downsizing the kitchen & food supply [day 256]
I’ve been doing a lot of downsizing lately. Right before snowmageddon, I decided to clean out the kitchen, not just utensils and cabinet crap, but food. I don’t like being wasteful, and although we waste a lot less than the average American family, I felt that we needed to make some changes. We made some radical changes and some subtle changes, and the results are proving to be really good. I’ll share the overall goodness of this, the process of cleaning out the kitchen and a couple of mini-challenges.
The big picture.
We haven’t died of starvation. Again, we started this a couple of weeks before the ice storm. We have much less food in the house, but we had plenty to eat during the 4-5 days at home. I didn’t buy extra, in fear that we would starve and have nothing to eat for a week. I bought a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread the day before the storm hit. We had plenty, and I was even able to feed the two painters working in my house a couple of times.
Airstream… I mean streamline. Okay, I want an Airstream, but that has nothing to do with my kitchen. The tasks of cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the kitchen is much easier. Cooking is easier, as there’s less stuff to shuffle around and I know what ingredients I have on hand. Grocery shopping is easier, again, because I have less and I know the few things I need. Cleaning is easier too, as I have a lot of extra pantry and cabinet space. So much extra, that I was able to move all of my pantry items into empty cabinets while the oil paint takes 5 days to dry.
Here a snack, there a snack, everywhere a snack snack. My kids will open every bag of everything we buy at the store. We could have, and have had, a pantry overflowing with food, and yet the kids can’t find a thing to snack on. With much less in there, this is not a problem anymore. It’s easy to see we have two open bags of crackers or pretzels.
Waste not, want not. We are wasting very little food these days. Not that we wasted a lot before, but it was still more than I was comfortable with. Waste is unnecessary, and by making some small changes to lessen it allows us to save a little money, be better to our environment and enables us to help others that don’t have enough to eat.
What did we do?
Downsized the pantry. If you have a smaller house like mine, the pantry is a small closet. The picture is my “before” picture. I don’t have an after right now, as the oil paint is still drying. Whether your pantry is large or small, stuff always gets hidden in the back. My pantry wasn’t horribly unorganized, it just had too much in it and could use a little more a system of “first in, first out”. We took everything out and carefully selected what would go back. I had cedar balls that didn’t smell like anything anymore. Out. Ridiculously expired stuff? Out. Open bags of stale crackers and chips? Out.
We broke down the boxes and recycled them. We couldn’t see all of the food behind the big boxes of crackers and cereal. The boxes take up a lot of space. I found it best to use see-through containers and baskets as much as possible. Most of the stuff I didn’t know I has was in these black plastic crates and could not be seen.
I also had many duplicate and triplicate spices. I was able to condense and combine a lot, and now it takes up half of the space it did previously. I gave all the duplicates away to a lady that just got an apartment and was starting from scratch. I couldn’t believe how much stuff I had, some of it I don’t even remember buying or what on earth I might have bought it for.
Downsized the refrigerator and freezer. I can’t tell you how much freezer-burned food I had to throw away. Being the frugal, non-wasteful person I am, I tried to cook some of it. That resulted in cooked waste and many kilowatt hours out the window. Again, I emptied these out, completely cleaned everything before starting the process of putting things away. I bought the fridge 4 years ago on craigslist and this is the first time I gave it a good cleaning. This took some time, but I can find everything now. Also, having less food in your freezer or refrigerator helps on the utilities, as the air flow is unrestricted and keeps the food at optimal temperatures. It helps eliminate those cold spots and warm spots too.
Downsized some cabinet contents. Yes, I’m a hoarder. We all are, quit looking shocked. It’s all different levels, but we all do it. It’s all done with good intentions. I downsized a lot when I first moved in my house 4 years ago. I’ve also done it a few times since then, doing an occasional purge of a cabinet. I had some bakeware I use about once every 3 years. Out. Paper plates??!? Leftover from a party 2 years ago. Out (donated). An extra toaster. Out, given to someone who doesn’t have a toaster. I did take the toaster on a photo shoot. What? I can at least have a photo to remember my beautiful toaster. I ended up having 1.5 empty cabinets out of the 4 I purged.
Downsizing the rest of the kitchen. I did the silverware drawer and utensil drawers several months ago. The really funny thing is that I still have lots of gadgets and necessary utensils, not missing anything. I don’t have the 3 sets of measuring spoons or the rusted egg slicer anymore. It took me one full day to really take everything out and really purge the unneeded stuff, but it was so well worth it. Less stuff, less to clean, less stress.
General tips to downsizing the kitchen and food supply.
Empty it out. Take everything out, and I mean everything. If you start from scratch, you can get a better idea of what you have, you’ll get rid of more and it gives you an opportunity to clean the space. This is also good for reorganizing, as everything that goes back in will be in a new place, or at least organized in a similar area. If you don’t empty it out, you’ll just spend a lot of time shuffling stuff around and it will be back to the same state in less than a week. This process also makes you think about each item before you put it away. Will you use the extra toaster? Do you really need the sandwich maker that hasn’t been used since the 80’s? Are you going to eat the can of hominy?
Space is good. If you pack everything in again, you’ll have no space to add new groceries or to easily get things in and out of your cabinets. Create empty space. If you see it starting to fill up again, do another big purge or do a simple small purge. Less stuff is less to maintain and clean. You’ll start to love your kitchen. I hate to cook, and I have to admit, this has been nice and I like to cook sometimes now. Even putting groceries away isn’t a horrible, dreaded task now.
Organize and create systems. The key to keeping things streamlines is to have a good system of organization. Here’s an example of one thing I did. I have a mesh basket on the top shelf of the pantry. We set up a system that new bags of chips and crackers go in there, with the open stuff staying on the lower shelves. My kids know, after our family our-kitchen-will-stay-organized meeting, that one bag of each type snack can be open and nothing else gets opened until it’s gone. One box of crackers. One bag of chips. One box of cereal. So far, this is working well. We set up other systems, just think what will work best for you and your family.
Think about the things you’re buying. On cookware or utensils, how much will you use it? Is it good quality and will it last a long time? Cookware is a good place to place your money. I have several pieces of Le Creuset, and taken care of, my great-grandkids will be using the stuff. If it’s a specialty item, borrow it from a friend or neighbor so you’re not storing things you’ll only use twice a year.
With food, ask similar questions. Will I use all of this before it goes bad? Is there an alternative? Here’s an example. I pulled out this can of Pam cooking spray. I’ve had it for a long time. These cans are not environmentally friendly and can’t be recycled, not to mention the rust ring they can leave on the shelf. Taking a little bit of olive oil that I already have and coating the pan does the same thing. One less product in the pantry. I find it better not to have the spray anyway, as it ends up everywhere.
Grocery shopping. I have changed my shopping habits quite a bit. I’ll be doing a separate blog post on this, but basically I buy less and shop a little more frequently, but at low maintenance discount stores. I limit myself to 25 items or less. We’ve been doing this for about 3-4 weeks now, and it’s working well. We have 2 grocery stores in very close proximity to our house, so this isn’t an inconvenience or out of our way.
There were many other lessons learned from this experience, and I could probably do an entire blog on downsizing, but I’ll end this one here. I will have some more downsizing info coming soon, as I’ve been really working to downsize my entire household substantially. Have you done any downsizing?