Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Decluttering the Pantry

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

Last week, I discussed methods for cleaning and decluttering your refrigerator and freezer; this week we’re onto what is usually a larger repository of items that should have moved along long ago, the pantry. Because things in the pantry don’t usually spoil, they can sometimes hang around long enough to become honorary members of your household.

It will probably be helpful to have a pen and paper with you when you start excavating your pantry, especially if you know it’s… let’s politely call it “a goldmine of uneaten potential.”

What do you have, how many do you have, how long has it been in there? Check dates. Put like with like. Anything you have duplicates of may be excessive. I have a dozen little cans of olives, and I use them once a week, so a dozen is a reasonable supply, not an excess. But two cans of garbanzo beans (chick peas) is definitely an excess for me; frankly, one can probably is. Either make a list of what you have that needs to be used up, or put all the extras and duplicates on one shelf, and start using things without replacing them. Alternatively, you can choose to give the extras to the food pantry, rather than consume them yourself.

Some people buy a lot of groceries because they feel uncomfortable about the possibility of running out of food. But remember, it doesn’t all have to be stored at your house; allow the shops to store it for you. Then you can visit your “pantry” whenever you need for whatever you need.

If you live in an area where you might be cut off without access to shopping, for example, in an area that floods or where you get snowed in, I’m sure you need an emergency pantry. I don’t live in that environment, but I would think that having it completely separate from your regular food pantry, or in a specific area of your pantry, and rotating it once a year would be a safe policy. Mark the rotation date on your calendar so you don’t forget. Think carefully and logically about what you really need it in. Just having a bunch of extra canned goods on hand without true consideration to what they are isn’t going to be as helpful as a thought-out plan.

I think cleaning the pantry is a good time to think about healthy eating. Long ago, I talked about decluttering the pantry after my daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. We changed our family’s eating habits literally overnight. Everything that wasn’t part of her healthy, low-carbohydrate diet went directly out the door. I sometimes hear, “Oh I could never do what you do, that must be so hard.” I always say, “It is hard, and you would do it to give someone you love the healthiest and longest life-span possible.”

Don’t we love ourselves? Aren’t we responsible for making sure that we are living the healthiest and longest life-span possible? Then why do you have unhealthy food in your pantry? Get rid of it and don’t buy more. Unhealthy food is just another kind of clutter that you can live without.

How does unhealthy food enter your house? Probably in a grocery sack carried by your own hands. The purchasing of food needs to be a conscious decision like everything else you buy. Shop with a list; don’t vary from it; only buy what furthers your goal of a healthy lifestyle. If you feel you “must” have a treat, buy the smallest container possible (even though that’s likely to be less economical) and don’t buy more until your next shopping trip … or even later than that. Do you spend too much money on alcohol? Again, buy less and don’t buy more until your next shopping trip. For me, beer in the house turns into a beer a day then two beers a day and a couple of pounds a month. It works better for me to only have the occasional beer at a party, not keeping it on hand, is a better choice.

A decluttered pantry will let you have easier access to the foods that you want and will use, without it being cluttered by past mistake purchases, bad-for-you choices, and so much volume that things get lost in a sea of cans and jars.

Next week’s post “Your Second Favorite” addresses using up things that don’t really like … at least not that much.

Today’s Declutter Item

This jar of beads were another craft decluttering effort. The beauty is that I donated them to the thrift store and was there on the day to sell them to a lady for $5. She was happy with her purchase and I was happy to see the charity making money out of my donation.

A jar of beads

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I know that volunteering your time usually evoke gratitude from the organisation that you are giving up your time and energy for. But I am grateful for the opportunity to do my part for the community in which I live. There are a lot of people out there worse off than me and I feel good about helping to provide support for them.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Great post. I love this part the best: “Allow the shops to store it for you.” Exactly! Sometimes I have an eat-from-the-pantry week where every dinner must be created from something from the pantry. It’s so nice to start seeing a little empty space on the shelf.

    • Eve, I’m glad you like that quote. I took it from a reader some time back. As I recall, it’s what her husband encouraged her to do: let the shops keep the food for them.

  2. My pantry is definitely overdue for a decluttering as some food items have migrated with me between apartments and clearly are not going to be eaten by me any time soon. That said, as a Hawaii resident who has been learning about hurricane emergency preparedness (the American Red Cross recommends 2-3 days of food supplies in the contiguous 48 states… and 5-7 days of emergency food for Hawaii due to its geographic isolation), I do need to think about what non-perishable food items I can reasonably stockpile. The local emergency responders have been begging folks to be prepared in advance so we don’t need to rush out last minute to the stores, clogging up roads and gas stations.

