Kitchen & Cooking

How to downsize your kitchen pantry

Empty nesters, this one’s for you.

A couple laughs in their wood-paneled kitchen. Credit: Getty Images / alvarez

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It’s important to remember that the pantry isn’t simply storage, it’s the heart of your home. An essential space, it should reflect your tastes and fit your lifestyle, especially when you’ve reached empty nester status.

But in reality, many of us open the pantry door only to be faced with overwhelming clutter. A disorganized pantry is disheartening and it’s enough to make us fall into a rut or reach for take-out menus.

I’ve found a little bit of strategic planning and some helpful products can make the challenge manageable, whether you’re downsizing your own pantry or helping a loved one who’s aging in place. Here are some ideas to help you reimagine your kitchen, from pantry to countertop.

Start by taking inventory

pantryinventory
Credit: Getty Images / Natalia Lavrenkova

Before you reorganize, take stock of pantry staples like spices, beans, and pasta.

Before you can organize, you need to know what you have. This task can be done shelf by shelf or in sections—whatever you’re most comfortable with. Be sure to keep a pen and writing pad nearby to jot down things you are running low on.

Check the expiration dates on all items and toss the ones that are long past expired (like those spices you bought for that dish you made that one time years ago). Things like ground spice lose their potency over time, so that gigantic bottle of ground cumin at the grocery store will be wasted if it just sits for months on the shelf.

Be honest about impulse buys (we all have them, one of mine recently was a red velvet pancake mix!). Either put these in a pile to use soon or put them in a giveaway pile to offer friends and family.

Shop smarter and smaller

Now that you’ve taken stock, it’s time to shop. My rules of thumb are to buy what you need and beware of sales. When I had a large family at home, I would look for deals like buy two packages and get a third free or get the club pack for a lower price point.

However, with a smaller household you’re more likely to get stuck with items that you won’t be able to use in time for the best freshness, plus the extra items will hog shelf space. In the end, you don’t save money because you might end up giving the items away or, worse, tossing them.

Countertop storage means easy access.

countertopstorage
Credit: Getty Images / Foxys_forest_manufacture

Mason jars of various sizes are a great option for visually pleasing countertop food storage.

Bulk baking ingredients like flour and sugar, as well as other dry goods such as beans and lentils, are typically packaged in awkward, bulky paper bags that are prone to tearing. I like to transfer them to clear airtight containers and display them on my counter.

This makes for easy access, no heavy lifting or reaching, and adds a decorative touch to the kitchen. We’ve tested a lot of food storage containers, but when it comes to countertop food storage we love the OXO Good Grips 10-Piece POP Container Set because the pieces are stackable, easy to open, sleek, and will keep your pantry staples fresh.

Get the OXO Good Grips 10-Piece POP Container Set on Amazon for $175.97

Group similar items

I use clear, stackable plastic bins—like this Sterilite 32qt Clear Gasket Box—to group like items in my pantry. Next, I add labels; the one labeled “Pasta” holds boxes of spaghetti and rotini as well as packages of rice noodles and ramen. Another bin holds my hot sauces and condiments, and so on.

Get Sterilite 32-Quart Clear Gasket Box with Blue Latches at Target for $9.49

Invest in wheeled storage bins

There are many smaller, handheld appliances we use occasionally, but not daily. First, take inventory and get rid of the ones you don’t use at all. Next, invest in clear lidded storage bins with wheels, a smart storage idea that came from my sister-in-law.

Instead of an appliance cabinet or junk drawer, she groups her appliances into a few of these bins, which then slide under the last shelf of her pantry. When you need one of these appliances, simply roll out the appropriate bin and snag the necessary product.

Get the Sterilite 120-Quart Clear Container with Wheels at Target for $179.99

Consider more accessible appliances

dishwasher
Credit: Bosch

Bosch's new dishwashers are ADA compliant in both the 18- and 24-inch models.

If you’ve got the budget for it, replacing old appliances could make life easier for you and your aging loved ones. Many brands, such as Bosch, have introduced accessible and in some cases ADA compliant kitchen appliances. In fact, the brand’s 2021 expansion includes enhanced ADA-compliant 18- and 24-inch dishwashers models fitted with Bosch’s Home Connect, which features hands-free voice control capabilities and Voice Over support.

Another accessible appliance option is a microwave drawer—this alleviates the need to lift potentially heavy dishes, or strain from reaching to do so. This Smart Convection Microwave Drawer Oven from Sharp is an example that’s yet to hit the market, but other Sharp products we’ve tested (like the Sharp Superheated Steam Countertop Oven) have performed well.

Make a plan for the future

Last but not least—make a plan to review your pantry at regular intervals. Every two months (or choose a timetable that works for you), take inventory of your pantry and stay on top of it. Take a similar approach to appliances, both countertop and handheld, and you’ll have a well-organized and functional downsized kitchen.

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