Step 1: Shelves

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Determine which type of shelf system you want to use and purchase one shelf to get started. Build your own, buy plastic or metal shelves, or splurge and buy a fancy can rotation system.

Key Points

  • Don’t let small spaces intimidate you. For a comprehensive list of helpful ideas view our Small Spaces Storage Solutions post
  • There are a wide variety of shelf options available. Determine the amount you feel comfortable spending and consider what will suit your needs best.
  • Options for canned goods and other Three Month Supply foods:
    • Build Your Own – Cheap & offers the most flexibility, but time-intensive
    • Inexpensive metal or plastic shelving (i.e. from Walmart) – A cheap and easy way to get started, shelves may not be as durable. Be careful with cheaper metal shelves as they may bow in the middle.
    • Higher quality metal shelves – Heavy duty hardware store shelves should have no problem with bowing or collapsing under heavy food weights.
    • Deluxe Can Rotation System – Most expensive option, but very convenient for easily rotating through foods. Found at ThriveLife.com (formerly ShelfReliance.com)
  • Start with one set of shelves and add more as your food storage grows.
  • Plastic may be better than metal for storing heavier items (cheap metal shelves tend to bow in the middle).
  • Adjustable shelf heights will be useful as you store different types and sizes of foods and cans.
  • Clear a space near your shelves for 5 gallon buckets/water containers/etc. Cover with old carpet or pallets to avoid storing directly on concrete.

Diagrams/Charts

Diagram to build your own can rotating rack food storage shelves out of cardboard. This diagram can be a little bit complex so we did a step-by-step tutorial you can view here: “How to Build Your Own Can Rotating Rack”.

More Information

Helpful Products

Deluxe Food Rotation Systems: Thrive Life (formerly Shelf Reliance) produces high quality shelves are customizable in any shape and size to fit everything from tuna cans to #10 cans and more!

CanSolidators: Sturdy plastic can racks also from Thrive Life that can be adjustable for any width of small to medium can. Available in three sizes and fit on a regular shelf or in a pantry.

CanOrganizers: The cardboard rotating racks fit on any shelf in your cupboard or pantry. Three sizes available to best suit your needs.

 

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  • Kiersten

    Hi ladies. I just discovered your blog and it is just what I was looking for. I am a novice at emergency prep, but recognize how important it is. I notice that, especially when it comes to water and food storage, a cool, dry place is necessary. We live in Las Vegas, which gets extreme heat during the summer. Our garage has plenty of space but it gets extremely hot during those months. The storage in the house is more limited. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Amy

      Hi there – I have the opposite problem – I live in Maine and have food storage that is freezing. We have barn space that is attached to our house with doors in the kitchen making a perfect space for storage but it isn’t heated and we’ve had a freezing problem – any advise?? thanks

  • Grimm

    Recently I cleaned out the tiny closet in our hall of all the junk we have been tossing in there. My DH put up some shelves on the back wall and hung hooks on the wall above the door on the inside. Our water jugs are on the floor under the bottom shelf and our personal BOBs are hanging from the hooks. Our disaster box is on the top shelf and I am starting to fill the shelves with our food preps and supplies. It is a small space but with everything in there I can still put my vacuum in there. Its a start until we get our garage cleaned and more permanent storage. Plus as apartment dwellers we don’t have a basement or attic for space.

  • Wow awesome post.  I am new here so I have a lot to explore.  Thanks for the great job!

  • Kstoneking

    I signed up to have the baby steps checklists delivered to my e-mail.  Numbers 2-5 have come through, no problem. For some reason, though, checklist #1 did not get sent to me.  Would you be able to send that to me?  I’d appreciate it.

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  • Jennifer

    Pantry Maid makes good “normal” can rotation devices I use in the everyday pantry.  But be very careful on the sizes.  Large is for the normal vegetable type can.  They are muchmore durable than the plastic ones on the other sites and I think they are a mom and pop.