    So I just wanted to share a recommendation by some veteran emergency preparedness types that you think about what non-perishables/long-storables you typically eat (for me it would be canned tuna, olives, some soups, rice, ramen & other Asian instant noodles) and rotate a sufficient supply into your pantry — instead of buying a 5-gallon of bucket of dried instant emergency food that you will have to chuck when it expires

    • Annie, I think it’s a GREAT idea to have a food store supply for people in situations where it might be needed. Why make your life harder at a critical moment? I also think it’s smart to consider what food you’d really want and eat, not just to accummulate a bunch of random items. What good is an excess of, say, canned tomatoes, if you don’t also have some protein to accommpany it?

      At our house, we always have an entire month of diabetes supplies on hand. If we ever had to get out quick, we would be able to take enough medical supplies with us. Literally, without them, my daughter can no live long. Even though Austin is unlikely to be struck by any natural disasters, not having enough diabetes supplies on site is NOT a risk I’m willing to take.

      I also have all of our important papers and enough money in smaller bills to get us through a week or so with no access to the bank in a small, portable safe. It’s fire and water proof, so I figure it covers us for a number of possible (though unlikely) occurrences.

  3. I love that saying ‘let the shops store it for you’, i shall remember that when i am tempted to buy more than a weeks worth of food!! Some of my greatest triumphs are when i have to really stretch my food, with all the starving going on in the world i feel it’s my duty to not overconsume and this goes for non food things aswell (of course!). I too have the mentality where if i have something unhealthy in the store cupboard i have to eat it all. I have never ate A biscuit in my life, only the whole packet so it’s easier just to leave them on the shop shelf. Better for my wallet and waist.

    Interesting what you said about your daughter and her lifestyle and the changes you have adopted. I have a friend who’s daughter also has juvenile diabetes and she lets her eat what she likes, she says she will not ruin her childhood. I find this biazarre, i think what she is doing is ruining her adulthood instead.

    I have a few things lingering in my storecupboard that i know i will never use, trouble is i don’t know anyone who will use them either and it just feels so wrong to throw them away any ideas?

    Sharron x

    • Donating it to a charity who caters to the homeless? We dutchies have a charity organization that is called “de voedselbank”, which offers food packages to poor people. I would recommend checking with the charity first, though.

      (No, I’m not back, I just never left 😉 )

      • You say you’re not back, that you’ve been here all along, but I had been wondering about you Nurchamiel. Glad to see you commenting again.

    • I bet I can think of somewhere for your unwanted goods to go – are they food items or something else? Open package or closed?

      Your comment about not eating A biscuit made me laugh. I used to joke that the serving of Girl Scout cookies, which are sold by the Girl Scouts just one month a year, should be “one package” not “two cookies.”

      As for your friend who doesn’t want to “ruin” her daughter’s childhood: You can imagine that I could have A LOT to say on that subject. I’ll stick with: I didn’t let my daughter eat anything under the sun before, so I’m not going to start now, and a lifetime of healthy habits are established when young. The girls hate the greasy feeling of sunblock, too, but that doesn’t mean that they get to play outside without applying it. Same with healthy diabetes habits.

      • My late father in law died as a result of not looking after himself, he was a type 1 diabetic and apart from taking his insulin before his meals that’s where looking after himself ended. When you see someone at the end of their life and the fact that it could have been prolonged if he had of a better diet, you feel a great sadness. I want to tell my friend all of this (and i probably will). The rubbish she eats is bad for any child, let alone a child with diabebtes. *Sharron steps down off her soap box*

        • edited to add, i have chick peas 🙂 mixed lentils and beans, strawberry mousse all unopened i am going to check the homeless shelter, failing that my mum said perhaps the local safari park may take it from me 😆 monkeys eating strawberry mousse

        • Hi Sharron,
          your story reminds me of when my son with in a coma in ICU with a serious brain injury. It used to make me angry when we would go outside for some fresh air and find overweight healthcare works standing around smoking. They were slowly killing themselves while he, a fit and other wise healthy nonsmoker was lying there and we didn’t know if he would ever wake up.

          So Sharron get on that soap box and shout it to the world. Actually move over and I will join you up there.

  4. Only last night, mum, in a shock week of cooking, asked ‘Do we need this cheesymite?’ (Only australians will realise this is a spin off bastardisation of Vegemite, and hasn’t been well recieved imo). I said, no, but of course, she put it back where she found it!??!

    I was pleased she did use the ‘store’ of gluten free lasagne sheets – it was nice to see the gap in the pantry, but I know it’s something she likes to stock pile 🙁 I mean, as far as disaster food, they are only good if we have mince, and milk (she HAS to make white sauce, but resisted last night for me (trying to limit lactose & gluten) – and our vegie lasagne was v v dry 🙁 It’s a shame things don’t always go well when she cooks, makes her less inclined to cook…

    • Then she PUT IT BACK? I’m laughing! That’s like trying a pen, realizing it’s out of ink, and tossing it back into the jar with the other pens.

