How I Downsized from a Walk-in Pantry to Only a Few Cupboards (Without Losing Any Essentials)

published Aug 17, 2023
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dark charcoal cabinets, grey and white diamond tile pattern floors, rustic wood island, large wood and black metal stools, dark oven, white oval tile backsplash, peach walls, windows, round diner lighting fixture, door, plants, corner floating shelves with white dishes and rail of hanging mugs, sink below window
Credit: Dana McMahan

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes: I moved from a big Victorian house with a massive walk-in pantry to a compact shotgun-style home with a small eat-in kitchen that has to double as a laundry room, and somehow everything my husband and I need in the kitchen actually fits! 

The secret? Well, it’s not so secret: We called in professional help. Hiring a move manager was the best money we spent on the move, and not just for the packing help. Pro organizer Kim Jones of Lock and Key Home in Louisville, Kentucky, also got us set up for organizational success in the kitchen at the new house.

To be totally honest, I was a tad bit skeptical going in. Math is math, right? I mean, if you have … stuff, it takes up the same amount of space no matter how you arrange it, doesn’t it? Well, actually, through some apparent kind of magic, it doesn’t have to.

We’re six weeks into living in our new house, and the magic is real. Everything is still in the same place the organizer assigned it, which means I know where everything is, all the time. My husband and I both put things back where they belong because it all makes so much sense. There are no more teetering mountains of Reynolds Wrap spilling out of the sink cabinet, and no more digging around dark storage areas for that utensil I must have this very moment. In short? It’s kind of a dream come true. 

Here are my key takeaways from working with the pros on my big kitchen move.

1. Purge, and purge again.

Moving was the impetus, but you don’t have to be moving to take a cleansing sweep through your kitchen. Did we really need two truffle slicers? Um, no. How many mixing bowls does a person need, truly? Did we know we had double and triple of some spices, many of them expired? No, because the bottles were haphazardly jammed together in a place that was hard to reach. 

We hosted a moving sale, made a bunch of donations, and gave things away to friends and family. And we were absolutely ruthless. I’m working hard to absorb the fact that things are things — they are not the memories they carry. So a dozen (okay, two-dozen) souvenir coffee mugs? Gone. Same with the once-a-year gadgets and the early pandemic pantry stock-up items. Trust me, it will be OK. 

2. Keep it in the open.

I know, not everyone is Team Open Shelf. But for me, seeing what’s on hand is vital. We went with only a couple of upper cupboards, and then added several shelves around the kitchen. Dry goods go into my favorite Bormioli jars on shelves, and it’s so easy to see what I need. The neat and orderly jars lined up make me happy, so I’m more inclined to keep them nice and neat than if they were hiding behind doors. 

We also put pretty dishware on open shelves, reserving cabinets for things that I don’t want to see all the time. And with some S-hooks and a pot rail, the remaining coffee mugs don’t have to use valuable cupboard space. 

Credit: Dana McMahan

3. Decant all the things.

Okay, I didn’t love the idea of decanting spices, but Kim convinced me to give it a shot. It ended up being oddly soothing to narrow down our spices to a couple-dozen must-haves, then putting them in matching jars with neat labels. She recommended a stair stepper storage situation, which I always thought was a gimmick — um, nope. She even spaced out the jars, which is not what I would’ve done in such a small space, but it turns out the breathing room makes all the difference in feeling (and being!) organized. 

4. Unpack everything before you put anything away.

This is the biggest thing if you’re moving (or if you make it a big weekend project and pull everything for a reset). Once I saw all the boxes in the kitchen at the new house, I was convinced we hadn’t purged enough. Oh me, of little faith! Kim and her helpers took every single thing out of every single box, and placed everything on the floor in groupings of like things. You could see her wheels turning as she moved things around until it clicked. 

Now that I’ve seen this in action, that’s the only way to get a handle on what you’re working with. If you start just unloading immediately, you’ll soon find yourself right where you started — with things jumbled with no rhyme or reason. 

Credit: Dana McMahan

5. Use dividers and containers.

To avoid the dreaded jumble, there’s almost no storage space in the kitchen that’s not somehow subdivided. Kim corrals like things together in manageable chunks. Going in on an angle in a drawer exponentially increases the available storage space for things like utensils, chopsticks, and other things in the long and narrow family. Clear plastic containers under the sink keep things tidy (which keeps us motivated to keep them that way!). Even a junk drawer (Kim calls it a catch-all) can benefit from small trays. Truly, there’s almost nothing in the kitchen that’s not somehow contained, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Credit: Dana McMahan

6. Spin it on!

I will never again doubt the value of a lazy Susan-style spinning organizer. A lot of frustration in our old kitchen came from having to move so many things to get to the thing — invariably at the back — that we needed. We’ve got spinning organizers in several places now, including under the sink and on some open shelving, and I don’t know how we lived without them. Even if you don’t go full label mode, it’s easy to see at a glance what you’ve got if you group things on each spinner: One is for oils, one for vinegars, and one for honeys and syrups, for example. And the under-sink spinner has the bonus of also being divided, so it’s wildly easy to grab the cleaning item I need. 

7. Commit to the lifestyle change.

No matter how talented an organizer is, nothing can replace the need to just have less stuff. The move and downsize has required us to stop stocking up on things. Sale on fizzy water? That’s great, but we don’t need six cases of it, and simply don’t have the room for it. We’re buying less at the store on more frequent trips, and that has come with an unexpected bonus: We waste less!

Have you ever downsized your kitchen storage? How did you make it work? Let us know in the comments below!