Pantry Improvements

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Added space can be found anyware. Three shelves with an attached end piece gave us more storage near the furnace.

Added space can be found anyware. Three shelves with an attached end piece gave us more storage near the furnace.

This pantry space can be found in most homes, but it doesn’t necessarily start out by looking like a pantry. Do your kitchen cabinets go all the way to the ceiling? What is in those topmost cabinets? They should hold the things you almost never use (and if you don’t, perhaps you should get rid of them?) so as to free up space lower down.

Do you have dead-air above your kitchen cabinets? The one that decorator magazines fill with objects that collect greasy dust? Get rid of the objects and you have found space. If you are very handy, install doors and turn it into cabinet space. If you aren’t handy, try ceiling-mounted curtain rods and curtain valances to conceal your new storage location for paper goods and laundry soap. A cloth valance is washable and will help cut down on the greasy dust that would build up there.

closet maid pantry improvements

How to create a shelf to hold a single row of cans using Closet-Maid shelving.

In our South Carolina house, we cut off space from the mud room and used it to build a half-bath and a pantry. The pantry looked like a deep, rather narrow closet. The back wall was lined, floor to ceiling, with deep Closet Maid shelves. The side walls were too narrow for shelves, so we mounted peg board and used hooks to hang the mops, broom, dust pans, and other cleaning implements. On the right side, my DH modified Closet Maid shelves. He took a shelf, trimmed the back half, flipped it over and mounted it on the wall. The shelf was deep enough to hold a single row of cans. That’s not many cans, but we ran the shelves nearly the full width of the wall and from floor to ceiling. Twelve shelves, each one four feet long, can hold a lot of cans and boxes.

In all, we took seven inches off the width of the hall-like pantry and gained a lot of storage space.

My brother did us one better. When he redid his kitchen, he opened up an interior wall, installed shelves between the studs, painted and caulked, and installed cabinet doors over it all. The result? Built-in low-profile cabinets that run floor to ceiling and hold dozens of items in what would otherwise be wasted space. The shelves were about four inches deep, the depth of a standard two-by-four stud cavity.

A friend did the same thing when he renovated a narrow bathroom. He opened the wall, installed shelves between the studs, hung cabinet doors and that bathroom suddenly had storage space for all the personal care items you could want. It would even store rolls of toilet paper if you took them out of the bigger bags and put them in single layers. Four-inch-deep shelves are deep enough for a single layer of a lot of stuff.

A friend of mine has a place to put shelves in the hallway by her side door. This is wasted space, and junk gets piled up here. This could be a wall of storage shelves, eight inches deep or so. They could be covered with curtains hung from ceiling mount rods. Her husband doesn’t want to do the work and so my friend limps along with no storage space for the Pantry Principle.

Do you have blank space over your washer and dryer? Cabinets and shelves can be put there to hold laundry products, cleaning supplies, and paper goods.

pantry improvements

The salvaged laundry table and wine rack.

"It doesn't have to look good, it just has to work" is my motto. Norm Abrams, eat your heart out.

“It doesn’t have to look good, it just has to work” is my motto. Norm Abrams, eat your heart out.

We salvaged a table that the neighbors were throwing away. My DH set the table on a shelf he made out of a ¾-inch sheet of plywood, and set that on feet made of salvaged bits of wood. Then he added a shelf to run across the back of the table. The result: a handy laundry table that cost us the sheet of plywood. The final height of the laundry table was determined by the height of the dryer. They match, giving us a continuous surface on which to slide baskets and clothes.

I’ve salvaged shelving units to put in my basement, and I’ve bought and then had my DH modify particle board storage cabinets. We put all storage units up on skids to allow for airflow under the unit. This discourages dampness.

The pantry, before.

The pantry, before.

The biggest project pantry project for us was taking the existing awful basement pantry and remaking it. It originally consisted of three rough plywood shelves running the length of a wall, each shelf being about two feet apart. There was a lot of wasted space. My DH tore it all down, saving the wood for reuse, insulated the wall, installed plywood backing and dividers, caulked every seam, painted it all bright white, and then installed floor-to-ceiling Closet Maid ventilated shelving. The Closet Maid shelving determined the depth of the plywood walls. The ventilation allows for air flow which is very important in a basement. The finished shelves are much easier to use and organize, and it doubled the usable space.

One-third of the pantry, after.

One-third of the pantry, after.

Once you run out of wall space for shelves, then you have to get more creative. Can you put your cans of tuna under the bed in those slide out Rubbermaid bins? Can you store your extra toilet paper on the topmost shelf of a closet? As you look over your home, think creatively about where you could store what you need.

This exercise can lead, all on its own, to space opening up as you examine what you have in all those closets and cabinets and under the bed storage units. What is there that can be disposed of? Sell those unused video games on eBay, donate those unwanted clothes to the thrift shop, and recycle that scrap metal heap in the basement.

Organization is always your friend and organizing your home to take better advantage of the Pantry Principle can lead to more money to pay for those improved shelving systems. At the same time, sorting your possessions can help you to get rid of what you don’t need or want.

When you are looking for storage space, unfinished basements — as long as they don’t have water issues — can be ideal. Basements are cool and dark. Their issues are dampness (fatal to food storage), lack of air circulation, and pests. Ventilated wire shelving helps overcome these problems, as does making sure there is an inch of airspace under the bottom shelf. Cleanliness and regular cleaning will help with any pest problems.

Attics are not as easy to access and they can have wide temperature swings from summer to winter. If you have to use an attic, use it to store only things that don’t need a consistent temperature, such as paper towels or toilet paper. If you have other things that could be stored in the attic like seasonal decorations, move them to the attic and free up their space for your canned fruit collection.

Garages, depending on how they were built, can suffer from wild temperature swings, too, especially every time you open the garage door in January. Garages are also on display to the neighborhood for all to see, whenever you open the door. You may not want your neighbors seeing your lifetime supply of laundry soap. Garages have the potential of loads of space but they are usually used to store your cars, automotive products, home improvement and maintenance supplies, and gardening supplies. If you can move all the gardening equipment to a free-standing tool shed, you may be able to free up enough space in your garage for food storage.

Tool sheds are terrible for food storage. They are out of sight and out of mind, suffer from wild temperature and moisture swings, and are almost guaranteed to have bugs and critters. Put all the gardening stuff in the tool shed and free up the garage space for food storage.

In order to use the Pantry Principle to its fullest extent and save the most money and build up a few weeks of food storage, you have to work out where to put all the cans and boxes. Shopping awareness, learning how to read the grocery ads, keeping and using shopping lists, cooking with the food you have on hand, and using a price book are all needed strategies to cut your grocery bill. The Pantry Principle takes you to the next level of organization and money management. This is the level that lets you start saving some serious money and prepare for the inevitable rainy day.

Learning grocery shopping skills are not like learning trigonometry. It isn’t difficult. It just takes time. What it really takes is not moving through the store on autopilot. Add better grocery shopping and food storage skills to your arsenal and see your resilience to life increase.

Next week: Basic Dental Care