  • Milenda

    Does anyone have suggestions on storing mason Jar type canned food.  I have a large assortment of quart thru 1/2 pint jars.  I do have them organized by type of food as of now. But I have several hundred of them.  trying to keep them rotated is hard when you can’t access the back to put new items or use the sideways rolling method.

    • emorra

      I can a lot of soups and stews, along with baked beans and meats (ground beef, chicken, pork) plus fruit/jams/pickles/veggies so I can totally relate to your problem.

      Instead of having your shelves with the long side up against a wall, place them so that you can access both sides.  It does take up more space this way, but it works if you can make it fit your space. 

      Have an “in” side for whatever you’ve most recently canned, and and “out” side for access to the oldest jars.

      Be sure to label your flat lids with a sharpie, noting type of food and date canned.

      I use the metal “canning” shelves from Home Depot or Lowes (I think Wal-Mart sells them as well)–they are about a foot deep and you can build them with the shelves like a tray so that they have an edge all the way around to hold the jars better. 

      If you live where earthquakes are prevalent, be sure to add bungee cords to keep jars from falling off.  Our shelve are also screwed to the wall at a stud.

  • Loriann12

    I found this site about 2 years ago.  We put away about 6 months of canned goods/non-perishable food items according to recipes.  I had everything in boxes stacked in my living room (something like 8 high in 3-4 piles).  It only took up a corner.  Then I got diagnosed with cancer. Nine months later, as I was recooperating and almost back on my feet, my husband broke his leg and was out of work for 2 months.  I had to move all those boxes by myself because we were eating out of them.  My FIL and MIL work at a storage facility and when someone doesn’t pay or abandons their unit, they get first pick.  A unit abandoned cinder blocks and 12x9x1’s.  We just built a shelving unit out of them that fits along the back wall of our living room.  It ended up being 7 shelves, and about 6 foot high.  We took a king size sheet and tucked it behind the top shelf to cover it all.  On the top shelf I put all my cookware that had been stored outside in the garage so I don’t have to wash it before I use it each time.

    • Milenda

      I have the same storage type in my basement for my canned (mason jar) foods. My unit is 2 cinder blocks deep (32″), 2 blocks high (16″) on bottom shelf, then 1 block high (8″) for the next 4 shelves high.  This is just for the jars with my box/can goods sitting on top shelf.  2 high works great for beverage bottles & 4-6 gallon water jugs.

  • Amanda

    Just got my binder all put together and everything printed, and working through the first few checklists.  I am back and forth between checklist #1 and #2.  I read through the reader suggestions, and thought I would show y’all the bedframes we found and are going to use to increase the storage under the beds.  It eliminates the needs for box springs. 🙂
    http://www.wayfair.com/Handy-Living-2-in-1-Bed-Frame-No-Box-Spring-Required-32F-XX-HLV1111.html?refid=GPA49-HLV1111_2777778&PiID=2777778&gclid=CO6E2fegqK0CFeJdTAodIwg0qw

    You can find them cheaper, but this is an example. 

  • new girl

    New here. Can you safely store food items in a place where the temperature can fluctuate between 20 and 110 degrees? If so what items are safe to store?

    • That type of temperature fluctuation would severely decrease the shelf life of your foods. Especially the extreme heat. I would not store food in a condition where the temperature can get that high.

  • These are perfect and of great help.

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  • 808 MILITARY

    Does anyone have ideas for families who move frequently…we are a military family living in Hawaii currently and not only is space a consideration but temperature of our items stored is tricky (most foods being stored need to be at 75 degrees or cooler…without air on indoors will reach over 85 easily).  Any advise?

    • Usually storing at higher temperatures just decreases the shelf life but doesn’t ruin the food immediately. So maybe a few months before you are getting ready for the next move you can just make a big effort to eat through most of the food. Then take what grocery money you are saving and set it aside to buy new food once you move. If you are only there for a few years I wouldn’t think a 20 year shelf life would be decreased to the point of the food being inedible at that point. Hope that helps a bit!

