When I saw all the contents of my pantry, fridge and freezer in a pile on my kitchen floor, the first thought that came to mind was, “I guess I can never say there’s no food to cook in this house ever again.” That was quickly followed by a sense of bewilderment. Who had bought all these cans and bags of food to let them sit here and never be cooked?
It was me, the one who does the majority of grocery shopping and cooking for our household. I was the problem.
In an attempt to clear out space in my overfilled cabinets and stuffed-to-the-brim fridge, I gave myself the task of Marie Kondo-ing my kitchen. In case you happened to miss 2014’s viral decluttering technique, I’m referencing the KonMari method, which comes from Marie Kondo’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It entails decluttering by category (in this case, food) by focusing on what to keep versus what to discard. You remove everything from where it’s stored and place it on the floor, and go through each item and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? If it doesn’t, it goes to be donated or trashed.
Sitting on my kitchen floor, I took in my surroundings. There were at least 15 bags of dried heirloom beans from a bean club subscription that gets delivered on a quarterly basis. From the spice cabinet, I counted three jars of whole nutmeg (I’m not even a baker), four glass jars of homemade vanilla extract, two half-filled containers of ground cumin and half a dozen jars of ground ginger, all with their seals still intact. I found four half-full jars of honey and two opened bags of bread flour, both of which contained ants that were still very much alive. There were also a couple bags of rancid almonds and pecans, which smelled sour and musty. None of these things sparked joy.
However, there were some things I was excited to rediscover. Behind a bulk bag of basmati rice, I found a small container of teff, an ancient African grain that I had cooked with once and really enjoyed, but then forgot about it.
Why I Had to Rethink My Grocery Shopping Strategy
As I sorted through it all, tossing anything that was expired or spoiled, I realized something about how I tend to shop for food. At the supermarket, my brain tends to switch into a “more is better than not enough” mentality. If I only need one can of coconut milk to make a recipe, I’m going to grab three, so as not to inconvenience myself a few weeks from now when I feel like whipping up a quick Thai curry for dinner. If canned diced tomatoes are on sale, I’m going to buy at least six of them and shove them in the pantry to use at a later date. If I see something, such as nutmeg, that I don’t think we have at home, I’m going to throw it into the cart in an effort to build a well-equipped pantry.
That all might sound like smart shopping, but what ends up happening is me repeatedly overbuying the same things, week after week. Hauling home three cans of coconut milk once a month is okay, but buying three cans each week so that I never run out just insures I’ll never have the chance to cook through them fast enough. I learned to do a little inventory of my kitchen before I wrote out my grocery list each week, and that adding quantities next to each item on it (1 can of chickpeas vs. canned chickpeas) helped me stick to buying only what was needed, not what I imagined I might one day need.
After my first go-round with Marie Kondo-ing my kitchen, I turned it into a semi-regular ritual. Now, when I switch bedding over from a quilt to a comforter, and either pack away or unpack our heavy winter coats, I conduct a similar routine in the kitchen. Taking stock of our pantry helps me better prepare for a week of meal prep, but more importantly, it helps me cut down on food waste and overspending—all of which brings me much joy.