How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional

Update: I can’t tell you how well this pantry update has worked out! I am still so pleased with how it looks and how functional it is after over a year! I wouldn’t change a thing! Check it out!

Do you have a small boring pantry? Do you find yourself wondering how to organize it for optimum efficiency while also giving it style? I hear you. Our pantry is small, as in the size of a shoe closet. So size matters, especially for a family of five. But what if I told you there’s a way to make your pantry user-friendly and also make it visually pop? Let’s jump right in. Here’s how to take your small pantry from haphazard and ho-hum to one that’s fun and functional!

How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - our pantry before
Our small pantry before the makeover. We made some attempts at organization, but it’s a mess. It’s white and uninspiring.

Take Stock

Pull everything out of the pantry, sort through it, and give the pantry a thorough cleaning. Next, consider where you use each of the items. Do they all need to be in the pantry? Would they work better in a different zone of your kitchen? We’ll get into that part later in the post.

When I emptied our pantry, I found many non-food items like Cosequin for the dogs, two tins of baking supplies, plus foils, wraps, plastics bags, and Citrucel. None of this is going back in the small pantry.

Corral all like items together to help you determine the number and types of containers, bins, and baskets you’ll need to get organized.

Now is the time to check expiration dates and throw away items that are expired. Donate any food that’s unopened and not expired.

Make it Fun – Paint or Wallpaper with a bold color / pattern

Just like the powder room, the pantry is a perfect small space to be daring. The answer to a plain pantry doldrums is to dress it up with a bold paint color, wallpaper, or both. I recommend peel and stick wallpaper because the only commitment is the price per roll (I used Opalhouse Leaves in Green from Target for $34). Full disclosure: walls must be prepped with semi-gloss paint before application (if you’d like to remove the wallpaper someday without removing the top layer of drywall). Afraid to fully commit – just wallpaper the back wall of the pantry. Maybe try a subdued pattern that’s less bold.

Not a fan of wallpaper? No problem. Head to the paint department, but don’t be shy. Choose something bold and bright like pink, orange, blue or green. Go for it!

If your pantry is small like mine, a quart of paint and one roll of wallpaper should do the trick, but you’ll need to measure to be 100% certain.

Our pantry midway through the peel and stick wallpaper installation.

I smile when I open the pantry door now rather than cringing as I once did. Additionally, I covered the painted particle board shelves with black heavy-duty vinyl wallpaper to make clean-up a breeze.

Add Clear Containers / Mason Jars to get Organized

Clear containers are sold everywhere, individually and in sets, at prices to fit every budget. They not only look great, but they also keep food fresh, make it easy to see what’s inside and show you when supplies are running low. Likewise, decanting helps to avoid a possible infestation that can come into your home inside dry goods. An infestation can’t spread throughout your entire kitchen if dry goods are in airtight containers. You’ll thank me later.

We already owned an OXO container and loved it, so it made sense to buy a set of these containers when it came time to organize our small pantry. The variety of sizes fit two-deep on our shallow pantry shelves. These containers are perfect for rice, oatmeal, nuts, stuffing mix, pancake mix, and powdered sugar. I also use glass canisters and mason jars for loose tea, dark chocolate chips, dry rubs, farro, and arborio rice.

Store the items used most on the front of the shelf like oatmeal, rice, and nuts, and less frequently used staples like stuffing mix and powdered sugar in the back.

 clear containers filled with rice

Despite loving these containers, we’ve had less than stellar results when filling the large airtight containers with cereal. The problem: when the large container is half full of air, the cereal quickly becomes stale. We now keep cereal in its original packaging. In all fairness, the large containers are probably better suited for pasta.

Gather like-items in Bins & Baskets

Any bin or basket that fits on your shelves will do. Think broadly. I use baskets to corral like-items such as grains, beans, and rice. I labeled the baskets using inexpensive tags from the office supply store. A larger basket holds potatoes on the pantry floor. But remember, not all items play nicely together and can accelerate spoiling/ripening. So don’t put onions and potatoes together in one bin or near each other. The same goes for apples and bananas.

