My REAL, Usable, Organized, Unpretty Pantry

posted by Andrea | 03/1/2013

nora in the pantry

I’ve been reading a lot about pantry organization lately — and seeing loads of glamorous “designer pantries” {as I call them} plastered all over Pinterest.

And while they are gorgeously adorned with wallpaper, stenciled accent walls, brightly colored labels, chalkboard paint, matching (and very expensive) clear plastic storage containers, cute baskets, and color-coordinated canned-goods, I have to wonder how USABLE and REALISTIC they actually are.

Yes, they look absolutely fabulous; yes I’ve caught myself drooling over these images more than once; and yes, there was a brief moment when I thought about trying to make our pantry cabinet look more like all these fancy photos… but then I snapped out of my funk and “got real”.

I realized that although these picturesque designer pantries would be fun to have in my own home, I’m personally not willing to make the time to decorate the inside of a cabinet — especially since Dave and I are the only ones who ever open the doors (until now I guess!)

full pantry

So, for those of you who might be feeling a little guilty or sheepish about the mess hiding behind your pantry doors, I hope the pictures below will not only motivate you to make time for a mini pantry organizing project, but also show you that an organized pantry doesn’t require an interior decorator, a fancy vinyl cutting machine, expensive containers, or even a label maker.

In fact, it might not require anything but a little elbow grease (and a large trash bag!)

A Look at my REAL, Usable, Organized, Unpretty Pantry

First of all, I should just point out that I’m SO thankful we even have a pantry cabinet. Our old kitchen hardly had any storage space for food so we actually had a bookcase sitting against one wall in our kitchen to provide storage for food and other small appliances. Now, in our new kitchen, we have a huge, fabulous pantry cabinet with tons of concealed storage — we are so fortunate!

We’ve actually rearranged our pantry cabinet a couple of times since our kitchen renovation this summer — but I think we’ve found the arrangement that works the best for us.

It’s not necessarily pretty or “decorated,” but it stores our food — which is what a pantry should do :)

Here’s an over-all shot of our entire pantry cabinet area.

pantry area

We only keep food in the large floor-to-ceiling cabinet. You can see the appliances, etc. inside our other cabinets here.

All the shelves are adjustable and we actually have 2 more shelves that we could install — so that definitely made the organizing process easier. I tried to put similarly sized items on the same shelf so we could maximize the height between shelves.

Here’s a closer look at the top of the pantry cabinet:

top pantry

Top Shelf = extra serving platters that I don’t use that often but wanted to have somewhat easy access to

Second Shelf = Extra chips, Rice, Pasta

Third Shelf = Pretzels, Chips, Granola, Pop-Tarts, Oatmeal Packets (behind the granola), Cereal

Here’s a look at the bottom pantry cabinet:

bottom pantry

Top Shelf = baked goods (cookies, cake, bread, muffins), baby food

Second Shelf = Crackers, nuts, peanut butter, fruit leather, other pre-packaged snacks, lunch packing supplies

Third Shelf = Bread, Buns, Microwave (we recently changed to a smaller microwave that would fit in our pantry)

Fourth Shelf = Canned goods (I keep almost all my home-canned food on shelves in the basement)

Fifth Shelf = Coolers and reusable lunch bags

Bottom Shelf = Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and  toaster oven

As you’ll notice, there are no fancy organizing containers, no sparkly labels, no chalkboard paint, and no pretty baskets or crates. Just food :)

However, it’s still organized, it doesn’t look totally trashed (at least not in my opinion), and we can quickly and easily find everything we need.

The main thing I wanted to achieve when I organized our pantry was to keep “like” items together.  I also tried to keep the items we use on a daily basis at eye level — which is why the breakfast stuff, snacks, and lunch packing supplies are all either at the top of the bottom cabinet or the bottom of the top cabinet. That’s the easiest place for us to reach!

snacks

As you can see, the only organizing containers I use in our pantry are a couple plastic shoe boxes I had lying around (cardboard boxes would work as well) and a small lazy susan (which I also already had). I spent $0.00 to organize this space, and it’s 100% functional and practical.

It’s also one of Nora’s favorite play places :)

Hopefully you all don’t think less of me now that you know what the inside of our pantry looks like!

