No Pantry? 8 Tips for Keeping Counters Clutter-Free

Many of us who live in apartments or small houses are pantry-less, which means all of those bags of rice and cans of tomatoes must find a home somewhere. We don't mind leaving small appliances on the counter, but boxes of crackers or canisters of baby munchies are another story. Here's how we stash it all in limited cabinet space.Disclaimer: I currently have four boxes of crackers (left over from this gluten-free taste test), a box of Valentine's Day candy, and several containers of toddler snacks taking up precious counter space, so I plan to practice what I preach this afternoon.

Here are some tips that help me keep everything under control:

1. Lose the boxes. If something is packaged individually, then in a larger box (like instant oatmeal), take out the packets and put them in a plastic bag. Or just wrap a rubber band around them. If you use half a box of pasta, put the other half in a zip-top bag. It will take up less space and stay fresher, too.

2. Don't overbuy. Simple, but true. Don't buy what you don't need and don't have room to store. That means this is probably out of the question.

3. Look for unlikely storage places. Do you have a couch with a skirt? Store non-perishables under it. Or look for unused nooks in cabinets where you normally store pots and pans or your food processor. If you're afraid you'll forget where things are, make a master list.

4. Use your refrigerator. Canned goods don't need to go in the fridge, but they, ahem, can. If you aren't using all of your shelf space in the fridge, shove some non-perishables in the back.

5. Get a basket. You might already have a fruit basket, but a basket that holds small boxes or bags of grains, cereals, and pasta can also keep your counters looking neat.

6. Leave out the stuff you use often. Don't use precious cabinet space to store your olive oil if you use it every day (yes, it should be in a place that's cool and dark, but if it's a small bottle that you use up fairly quickly, and you can keep it in a dark corner on the counter, it should be fine). I am planning to put the big box of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt on my countertop because I am constantly refilling my salt bowl, it's taking up a lot of cabinet space, and honestly I think it's kind of cool-looking. I'll use that empty shelf space for things I use less often.

7. Toss the old stuff. You likely have things hiding in the back of your cabinets that are past their prime. It stinks to throw away food, but if you'll never use it, toss it. Make room.

8. Don't get frustrated trying to store tonight's dinner. What I mean is: If you come home from the grocery at noon and are making chili at 6 p.m., don't sweat stacking cans of tomatoes and beans in your cabinets. This sounds silly, but I've been there, thinking, "Argh! I can't even put my groceries away!" Only to realize three hours later that I'm using half of them.

And it goes without saying that the more organized your cabinets, the more you can fit in them. Stack neatly and use dividers, racks, and storage boxes to help.

What are your tips for storing pantry items when you don't have a pantry?

See before & after pictures of the kitchen above: A Cellist's Beautiful Kitchen

Related: 10 Pantry Staples Not to Be Caught Without

(Image: Peter Murdoch)

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