Everything working well together, making sense, and looking neat will help you stay organized in the long run.

 How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - storing like items in a basket
I used mini canisters to hold farro and arborio rice that is stored near the basket of quinoa, beans, and grains.
Teas grouped together in a basket
Our tea collection is easy to access in a labeled basket.
How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - Snap lid Dog food container and basket of potatoes

Deploy Lazy Susans

This organizing workhorse solved many of our pantry organizing issues. I am not exaggerating when I say they’re a game-changer. I have two in the pantry for oils, different kinds of vinegar, cooking wines, and honey. Spin the Lazy Susan to find what you need; no more moving five bottles to find the sesame oil. Plus, they also save space by allowing items to be stored closely together. In addition to the two Lazy Susans I have in the pantry, I have two more in an upper cabinet near the range containing spices and another in the refrigerator.

Two hard-working Lazy Susans hold, a variety of oils, vinegars and honey
Two Lazy Susans free up space in our small pantry.

Hang an undershelf wire basket

An undershelf basket is perfect for storing smaller staples like spice rubs and snacks. It fits conveniently onto an existing shelf, creating more storage underneath for shorter/smaller items like juice boxes, apple sauce pouches, and granola bars. They’re a great way to gain a little more storage in a small space.

How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - Undershelf hanging shelf (adding storage)
Small decorative containers hide some coffee supplies and dietary supplements under the hanging shelf full of dry rubs.

Use the Inside of the Pantry Door

I love the idea of hanging an organizer on the inside of the pantry door to create additional storage. It’s a great way of storing some of your backstock in the pantry.

Label Everything

It doesn’t matter what kind of labels you choose, Chalkboard style, The Home Edit, Talented Kitchen, or the type made with a label maker; knowing what’s inside each container is a must. Especially since flour, cornstarch, and powdered sugar look very similar!

While labels look great, they can’t do everything. Remember to tape cooking instructions and expiration dates to the backs of containers.

Find Overflow Storage & Create Zones

Your pantry is now fun and functional. But it’s still small. It simply can’t house everything, so it’s time to create zones for all the items that won’t fit in it, like all of your backstock, baking supplies, medication, and smaller appliances. So take a hard look at those kitchen cabinets and make them work for you. This task may involve a little more rearranging, but it will be well worth it.

Creating zones will make cooking and baking easier. For example, put spices near the range where they get the most use.

overflow storage; lazy Susans filled of spices near the range
Lazy Susans conveniently store our spices in an upper cabinet near the range.

Establish a baking zone for flour, brown sugar, and sugar near the counter where you bake.

How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - Baking supplies station

Store medicine out of reach of curious little ones in an upper cabinet. Because we take medicine and pain relievers and use band-aids in the kitchen, so these items to be handy. The family pet may also need medication which is most likely happening in the kitchen.

Possible Zones to consider:

  • Baking
  • Spices
  • Small Appliances
  • Medications, Band-Aids, et al.
  • Bread & Snacks
  • Plastic wraps, foil, and bags

We turned a base cabinet with roll-out drawers into a bread and snack station that also shares space with plastic and reusable silicone bags. A customized deep kitchen drawer holds foil and plastic wraps. We carved out some space on our basement storage shelves for all the food from Costco.

How to Make your Small Pantry Fun and Functional - base kitchen rollouts turned into a bread and snack station.
Bread and snacks share space with storage bags in a kitchen cabinet.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to organize your small pantry. You probably already own some or all of the items you need to get started, like airtight containers, mason jars, baskets, or bins.

In the end, our small pantry is fun and functional; it’s now a joy to open the pantry door. And our cooking zones make sense for everyone. Everything is neat and organized. Everyone knows where to find what they need for a quick snack or dinner prep. And, the transformation only took a few days to complete!

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