    • lhendrix

      I have stored many cases in fluctuating temperatures- heat in the summer and cold in the winter. (attic and unheated/ non-cooled porch) I have my #10 cans in their cases.  For added protection I take that case and put it into a double or triple shipping case- with a plastic bag enclosing the inner cases.  In a storage rental- I had much of our food.  I had it on a pallet- and buckets on top with three large tv boxes with the cans inside.  All were covered with a mattress pad.  Even with it 110 degrees inside the unit- my cans were comfortably cool! Because the cardboard shields the fluctuating temperatures- it insulates the cans.  I have had no problems… for over 5 years.

    • lhendrix

      I have stored many cases in fluctuating temperatures- heat in the summer and cold in the winter. (attic and unheated/ non-cooled porch) I have my #10 cans in their cases.  For added protection I take that case and put it into a double or triple shipping case- with a plastic bag enclosing the inner cases.  In a storage rental- I had much of our food.  I had it on a pallet- and buckets on top with three large tv boxes with the cans inside.  All were covered with a mattress pad.  Even with it 110 degrees inside the unit- my cans were comfortably cool! Because the cardboard shields the fluctuating temperatures- it insulates the cans.  I have had no problems… for over 5 years.

    • Menaden

      I know this might sound funny but when my husband was in the Army, one of the wives only stored salt. She reasoned that if there was a shortage of anything she could barter salt for food.

  • Jacinda

    I am interested and am having trouble finding an organizational system for storing my home canned goods.  So if anyone has any suggestions other than traditional methods in the pantry with risers to manage space better I would be eternally grateful!  Thank you in advance.

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  • We were VERY lucky! DH works at a local grocery store and when he and the owner were cleaning out and rearranging the basement for better storage at the store, they found a HUGE stack of old shelves and brackets. The owner gave them all to DH for OUR basement for storage. So at the bottom of the basement stairs I now have a floor to ceiling shelf unit made from the old shelves, brackets and some left over 2x4s from another project! I made labels for the shelves and slid them in the openings where the price labels would go in a store!

  • kitchen organizer helps to organize the kitchen and things in the kitchen. it is the best way to keep your kitchen clean and organised

  • Closet storage and organization is a unique challenge. Unlike other areas you may be organizing (junk drawers, books, linens) clothes come in different colors, seasons, sleeve lengths, hemlines, etc. It’s no wonder you may need a little extra help to get your wardrobe organized and stored properly.

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  • Dr Elizabeth Lambird

    Hi girls. The can organizer looked great in the picture, ( I’m a sucker for anything to help me be better organized) and the price was more affordable than the plastic ones at Costco, so I went to their website and ordered 5 sets of 4 to get the better shipping price for a total cost of $89. They are here, But for the life of me I cannot figure out how to get them to gether, Neither can my 15 year old and he normally can put ANYTHING together, I went to YouTUbe to watch their demonstration and the only one posted is of the smallest unit which has NO RESEMBLENCE WHATSOEVER to the pieces of ardboard sitting on my kitchen table right now. These may be great, but right now they are only good for kindling, This company is not provinding adeq customer support for a high profit margin product, Wanted to let you know. Thanks, EL, KC.

  • Gary T.

    The one thing I’m still not clear on is the best place to store can foods and can meats. some sites say not in the basement and others say to build shelves in the basement. where would be a good place to start to find the answer? Thanks, Gary T.

    • Deb

      Gary, I have mine in the basement. It is usually a constant cool temp. there which is great for long term storage. There was a reason our grandparents and great-grandparents had cellars.

      But you have to remember that if your storage is in a basement, in the event of say an earthquake or even a tornado where your house sustains damage, you may not be able to easily access your stores.

      You have to decide what’s right for you.

      • Divaonthemove

        The most important thing is to keep them up off of the concrete if you store in your basement. It will erode the bottoms of whatever container you use–whether it be metal or plastic.

  • Gregdbd

    How long can you store coffee? By what method? Ground or whole beans?
    What about oils

  • Gregdbd

    I’ve read that the reason you DO NOT want to store you plastic pails directly on the concrete is because of chemicals from concrete leaching into the plastic and deteriorating it. It has been suggested to use a piece of carpet. What about the chemicals in carpet? What is the lesser of 2 evils?