      Sorry your dinner was dry. What’s mince? I think it’s beef or pork that’s ground up??

    • Hi snosie,
      that Cheesymite was a complete waste of time and I don’t know why they are still producing it. Even my fussy eaters ate Vegemite as little ones so why did Kraft think they needed to develop a product to appeal to a wider audience. Just stupid. And what was the weird name they first called in before they changed it to Cheesymite.

      I understand how your mother feels. Back to those fussy kids again and one now being a vegetarian, I am somewhat sick of cooking lovely meals that just aren’t appreciated. Trying to cook for a fussy vegetarian and a husband who eats low carbs just adds a degree of difficulty that I am weary of. The irony of this is that I will eat anything that is put in front of me. Bit of a cruel joke really. 😕

      • Oooh, do I hear you, Colleen! I cook healthy basic meals and my approach is that anyone who wants something different can cook their own 🙂 I will help them learn, but then they have to take over.

      • I think Cheesybite (bite not ‘mite’) was called iSnack 2.0. My son likes it better than vegemite so I am stuck buying it…

        • Hi Low Income Lady,
          thanks for chiming in on this one and reminding me of the first product name. I knew it had a ridiculous name to begin with that went by the wayside. I imagine that small children would take to it quite well but they usually did with vegemite too. Can I asume that you would use more cheesybite than you would vegemite. If so maybe that was the whole point behind the creation of it, they would sell more and make more.

          • I used to make fairly elaborate meals that took a lot of time. I had an epiphany one day when I made something really simple, and everyone loved it. I thought, “Why am I knocking myself out?” Now meals typically consist of protein, one or two vegetables, and some carbohydrates. (I know that’s not the mental break down most people make when meal planning, but as you know, I watch those carbs for Clara.)

          • We have vegemite and cheesybite in the house and since vegemite is cheaper I try and give my son vegemite sometimes, not just cheesybite all the time…it’s 4.59 for a not very big jar! Which is a rip off. I have got it for 2.99 on special…by the way I downloaded the podcast from the Nightlife with Tony Delroy and I have listed to your interview twice now…I find the decluttering/minimalism topic fascinating!

            • Hi Low Income lady,
              that is what I thought the case would be with cheesybite, just a way to make more money out of the product. Which I suppose is the point of running a business but sometimes the attempt is a little blatantly desperate in nature.

              I am glad you enjoyed the interview with Tony Delroy. It was a lot of fun actually and the lady I was with was very friendly and professional.

  5. Thank you for this post. It makes me feel good about my pantry 🙂
    Finally a place where I have nothing to declutter! Since I have been going toward zero waste, I don’t have any packaged or canned food, just bulk items stored in glass jars (rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, dried fruits, nuts, oils…) and home made fruit jam. 🙂

    • Hi NatalieinCA,
      I so wish we had stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes in Australia where we could by our food by weight and package it in our own reusable containers. Alas if there are any of these stores they aren’t near where I live. Boo Hoo!

      • Trader Joes stores don’t have bulk in my area. I still shop there because they have products from my country of origin at a very decent price that I cannot find or afford anywhere else.
        I can’t believe you don’t have stores providing bulk items in Australia. Maybe because the land is not as populated depending where you live. More and more people are interested in buying in bulk. Although most of them fill up the plastic bags provided by the store. Sadly, I have yet to see one person, beside me, using reusable containers/bags. But I get a lot of questions, a lot of side glances, which is good. 🙂

  6. Hi Cindy and Colleen,
    Oh boy, is today’s item on the mark for me: I have pruned my pantry twice in recent weeks, got rid of some dreadfully interesting “best befores”, and passed on several “haven’t opened and never will” treats to our Church grocery raffle, and we have been working our way through the “double-ups” and “over-orders” ever since June. Some very interesting discoveries – e.g. only three jars of crushed garlic for a family of three, now usually only two, we started the last bottle tonight, dated “best before June 2008” (the others were earlier dates) – I can vouch that they taste fine and improve the meals they go into. However, in future this won’t be able to happen. My new improved pantry is very small and now that I can see exactly what is there, I plan not to store too much. Much better! However, with everywhere shut down with snow for the last three days, it is as well to have some spare cans in the cupboard rather than the shop!

    • Ann, Good job on cleaning and using it up. As for having extras for an emergency: just think about what will really sustain you if you can’t get the store. Three jars of chopped garlic won’t fill your tummy in an emergency! : )

    • Hi Ann,
      I used to buy jars of crushed garlic but some time back I decided that fresh is best and there is now always a garlic bulk in some state of used up in the pantry. It is more bother to chop and or crush but the flavour is so much more authentic and I don’t have jars cluttering up my pantry and fridge.

