You know that it is time to declutter your pantry and refrigerator when you waste more time looking for something for dinner than it actually takes to cook dinner. Too much food that isn’t organized in its cabinet can also mean that you’ll be in the middle of cooking or baking only to realize that you are missing an essential ingredient.
The rewards of an hour or two of organizing means that you won’t waste time looking for food, you won’t waste money buying duplicates of what you already have on your shelves, you’ll be able to plan your meals around what you have on your shelves, and none of your food will go to waste.
Empty Everything from the Cabinets
My parents grew up post-Depression and so we always had lots of canned and packaged food in three separate pantry cabinets. The problem was, they kept buying more soup and tuna fish each time it went on sale. When I straighten the cabinets one day, thinking I was helping, I found over forty cans of tuna fish. My mother made me spread the cans throughout the cabinet, instead of grouping them together, because she didn’t want my father to see that they had more tuna fish than they’d eat in a year!
Take everything off every shelf. If you have non-food items (storage containers, etc.) in with your food, find them their own space or shelf. As you remove items, look at expiration dates. If something has expired recently, set it on a counter and make it your goal to use those foods in the next two weeks. Otherwise, toss expired food.
Do this for your refrigerator and freezer as well. If you have an extra freezer, check that as well. If you don’t know how old something is, it could have gone bad. Get in the habit of marking on the wrapper the date you buy things like hamburger or chicken.
Group Similar Items Together
Put all your boxes of pasta together. Same for rice, cans of soup, cans or jars of tomato sauce, boxes of cereal, etc. When you see everything together, ask if you really need eight boxes of pasta on your shelf. How often do you serve pasta and how often do you go shopping?
To declutter your pantry you don’t have to toss or donate food that you will use. However, you do want to make yourself aware of what you have.
You may realize that you’ve gotten into the habit of buying multiple quantities of items when they go on sale, but then you don’t use what you have before you buy more. You are wasting money on items you don’t need and you are risking those items going bad. (I had to clean out my parents’ pantry when they noticed all these little black bugs that got into their boxes of pasta and cereal).
My husband just found four bottles of liquid smoke in our pantry because the small bottles ended up behind taller bottles of oil and vinegar. Because spices and flavorings are in small containers, this is one area where I struggle to avoid clutter and duplicates. Knowing this is a problem, will make me stop and triple check my shelves before heading to the store for an item.
Use What You Have
After you declutter your pantry and refrigerator, your next challenge is to use the food you already have. There is no issue with having a couple of extra cans of soup or an extra box of brown rice on your shelf, but you have to define what you consider an excess of food.
However, it is an interesting challenge to work through your frozen foods, canned and packaged foods, and the food in your refrigerator and turn them into meals. See how long you can avoid going shopping except to buy essentials such as milk, bread, and eggs. Tell your family what you are doing; kids may find this an interesting game!
Don’t Shop Sales
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be saving money. What I mean by discouraging you from shopping sales is that you may be tempted to buy things that you don’t need because they are a good deal. If you buy items, plan on using them in meals over the next week or so.
Keep in mind that items that are ten for ten dollars usually don’t have to be bought in that quantity. Unless the store specifies that you have to buy a certain number of items, don’t over-shop. The same items go on sale every few weeks.
Keep a Shopping List
Because I don’t keep duplicates on my pantry shelves, when I use something, I write it down on my shopping list. Yes, many times I’m buying something that isn’t on sale, but my shopping list is usually a restocking list and fairly small.
Your goal in decluttering should involve more than visually neater cabinets. You should be able to avoid wasting food that expires before you use it and you can save money by using what you already have in your cabinets when planning your meals.