  • OH MY! That sounds horrible. Hope you are ok. Good luck with your new shelves.

  • Heather

    My metal wire food storage shelves just broke – all four of them. They were bolted to the wall with litlle plastic brackets but it is surprising how long they lasted. These typical closet shelving materials just won't work for lots of cans. So I am going to pull them out and get a closet guy over to plan a real food storage closet for me! The cans fell on me and my feet and my hands are cut from trying to catch the stuff falling off the shelves. Now it is all over the floor in my family room. So my advice – get the right material for your storage closet; make sure you can rotate your cans; and make the most of the space you have!

  • tutus

    Thanks for the tut on building a rotating can food storage rack. I have been looking for something like this.

  • tutus

    Thanks for the tut on building a rotating can food storage rack. I have been looking for something like this.

  • How did you get all those basics in to a sealed can?
    Do you know what the answer is to ….. I read that canned food can last for up 15-20 years past experation if stored below 70 degrees? I am the type that isn't very good about rotating. I want to build up a stash that will last that long in the even of an emergency. like those foods that are delivered every month for 25.oo. Has anyone used those ???? And is it REALLY a good price? and deal?

  • stephanie

    the plastic also deteriorates and can leak the water all over the floor.

  • jodimcgregor

    I'm worried about this too. What did you find out?

  • jodimcgregor

    Does anyone know if there is BPA inside the 10-cans we get from the cannery? I want to do my food storage as I have been counseled, but don't want to put my two young children in danger.

  • jodimcgregor

    Does anyone know if there is BPA inside the 10-cans we get from the cannery? I want to do my food storage as I have been counseled, but don't want to put my two young children in danger.

  • The chemicals from the concrete can leach through the plastic.

  • The chemicals from the concrete can leach through the plastic.

  • Perry

    Why should one avoid setting the water containers on the concrete floor?

    “Clear a space near your shelves for 5 gallon buckets/water containers/etc. Cover with old carpet or pallets to avoid storing directly on concrete.”

  • photokrayz

    Im in love with this website!!

  • darasmith

    I would like pictures Brenda. arealestategal@aol.com

  • This is a fantastic tip! Thanks for sharing. It can give us some extra options instead of having to opt for more expensive shelving as our food storage grows.

  • bmantel

    I have some cheap metal shelves which bow in the center. We had some old scrap plywood that we cut the same size as the shelf and layed on the shelf. This wood is not strong enough to be an independent shelf, but combined with the metal forms a sturdy shelf that does not bow.

  • I'm just starting. We bought new shelves last week; essentially doubled our pantry space. Already starting to fill them up; goal is 3-month supply on all dry goods and enough fresh local food canned for the winter. Thanks for this blog!

  • Geniel

    I went to Home Depot and bought real sturdy shelving. My shelves each hold 64 #10 cans. I put the newest next to the wall and the oldest ones closest to the door where they can be easily reached. I can use the top shelf so that makes 5 sturdy shelves with food on them. I made sure to put the heavy stuff to the bottom but they have had the weight on them for 8 months and have not started to bow. I paid $80.00 for the shelf and love it. These shelves are in my garage where we have build a room and air conditioned it to keep the food at a constant temperature as we live in Texas.

  • lori pirkola

    finished baby step #2

  • Brigitte

    My husband and I are just getting started with our food storage. We are still living in an apartment so building shelving is not an option for us yet. My Husband had the ingenious Idea to recylcle our cardbaord 12 pack pop containers (soda). You know the refrigerator pack kind that are built to rotate. He just cuts another opening for the loading side and we turn it on its end. The new cans get loaded into the top and we take them out the bottom. For smaller cans you just pack two side by side. Its not the smoothest rotation, but it works for now and its fun.

  • Susan Rasmussen

    I appreciate learning where I can get the Shelf Reliance at a much better price than what the manufacturer charges. I’m concerned about Thea’s comment about the BPA in cans. Is anyone else concerned about this? Any more thoughts/information out there?

