen other pantry blog posts but this one was definitely the most helpful I have seen. I was about to clean out my pantry and yours is quite similar to mine (mine is even smaller) and this post has given me very practical ideas to implement and actually keep up with!! I am headed out the door NOW to the container store! Thank you for all the detailed information and links, too!

    • 3.8.18

      Amy, that totally makes my day. I would be miserable if I just “decorated” it for aesthetics haha- practicality and functionality first! Best of luck to you!

  13. 5.17.18
    Piper said:

    That lady oks amazing, Kelly! I think I need to redo mine me now ?. Love the baskets!

    • 5.17.18
      Piper said:

      Ha ha! Autocorrect! It should read— that looks amazing!

  14. 10.14.18
    Donna Taheri said:

    I’m at ground zero—doing a remodel and have gained a pantry space about the size of yours. I had intended to do a bi-fold door, but I am now reconsidering! If it’s a “normal “ door, we can’t attach a storage rack on the inside! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • 10.17.18

      Donna- such a good point! We have those systems on the backs of SO MANY DOORS and it’s crazy how much space they can add! Best of luck in your remodel!

  15. 5.5.19
    Herman East said:

    Kelly. Great job. I have the exact wire shelving in my closet. Can you provide the manufacturer of the shelving as I have a need for the white wall brackets holding the shelves to the wall. I have one that is broken. Also, in reviewing your photos, I see that there are angle bracket mounted below the shelves. My installer did not install those angle brackets, thus I believe that the weight on the shelves was too much, thus the breaking of the wall brackets. So, can you help me. Thanks

    • 5.15.19

      Hi, Herman: the builder actually installed it prior to move-in so I don’t have the maker info- so sorry!

  16. 8.9.19
    Sharon Huxford said:

    I really like this!!

  17. 9.19.19
    Ashley said:

    I liked that you said that one thing to consider using to make pantry accessibility easier is to use a turntable so that hard to reach places will be easy to access again. I have been thinking about buying a home with a big pantry but II have been worried about organization and accessibility. I would be sure to utilize turntables to avoid these kinds of issues.

  18. 12.1.19
    Amanda said:

    We also have a pantry with wire shelving that I loath. How do you organize your spices. Looking for so good ideas /suggestions.

  19. 3.20.20
    Joy said:

    I have read over your blog a hundred times over the last month while my father-in-law gave my pantry a face lift! Thank you this was extremely helpful!

    • 3.23.20

      Joan, you are one lucky girl to have such awesome assistance from your father in law. I am so happy I could help! xoxo

  20. 4.6.20
    Jen said:

    I am so glad I found this site! We desperately need to update our inefficient pantry closet, and your ideas have sparked some thoughts, the first being removing the bi-fold door and replacing it with a “regular” closet door so we can use the back of it for storage. The pictures really help. Thank you!

    • 4.6.20

      I’m so glad it’s helpful! Best of luck!

    • 4.16.20

      Jen, I am so happy you found me too. It sounds like you have a great plan to change doors. We love our door storage solution. Happy organizing! xoxo

  21. 4.24.20
    Carly said:

    I’m so glad I found your post! I’m hoping to use some of your tips for my pantry. My pantry though is an hutch cabinet and not a closet.

    • 4.24.20

      Hi Carly, Wonderful and I hope it helps! It sounds like you have a fun project ahead. It’s a great time to organize. xoxo

  22. 5.23.20
    Kelsey said:

    Love it! What size baskets did you use from the container store? I also have these wire shelves in my pantry, using your makeover as inspiration 😊

    • 5.24.20

      Hi Kelsey, Thank you for visiting! I used several different sizes of baskets and based my choices on their purpose and place in the layout. I first determined what I wanted to keep in the baskets, how many baskets would be needed and then measured to determine the sizes that were needed. I hope this helps. Happy organizing!

  23. 12.24.20
    Sysan said:

    You have inspired me to give it a try. I hope to share pictures of a marvelous makeover too

    • 12.31.20

      Hi Sysan, Thank you for your sweet note! This is a great time of year to organize. I would love to see the result!

  24. 2.13.21
    Noney said:

    Turntables!!! That’s it. You’re a genius. I have been reading lots on how to organize items for my kitchen including the pantry, but yours is the best.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • 2.15.21

      Hi Noney, Thank you so much for stopping by. I appreciate your sweet note! Yes…turntables are such a great solution to allow access in small spaces. I am so happy this post was a help to you.

  25. 3.30.21
    Harriet said:

    What are the dimensions of your pantry, and the depth/width of the shelves? I’m working on planning for a 3’x 4′ pantry/appliance closet and this looks a lot like what I’m thinking?

    • 4.16.21

      Hi Harriet, Thank you for taking the time to stop by for a visit. My pantry is approximately 52″ wide and 32″ deep. The shelves are 12″ deep and run along the length and the depth of the walls. I hope this helps!

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