Efficiency v Plastics

There was a lot of chatter generated yesterday about an overabundance of plastic containers. It seems most of us still have an excess of these.

In a bid to reduce food items in both the fridge and pantry due to my long vacation and impending move late last year, I have become very efficient at catering, shopping and using up leftovers to the point where my need for plastic containers has become greatly reduce. I mostly shop for fresh produce, meat and dairy these days from which there is very little waste. Any leftovers are soon devoured.

I have also eliminated several baking items in my pantry. Because I only make dessert once a week, if that, there is no need for a plethora of ingredients to be stored in the panty. For starters, I managed for seven and a half years, living in America, using a combo of baking powder and plain flour rather than stocking self-raising flour so I decided that was good enough for here too. That eliminated one large canister in my pantry. We use rice much less these days too due to our lower carb eating choices so I reduced the amount I stored. Similarly ingredients such as desiccated coconut were so infrequently used I decided it could also go, along with several pasta varieties, chick peas, noodles and white sugar. Should I ever wish to make something with any of these ingredients I buy the smallest possible quantity so there is little or no leftovers, any of which I include in another recipe ASAP.

I also have a variety of glass mixing bowls that nest inside each other which can also be used of storing food. If I can make and store the item in the same bowl it also saves on washing up adding a little more efficiency and an element of eco friendliness. These bowls have lids, but if they didn’t I would opt for a plate to seal the food in rather than waste cling film.

Admittedly not having any children left at home has added greatly to this streamlining.

Is there an area in your life where efficiency would allow you to declutter?

Today’s Mini Mission

Start a trial separation of fashion accessories.

Eco Tip for the Day

Yesterday I cleaned all the glass doors on my balcony. What did I use to do that? Microfibre cloths and water. No chemicals and they are as clean as a whistle. A few good microfibre cloths and good old H2O is better for the environment and can save you cash as well.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

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

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, plastic is one area where we use a lot because we cook and freeze meals ahead. Yet, I feel we have more than we need. One place we used efficiency to help us declutter was in the pantry. First I set a budget for food. Then I told Mom that from now on we would not buy anything we didn’t have immediate plans for. No more buying things because we might need to make a meal for someone, take an item to a potluck, etc. When we needed it then we would buy it. What a difference this has made to what is in our pantry. It has taken me a while to get her to agree to this but now that she has she is right in there with me. We still have a ways to go but when some things run out I will suggest we not get more unless we need it.

    • Hi Deb J, I grocery shop much the same as you. Steve and I go together on Sunday mornings and treat ourselves to a coffee and a slice of banana bread at the cafe before we start. There are several isles that we don’t even go down these days and a few I rarely need anything in so it never takes long. There are three large grocery stores within walking distance from our apartment so if I need anything during the rest of the week I just go for a walk. Generally though for the most part I have it down to a fine art and rarely need anything in between. It always amuses me as to how much healthier the contents of our shopping cart is compared to most of the shoppers around us. No sodas, no cookies, cakes or even bread usually, no candy no preprepared meals…

      • Colleen, one of the reasons I do the grocery shoppoing is because I can be in and out fast. I only go down the aisles where there are things I need and I only get the things that are on my list. My mom is a looky lou. She hits every aisle and looks at the prices of everything. I know that the things I get are always the lowest priced unless we have a special item that we know needs to be of a particular brand. I know it all and I just go get it. I have the months shopping done at two stores in about 1-1 1/4 hours. I only have to go back for fresh stuff when we need it. This includes all the paper products, toiletries, etc. I wish I could get her to do the cooking this way. I would eat a lot differently if it was just me. She is always bored with what we eat. Yet she doesn’t want to cook. Crazy.

        • Hi Deb, don’t even get me started on people being bored with what is served up to them. My kids were like that. I am starting to enjoy cooking again now that it is just Steve and I. He is happy to eat whatever I serve up.