  • Jemima

    I love my Shelf Reliance can system. It’s great for canned food. It was worth the price, (it is cheaper at Costco). But I do use metal shelving from Target for my # 10 cans, as when I worked out the number of #10 cans that will fit on the shelf reliance system, I get the same number of cans on the metel shelfing for about 15% of the price.

  • Angel

    My husband has bulit regular flat shelves out of wood in the shop. This is where I store most things.
    The short term storage is put into totes of different sizes so the food doesnt get dusty or have the occasional unwelcome pest climbing on it.

    I also use PLASTIC shelves from Walmart that are very sturdy, easy to put together, relatively inexspensive AND Made in the USA.

    I purchased some cansolidators from Costco to line my shelves on my kitchen pantry for veggies, soups, canned beans etc.
    That makes rotating easy. I simply bring home from the store or bring a flat in from the shop and load it there. These were apx $50. for 2 (if I remember right)
    and again cheaper at Costco than Shelf Reliance.

    While in Utah the Maceys had some of these pantry units from a different company too.

  • My husband built me the most wonderful can rotator in my garage (unfortunately, we californians don’t have basements). It stores/rotates HUNDREDS of #10 cans! We load from one side and use from the other, and the cans roll on their side for easy rotation. It only takes up less than one foot of space along one wall. We covered that wall with pegboard, too, so it’s a double-duty space saver.

    It took my husband and a friend one day to build it and it cost us about $200. They spent one Saturday building it at our house and the next Saturday building one at the friend’s house. We’ve been using it for 5 years – It is the best thing that ever happened to food storage for me… I was so glad to see that you addressed this as one of the first steps ot food storage.

    Here is a link to a step-by-step guide to building one.
    http://www.kirkhams.org/rotator.htm

    We took pictures of the process and my husband made up a little brochure. You’re welcome to post it on the site if you think it will help other people. There’s also a photo of our first attempt that fits in one side of a standard closet. It was great for a starter in a small space.

    Now that my cans are easily accessed, I use the contents all the time. I can’t remember the last time I bought flour, sugar, oats, etc. at the grocery store. Not only is my garage closer, it’s always open – even on Sundays – and it costs a LOT less. The final step to my rotating system is a great set of Tupperware containers that hold the contents of more than one #10 can (so I can refill before I’m all the way out) and stack on top of each other in my pantry cabinet.

    It has been well worth the work in the beginning for the years of ease since!

  • Michelle B

    I would love to see a picture Ilda! That sounds great! I would love to be able to build some like that.

  • Penny

    I remember when I was growing up, we used a NEW medium outside metal garbage can and filled it with wheat. Then we cut a circle out of plywood bigger than the opening of the can and then used some smaller scraps of wood and screwed them on the inside of the circle to fit the inside of the garbage can, then we just putt decorative fabric over the top that reached to the floor and we had an instant side table that held storage, you could really hold anything in it, I think we had one that we put extra blankets, or throws in.
    The scrap blocks of wood kept the top from moving around and falling off, and it also looked nice.

  • I made my own set of rotating shelves out of two sets of the Wal-Mart 19.88 galvanized steel shelves. By combining two sets, I was able to make a shelving system with 10 shelves.

    What I do is install the shelves upside down and at an angle. I install them with enough space above them that I can reach in and put cans in the back laying down. With the shelves at an angle, the cans roll right down to the front.

    The corners of the Wal-mart shelves are not connected at the sides, so it makes them easily bendable. It makes connecting them at the legs no problem. The sides provide an instant barrier to make sure cans fall. And with the shelves upside down, they actually seem a little more sturdy.

    This shelving system hold about 240 soup cans.

