Before and After: This “Extremely Congested” Pantry Gets the Pro Organizer Treatment

published Dec 14, 2022
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After: three panels of a pantry with lots of shelves holding food, water, and bowls
Credit: Brooke Milton

Any time is a great time to introduce order into your pantry. An organized pantry means frustration-free cooking and informed, money-saving grocery list-making. Not to mention that merely seeing an organized space when you go to get something gives you a lovely hit of dopamine. 

But if there’s a “best time” to organize the pantry, it’s now. Instilling order into a space that’s going to get what’s likely the heaviest use of the year before it’s time to get out the pumpkin purée and crispy fried onions means starting the holiday season ahead of the game. 

Brooke Milton’s pantry project for a client is the perfect example of a pantry spruce-up that combines form and function to make a beautifully functional space. The client, who hired Brooke before for another project, called on her this time to help organize the pantry.

Credit: Brooke Milton

“The pantry was extremely congested with a serious lack of a system, ” says Brooke. “Food was placed haphazardly on the shelves, and a lot of it was expired. Random items were also on the floor. This small space became too much for my client to manage.” 

With a budget of $500, Brooke got to work. She spent one hour on spatial planning and an additional 10 hours on decluttering and organizing. “The goal is always to create more accessibility, more visibility, and a manageable system. I want to leave my clients with tools,” says Brooke. She also discussed any potential obstacles with the client.

To bring this vision to fruition, Brooke began by emptying the entire pantry. As she categorized the pantry’s contents, she tossed expired items and noted them so her client could rebuy them if necessary. Brooke points out that there were many duplicate and triplicate items. “Overbuying is very real,” she says, advising that everyone should check their stock before they go out to the store.

Credit: Brooke Milton

The next step was cleaning the pantry. Brooke wiped down the shelves and vacuumed the floor. Then, it was time to put things in containers and decide where everything would go. Brooke purchased the following items: Rubbermaid Brilliance Airtight Food Storage Containers, ClearSpace Set of 4 XL Plastic Storage Bins, and Seseno Set of 4 Clear Pantry Organizer Bins from Amazon and The Home Edit by iDesign 3-Tier Shelf and The Home Edit by iDesign 9” Lazy Susan from The Container Store. She describes the process of putting things away as “one big game of Tetris.” 

“I’m constantly moving and shifting things around until I feel there’s a logical flow,” says Brooke. “I talk to my clients a lot about prime real estate. High-frequency items should be very accessible while low-frequency items shouldn’t be taking up valuable space.” 

Brooke says the trickiest part of the project was the oddly shaped shelves. “The triangular shelves in a pantry are frequently the hardest to design. They’re so cavernous and oddly shaped. I avoid putting food items on them whenever possible,” she says. “I allocate this space for platters, bowls, stock pots, food storage containers, and less frequently used pans. The concept is this: It’s much easier to take a large item on and off a shelf than it is multiple smaller ones.”

In the end, the best part for Brooke is the client’s reaction. “My favorite part is always my client’s reaction and extreme gratitude, ” says Brooke. “The gasp, the smile, the relief. It’s so satisfying.” 

This pantry makeover shows how much of a difference it makes to fine-tune one of the hardest working spaces in the home. And, although Brooke is a professional, the steps she takes to get it done are ones that anyone can do.

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This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Before and After: A Pro Organizer Refreshes This “Extremely Congested” Pantry