Pantry Purge (fifty pounds of crap)

I  spent yesterday going through all my cupboards, nooks, and crannies with the goal of purging them of excess, expired, and otherwise unwanted food items. The task netted me a 30-gallon trash bag filled with about fifty pounds of crap!

Now if you’ve read my recent post about Right Sized Shopping you’re probably wondering how I even had that much junk to glean from my shelves. Well, I haven’t always been such a careful shopper. Preferences and eating habits change. Some things I bought on a whim and ended up not liking. Also, I’d only been applying the right-size principle to food I bought. I sometimes get food elsewhere, like neighbors moving out or doing their own pantry purges, for example. Someone asks me “Want free food?” and I say “Sure!” I don’t take stuff I would never eat, but I’ll take something that looks interesting, or that I might eat, or that I already have plenty of. After all, it’s free, right?

Some Statistics

So what ended up in the bag? Here’s some stats:

  • Oldest expiration date: Feb 1999 (12 years old!) baking powder
  • Expiration date of most discarded items: 2008-2009
  • Largest number of same item: 12 boxes of strawberry Jello
  • Honorable mention: 8 assorted ramen noodles with 2008 dates
  • Strangest item: 5 jars of marshmallow fluff (what was I thinking?)

Plus lots of other goodies like half-used bug-infested bags of flour and masa, countless boxes of long-ago expired Hamburger Helper and Rice-a-Roni (as well as their generic equivalents), toaster pastries (I don’t even own a toaster!) and, well, I think you get the idea.

Bonus Round

While  superfluous foodstuffs were my primary target, I also managed to find and remove some extra vessels and containers, too, further lightening my load and reducing the cupboard clutter. I might miss those pretty blue glasses for a little while — lovely to look at and nice thick, heavy glass — but they just aren’t practical for me and I can’t remember the last time I drank from one of them.

Lessons Learned?

While the purge was necessary and well worth the time and effort for its own sake, paying attention to exactly what I was throwing out helps me better learn how to avoid accumulating too much (and eventually wasting) food in the future. Here’s what I took away from the experience:

Shelf life may be shorter than expected, due to vermin – Buy smaller sizes of infrequently used ingredients so I can use them up before bugs get to them.

Know what I already have to avoid buying duplicates – I had multiples of many items that I regularly eat, probably bought because I saw them on sale (or got them free) and didn’t realize I already had plenty on hand.

Rotate my stock – With some things, I found I had very old expired product in the back, with newer product in front. As I add new ones to the front, the ones in back just get older.

Use a shopping list and stick to it –  This is one I really need to work on, as it would eliminate a number of problems. The way I tend to shop is a combination of a “need” list – these are must-have necessities that I am out or almost out of and will definitely buy. The rest of my shopping is what I like to call “opportunistic shopping” (or perhaps “grazing” would be a better word?) — I stroll the aisles of the store and pick up items based on what looks good, what is on sale, or what  piques my curiosity. I try to rely on my memory to avoid overstocking (which apparently doesn’t always work as well as I’d like).

I don’t have to take something just because it is free – Even if I think I am saving it from the trash, better it go directly there than to let it take up space here and eventually get thrown out anyway. It goes against my instinct to not waste food, but so be it. All incoming food should be selected with the same care as food I buy. If I don’t need it or wouldn’t buy it, why should I take it for free?

What about you?

Do you have any tips or techniques that help you keep your pantry pandemonium and cupboard clutter in check? Or your own story of excess edibles? Please share them in the comments.

8 responses to “Pantry Purge (fifty pounds of crap)

  1. Nice job lightening your load. I love to see others making progress. My home is overdue for a rerun of decluttering in the kitchen. Many of the things I kept last year aren’t really needed at all.

    Good work! I look forward to reading more about what you’re eliminating from your life.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      The kitchen can be pretty challenging. In addition to too much food, I find I have trouble with tableware. I just found a couple extra plates, and I still have three plates and four bowls. For a one person household! While some folks advocate one of each item per person, I think I might splurge and go with two. That way I can have a guest, or be able to go two meals between dishwashings. Decisions, decisions.

      – Mike

  2. hi mike
    just found you from minimalist packrat’s blog. i live in a little (i guess it’s relative tho) 1000 sq ft cottage. but i live very small. it’s cozy because of texture and wood, but there is nothing in it that is “extra.” one of the hardest things i had to learn as a widow, was to scale down my grocery shopping. only one to store-up for and cook for… and even now i sometimes overdo it. but mostly i just don’t shop hungry and i buy exactly only what i need for that week! will visit again soon now that i’ve found you. like your blog. sorry for the long comment!

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Welcome, Tammy! Yep, shopping and cooking for one can difficult. It seems the manufacturers assume everyone lives in a household of 4-6 people (judging by the servings-per-package) on the products. Bulk basic foods and produce seem to be the easiest to work with in that regard.

      – Mike

  3. Woooo! That’s some old baking powder! I bet you’ve got so much space in their now. I can’t even talk about the food situation we’ve got going on.

    I used to store way too much, and then when we minimized we started paying a lot of attention to buying smaller quantities and rotating out foods. We had a tight little kitchen going on that worked like a dream.

    But now we’re sharing with Cora and… it’s a different situation. She’s got rice on the top shelf in a glass jar that’s probably a good 10 years old.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Yeah, Tanja, that must be tough trying to keep a minimalist kitchen when you are sharing with somebody who’s not “with the program”. I bet you can’t wait to get moved into your new tiny house in the back yard. Will you have your own kitchen in the new house?

  4. Good for you Mike! I was just considering skipping a grocery trip this coming week because it looks like my fridge and pantry are getting too full.

    Every once in a while I’ll stop buying anything except for milk, bread and produce until we use up what’s already here. It makes for some interesting meals (I love to experiment in the kitchen!).

    Unfortunately, my husband isn’t as adventurous an eater, and he doesn’t exactly look forward to these little food challenges. 🙂

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Hi Jenny! Yep, it can be fun seeing what I can come up with using just what’s on hand. Since I’m usually cooking only for myself, I don’t have to worry if anybody else will like my creation, but sometimes I’ll come up with something good enough to make a note of and make again, possibly even to share.

      – Mike

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