I’d like to share with you how my pantry has changed through the different seasons of my life. It’s easy to look at the way I run my kitchen now and think “Wow, she’s really got it all together.” But that wasn’t always the case. Jon Acuff says, “Never compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.” Today, I want to show you my pantry-beginnings. If you’ve ever felt discouraged about your less-than-ideal pantry space, today’s post will encourage you!
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Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the various pantries we have had over the years. If I find some, I’ll add them to this post, for sure! But this is our story…
Our First No-Pantry Pantry
I was in my mid 20’s when I got married. We bought our first house right away and moved right into it after the honeymoon. We were young and didn’t have a clue about life. We weren’t asking ourselves questions like “Is this a practical house? Will this house grow with us?” We just said, “Oh, this house is cute…” and bought it! We didn’t even think about the fact that it only had a tiny kitchen and no pantry at all until after we had moved in.
For a while, we kept our food in 2 of the 4 cupboards, but we soon realized that we would need more room. There was no space in the kitchen for extra storage, but there was a good sized laundry room. Since we didn’t have children yet, we hardly had any laundry. (You know how that goes!) One corner of the laundry room was a perfect place to store food! My husband got his tools out and built a nice corner shelf in the laundry room, which served as our pantry until we moved. It was super-handy because the shelf was right next to the garage door! We could pull in to the garage, walk in the side door and put the groceries right there on the shelf!
Our Next House: The Tiny Pantry
Soon our first child came along and it was time to move. Again, we bought the next house with absolutely no foresight. It never crossed our mind that we would one day have a large family and need lots of food storage space! This house had a tiny, tiny closet that I could use as a pantry. It also had a coat closet that someone had installed shelves in. We live in Texas and we need food storage more than we need coats most of the year, so that coat closet became my pantry. It worked well…. for a while.
Finally: My Big, Spacious DIY Dream Pantry
As our family grew and our second child arrived, our food requirements also grew. We live in an old farmhouse with a bedroom right off the kitchen and that bedroom has a really large, walk-in closet. One day it crossed my mind that I could put shelves up in the bedroom closet and create a dream pantry for myself! I went to the store and bought shelves that snap together and set my new pantry up the very next day! I was in pantry-love! I had lots of space and it was right off the kitchen! The only drawback was that my “pantry” was now located in my guest room and we tend to have a lot of long-term guests. If a guest was in their bedroom, sometimes it was a bit awkward to interrupt my guest and get the food I needed. But it was still a pretty good solution, for a time.
The Nightmare Bucket System
Somewhere around this time, we began having trouble with pantry moths. One day my husband came home with big, 5 gallon food-grade buckets to store our dry goods in. The buckets kept the moths out, but they also kept me out. Every time I needed something I had to struggle and struggle to get the buckets open. I would mutter bad things about my husband under my breath for coming up with this awful solution that had me fighting with plastic buckets every day and finally having to take the buckets to him to get them open. It wasn’t until 2 or 3 years later that I was in a store and found a plastic bucket lid wrench. I had no idea such a thing existed and I bought two on the spot! If ever a $5 piece of plastic saved a marriage, those bucket openers saved ours! (And yes, we are still using those buckets ten years later… and I’m much happier now!)
Best Marriage Saving Device! Seriously. How clever is this?!
The “Bookshelf Pantry” Solution
Our family continued to grow. Soon we had 3 children and our guest room was needed as a full-time bedroom. Then the fourth child was born and I needed that closet back for clothes. Now I was really stuck because I had a family of 6 and no reasonable food storage. I ended up finding a great deal on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at a garage sale. There were 5 bookshelves, and I think I paid $60 for the set. I brought those bookshelves home and set them up against the back wall of our small, eat-in kitchen. I know that food is heavy, but books are heavy too and these new-to-me shelves could handle that weight. I loaded those shelves up with our big ugly buckets on the bottom and cute mason jars on the top. I pushed the mason jars well back (so they wouldn’t fall on anybody) and assigned the children to permanent seats on the opposite side of the table, just in case something did fall. (It never happened, but better to be safe than sorry.)
I did find this picture that one of the kids took. See how cramped that kitchen is? We would have to pull the table out at every meal, just to make space to sit down. And we couldn’t get a smaller table because there are too many of us! (What a wonderful “problem” to have! I’m so thankful!)
The “Pantry-In-The-Hallway” Pantry
I loved the bookshelf pantry system! It was cute and functional. The downside was that it made our kitchen walking area 18″ narrower than it had been. If someone was sitting at the table, there was no space for anybody to walk past! We couldn’t even open the fridge door if someone was sitting there because there was no space! When we decided to take in four extra children for an extended period of time (so 8 children total, in case you’ve lost count!), we knew we needed that space for walking more than we needed it for food storage. So down the bookshelves came.
Now we had a total of 10 people in our home and no reasonable place to put our food! We turned into little squirrels, packing food wherever we could. We took those infamous buckets and stacked them in a corner. It wasn’t attractive, but oh well. We put small shelves in the hallway and put bulk food there. And then we stuffed the cupboards full.
The four extra children went home and we had another baby. The shelf-in-the-hallway system was ok, but it was impractical, got messy easily and was directly in front of the washing machine (which was also in the hallway in our very poorly designed house!). Having a pantry in the hallway is far from ideal, but since we were running out of choices, we decided to make our hallway-pantry more permanent. We went to the lumberyard, bought boards and my husband built very simple shelves that give us lots of storage now and can be easily removed at some future date.
Now there are 7 of us living here and this is the pantry system we still have today. I love the openness and height of the pantry. It’s easy to see what I need or what I’m running out of at a glance. Because it’s in a brightly lit hallway items like potatoes and onions spoil faster than they would if they were stored in a dark place, but overall it’s a good system.
Moral of the Story
What I want you to take away from my experience is this: Most of us don’t have an ideal pantry space, and that’s ok. Our needs will change over time and we need to be flexible and go with the flow. It’s fun and inspiring to have a Pinterest-Worthy pantry space, but it honestly doesn’t matter. What matters is that we take what we have to create a system that makes it easy for us to feed our family quality, health-giving food.
Have you had to make do with less-than-ideal pantry spaces? Share your experience in the comments and encourage other readers!