          • Colleen – I don’t think there is one meal in my repetoire which all five members of the family enjoy. There is always someone who doesn’t like it. I swear that when they all leave home I will live on Subway and Turkish iskendah for a month.

  2. I couldn’t stand the plastic containers that warped, held water in the dishwasher (no matter how you put them in), pitted and discolored when heating food (hard to convince myself it’s safe).

    So I cleared them all out and replaced them with glass containers. I can buy those individually to get just the mix of sizes I need, the lids don’t have tabs so they sit flatter in the cabinet, they dishwash well, and they are safer in the microwave. Also, being a bit heavier they don’t fall over in the cabinet, and they have to be put in correctly (as glass falling out in your face is much worse than plastic).

    I put my old plastic ones in a box in the closet, and I give them out when friends are taking leftovers home. My normal use ones no longer leave the house, and I don’t have to worry about them not coming back (some do some don’t, some eventually do. My plastic stash is getting slowly smaller), or about not having the right sizes because they are loaned out.

    • Hi Kayote, I so agree with you on the dishwasher thing. Plastics never dry completely in any dishwasher I have ever had while glass usually does. That is reason enough to use less of it.

    • Natalie (@NatalieInCA)

      I also replaced my plastic containers by glass. I love your idea of giving them to friends with party leftovers. I reused most of them as drawer or shelf organizers or to store small non food items.

  3. I am now using recycled jam jars (with their lids) to store bits and bobs like half an onion or tomato or whatever in the fridge instead of plastic wrap. Things keep fresher and you can see what is in the container. I find those those Bon Mere jam jars with the gingham lids the best as they have a wide mouth and the jam is yummy too.

    • Hi Laura, I like this idea. I’ll keep it in mind when I am buying jam in future.

      • I like to do the same thing with those same jam jars. They are such a useful size and the red gingham lids make them a pleasure to use! They work great for small leftovers in the fridge, and I also use them in the freezer for a portion of soup or extra tomato sauce, and in the pantry for foods that I like to decant out of packaging, like salt, dried milk, baking soda.

    • The coffee shop we go to uses those jars for water glasses, so cute.
      We use Moccona coffee and have an abundance of glass jars on hand. I am starting to find them useful to store items in the pantry if needed.
      After yesterday’s post I was thinking ‘why do we purchase items then repackage them in the pantry?’
      I use plastic clips to keep food sealed in their original bags. It makes items identifiable compared to being in a container the same as everything else. I find when items are repackaged, no one uses them. They become unidentified stored objects, no name , no date.
      I would go for quality plastic items over quantity.
      I remember my mother keeping cakes in tins on the cupboard.

    • I have also recently started reusing glass jars – and love the gingham lids too! I use them to take my yoghurt and fruit to work in – it’s much nicer to eat from a glass jar as well. I also really like the idea of using less cling wrap etc. and putting leftovers in the jars. I just have to make sure that I don’t collect too many, otherwise they will need to be decluttered!

  4. Yesterday I donated our coffee table to a thrift store. I’m not sure if this is due to an improvement in efficiency, but we decided we really just don’t use it and although it might be ‘normal’ to have one, we don’t need ours. It wouldn’t have really fit in our new house anyhow and it’s one less big thing to move. Yay! We have two small side tables that I think will provide all the surface area we’ll need. Today I scheduled a date for the utility company to pick up the fridge at our new house because we’ll be bringing ours with us and I don’t want to have multiple full sized refridgerators. So although it’s not gone yet, it soon will be one more big thing out of our home. 🙂 My husband also just threw away a bookcase that was in bad shape that we didn’t need because of how many books we’ve decluttered. Our move is just about 2 weeks away now. 🙂

    • Hi Melissa, I am right with you on this one. We decluttered our coffee table some time ago. Like you we have side tables. The advantage to those is that they are beside you to put your coffee on rather than having to lean forward to get your cup. I also keep my laptop in mine where it is handy as I blog from my sofa. We have an ottoman instead of a coffee table because we found that we only used the coffee table to put our feet up on anyway. The ottoman is much more comfortable for that.