      • Hi Colleen,
        Obviously, by the use by dates, mostly I have used the fresh garlic also, however, I’m rather good at overlooking it until it looks sad, so I suppose that is an argument for the bottled stuff. Once I’m through this last bottle, I’ll return to fresh garlic cloves (lovely roasted!) and in my more organised, pared-down kitchen perhaps I won’t mislay it!

        • Hi Ann,
          I have a rather unorthodox way of storing potatoes, onions and garlic you can see at this post . I don’t live far from a local grocer and a shopping centre so I don’t keep a large supply these items so that way I ensure they are always fresh. I have never tried rasted garlic but I have seen it in photos and it looks delicious but it must be bad on the breath. 😆 We used to have garlic fries at the baseball when we lived in America but my husband and I usually only had them if we went together because the bedroom reeked of it the next morning.

          • You got it, Colleen, it isn’t at all bad on the breath, – so long as you both eat it, and DON’T then go out to meet others! Then it is fine on the breath!

          • Colleen,
            I just checked out the vege storage – most impressive. And by chance I only emptied a rather similar setup from my sewing collection last weekend; back it comes from the “out” box for a trial. In the pantry is even a shelf for it to sit on.

            • Hi Ann,
              keep me posted I would love to know how it works out for you. I had my doubts that mine would be adequate but I actually love it. There have been times when I come home from the grocery store and have more that what will fit in it but by the time the first meal is cooked there is no overflow. I keep my medicines in the top draw, odds and ends in the middle drawer and the veggies in the bottom. My set of drawers where out in the garage ready to declutter as well but luckily I don’t rush to declutter storage containers. I must admit my empty storage containers are starting to mount up now.

  7. What does vegemite taste like? I have read about it in novels and nysteries and would love to try it someday.
    Does mince meat have a certain spice in it?
    Of course I want to try these in their “natural” state on a trip to Australia, New Zealand!
    I just threw out 3 tomato soups that expired in 08!

    • Hi Jessiejack,
      my description of vegemite is that it looks like axle grease and tastes like dehydrated beer. It is a yeast extract so it marries up perfect with a piece of toast or really fresh bread with lots of butter. You use very little of it though because it is so strong in flavour. Yum my mouth is watering. I once gave it to a Hispanic woman to taste at an international night at my kids school. She liked it but she also loves those dried plums that are really salty so she would be accustomed to that kind of flavour.

      • Chuckling at your description, Colleen! and then wishing I could try some – when I was a child you could get cubes of yeast for making bread, but my mother used to buy them for me for a treat – vegemite sounds similar in taste.

        • Hi Jo,
          it sounds like you would probably really enjoy vegemite. You will have to find some Aussie friends over there and maybe one day you will get to try it.

          • Ack! Vegemite sounds dreadful, but perhaps not as bad as cubes of yeast. So tell me Colleen, Aussies are famous for Vegemite, but do people really like it or is it like the crazy Uncle in one’s family that everyone tolerates but no one really embraces?

      • Cindy if you like vegemite, you actually do like it…it’s what you grow up with. I don’t have it myself as I’m not that keen on it, but I can eat it if I have to…

        • I don’t eat vegemite very often but sometimes (maybe only three or four times a year) its exactly what Ifeel like – hot buttered toast with vegemite (not too thick – more of a scraping ).It probably is an aquired taste but I think every child in Australia would be given vegemite at some stage . Its also quick and easy and has lots of Vitamin B.

  8. I live in a hurricane prone area, where instead of being without electricity for days, we are prompted to evacuate. We were gone for weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and the horror stories about people having to clean out their fridges/freezers has made us not store a lot of items in the summer. If we have to evacuate, I don’t want to haul everything in my freezer. During the winter, I buy bulk meat, etc. but during the summer it’s pretty lean in the freezer.

    • That’s an interesting perspective: Keeping your pantry low so you can flee, rather than stocking up so you can hunker down. Hurricanes Rita, Ike, and Katrina are the reasons we have cash and identification in our safe at home.

  9. The grocery store is the only place that I have little self-control when shopping, and our food storage shows it. With your posts in mind, I shopped a little differently this week, instead concentrating on using up what’s in the freezer and pantry. We are on such a tight budget that I can’t turn down the sales on the staples we use often, but I also spent half as much as usual and we’re not starving! I used up several things I just kept ignoring, so I feel successful!!

  10. I take a sharpie marker and write the expiration date larger on the front of the items I buy so I can tell with a quick glance how long the item will last. This saves me from having to look at the dates each time I want to know and I can rotate food easily knowing that the one in the front is the next one that needs to be used and know exactly what date I need to use it by. If I can’t use it and the date is coming soon, I will donate it to a food pantry so others can benefit before it is too late.

  11. I know I’m late to the game but I had to respond to “Because things in the pantry don’t usually spoil, they can sometimes hang around long enough to become honorary members of your household.” Our iodized salt has been with us longer than any of our furniture, now that I’ve given away my shelf from college!