Storage Wars

11 Upcycling Hacks to Win at Pantry Storage

Because why buy when you can reuse everyday items.

February 18, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

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.


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.

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Top Comment:
“To purchase American made glass storage go to the Anchor Hocking website. Assorted shapes and sizes of glass storage for your pantry readily available.”
— TJ
Comment

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 kindaf 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.

Got an upcycled pantry storage trick of your own? Go on, spill the beans.

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

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Meg McCulloch
    Meg McCulloch
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    jschwa
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    Lucy Hynes
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.

13 Comments

Liz S. February 22, 2021
Egg cartons!! I cut them top and bottom. I have a few "bottoms" that hold things like rubber bands, mini clip magnets, i.e. they corral little things in my "junk drawer" and other spots (closet that has things like picture hangers, nails, screws, small tools). I use a couple of the tops to corral larger kitchen tools and larger tools.

Mason jars: especially quart and half gallon Ball jars which are somewhat squared off work well for me. I tend to "decant" most things - I like the neatness of the jars vs various bags of things. And for the person commenting in another article/quoted ... re instructions. I take a photo on my phone and have both an album with the instructions as well as paste them into OneNote. All accessible from phone or iPad.

I confess to reading EVERY organization article on Food52. Sometimes I find things or ideas that will work for me. Overall, I have a mix of canning jars, some bins with handles, some small bins and some repurposed "packing" material: I'm counting egg cartons here as well as corrugated bits from actual packing ... example, I have a kind of box about 5x5x5 that was part of some packing. It now holds screwdrivers and pliers on a closet shelf.
 
Smaug February 21, 2021
This all seems to be carrying product placement a bit far, but what the heck- I depend heavily on Talenti ice cream containers for storage, particularly of unused contents of cans. Always save a lot of jars, but for some reason salsa- one of the few prepared foods I buy- generally comes in jars that are useless (including for salsa) shapes. I do like lazy susans and pull-out shelves.
 
Meg M. February 20, 2021
Tip: powdered Cremora coffee creamer lids with the flip tab/pour feature on the top are a perfect fit for Mason jars. I too am a huge recycler of various jars for pantry storage as well as Mason jars.
 
jschwa February 18, 2021
i've been obsessed with reusing so called single use pacckaging for decades. inour house,the major containers i save are the plastic tubs with red lids that Hillshire farms deli meats come in. we have stacks waiting in the cabinet that are over a foot tall, in large and medium with matching lids. i saved folger's tubs until we had three stacks 5 ft tall each! they went to the montessori school for the kids to use. i only saved two, to hold my wooden spoons and plastic spoons on my countertop. could also hold whisks, metal spoons, tongs, bbq forks. i save KFC tiny dishes for small leftovers in the fridge. iii wash and reuse ziploc bags till they get a hole in them. i save and reuse creamer jars as fridge water bottles now. the flip top kind can be drunk from as easily as sport top water bottles---which i also make it a point to buy, so i can keep using them for years, after i drink the original water that comes in them. used screwtop water bottles get filled and frozen and cut in half with a boxcutter for ice in my thermos cup. so-two uses before recycling. we save plastic ice cream tubs and all their lids. they hold my tools on my toolbench in the garage. i cut the bottoms off laundry jugs as scoops for soil and amendments in the garden. i cut off the tops to hold the cat litter scoops and turds out of the catbox. we wash and reuse all plastic coffee spoons, kept in a cup beside the coffeemaker. the plastic lids on frozen juice cylinders fit perfectly over opened 2,9 oz catfood cans. we had stacks of big margerine tubs for a long time, till i quit using margerine. it's a rule in our house not to ever bring glass into the bathroom, lest it shatter and someone step on glass shards--so all holders are plastic or cardboard--for toothbrushes, cups, makeup, brushes, combs, sponges, and so on. clue--round things waste more space than square ones.
 
Lucy H. February 18, 2021
Bonne Maman jam jars are glass (with screw tops) and great for making and storing salad dressing, or storing pantry items like nuts, seeds, or chocolate chips. The jam is delicious and then I save them for storage or as drinking/wine glasses.
 
TJ February 18, 2021
To purchase American made glass storage go to the Anchor Hocking website. Assorted shapes and sizes of glass storage for your pantry readily available.
 
Bevi February 18, 2021
I have to say that a few well-placed lazy Susan's, plastic and with non-skid plastic bottoms, are useful for condiments in skinny bottles - soy sauce, vinegars, other sauces, etc. Helpful for storage and also easy access.
 
AntoniaJames February 18, 2021
Yes! I have three of the double-decker ones (bamboo, reasonably priced, from The Container Store) - two for spices, in a cabinet in my kitchen, one right inside my pantry, for baking ingredients like baking powder, baking soda, pint jars of nuts we use frequently in baking and waffles, etc., vanilla and almond extracts, flour shakers, etc. I've used that system for years - best ever. ;o)
 
Sandra H. February 18, 2021
Why are most pantry storage containers round? Square or rectangular w/handle would seem to work better, taking up less space.
 
AntoniaJames February 18, 2021
I agree! I've only been buying squares and rectangles since they've become more prevalent in recent years. Progressive makes a particularly nice one for brown sugar, which has a terra cotta disk that pops into the lid, which you soak in water periodically, to keep brown sugar from drying rock hard. ;o)
 
Janet K. February 18, 2021
Exactly what I was thinking. I don't even like square, just rectangles as they take up less room. I'm still trying to figure out my pantry, which has spread into shelves in my basement, which have to be mouse proof we discovered.
 
Liz S. February 22, 2021
This is a complaint of mine as well!! Especially finding glass square containers for refrigerated items. I did find a Rubbermaid line that is kind of flower pot shape: square-ish, although smaller at the base. They stack and lots of sizes. I do have the Progressive brown sugar container that @AntoniaJames describes and like it, although it is poly...
 
AntoniaJames February 18, 2021
The heavy cardboard trays that mason jars now come packaged in work beautifully for putting under the items on the top and upper shelves of a pantry and larger upper cabinets, serving as a makeshift pullout drawer. (I use large serving trays otherwise only used for parties for this purpose, too. The ones with handles and a good-sized rim around the bottom work best.) ;o)