Give me your organizing closet/pantry/kitchen/basement storage hacks.
July 24, 2017 6:03 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are closing on our first house a week from now and we're looking for your best closet, pantry shelves, kitchen, garage, and basement storage hacks.

My wife and I are excited to close on our first house a week from now. We have about 12 days before moving in to do some light renovations but also to setup an organization scheme for where things will go. We have never lived in an apartment larger than 500 square feet, so a 1000 square foot house with multiple options is superb. We are trying to set the tone early, though, so we don't end up like our parents with seven blenders because you can't remember where things are.

I'm looking for infrastructure you bought, things you built, and how you decided where things would go. Things like "these baskets are durable cheap and make organizing shelves infinitely better" are great, along with more philosophical "here's how we review what we have" stuff.

Only limiter - we prefer more environmentally friendly materials over plastics.

I am aware of the Kondo/professional side of things, but honestly we're normal people and aren't likely to be militant about this.

Specific areas we're looking at:
- Kitchen cabinets - we have approximately 2x the amount of cabinetry that we have now, especially lower cabinets and drawers. My wife is vertically challenged, so upper cabinetry is likely longer-term storage.
- We are moving our fridge and will have a fridge-sized opening between cabinetry. My intention is to install pantry shelves and perhaps one of those hanging pot and pan dealies. Ideas for what else to use in a space that we intend on limiting the depth on would be great.
- Bedroom closets - the master I think longer term I'll build a knock off of the Ikea systems, but right now we also have two bedroom closets for guests. What do you do to organize there and what stuff do you keep in underused closets?
- Basement and garage - I feel like many of the things we'd store in one area we might also store in another. We have two rooms worth of storage in the basement and I will build some shelves. How do you decide what goes where and what bins/etc. do you recommend for storing in areas that might be wetter and/or not used as often?

Thanks in advance.
posted by notorious medium to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Re garage and basement, give it time and you'll naturally tend towards a system. We don't have a basement but we do have s shed and a garage. At first I had a plan about all the garden related stuff going in the shed and all the hobby stuff in the garage. But ultimately it turned out the garage is easier to access (the lock on the shed is temperamental and you have to brave the weather to get there) so things used frequently migrated into the garage. So now it's shed for long term storage of infrequently used gear and garage for things used often.

There's no way we could have figured that out by prior planning of a system, so I'd suggest considering whatever storage plans you have now very temporary and setting a date about six months later to reevaluate and spring clean.
posted by lollusc at 6:51 AM on July 24, 2017

I love pull out cabinet drawers like this. It lets you use the whole depth of the cabinet without sitting on the floor and pulling everything out.
posted by advicepig at 6:59 AM on July 24, 2017 [9 favorites]

If you can, install pull out shelving in all the lower cabinets, and possibly in the fridge-shaped cabinetry as well. It's a lifesaver not having to take out 18 mixing bowls/sheet pans to get at the one pot/pan you're looking for. In my house, we also use the pull out shelving to store small appliances when they're not in use (rice cooker, juicer, etc.) Keeping the counters free of these things really makes it look cleaner/nicer.
For your guest bedroom closets, they're a good place to store linens/towels for your guests. It's nice if you can leave enough room for guests to hang their belongings too.
Really, if you can just get the rooms you use all the time (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom) set up to your liking, the rest will follow.
And remember! Just because you have all this space doesn't mean you have to fill it! Good luck & congratulations on your new home!
posted by csox at 7:04 AM on July 24, 2017

Came in to recommend not just pull out shelving, which is amazing, but also this kind of rising stand if you have a Kitchenaid or other large, unwieldy appliance.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:10 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's a small thing, like, a really small thing, but small dry-erase stickers and a white board marker has suddenly made my pantry so much better. I get paralysed trying to work out the perfect container for the particular ingredient. This way, I can change the label at will, which happens surprisingly often as I use up and bring home ingredients.
posted by kjs4 at 7:25 AM on July 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yes, pull out shelving in lower cabinets is fantastic. They really do maximize the space and minimize the hassle. (When we recently renovated our apartment kitchen, we went with drawers for the lower cabinet spaces for just this reason.)

