Realistic Ways to Organize a Small Kitchen Without a Pantry

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m one of those people that when you ask me a question, or I tell you a story, you’d better pack it in for the long haul because brevity is NOT my strong suit. This post is definitely one of those times, so bear with me. Last week I talked about my battle with our small kitchen and making the most out of very minimal space, including not having a pantry. Seriously, I don’t want get all sexist here, but often times when I look at our house, I think a man had to have planned it out. We really just have the most illogical storage. Lack of closets, space where closets could be but aren’t, no pantry, and those God awful, dust-collecting ledges that were so popular in the early 2000’s. That’s a story for another day though. Today, we’re going to venture inside the cupboards and drawers and talk about Realistic Ways To Organize A Small Kitchen Without a Pantry. Or, at least how I organize a small kitchen. Please keep in mind, I’m no organization expert–far, far from it. I struggle in that department. You won’t find perfectly labeled rows of expensive, pretty bins here, BUT, I have found a lot of things that work over the years, so I thought I’d pass it along to you today. Full disclosure: writing this post actually helped me clear a few more things out and straighten up a bit, but what I’m about to show you is the real life state of my cabinets on a daily basis (I kept finding out-of-place things as I edited these pictures). I did also wipe out the lazy susans, and take a vacuum to the cupboard though, because you realize how embarrassingly gross they are when you actually take photos–so thanks for that push friends, they were NASTY!

Realistic Ways to Organize a Small Kitchen

I mentioned this in my last post that the biggest game changer in getting my kitchen organized was PARING IT DOWN! I’ll let you read that one on your own, but to summarize: there’s no reason we need 30 wooden spoons and 7 casserole dishes in the kitchen. Most of us don’t anyway. Only keep what you need on very regular basis in the kitchen. If you have a storage room, basement, garage, closet, whatever…make yourself a box of “extra” dishes that you can pull out for special occasions. I have two clear plastic totes in my basement full of extra baking pans, serving bowls, and dishes. My larger pans like my roasting pan are also in the basement because I pull them out like once a year. Someday I’ll show you, but right now, if I venture into my storage room, I might not make it back out ;)

Anyway, once you’ve paired down and freed up cupboard space, we can address what goes back into the cupboards. So let’s get to it shall we?

1. Think about what you use and where you use it. Bascially, I don’t want to walk across the room for something that I always use by the stove if I don’t have to. The most obvious example of this in my kitchen is what I keep out next to the stove. All stuff that I use daily while I’m cooking, and I love it, because I don’t even have to go digging for things. Here’s a little bonus tip: a mail sorter works great for organizing cutting boards and trivets on the counter.

Counter top organization

And the not so pretty, essentials: Two of my drawers are dedicated to various kitchen gadgets and knives. The one next to the stove, is things like measuring spoons, spatulas, garlic press–all of that stuff you want handy when you’re cooking (and in the case of this drawer apparently, a bunch of random stuff shoved to the back–fortune cookie anyone?). This drawer usually has more in it, but I’m pretty sure I was running the dishwasher while I took some of these ;)

Small Kitchen Organization Drawers

You’ve also gotta have those hot pads by the stove, but there’s no room in my drawers, so they hang in the cupboard next to the stove. 3M hooks for the win. And let’s not talk about that top shelf, mmkay? ;)

How to Organize a Kitchen With Minimal Cupboard Space

On the other side of the kitchen, where I do most of my cutting and food prepping, the drawer holds knives, can openener, peeler, and little things like wine corks and corn on the cob holders. My big salad tongs fit in here too, so that’s where they go. Is it the most logical thing? Probably not, but it works. And that’s reality, right?

Drawer Organization Ideas


Think about what’s in your utensil drawers while you’re at it. This is a great place to purge the excess and pare it down. How many knives do you really need? Or wood spoons, or spatulas? Those things we tend to “collect.”

In those cupboards above the stove and the fridge, I keep things that I only really need every so often, because they’re hard to reach. The blender, recipe books, oils and marinades above the stove, and above the fridge, a big tub of extra baking supplies (chocolate chips, sprinkles, specialty flours, etc.) and more glasses for parties I rarely ever have ;)

Brilliant tips for clearing up cupboard space, keeping counters clutter-free, and maximizing storage space in your small kitchen! |

So when possible, put things where they’ll be close at hand for whatever purpose and place they’re used for in the kitchen.

