11 upcycling hacks to win at pantry storage

There's a better way to keep cupboards organized with things you already have around the house

Published February 22, 2021 5:47PM (EST)

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

Welcome to Storage Wars, a new series about the best ways to store, well, everything. From how to keep produce orderly in the fridge (or not), to ways to get your oddball nooks and crannies shipshape; and yes, how to organize all those unwieldy containers once and for all — we've got you covered.

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Is it weird to say that one of my passions in life is organizing cabinets? I find it incredibly satisfying when pantry items are neat and accessible, and I'm forever buying bins and baskets to help organize my pantry ingredients. However, the cost of these little items can add up (not to mention that it's single-use plastic, which isn't exactly an eco-friendly choice), and it got me thinking: There's got to be a better way to keep cupboards organized with things I already have around the house.

I asked around, and it turns out that a lot of people have their own ingenious upcycling solutions for keeping pantries tidy: "I save every quart and pint container from takeout and delis to reuse in my pantry (leftovers in the fridge, too, for that matter), and stuff them full of rice, pasta, candy, goldfish — you name it," Caroline Mullen, assistant editor at Food52, told me. "They're perfect not only for seeing what's inside, but for very satisfying stacking."

Inspired by her ingenuity — and knowing the internet definitely had more amazing ideas — I took a deep dive on Pinterest to see what other upcycled items can be used for pantry storage. Here are my favorites!

1. Use sturdy boxes in place of plastic bins 

Instead of spending money on baskets to organize pantry ingredients, cardboard boxes are a perfect alternative — and a lot of times they're free! "The thick sturdy [boxes] in any size are great — I don't think I have any official organizing gear in my pantry, just stuff I was going to recycle," says Jess Kapadia, senior editor at Food52.

My mother is a big fan of using shoe boxes to organize bags of grains, and some people even use old soda boxes as makeshift dispensers for canned goods.

2. Save those spaghetti sauce jars 

Spaghetti sauce jars are a hot commodity in my house — we take the labels off them and use them as drinking glasses! Classico jars are my personal favorite thanks to their large size (it's also our favorite brand of sauce), and it got me thinking that if we saved the lids, they'd be useful for storing ingredients like dried beans or chocolate chips, too.

3. Turn wine crates into rolling bins 

If you happen to have a few wine crates lying around (or really any other wooden crate), they make ideal rolling bins to put on the floor in your pantry. All you have to do is outfit them with small caster wheels and handles, and voila! You've got the perfect spot to store bulky, heavy items that don't fit on your shelves.

4. Get lids for your Oui yogurt jars 

Not only is Oui yogurt delicious, but the cute glass jars are amazingly versatile once empty. Pinners apparently frequently use the little containers to make candles or plant succulents, but they're also perfect to use as small storage containers. In fact, Yoplait sells special plastic lids that fit perfectly onto the jars, so you can use them to pack snacks in your lunchbag or store small quantities of pantry supplies.

5. Turn creamer jars into ingredient dispensers 

I'm kind of mad I didn't think of this myself. Not only are creamer bottles the perfect size to line up in your cabinets, but their flip-top lids allow you to easily pour out ingredients into measuring cups. You can use them to store baking ingredients, rice, grains, and even dried beans. I might have to go dig a few out of my recycling bin to try it!

6. Repurpose old office supplies 

Before you donate those old magazine holders, you might want to take them for a spin in your pantry! There are a number of ways to use these containers for storage, including laying them on their side to hold reusable water bottles or standing them up and placing produce inside.

If you don't have any magazine holders, don't go buy them! You can make the same style of container using a cereal box or a flat-rate shipping box from the post office.

7. Create a plastic bag dispenser 

If your family goes through juice at a fast pace, the oversized jugs can easily be turned into plastic bag dispensers — all you have to do is cut the bottom off and mount the container to the wall upside down. As you unpack groceries, you can simply put the plastic bags into your new dispenser, and when you need a bag, just pull one out the bottom. So smart. (My mother also swears these jars are the best for starting seeds in the winter.)

8. Get creative with coffee containers 

Plastic coffee cans are an extremely popular crafting item on Pinterest, and it's easy to see why! They're made from heavy-duty plastic with tight-fitting lids, and many even have built-in handles that make them easy to pick up. You can use them to store all sorts of pantry ingredients, and there are lots of tutorials on how to make them look nicer, whether you paint them or wrap them in decorative paper.

9. Make hanging storage from cereal boxes 

Instead of buying a behind-the-door organizer to store aluminum foil and plastic wrap, you can make one for yourself using a cereal box. Simply cut the box into your desired shape and size, decorate how you please, then hang it up using a couple Command Wire Hooks.

10. Organize disposable utensils in flip-top boxes 

Flip-top containers like the ones dishwashing pods come in are another versatile storage solution. We love the idea of stashing disposable utensils inside them, making it easy to grab just one, but you could also use them for wrapped candies, individually bagged snacks, or perhaps even your favorite pie weights, if you're an avid baker! (They're probably not the best for loose ingredients, as they don't always shut tightly.)

11. The perfect to-go containers for liquids 

Looking for a better way to transport salad dressing or condiments in your lunch box? The little jars that contain water flavoring — such as Mio or Crystal Light — are perfect for it! Just remove the label, pop the top, and fill it with your must-have lunch condiments. You can even keep a few prepped and ready to go in the fridge, if you tend to rush out the door in the morning.

Related reading:

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by Food52 editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns a commission on qualifying purchases of the products they link to.

By Camryn Rabideau

MORE FROM Camryn Rabideau

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