For that space where your fridge used to be, have you considered a small desk? Back before I lived in the city, I had a small house that had a built-in desk on one side of the kitchen and I used that space all the time for grocery lists and recipes, for reading or working while watching a pot or waiting for something to bake, or as a place to sit someone out of my way while I worked. It was cozy as all get out. You've probably already got an outlet there since that's where your fridge was, so it could be a charging station or a place for a small radio. Sitting or standing height would work, and you'd still have space for other shelves or cabinets. Maybe a cork or white board, too?
posted by minervous at 7:36 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fir higher shelves, if you have deep shelves, get a turntable. This will save you from shoving stuff way back in the shelf and then either having no idea what's back there or having to pull everything out before finding the thing you need in the back.

Pull out shelves for lower cabinets are wonderful to live with.

Ymmv but when we did our cabinets we installed an undercounter roll-out trash compartment with two trash bins, one for regular trash and one for recyclables. Makes recycling just that much easier, we don't have to walk to a different part of the house for disposal.
posted by vignettist at 7:49 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

For basement and garage heavy duty storage, we always go with metro shelving (or similar brands) - have never found an alternative as sturdy as these, even though they seem a little pricey. That said, the cheap Hyllis shelves from IKEA have served well for lightweight storage (really light!). You may prefer built-ins, but if not, metro shelves.

We also are completely addicted to pegboards in the garage, having been in a house where they were previously installed. I can't think of a better way to store all those odds and ends. We have 10 x 4 feet of this in our garage and it's completely full.

I can't hold up our kitchen as an example overall, but one thing we did, since we are both short and the cupboards are all tall, was to make the second shelf of the cupboards disproportionately low in most places, so we can reach both the lowest and second lowest shelves of these cupboards. It looks odd I think , so it's not intuitive to do so.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2017

Our house is pretty much a model home for Elfa shelving. We also have a pantry where a fridge used to be, and we put up hanger tracks for Elfa shelving there, and wall-to-wall in the garage, and in our bedroom closets. Not being locked in to one arrangement of shelving is handy. Elfa is the only form of storage we have in the bedroom (no furniture other than a bed), and it goes floor to ceiling in the pantry with the exception of a small wine rack. The only problems we've had with Elfa are: 1. The wire shelf our laundry supplies sits on has gotten corroded; they do make a plastic shelf insert that would prevent that; 2. When our contractor put up the hanger tracks in our closets, he didn't anchor them sufficiently, and one pulled away from the wall (it wasn't catastrophic, but it wasn't good). I wound up shoring them all up.

The one slightly clever thing we did in the pantry was using shallower shelves at eye level, stepping out to deep shelves high and low. This makes the high-frequency stuff easier to get at, even when it's in the back.
posted by adamrice at 7:53 AM on July 24, 2017

I've been very happy with Elfa Shelves for basement and garage. They are very sturdy and durable, and relatively easy to put up. There's a horizontal track that you install with screws high up on the wall. The vertical standards (slotted) hang from the track (no hardware needed for that). The shelves hook into the slots. You can buy all metal components, or they also have solid shelves (melamine). We also have Elfa closet rods and shelves in bedrooms, same set-up. Elfa is sold at the Container Store. They have a big sale in December; not sure if that's the only time.

Like you, I also have a good amount of drawer space. I keep spice jars upright in a drawer, with labels on the spice lids. They're in organizers like this, but if I were doing it today I might prefer something more like this flat sheet of steel, magnets on jars.
posted by wryly at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2017

My new pantry is a source of continual delight to me (after years of dealing with a crappy one.) The simple secret: SHALLOW shelving. Mine is 10 inches deep. And of course the top shelf is a couple inches shallower than that, so I can get to it from below.

I have everything in more-or-less categorized bins (flimsy plastic ones from the dollar store, they are precisely the right size for the shelves) but you can get the benefit without the bins too. The benefit is that you can see everything. Nothing gets lost ever. It is awesome. Counterintuitively, you gain so much more in visibility and neatness when it's shallow than you lose in theoretical storage space.

