It’s time to sort through the food! I decided to break this into three parts: pantry goods, tea/coffee, and fridge/freezer.
Here’s my pantry before I got started. It has fared well since I reorganised it at the start of the year, but since I shop more from the bulk foods now, its contents have changed a bit and it was due for some clearing out.
I began by pulling out all the food and putting it on the table. That was intimidating.
Of course, then I went through each item and decided what to keep. We had one or two things that were obviously expired or very old, and a few more that I was just tired of having around. In her second book, Spark Joy, Marie Kondo does say that when you clear out food, it’s best to make plans to eat up what you don’t want (but which is still good), rather than to just throw it out, and I agree.
So I ate the one remaining serving of trail mix just to move things along. The sacrifices you make for decluttering.
I also piled a bunch of snacky remnants into a bowl so I could focus on using them up. Most were single-serving sized remains of snacks or crackers, left from a trip we took or that had just fallen behind things and been forgotten. They were in crinkly plastic packages just being peripatetic around the pantry. What a shame, I guess I’ll have to eat those, too.
Let me pause and make a comment about shopping from bulk bins. Even if you have no interest in zero waste, bulk bins are great for dry goods that you don’t use often. You can buy just enough for one recipe, and not be left with a situation like this. That ‘Brown & Wild’ rice mix keeps getting thrown into soup, after soup, after soup…and lingers on. And quinoa, I guess we want to like you more than we do because you’re still there.
I began putting things away and tidied up the bananas.
Oh, wait, those aren’t bananas. I’ve been spending too much time around a one-year-old who thinks all fruit and vegetables are bananas. I mean, I tidied up my onion/garlic/potato bin.
And my spices and oils and vinegars are much neater.
Here is the box of items to discard.
A day later, I pulled out all the tea and coffee. I didn’t discard any of these, because we like them all. We could slim our collection, but I’d rather do that by using them up.
Now, the fridge. Instead of pulling everything out, I worked one shelf at a time, pushing things around but not removing everything. Again, this is what Kondo recommends in Spark Joy. After this, I reconsidered my fridge organisation.
I always resisted organising the fridge very carefully because I saw its contents as being potentially infinite in variety and in quantity. Leftovers come and go, types of food change, we get on a kick for a particular thing for a while, etc. So what’s the point of a system?
I realised, going through the fridge contents, that this is silly. We can only eat so much, and I shop weekly so we aren’t stockpiling things for a long period. Certain things are always there, and should have a single spot reserved for them: eggs, yogurt, milk, bread, fruit. As for the rest, although it may not be the same stuff all the time, it fits into the same categories: vegetables, leftovers, condiments, chocolate (yes, that’s it’s own category).
I drew a diagram to show where everything should go.
Next up was the freezer, where once again I went through the contents without really removing them. Now, I did actually go buy a shelf to go in the freezer, because since zero waste began we now have a freezer full of glass jars all stacked up, and that seems dangerous. I found a wire shelf that was just right to give us lots of stacking space. Actually, I think the freezer is supposed to have a shelf, because there are slots for one, but perhaps a previous tenant broke it.
This was a good opportunity to consider the way I shop and cook. This is one benefit of the KonMari method: it facilitates consideration of your habits as they are evinced in your belongings. Your things will show you what you’ve been doing and give you a chance to consider it.
I realised that one culprit for fridge clutter is the remains of a package of something, of which you only used part for a recipe: specific sauces, sour cream, cream cheese, chilies and ginger and bunches of herbs. You know, I don’t want to cook recipes like that so much any more. It’s fine to have leftovers of something you’ll definitely use in short order, but I am often guilty of letting half-used things just linger for weeks. I realised that I am in charge of what and how I cook. I don’t have to complain about ‘those recipes’ that require half a package of something. I can change the recipe, or not make it at all (or, obviously, find a way to buy the thing unpackaged in the right quantity!). I’m developing a sense lately of the ingredients I like to use, and the ones I don’t, and I’m interested in finding ways to use my commonly kept ingredients to substitute for others. I know, for example, that you can strain yogurt to make something like cream cheese – and since cream cheese is a frequent fridge-lingering culprit for me, this might be a good substitution. This is all to say that going through my food helped me see which ingredients I really like to cook with, and which are dispensable to me and often end up as clutter.
I also feel more inclined to simplify how we eat. I don’t mean reducing the variety of our diet, but rather developing a sense of ‘how we eat in our house’ and learning to work within a simple repertoire with confidence. I make our salad dressing, for example: one kind only, in the same bottle each time. It’s the one we like best and it makes life easy. Sometimes I vary the flavour by using a different vinegar or herbs, but essentially it’s the same formula each time. That’s what I mean: I want to find what we like and what fits with our life (time, budget, health), and stick with it, confidently. Sometimes the litter of too many condiments, too many half-empty packets, is a result of not being confident of my own cooking skills and tastes.
It’s the non-food part of the kitchen that’s next!