  • Monica

    Thanks for the info, this site is great! Jennifer, thanks for the info on Costco carrying the Shelf Reliance systems. I’ve considered getting one or two, but I’m personally struggling with the fact that I don’t know if it will work well for our situation. We live out of town and purchase several different cases of the same items. (Refried beans, ravioli, chili, tuna etc.) We need to build/find a rotating shelf that can rotate an average of 50 qty of the same canned item. I’m guessing some sort of a multiple inner zig zag type shelf that wont be prone to shifting the cans somewhere along the way. With that quantity, I’m guessing we will be pulling from the floor! LOL

  • Jennifer

    I just found the Shelf Reliance Harvest rotating systems at both Costco.com and Samsclub.com for around $290 each (including shipping)–half of what they are at shelfreliance.com! I made my husband buy me one as an early birthday present!

  • Admin

    thanks tracy! great tip

  • Tracy

    Thanks ladies! This is just what I needed. I have been preparing to stock up by getting my shelving ready. I actually stumbled across a great source for good shelves. Linens ‘n’ Things is going out of business, and at least in our area, are down to the nuts and bolts of it all. So they’re selling their big 4×12′ back room shelving units for $25 apiece. They say they can be cut, so I plan to go get one and make myself 2 4×6’s and be good. I found this on craigslist by searching for “shelving”, and there were various other retail closeout listings there.

  • thea

    Most all of these posted comments focus on cans and can rotation shelving. Cans are not the best idea for food storage. They are lined with plastic. BPA is still in many cans. the newer cans may be BPA free, but they are still lined with plastic and it will only be a few years before the new plastic is found to be toxic as well. Glass canning and home canning does take more time and you do mention this in other postings. So I would recommend that anyone filling a food storage space, give less space to “canned” food.

  • My parents used their wheat buckets and heavy duty wood as shelves. We sued the wheat buckets as the legs of a computer desk (really heavy wood as the desk top of course).

  • Jodi

    Brenda, if you have pictures we would love to see them. You can email them to info @ foodstoragemadeeasy.net That sounds like a great idea.

    Sara, Thanks for sharing the link to making your own rotating bins. That post is invaluable.

    As we accumulate more and more food storage we will be exploring some of the more advanced options for storing this stuff. Early next year we will be revamping this section of our babysteps and include some more of these great ideas. Thanks for your input. That’s why we LOVE making this site! We learn so much from all of you too 🙂

  • I like the metal shelves from Home Depot, like these ones. (I don’t know what the current in-store price is; three years ago when we bought them they were around $50 to $60.) They are very sturdy, portable, and at that time they were cheaper than buying lumber to build your own wood shelves.

    Portable is key, if you ever have to move. We’ve left wood shelves behind, and it’s a shame to have to build new shelves at your new location.

    If you want plans to make your own small rotating can bins, check out the post at The Pantry Panel here.

  • Brenda

    My DH took 2 of 5 shelf metal units, put them together and made a 10 shelf rolling can unit. I think they are a little more sturdy than the Walmart shelves. I made magnet labels for them, it’s kind of fun even! I have photos if you’re interested.
    Great site! I’m reading and learning.

  • Ask at grocery stores for old displays. I have a huge pop rack which holds hundreds of cans similar to the deluxe rotation system, and it was free! I also have rolling racks snacks used to be displayed on as well as hanging clip racks you often see chips displayed on.

  • I am a professionla organizer located in the Provo/Orem area of Utah. I specialize in emergency food storage options and love that you are motivating others to prepare themselves for the unexpected while enjoying their food staples. So often we forget to use the vertical space on our walls. In my opinion, shelves are a must! They just make food storage SO much easier. Thanks, again!

  • Jodi

    Tara,

    I don’t have any data on the cost of shelf materials. My best suggestion would be to estimate the amounts you’d need and then check the prices at Home Depot. When we build our own shelves I will update this post with more details.

  • Tara

    Do you mind telling us how much the shelf supplies costed ? I am weighing my options and comparing prices.

  • jweiss08

    I bet Jodi will love this. Her husband is handy and he’s goning to be building her some shelves.

  • Helen

    CanRacks.com offers a variety of plans for building sturdy, tidy-looking front-loading food storage shelves. Our family made several units last year. They make the job of rotating cans simple. We had to purchase all the wood and screws, but for those who have extra scraps in the garage, it would cut the cost. Building these could be a fun family project.

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