My pantry's shelves are fancy built in ones from when I renovated the kitchen, but honestly you can get the same thing in a cheap version using the Rubbermaid shelving from Home Depot (I did this for my medicine closet, same flimsy but perfect 8x10 inch bins, sitting on shelves some 10 inches deep, and it works just as well. You can probably find cardboard ones that would work fine since you don't like plastic.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2017

For the kitchen, I spent some time in our new empty kitchen imagining what the workflows would be. So, for example, the dishes are stored in the cabinets above the dishwasher, silverware is in a drawer next to the dishwasher. You unload the dishwasher directly into storage spaces - no walking across the kitchen. Similarly, pots are stored in a low cabinet near the stove and the potholders are in a drawer right on the other side. Most-used dishes are on lower high-cabinet shelves, infrequently used stuff is on a higher shelf. Since we have two young children, low drawers are filled with unbreakables, and specifically they have a drawer for their plastic cups and another drawer for their plastic plates so they can get their own stuff out. A shallow drawer that didn't seem good for much holds all the chopping blocks.

For baking supplies, I have a set of Rubbermaid containers that are different heights but all the same footprint and all use the same lid. They are narrow (but wide enough to scrape off a cup measure) and deep, so you can see a lot of them at once and they fill the shelf width so stuff doesn't get shoved behind them.

I also have a secondary location for kitchen storage where I keep less frequently used items. So I have, for example, a sterilite shoebox with currently out-of-rotation kitchen tools. The rolling pins always live there. The cherry pitter lives in the main utensil drawer in the summer, then moves to the box for fall and winter. The apple slicer is in the box until fall, when it comes back to the utensil drawer. The citrus reamer migrates back and forth as needed.
posted by telepanda at 9:00 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I use turntables for cans in my pantry, and another turntable full of 1qt mason jars of things that we buy in Bobs Red Mill bags and use slowly (eg steelcut oats, flaxseed, TVP, etc). Because we have bags of dry beans and such, we ended up with a square basket/bin for that. We set the adjustable shelf heights to match things we're storing. I have a set of plastic drawers on the pantry floor that hold potatoes, onions, and winter squash. Notice that not everybody buys Bobs Red Mill or has runs of winter squash that need a specific storage drawer - arrange your pantry to suit what you want and how you live, be cautious about latching onto good ideas that you just don't need. (example: I do projects that use my kitchenaid mixer about 4x/year, and when I do I want it centrally located; those lift shelves are super cool and I drooled over one for a while, but I am very happy with my decision not to get one, because that would dedicate any centrally-located under-counter space to an appliance I rarely need.)

When we put pull-out shelves in our low cabinets, I specifically laid out what was going on the two levels, and arranged things so that the heights fit, to choose the level for installing the upper drawer. Maybe the next owner will hate it, but I'm very very happy.
posted by aimedwander at 9:03 AM on July 24, 2017

I have a narrow width two-level pull-out shelf in the upper quadrant of a lower cabinet (if you can picture that) that holds the wax paper/tin foil/cling film/bin liner etc boxes. Love it.

I have narrow depth closets where I leave the pole for hanging clothes/coats directly across from the door opening and fill both ends with shelving.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:10 AM on July 24, 2017

The first thing we did was buy as many of these Wire shelving units as needed to fill up the wall spaces in garage, basement, and all other little storage nooks and crannies. They are not cheap, but we've never regretted it. You can dress them up or down, even hangs curtains across the front to cover them up. You can adjust the shelf heights. and you can move them around later if you want to change up the plan.
posted by raisingsand at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't get wed to any pantry arrangement until you've been there awhile and cooked a few meals to allow your natural workflow to reveal itself. We've been in our new house just over a week and we're still moving things around as our workflows evolve.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:52 AM on July 24, 2017

Invest in good, fully-sealing containers for your garage and basement, or you might find you are co-habitating with various bitey creatures that find your stored goods tasty and/or a good home.

If you don't have transparent containers, label everything, and be sure to re-label things as you change contents.

Garage and basement shelves are ideal, otherwise make sure your storage bins are sturdy enough to stack safely.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding telepanda's comment about workflow and keeping infrequently used or seasonal items out of the way.