      Well done also getting rid of that second fridge, they are a real drain on electricity. And you and I are alike in the bookcase declutter as well. We reduced our books by so much that we no longer needed the bookcase. We gave it to our son.

    • Melissa – the kids and I tend to use the small lounge off the kitchen as the tv has the tivo recorder and the heat pump but it doesn’t have a coffee table, I haven’t been able to find one that I like. So when we want to eat or drink while watching tv, I just grab the kitchen barstools and we use those, and then I put them back.

  5. I’m currently trying to steel myself to go through my plastic containers. I have a ridiculous number from various attempts to find ways to fit the maximum number of helpings of frozen home-made curry in my tiny icebox-at-the-top-of-the-fridge. The frozen home-made curries are non-negotiable (they go in a food thermos to work with me), but in the process I have over half a kitchen cupboard full of plastic tubs. I cannot for the life of me fathom how I got so many(!) but the next step should be quite productive…

    • Hi Mogs and welcome to 365 Less Things. Good luck with your container purging. My husband made and took curry to work everyday for the whole of last year. Before that it was chilli and this year he had switched to salad so far. I am not sure how the salad is working our but that is his decision. My husband used to make his weeks worth of curry on Sunday and just leave it in the fridge until it ran out on Fridays (no freezing necessary). I do understand how those containers build up. I am yet to choose which ones I am going to set aside for my trial separation but I had better get on to it soon.

  6. It is funny that you mention desiccated coconut because I have half a container of it sitting in my pantry and its been there for years. We ate down all the random pantry items last year but the desiccated coconut remains. I have looked up some biscuit recipes but still nothing doing.

    I am fortunate because recently a Bin Inn store opened in our area whereby you buy your dry goods from a barrel using a scoop to bag as much or as little as you want, and its paid for by weight rather than by packet. This is great as I just get what I need for a recipe and don’t have to buy a whole packet and I don’t have to house it in the pantry either.

    I do still keep some dry goods, but I don’t need to stock all the obscure items that I would only use once a month or once every three or six months. I am asked from time to time what would I do if there was a disaster and I couldn’t get to the supermarket, well, I probably couldn’t make butter chicken or a lamb tagine but there’s enough flour and rice to get by on and we also would have food in the freezer to eat down.

    I do have to admit that this summer with painting and decorating going on that we’ve slipped a lot on the meal planning and regular return trips to the supermarket have been occuring. Some we can blame on the kitchen area being out of commission for a short time, some we can blame on being off on holidays and some I can blame on how convenient to have kids that I can send up the road to the supermarket. But the other day a trip to the supermarket (and it was me) for bread for lunch turned into $70 worth of stuff. So time to get back on the meal planning and budgeting band wagon.

    I do have to do a small plug for plastics though. I have survived three teenagers going thru that clumsy stage – one hasn’t come out of it – and many plates and glasses being knocked over, dropped and cracked (along with iPods and cellphones but that’s another story) Its almost like having toddlers again. I have reduced the number of plastic containers drastically but I use ours as a salad bowl – saves on extra dishes (put the lid on and pop in the fridge) and saves my last remaining salad bowl for now.

    • Re: dessicated coconut: two very easy treats:
      1) Whisk eggwhites with some sugar, mix in the coconut and a little lemon zest and bake at rather low temperature. (about 150 celcius). They shouldn’t turn brown, just the slightest touch of yellow. They keep up for weeks stored in tins.

      2) Mix sugared condensed milk with coconut, until you’ve got a consistency you can roll. Make little balls out of it and refrigerate before eating.

    • Hi Moni, I only wish we had a store that sold ingredients by the weight like that. I got very used to the while living in America but Newcastle has not caught onto that idea yet. Now that you mention it I will check out the little organic store in Islington because they might just do that. Then like you I can buy a little coconut as I want.