DISCLAIMERI honestly have nothing against anyone with a fabulous “designer pantry”. I think they are awesome and if I had a little more craftiness in me, I might give it a try {maybe!} But for now, I’m satisfied with (and so thankful for) my unpretty, real-life, organized pantry :)

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36 comments

  1. Katy

    03/01/2013

    I totally agree with you. I also have been checking out a lot of pantry posts on different blogs, and wishing my pantry looked a little more like that. However, yesterday I was at Target and saw a few matching bins, etc. that were used on some other blogs…I could not believe some of the canisters were almost twenty dollars each! Maybe those bins are an investment, since you can use them long-term…but I’m too cheap! I’ll stick with the repurposed boxes and bins I have I guess :)

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  2. Julia

    03/01/2013

    Thank you for posting this. . . . I agree with you 100%. Awhile back I purchased a few bins in the clearance section of Target but to be honest am not in love with the pantry after putting them to use! My pantry stores food and our recycling bin and some bulk items. It’s not gorgeous, and we don’t live in a house with a large enough pantry to go ‘designer’ but I have been known to drool over them. The truth is, I work full time and am busy… if my food is organized behind a closed door, I don’t need to mess around with fancy supplies. Maybe some day!

    Thanks again for your timeliness.

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  3. Jen @ ThisCrunchyLife

    03/01/2013

    Why do little ones love to take everything out of the pantry?

    I wish I had a big closet like that to keep everything together, but I’m fortunate to have a lot of good cupboard space to organize all of my stuff. I try to keep like with like for ease of use, but as long as I know where everything is and it is close at hand, I’m happy! No fancy bins or stencils needed, thank you. Thanks for sharing and I think your space looks very pretty.

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  4. Jessica

    03/01/2013

    It looks lovely! You have pleanty of food for your family :) I don’t have time for fancy bins. It really adds to grocery time to have to switch containers. When you have a big family it just doesn’t make sense. I think my pantry is beautiful though because it represents all of the hard work my husband does to feed us and how blessed we are to have enough food. I have a nice door knob on my pantry though :)

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  5. LoriB

    03/01/2013

    Thanks for showing what real life looks like. All the organizing “stuff” will not make me more organized. That’s not to say I don’t like pretty things. Simple & organized is pretty to me. Guess that’s why I love this blog.

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  6. Jenn L.

    03/01/2013

    Why did you switch microwaves? You did a post not too long ago about a combination microwave/convection oven that you said you liked…

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    Andrea Reply:

    Jenn, we did (and still do) like the convection microwave, but with a double oven (one of which is also a convection oven) we were rarely using that feature on our microwave. So we opted for a much smalle unit that would fit in our pantry and take up less space.

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    Jenn L. Reply:

    Fair enough, I can appreciate that. =)

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  7. Deb

    03/01/2013

    My pantry is organized like this, unopened straight ahead, opened on the left, if my teens and husband can keep that straight, I am happy. We have a real door that rarely gets shut and I have aprons, a fly swatter and extra WM sacks hanging on the back of it. We can shut the door if we have company. It is definitely not pretty but it works and I am so thankful just to have a real pantry and not just shelves in the basement like we have done in times past. Also thankful to live in America where we have EXTRA food. Blessed beyond measure……

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  8. Laurel

    03/01/2013

    My pantry looks pretty much the same-loaded with food, organized, but having bins and containers that don’t match and I didn’t purchase. I am on the same page you are. While I think all those designer pantries are probably functional and super cool, they are expensive and I can think of many more ways I’d rather spend the money. Thanks for the reality check!

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  9. Kate

    03/01/2013

    Thanks for sharing your “real” life pantry. You gotta have something that works for you, and as a busy mom myself, it’s not realistic for me to have a designer pantry, like you said, especially one that kids get into and help put away groceries…just family friendly and functional!

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  10. Five4FiveMeals

    03/01/2013

    Thanks for keeping it real, Andrea! Also, I am impressed by the number of cute cake stands you have. A lot of those look vintage.

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  11. Angela B.

    03/01/2013

    I have to agree with you! I love to look at a beautifully organized, “containerized” pantry, but I just don’t think they are practical. All those containers would drive my husband crazy. And I, myself, wouldn’t want to have to look at each bin to see what’s in it….this way your eye can directly spot what you need. I love your pantry. It’s more “true-to-life”.