When unpacking, set up a "deal with this later" box in each room. Anything you don't like or think might be extraneous goes in the box. This lets you deliberately place the stuff you need without agonizing over where to stash stuff you're probably better off without. It's a low-pressure way to test-drive not having the stuff in the box, and you can consider the contents when you feel up to it. When my husband and I moved 2 years ago, our "deal with this later" kitchen boxes were full of single-purpose pans of unusual dimensions, novelty spatulas, unused gift gadgets, rogue craft supplies, scarily old batteries, and so on. Most of it went to Goodwill.
posted by esoterrica at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Echoing filthy light thief in the closing containers for the basement. We have an old house and the mice come in in the fall, despite our best efforts to deter them. We also have things stored on the floor in large rubbermaid totes, which has saved us the couple of times we've had water in the basement.

For your fridge space, maybe a couple of Raskog carts from IKEA could live there with shelving above? I don't bake very often, so my baking supplies had previously been stored in a not-so-convenient spot. Now, all of my baking supplies live on a Raskog cart in the pantry, which I can pull out and roll over to my workspace, rather than making forty trips back and forth to the pantry with heavy canisters.
posted by sarajane at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2017

For the basement and garage (or any closets where you're going to store things in large boxes/bins), I highly recommend using a shared spreadsheet (we use Google Sheets) to keep track of where everything is. Use big permanent markets to number each container, and then create a simple spreadsheet to type in the contents. This is what we do for our storage unit and it's saved us a lot of headache.

I like Container Store's waterproof bins for basement/storage unit/garage.

I have a friend who has a fancy kitchen with pull-out lower shelving, and it's divine.

If you want some inspiration, I really like the website
posted by radioamy at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2017

Leave some cabinets empty at first and see how you move around in the kitchen before you commit. I have a fair bit of space for food storage containers, so they are reasonably organized, and I can always find a container and lid. I find it efficient and pleasing. (Death to a mishmash of containers that leap out when you open a cupboard!) The mixer, food processor, and crockpot are on the rolling cart I had in my old house. It fits under the breakfast bar. It can be pulled out for extra counterspace, or for the food processor. Total accident, but it works well. There's a narrow upper cabinet that is dedicated to herbs and spices. It's only 3/4 full, allowing for rummaging around to find the cardamom you only use occasionally. I minimize paper use, and there's specific storage for dishtowels and cloth napkins. I have a tall area for cookie sheets and baking pans. When I re-did the kitchen, I installed corner cupboards with tiered lazy susans that I like, and an Ikea pullout thing that works well and helps me find canned goods I'd forgotten about. I quite like my under-cabinet lighting and would like it more if it was LED, but I just missed that option by a couple years, so it's halogen.

Dedicated space for a stepstool or one of those short ladders that can be used as a chair. I use the stepstool all the time. A 2 or 3 step ladder is a super-handy thing to own, as well.
posted by theora55 at 11:59 AM on July 24, 2017

And someplace to put the radio, and maybe someplace to charge a phone or tablet. I use my phone for recipes a lot.
posted by theora55 at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Metro like shelves at Target are really good quality, way cheaper, and fit with any actual Metro accessories.
posted by advicepig at 12:14 PM on July 24, 2017

I have a tiny kitchen so I put narrow 4" shelves at the backsplash of my counter. They're IKEA laundry shelves and adjustable so I got three tiers out of them. We store mugs, spoons, measuring cups, snacks, jars with tea, sugar, salt etc, the garlic and ginger, and everything that is used daily on them. The counter has just the kettle, toaster and rice cooker now, as the shelves lift everything else off. When I move to a new kitchen, I will still get backsplash shelves put in, they're so useful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:26 PM on July 24, 2017

Replace some electrical outlets with the ones with two USB ports in addition to the two outlets. We put them next to each night table as well as on the kitchen island.

A smart thermostat (Nest, Ecobee) has been pretty handy if I feel like the air is a little stale and I just want to turn the fan on for a few minutes. Also, unlike most non-smart thermostats, these control the a/c and heat with one setting. Most others you have to manually switch between heating or a/c, which is really annoying to me.