2. There is cupboard space and there is useable cupboard space. This is another one of the pet peeves about my kitchen. When you consider the cupboards that aren’t a deep abyss or you don’t have to be an acrobat to get into, the space is pretty significantly decreased. This cupboard, for example, is in like the most awkward position ever. Once you open the door, you practically have to be a contortionist to get into it because you’re standing in a corner, trying to get into a cupboard that’s just out of reach. In fact, half the time I hop up and sit on the counter to get stuff out of it, it’s ridiculous.

Small Kitchen Organization Ideas

So, I put things in there that I don’t use all the time. Mostly baking supplies, but also bread crumbs, large bulk spices, and some packets of sauce mixes and baking mixes. This cupboard has a lot of space, so I’ve tried to use it for just about everything from everyday dishes to casserole dishes and baking pans, but it’s just such a pain in the butt to get into, that this is where it finally landed and it has worked GREAT for a year and a half now. After reorganizing my kitchen roughly 5,345 times, I think I’ve finally found the winning ticket (we’re going on a year and a half this way, which is a record, so I’ll consider that a win).

Small Kitchen Cabinet Organization

Cupboard Organization for a Small Kitchen

Next, there are the cupboards where I suspect you can enter an alternate dimension, but I wouldn’t know, because they’re so deep that I’ve never seen the back of them. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but let me show you Exhibit A. The biggest cupboard in my house, is also one of the most annoying. Honestly, this cupboard would be well-served by one of those roll out racks, but when I looked them up, I had a little bit of sticker shock, so for now, I’ve just sort of made an arrangement that works for me. All of the pans we use regularly at the front, extra mixing bowls and things that we use less frequently at the back. Then the cans, which probably look like a nightmare for finding things, but I’ll show you my solution to that in a minute. And finally, all of those plastic cups and storage containers that make you want to scream. I’ve narrowed ours down to a few that we actually use, and what you see here is ALL of the plastic containers I own (except for two giant bowls I keep in the basement). I keep like 4 of each size, and yes, we do eat a lot of leftovers, but it helps to keep the fridge cleaned out when I have to empty something out to have a container to use. There is a canvas bin at the back with all of the containers, and the lids are all kept in a magazine file up front.

Large Cupboard Organization

Now, back to the cans. There was no logical place I could find in my kitchen where I didn’t have to go through 30 cans before I found what I needed. So, this cupboard is where the “excess” stuff goes, and then I rotate those cans through one of my drawers with a little bit of each of the things we use regularly. I could store the extras in the basement, but there was room in the cupboard, and let’s be honest, I’m trying to minimize my trips up and down the stairs.

Can Storage Ideas

Next on the cupboard abyss list: the corner cupboard. Most of us have one. In fact, my dad still refers to the one in our house growing up with the deepest disdain in his voice. We had a big kitchen, and that was useless space, so it basically became the junk cupboard. When you’d ask where some random thing was, like 70% of the time, the answer you’d get was, “check the corner cupboard.” I don’t have the luxury of a junk cupboard (#firstworldproblems), so mine still needs to be useful, but this is where I stick a lot of those things that made the cut to stay in the kitchen, but still get used less frequently than other things. Then there are things we use every single day that sit at the front.

Yes, my toaster is in the cupboard and I pull it out every day. It’s something I grew up with and I hate the toaster on the counter. I sort of think it’s an eyesore, so we use it every morning, and it goes right back up there when we’re done. If you look on these three shelves, each thing at the front is something we use every day and then everything else is in the “occasionally” category, so it’s not as annoying to get it out. The little wire rack is from Ikea and they are WONDERFUL, but this is the only cupboard that would close when I put one in, so sadly, I don’t have more in my kitchen–they would be great for cans!

How to Organize A Kitchen Without a Pantry

3. So, no clever, bullet-point tip here, but last week I mentioned that adding a buffet in our dining room created essential storage, so I’ll just show you what I keep in there.

Kitchen Organization

The stand mixer gets a cupboard basically to itself. It didn’t make the cut to keep on the counter, mostly just because it doesn’t match and it’s a little too bulky for me, but I’m definitely not lugging that thing up from the basement every time I need to use it, so this is where it lives.

Cupboard Organization

In the other cupboard, crackers, chips, the carb stuff basically–and stuff that always seems to tip over or get caught up in the lazy susan and makes me want to rip my hair out. You can find these little wire shelves on the kitchen aisle at basically any store (mine is from Target), and they’re awesome for creating some extra space.