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  12. Lisa

    03/01/2013

    I don’t understand why they decorate pantry either why? Waste of money and we all try to save so if ur saving why r they spending money on the inside of a cabinet beats me lol. we don’t have a pantry i use multiple cabinets and keep things wher I need them also basement wher I put any overflow and my veggies i can in summer. Love your pantry looks normal to all of us people who truly use it!

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  13. Beth

    03/01/2013

    I would have to live by myself to have a pretty pantry… All the males in my house would make it all a mess each day if I tried to get “fancy”! Ha. Functional. Practical. Simple. These are non-negotiable. Love the post!

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  14. Cali

    03/01/2013

    I really like your pantry and the way you organize it. I understand and like clear containers when they’re for rice or pasta or other products that, imo, have fragile original containers. Breakfast cereals? Nope.

    I do like those pantries that add a paper system to write down everything you might need to buy but it’s hidden behind the door.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Cali, I love that system for writing down items I need to stock up on too. I guess I never thought about putting it in my pantry because it has always just been on the side of my fridge! The pantry would be a good idea though :)

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  15. Megan @ Monroe Makeshift

    03/01/2013

    Thanks for being real about you pantry! I too have seen a lot of designer pantries lately. I don’t even have a pantry, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t spend hundreds of dollars making it look cute. I will admit though, my one food storage cabinet does have fun colored baskets and labels. That’s more so that my husband will be able to find things he needs and put them away in a place that makes sense so I can find it too. :)

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    Andrea Reply:

    Megan, don’t apologize for cute bins and labels! I think bins and labels are fabulous — if you don’t spend a fortune on them and if they actually help you and your family members to more easily find what you want. I just wanted to point out that cute bins and labels aren’t required to organize a pantry (or any space for that matter). Enjoy your colorful baskets!!

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  16. Laura Carroll

    03/01/2013

    This post is exactly why I love your blog! Thanks for being real :-)

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  17. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    03/01/2013

    I’m with you – practical over pretty. I don’t have the ability or money to create a beautiful pantry. As long as mine does the job, I’m a happy camper.

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  18. Jenny

    03/01/2013

    No, Andrea, I actually think more highly of you after seeing your pantry! ;) Thank you for showing a “real world” organized pantry. I love it that you keep priorities in perspective.

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  19. Heart and Haven

    03/01/2013

    I’m in agreement with you over the “pretty pantrys”. I did a major overhaul/organization of our pantry over a year ago putting “like with like” and it functions soooo much better now. The OCD side of me even alphabatized our spices, but at least we aren’t buying duplicates anymore! :-)

    I just can’t bring myself to spend so much money on pretty glass containers for instance. I do re-use containers (ie. empty peanut butter jars, miracle whip jars, etc.) that I label to store items purchased from the bulk bins (ie. nuts, raisens, pasta, oatmeal, etc.). It’s much cheaper to buy items from the bulk bins and greener to not have all the excess packaging…and I think it’s totally cheating if you purchase food in packaging and then transfer to reusuable containers! ha!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I had all my spices alphabetized at one point too — but I ended up changing it a bit when we renovated our kitchen. Now I keep the spices I use most often on the top “shelf” of our pull-out spice cabinet. It works really well because I labeled the tops of the jars. You can see a picture of our spice cabinet in this post (you’ll need to scroll down a ways).

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  20. Jenny

    03/01/2013

    Being real is a most wonderful feeling, especially on Blogland. Thank you for always being that way. I have just finished re-organizing my pantry last week without spending a cent. It is an old pantry with many “dead” spaces but the “new” look makes me smile every morning when I enter my kitchen. Nothing fancy but the placement of items makes sense to me and I am loving it!

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  21. Vickie

    03/01/2013

    Love, love, love this post! While I enjoy the ‘pretty’ pantries, let’s get real and use our space as best for our family and not worry about decorating every square inch of life! Thank you and blessings!

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  22. Tara

    03/01/2013

    I love your real pantry. I recently overhauled my pantry and I did invest in new bins. But they were not expensive and I would say they easily doubled the space I have in my pantry. They are the multi-purpose bins from Container Store. And are AMAZING!

    They are tall, clear, are straight-sided (so no wasted space) and come in different sizes. When you place them on shelves they turn everything into a sort of “filing” system. They helped me utilize more vertical space in my shelves and with a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie I easily labeled all of them at no cost.