Have a good level and 25' tape measure. Because you want things straight, lined up and spaced well.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:25 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are both vertically challenged, so there are stepstools in pretty much every room in the house. But the one we use all the time in the kitchen is one of those rolling library stools. They're great for reaching the top shelves that would otherwise be off limits.

We lack sufficient cabinet space for the small appliances like food processors and blenders and the like, as well as little-used pans like a stockpot. A freestanding cabinet in the garage holds all of them and, because it's got doors, everything stays clean until I need to use it.

An old dresser in the guestroom holds the linens for the guest bed. When we have guests, then, the linens are put into use and leave the dresser drawers empty and ready for use by guests.
posted by DrGail at 5:46 PM on July 24, 2017

If you redo the kitchen, seconding the idea of thinking of workflow, in particular sink-dishwasher-dish storage (you can of course do this to some degree even if you don't redo the kitchen). People have mentioned cabinets with pull out shelves but I'd go a step further and suggest just drawers, unless you are opposed to the look. It allows access with just one movement (open the drawer) rather than having to open the cabinet doors and then pull the drawer out.

Seconding shallow pantry cabinets, if that works for your space. I would also suggest choosing and committing to one stackable size of storage containers, as someone suggested above. The ones we ended up with are plastic, but there are glass ones too. Sweethome has reviews and recommendations, but I think they only considered plastic.

I like the idea DrGail mentioned of the guest room linens stored in the dresser, thus freeing up the drawer for guests when the linens are in use.

We got plastic bins (like those used in dorms or locker rooms) for each of our sets of toiletries and keep them on a shelf rather than on the counter, pulling the whole bin out when needed.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 6:25 PM on July 24, 2017

Declutter. Be prepared to do this periodically, because junk tends to accumulate when you are not weeding out extra stuff before moving across town to another "better" apartment.
The rules -- 1) Do you remember that you have it? 2) Do you remember where you put it? 3) Can you get your hands on it in 30 minutes? 4) Have you used it in the last two years? Bonus round -- how many extras do you have?
The laundry baskets -- take four baskets and begin sorting stuff into one of four categories 1) keep 2) throw out 3) sell or give away to charity 4) sentimental value. Severely limit the sentimental value items and refer back to "the rules." Can these items be re-purposed for regular use?

I've recently purged kitchen items. How many spoons do two people really need? Do I honestly have space for my mom's industrial-size baking sheets -- which I never use? It's those out-of-sight, out-of-mind boxes in the back of cupboards that need clearing out.

The less you fall back on "but I might need this someday," the less clutter and chaos.
posted by TrishaU at 2:09 AM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

My suggestions are based on currently living in a place where my [unfinished] basement is musty and humid and also leaks.

Don't put anything directly on the floor or touching the walls in your basement until you have confirmed (by living through a rainy season) that your foundation and walls don't leak. I have sturdy shelves everywhere in my basement (plastic, so I won't link) that keep everything elevated off the floor a few inches and slightly away from the walls. If you get enough water, even heavy plastic sealed bins can float and tip over, which is why I ended up investing in shelves.

If your washer is down there, make sure it doesn't leak either, and that your utility sink doesn't regularly overflow before you decide what to store close by.

Even if there is no obvious water, basements tend to be gross and humid in the summer anyway (in my experience). So don't store food, clothes or paper down there, or generally anything that you don't want to end up smelling like a ... musty basement.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:14 AM on July 25, 2017

Thank you all for great answers here - lots for my wife and I to review and look at. Best answers to come once we have looked at it all!
posted by notorious medium at 8:08 AM on July 25, 2017

Geek's Spice Rack. This is a Harbour Freight magnetic tool holder, and steel washers taped to the bottle caps.
posted by Sophont at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2017

We put French Cleats up on the walls of our garage. It's been a game changer for storage. We cut up two sheets of 3/4" plywood into cleats, installed long strips of them onto the walls then made dozens of hooks to hold shelves, milk crates, a toolbox, grocery bags, bikes, ladders, and so on. They're dead simple, sturdy, and easy to reconfigure.
posted by plinth at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2017

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