Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Pantries are definitely having their moment in the spotlight.

For as long as I can remember, it was perfectly fine to have your tuna, pasta and barley lined up any which way you wanted in your storage area, but today’s pantries are decked out in matching canisters, bins and boxes, with trendy color schemes and eye-catching labels turning them into Instagram-worthy places of beauty. The pictures you see in glossy magazine spreads and on social media are enough to have anyone pining for that kind of pantry perfection. While you may not have the space, the talent, the resources or even the inclination to transform your kitchen storage area into a showpiece, there are still plenty of ways to wave that magic wand and give your space a much needed makeover.

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The first step to organizing your pantry? Find as many laundry baskets or empty boxes as you can and empty out your pantry completely. That’s right, every box of cereal, those flower shaped sprinkles you bought to decorate cupcakes for your niece’s birthday party two years ago and everything else on those shelves need to go into those baskets or boxes. Now, take a good hard look at your pantry and decide how to make the most of whatever available space you have. For those of you who have no storage available in your kitchen, consider if there is a nearby closet that can be commandeered or if you have extra space nearby for a bookcase that can hold your grocery stash.

Before you do anything else, grab a bottle of Windex and some paper towels or rags and give your pantry a thorough cleaning, taking a few minutes to contemplate investing extra resources into beautifying as you scrub those ancient drips and smears. A coat of paint in a cheerful color or a roll or two of wallpaper can definitely inject a touch of style into your pantry, but going that route is totally optional and there is nothing wrong with focusing totally on efficiency and not on aesthetics.

The choices are endless these days when it comes to finding bins, baskets, canisters and containers to corral your pantry items. You might prefer clear storage so you can see at a glance what is in each container, although there are those who advocate for neatly labeled non-clear containers to better hide any potential messes corralled inside or even some combination of those two approaches. Just be sure to stick with the same color throughout your pantry so that things look as cohesive as possible and go with similar sizes whenever you can so that things stack as efficiently as possible. Containers and other storage solutions are available literally everywhere in all price ranges: dollar stores, your local discount center, Walmart, Target, Ikea, The Container Store, Amazon, etc. I am a big believer in buying items for a project like this from a store with a generous return policy so that you can get lots of different sizes and shapes and figure out what you need as you go, saving a few extras for the future and then bringing back whatever is left over. Be sure to measure your shelves before buying anything so that you can maximize every inch and remember that squares and rectangles are more space efficient shapes than circles or ovals.

I should mention that you don’t have to buy containers to hold your pantry items. Chances are you already have bins, baskets and containers that you can press into service lurking in your home, and while they may not look as pretty as shiny new items in similar sizes and shapes, they can do the job quite well. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, consider rounding up sturdy shoe boxes and even empty cereal boxes and cover them in contact paper, wallpaper or even spray paint to give them a uniform look. Empty soup crouton containers are my personal favorites because their tall skinny size makes the most efficient use of shelf space and they are an easily renewable resource that are fabulous for holding beans, barley and other small items.

It never hurts to think outside the box when it comes to maximizing your space. Vertical wall space is often overlooked, but can be used a million different ways, from holding a whiteboard for shopping lists to large hooks for oven mitts or placemats fastened together with a binder clip. Wall mounted decorative shower caddies are great for storing potatoes and onions, the extra air circulation keeping them fresh longer, while sink caddies affixed to the wall can keep small packets like cocoa, microwave popcorn and spices from falling all over each other and becoming an unruly mess. Wall hung shoe organizers and wire racks on the back of the door can keep smaller items organized, while rolling storage carts with drawers are an effective solution to larger spots – just be sure to buy a sturdy one because the cheap ones will only give you grief. Undershelf baskets are another godsend, maximizing often unused real estate and, while lazy susans aren’t necessarily the most space efficient of organizers, they can be lifesavers in the corners of larger pantries where things very often tend to get lost.

Ready to start loading your pantry back up? Stop and take a minute to think about the fact that Pesach is just 13 weeks away and take an inventory of your foodstuffs so you can use up what you have and weed out items that have overstayed their welcome and are never going to get eaten. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot possibly tell you to throw out food of any kind, so find someone who will appreciate them and give them a good home or just follow your conscience and do whatever works best for you. Next, get those laundry baskets or boxes holding your pantry items and start putting things away in their new homes, placing kid friendly items on the more accessible lower shelves and the off limits goodies higher up and, hopefully, out of their line of vision. Sort foods by categories: keep the baking supplies all in one group, sauces and dressings in another and canned goods in a third spot, labeling everything as you go so that none of your nearest and dearest mess up your carefully organized sections when they venture into the pantry looking for something. It goes without saying that the most commonly used items should be placed where they are easiest to see and reach and that heavier items like cases of water and large bottles of soda should be kept on the floor.

At the end of the day, creating that perfect pantry is all about what works best for you. For some people, it is all about those pretty matching canisters all spaced a perfect two inches apart while others have more of an interest in a logical, but possibly less eye catching arrangement to keep things orderly on a regular basis. In my own family we have some members who like to keep their pantries as minimalist as possible, keeping just the basics in stock, while my married kids insist that if the apocalypse ever strikes they are all moving back home because my pantry is full enough to tide all of us over for several weeks. Find the storage solutions and the systems that work best for you and your existing space and do whatever it takes to keep your family members on board to keep your pantry chaos-free. Go ahead… paint your pantry that gorgeous shade of coral that reminds you of the flamingos you fell in love with on your last visit to Florida. Hang a funky chandelier that makes you feel like a teenager all over again. Put up signs or posters that make you smile every time you read them. No matter how big or small it may be, its your pantry – transform it into a space that really makes you proud.

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.