      I must admit I have never had much problem with my kids breaking dishes but I wish I could say the same for iPhones. That was their problem though because they insisted on having them so they always had to pay for them.

      Some coconut recipes to consider. ANZAC biscuits, apple crumble, cup cakes with jam in the middle and sprinkled on top with a little coconut and sugar mixed together.

      • Colleen – my youngest is the worst for dropping things, she is short bodied long limbed so we joke that the connection to the brain stopped at her wrist bone. But she is very handy for reaching high things. She hasn’t got an iPhone (for that reason) but the guy at the phone repair shop knows us by name re: her iPod touch, but he tells us that it won’t survive another fall. Never mind. We got a shock-proof case for her iPod and hopefully we can nurse it along a little bit longer.

        She got her results for NCEA this morning, and we’re thrilled. She had to get up early before the results site was flooded with kids trying to get results. My other daughter says she’ll wait until tomorrow as she had enough credits to pass the year some months ago.

      • Moni, we also have a store where you can get just the amount you want and I love it. We are now getting our spices, flours, dried fruit, nets, etc. there. It’s wonderful.

  7. I don’t know if I mentioned here, but I am meanwhile working as a baker (which I enjoy a lot by the way). What I first realized when starting baking as a profession was how relatively few ingredients and tools we actually use to produce a broad variety of cakes, breads, cookies and all sorts of other things. I think we have way less special tools than the average baking-aspiring housewife. Also, the most simple tools may be the most efficient and useful ones – I’m talking about things like a wooden stick or so.
    I think, pantries tend to hold a lot of aspiration clutter – for some it’s baking ingredients, for some exotic spices… we have to deal with them like with all other aspiration clutter: ask yourself whether you really need that stuff if you want to bake/cook and how often that occasion will arise. There are people who own a large pantry and use it well, like Gillie for example. But a stacked pantry is no need in itself. If you don’t use the stuff you stacked, it is nothing bug clutter.
    For me the jam jars work fine for my baking ingredients like raisins, nuts etc. I don’t lable them as they’re see-through and that way my pantry is alway adjusted to what I use at the moment.

  8. Well Sanna I hope I use it well! There are few things in it that languish for ever and if they do they are usually fed to the chickens (where possible!) and not repurchased. One thing I am planning on doing when we get back from Australia is a full pantry inventory. I have just done one for my wardrobe and am keeping a record of what I actually wear. I thought the same process would be good in the pantry. For example I know that we all like bulgar wheat – yet I haven’t cooked it for ages. I have to buy it by the packet and a packet will last 2-3 meals so I have some in a jar in the pantry that has been there since before Christmas.

    I have a well oiled menu planning system but clearly there are loopholes. I am hoping this might help plug them.

  9. I’m another one that got rid of our coffee table years ago. I much prefer the open space in the room.

    I use glass jars or Corning Ware to store leftovers and such in now.

    Until a couple of months ago, I didn’t even have any plastic containers hanging around. I had to collect a few to store the homemade dog food I made for our picky little pug. She’s so picky that she decided she didn’t like the food I had made and stored for her either, so I’m happily recycling those plastic containers.

    I hope people don’t get rid of TOO much of their pantry food though. It’s always wise to keep your pantry stocked “just in case”. You never know when a crazy weather event or some other unforeseen circumstance is going to hit, and you’ll be glad you had some extra food in the house.

  10. Cleaning supplies!! I used to stash all sorts of cleaners, sponges and scrubbies. Now that I make my own cleaning products and cloths, I mainly need the basic ingredients on hand — vinegar, baking soda, and Castile soap. I use these for so many things that I can also be more frugal and efficient buying them in bulk.

    • Hi Rebecca, I was the same but now I make my own surface cleaner and don’t use much of anything else. I really should get into making my own washing powder as well but last year I received a free box of 12 boxes of washing powder which, at the rate I use, it will last for the next four years at least.