    They hold canned goods (a medium bin holds 12 standard cans in an approximately 4 inch space of shelf. I use these for canned items that I have large quantities of like olives or organic coconut milk that I buy in bulk. The larger bins contain things like bags of chips and “salty snacks” perfectly. One x-large bin contains all of my baking ingredients so that when I want to bake I just pull out that one bin and have everything at my fingertips. This is key for me since my pantry is not in my kitchen but a few yards away in my hall closet.

    The bins were all on sale (and are through the end of march) and I spent less than $100 to totally revolutionize and at the least double my pantry storage space. I’ve been using up all kinds of things in my pantry that kept getting lost in the shuffle or tucked behind other things. And I now have room to display my large canning jars full of bulk foods (beans, pasta, chocolate chips, etc) where I can see all their labels now. Same with all my home canned foods.

    And the best part….I have empty space on my pantry shelves! I actually added more food into the space which seemed to be overflowing with food and I now have room to spare! It’s a total miracle! :-)

    So, my recommendation is…buy new bins if you need them, but skip the cutesy ones and buy super functional ones. If anyone is looking for something like this, these are an amazing deal even at full price and you’ll never regret the investment. http://www.containerstore.com/shop/office/paperFileStorage/portable?productId=10022942
    I put it off for far to long and m kicking myself. It was a very quick and easy pantry overhaul.

    Cheers to real functional spaces in our homes!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I couldn’t agree more Tara! If there are functional (and somewhat inexpensive) containers that will help to maximize your space, increate your organization, and make your home/life run more smoothly, then I’m ALL FOR purchasing those items.
    It sounds like you did a fabulous job in your pantry — and seriously, isn’t it great to have extra space :)

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  23. Rachel

    03/01/2013

    You mentioned you keep your potatoes, sweet potatoes & onions on the bottom shelf. Any more details on that? I’m trying to think of a good way to store those same items that keeps them good the longest.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Rachel, the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions are in that large black “pot” on the bottom shelf. It’s actually a pasta strainer insert for a pan I don’t have anymore… so it’s breathable and works well for those root vegetables. Not sure if this is the “best” way, but it’s been working well for me for several years now!

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  24. Sheila

    03/01/2013

    I totally agree with you about the pretty pantries/cabinets are unrealistic. For the most part, there is a great deal of wasted space. My pantry is stuffed to the gills, but it is very organized. I know where everything is, because I store like with like, and I can retrieve anything within seconds. Fortunately I don’t have any children to mess with the system, and my husband can’t find anything if it were right in front of his nose, so he usually asks me to get what he wants.

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  25. CJ

    03/01/2013

    I’ve also recently seen some posts with the very pretty pantries on other blogs and even though the pantries were darling I found them to be unrealistic for most. Many people do not want to spend the time or money to “decorate” their pantries since most of the time the only individuals seeing the home pantries are the people who live there. I am all for organizing – love finding new and inexpensive ways to organize but I don’t see the point in “decorating” my pantry but for those that have the time and money to decorate their pantries, more power to them I guess. I think the majority are more like you, just happy to have an organized pantry that functions well for the home.

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  26. Pantry Organization | The Writing Desk

    03/01/2013

    [...] My REAL, Usable, Organized, Unpretty Pantry « Simple Organized Living. [...]

  27. Kristine

    03/02/2013

    I LOVE it! The best part of the whole deal, is that you shut the doors and you have the MOST beautiful white cabinets and you see NO clutter! That is my kind of project, hide it all, not showcase it!

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  28. Amy

    03/03/2013

    I recently visited a site where the girl featured a GORGEOUS pantry makeover. I, too, did alot of drooling over it! Then I got back to reality and and figured there are better things, things we actually see, in our home that we can spend that money on improving. All those fancy bins and baskets can get pretty pricey!

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  29. Amy U

    03/05/2013

    I’m with you, Amy. Only more in terms of the cost of time. I wouldn’t spend the $ on it (my husband would croak for one thing) and I don’t wanna spend precious time making pretty things and then shut the door. Although I do drool over the perfection and symmetry of the pretty ones. And get the feeling that I should tackle mine. So, Andrea, thanks for making me feel adequate again. ;-)

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