How to Organize a Kitchen When You Don't Have A Pantry

This top drawer is basically an example of my daily battle with organization. I give you: suckers from Halloween that no one has touched, little condiment cups that we used, I believe like 2 years ago to pretend we were in college again and make Jello shots, and a colander that I was super excited to find in this picture because I’ve been looking everywhere for it and couldn’t for the life of me remember where I had just seen it.  There are a few useful things in there too though, as you can see (pasta maker, mixer attachments, salad spinner…)

In the bottom: those 4ish casserole dishes that I use regularly and shot glasses that I use basically never.

Buffet Drawers

4. Keep things corralled to make the most of your storage space. I mentioned last week that baskets and trays are my favorite way to keep things under control on the counter, and the same goes for inside the cupboards too. You may have noticed a common item running through every cupboard here: magazine files. They’re from the dollar spot at Target and they are life changing! For anything from lids to spice packets to medicines. It keeps those more unruly things pulled together.

Magazine Files For Cupboard Storage

Cupboard Organization for a Small Kitchen

Another favorite: over the cabinet door baskets. It’s a great way to add a ton of storage and I always find them on the bathroom or kitchen aisles at Ross and Homegoods for about $6.00. I have them in my bathrooms too for bottles, brushes, and headbands…they’re so great for keeping headbands out of the way! You can also see that all of the plastic wrap, foils, etc. are standing nicely in a little bin (from Target).

Under the Sink Organization

And here’s a little bonus tip: a tension rod in the cabinets is great for hanging towels and little baskets (this one is from Ikea), or  you can even hang the cleaners over them.

A Realistic Guide to Organizing a Small Kitchen Without a Pantry | MyFabuless

Yet another favorite: bins and tubs: this lazy susan is where the majority of my food is kept. I bought several small plastic bins and one large one for bigger items. Magazine files also work great in here for standing up boxes of pasta, tortillas, and for us, bags of seaweed for when we make sushi. I’m realizing this post sort of looks like we don’t eat much besides canned food and crackers, but we’re coming up on grocery day around here, so we’re a little low–or maybe a lot low ;)

A Realistic Guide to Organizing a Small Kitchen Without a Pantry | MyFabuless

That giant jar is usually full of granola bars and snacks, but like I said…grocery day is upon us.A Realistic Guide to Organizing a Small Kitchen Without a Pantry | MyFabuless

And finally, the other lazy susan, where all of the bowls and pans reside. Not so much corralling going on here, but I did find this pot lid rack (at Target, where else?) that has been a game changer. Before this little gadget, getting a pan lid out was sort of like one of those infomercials where they open the cupboard and an avalance comes falling down on them. Okay, maybe not that bad, because really, is it ever as bad as an infomercial scenario? But me wanting to chuck a pan lid across the room was definitely a regular occurrence.

A Realistic Guide to Organizing a Small Kitchen Without a Pantry | MyFabuless

Whew! And that my friends, I think is the bulk of it! After seven years of battling with this kitchen, I could probably write a novel (and I think I almost did), but we’ll leave it there for now. I hope that you’ve found some inspiration for your small kitchen woes!


  1. karen sunday says

    Hi Jenn, love your blog and décor sense I am a big fan of art prints and wondered if you can tell me where I might find the I’m happy every hour print I saw in a fall home tour back in September of 2014 I would greatly appreciate it! thank you ,k sunday

  2. says

    Hi Jenn! I stumbled across this post because I’m doing some research on kitchens with no pantries because we are moving to a place in a week without one. Also, there are only 2 upper cabinets! Who designed this? And I know what you mean, there is a very deep bottom cabinet that you have to get on your hands and knees to put stuff into it or dig it out. Anyway, I would love to see an overall photograph of your kitchens to get an idea about your cabinets. Looks like you have a lot of good organizing ideas!

  3. Mariele Storm says

    Jenn, I’m a college student who is moving into a relatively small apartment in two months and I love posts like this. :) My (future) kitchen has more or less only one half of a wall of cabinets, uppers and lowers, with of course no pantry or closets, so looking up organizing posts for small kitchens has been on my radar. And… all of the posts have these huge kitchens and pantries! Of course they can keep them organized. ;) Seeing a normal kitchen organized has been wonderful. I love your transparency! So many ideas… definitely need to grab undershelf baskets. Thanks for the great post. :)

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