Pantry makeover, 100+ pounds dry goods edition
August 3, 2017 9:09 AM   Subscribe

My walk in pantry is in a terrible shape and I need help deciding on how best to organize it, especially since I like to buy in bulk. The room is 3' 11" (~1.2m) deep by 6' (~2m) by 6' tall (~2m). As you can see it is a mess (pic) (pic) (pic). How would you design your ideal pantry, starting from scratch?

Right now I have some shelves with glass jars, some 5 gallon buckets and some things just sitting in bags. Pantry moths are a concern so good, airtight, containers are really necessary. What kind of combination of shelving and containers would best accommodate a large variety of dry goods while both maximizing space and minimizing cost? Stuff like the OXO pop up containers are way too small since I buy beans in 20 pound sacks but 5 gallon buckets are difficult to open and re-seal. Going in to it my budget is maybe $200 but if that is absurd I can re-visit. This isn't like prepping where 5 gallon buckets sealed with mylar and o2 absorbers in the basement would work since we actually use all this food on an on-going basis and it needs to be easily accessible.
posted by ChrisHartley to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That looks pretty swell to me, not a huge problem. You're right, 5 gal buckets are not that great for food storage that is not deep/long-term storage. Also you have a lot of wasted space due to lack of shelving.

Hit up thrift stores for both more shelving and storage bins around 1 gal size. $200 won't go very far for new good shelves and quality storage, but it will be plenty I think if you have the ability to cruise the second hand markets.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:13 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Uline has 5 gallon bucket lids that are oh-so-easy to open, but still airtight. They come in a few colors. I love them and use them at work everyday. 'Regular' 5gal bucket lids are a nightmare compared to these ones.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:14 AM on August 3, 2017

In fact, ULINE has all manner of buckets that are USDA food-rated. It might be worth looking over their options. They're typically not too expensive.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I switched from round glass storage jars to rubbermaid square ones recently --- I got 16c/4L, 12c/2.5L and 4c sizes. They easily stack on top of each other to maximise shelf space and the big ones hold a 5lb sack of flour. Might be good for your smaller quantity items.

You might look for something like this bin with scoop, too. The amazon one's over your budget, but if you have a Restaurant depot or other restaurant supply store near you you may be able to get a better deal. Three or four of those could stack up under your window and be big enough to store beans while being accessible.

Basically, I recommend stackable stuff. Being able to store things more densely will help save space and keep things neater.
posted by Diablevert at 9:29 AM on August 3, 2017

Lose the window. Build more shelves, preferably making the lower shelves wider than the ones you already have (wide shelves are for holding big containers, and big containers are heavy, so you don't want to plan to keep them up high).
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 AM on August 3, 2017

Your containers look great. I have found some larger jars with one-piece (mason-type but together) lids at The Container Store recently, but my old giant applesauce and pickle jars are the _best_ for storing dry goods and, importantly, less-dry goods.

However, the way they are packed on those shelves makes it hard to find what you want, hard to get out what you need, hard to put stuff away, and hard to add more items when you need to. What you _really_ need is more, more, more shelf space.

You could buy shelves (note the way those can turn the corner), but really, even if you had infinite dollars, you'd get best results from getting some basic lumber and building your own to fit that space exactly and fully.

You can make shelves that are much more sturdy, spill-resistant, longer-lasting (solid wood can last for centuries instead of 3-5 years for MDF), and more attractive. Let go of the need for whiteness and plastic finishes, get some _straight_ 2x4's or 2x2's for legs and 1x12 boards for shelves, and just imagine the entire interior of your excellent pantry space covered in storage -- with the lovely golden light from that gorgeous window either giving a warm glow to the natural wood, or maybe focused on a DIY food dehydrator or some herb plants. This sounds like a kind of heaven to me!
posted by amtho at 10:01 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, cover the window and build shelves over it. The shelves you have now look very shallow. I'd keep the shallow ones on the right-hand side and add deeper shelves on the wall with the window. I'd go with something like Ikea's Ivar shelving. I have wire shelving in my pantry, and it's stable, but I've had to cover some of the wire with cardboard so that cans don't have to balance precariously between wires.
posted by hydra77 at 10:05 AM on August 3, 2017

5 gallon buckets are difficult to open and re-seal

Check out gamma seal lids. I use these with five gallon buckets to store grain for brewing. Initial installation was a bit tricky (lots of pounding to get the base of the lid fitted on the bucket) but easy to use by spinning the top on/off.
posted by exogenous at 10:31 AM on August 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

We use these shelves to hold food in our cold cellar. They come in narrow sizes as well. We don't put any food directly on them, but they are wide, stable, and cheap. We use bags of salt on the bottom to make sure they don't tip, but your pails would probably work as well.

I think replacing all those containers with other things would be a complete waste of money. Add some shelves, roughly group your products and label the shelves with that rough grouping, and label the containers. I like to label the lid, front and back.

As for those big pails, there's no reason you can't have a use and refill containers. 20 pounds of beans in the pail, and a 2L container on the shelf. Store the pails on the bottom stacked, labelled well so you don't have to dig too much

I'd also look at some kind of box to hold all of your boxed dry goods in one place. It keeps them tidier.

I find no matter how organized my pantry starts, I have to spend time twice a year tidying it up.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:36 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

My pantry is weird-shaped, so we installed vertical shelf rails and cut weird-shaped shelves. While this might help you maneuver around the window, the main benefit of rail-and-peg shelving (aside from being cheap) is that you can set the heights to match exactly the containers you're filling the shelf with.
posted by aimedwander at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2017

That doesn't look too bad. You can surely straighten it up in a weekend.

My main suggestion is better, deeper shelves — IKEA Ivar are good but my local hardware store has fine steel shelving for the equivalent of 15 dollars a unit (5 feet high, 3 shelves) , that must exist in the US as well?
Maybe have hooks in the ceiling for hanging stuff, or just have a hanging shelf or two. I saw both in an open air museum, and it seems genius to me, minimizes risks of flooding or mice.

IKEAs large plastic storage boxes are not food grade, but I use them for stuff that is packaged and sealed to keep it dry and orderly until I need it.

I wouldn't remove the window - my pantry doesn't have a window and I miss the possibility of a good through-airing once in a while so much I'm thinking of getting a small window made.
posted by mumimor at 11:04 AM on August 3, 2017

A pail opener like this makes it easy to remove lids. I have one hanging near my 5 gallon pails. I would keep the window and put a little table under it for a "put down" spot when organizing. I also hang a tag with contents from the bail of the pails and stack them up to 3 deep. Since mine are also in constant use I put the less frequently needed on the bottom but they are easy enough to shift.
posted by Botanizer at 11:16 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check out gamma seal lids.

ULINE also has those, but currently a few bucks cheaper than Amazon. Especially if you buy more than 5.

I swear I'm not a ULINE shill, they're just often overlooked for kitchen/home stuff.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:54 AM on August 3, 2017

It looks really good, there's just too much stuff. Is there anything you actually don't use that you can get rid of? Assuming not, how much room is on the left wall? How much shelving can you put there? Is there a section of wall on the right-hand side that could have some shelves added?

Also, even if your containers are sufficient to keep food edible, it would look a lot better if the items weren't directly on the floor. So add a wider shelf to the bottom for your big containers to rest on.

W.r.t. left hand wall, maybe cut the ends of the shelves at a 45° angle so you don't have a sharp corner sticking into the doorway.

Good luck, and post pics of the final product!
posted by disconnect at 12:22 PM on August 3, 2017

Check out gamma seal lids. I use these with five gallon buckets to store grain for brewing. Initial installation was a bit tricky (lots of pounding to get the base of the lid fitted on the bucket) but easy to use by spinning the top on/off.

Screw-top bucket lids (from whatever manufacturer) are exactly what I was going to recommend. They are a total game changer from making opening a bucket a huge pain to making it almost effortless.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was also coming into say hey, bucket openers are a thing.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2017

Nthing gamma seal lids. I'd never use my bulk store of beans if I had to pry a lid off every time I had to get into them. You might want to buy from someplace locally, depending on how many you need, because sometimes the rings you put on the top of the buckets don't fit no matter how hard you pound and it helps to be able to exchange them easily.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2017

Thank you all for the great advice. I'm going to build additional wooden shelves on the left side and under the window and switch to a standardized 5-6 gallon bucket with easy lids, then add additional mason jars like I have now to store readily accessible versions of the stuff in the buckets. The stuff on the shelves now is actually pretty well organized and labeled, the floor overflow and piles are really the terrible part for me. If I get it done before the thread closes I'll post update pictures. Thanks!
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:45 PM on August 4, 2017

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