Monday, March 8, 2021

Cleaning House Part Three: A Fridge and Pantry Overhaul and The Grocery Spreadsheet

When you move into a new house and into a new kitchen, you put all your kitchen things and pantry items in the drawers and cupboards you Think will work best. But of course you never know quite how something will work out until you try it, but at that point, inertia is not on your side. Things have a place. There is a status quo, and it takes time and energy to make changes.

When we moved into the Hillsboro house in early 2020, I did my best to put things in the best places, but I didn't get it right.  Did I fix it as soon as I started to note the friction in my kitchen flow? Nope. It took me a full year to finally get up the nerve to take every single thing out of the cabinets and try again. 

And honestly, it wasn't that hard. After a year of doing it wrong, it was pretty clear where each thing made sense to go. The harder part was space. I don't have as much kitchen space as I'd prefer. Pantry items compete for space with kitchen tools and implements, so for me, space comes at a premium and every item has got to pay its rent. It has to be useful more than once or twice a year, and it generally has to have more than one function unless that function is a super functional function. You know?

It took me a ridiculously long time to realize you can baste just as easily with a spoon as with a baster. In fact, there are very few kitchen tasks you really neeeeeed more than a fork, a spoon, and a sharp knife to accomplish. I'm not saying that's all I have in my kitchen. I do prefer using a whisk to a fork, but I did finally admit that a potato masher is just not worth the hassle. I prefer my potatoes creamed with a hand mixer anyway. It is a truth, not nearly acknowledged enough that a vast number of things advertised to make life easier really only make life more complicated. 

Here's what I had to remind myself (and if you think this is a repeat of some stuff I've said in previous posts, you're right): you don't have to keep something just because it was a gift. People constantly give mugs as gifts. You can get rid of the ones you don't use. It's okay. Me, I break mugs so regularly, that I almost never have to worry about this.

If you're not really into cooking, than having a a bazillion electric tools and schmancy implements doesn't make a lot of sense. And don't forget to get rid of things when a new, better thing makes the old one obsolete (I got rid of my slow cooker as soon as I got a pressure cooker with a slow cook setting, etc.). 

And above all: don't buy it or keep it if it only fits the person/cook you wish you were, not the cook you are or have any actual plan to become.

This goes for food too. How many of us buy aspirationally, thinking we're going to eat healthy if we just buy fresh veggies, but in reality, those veggies only come to our fridges to die?

And speaking of going to the fridge to die...

My main fridge problem, I discovered with the help of Youtube, was putting my veggies in the crisper drawers. They'd be out of sight, out of mind, and I'd just forget they were there. So instead of doing that, I put things in the crisper drawers that I'm never going to forget I have, like beer, and bought a couple clear, covered bins for veggies to sit eye-level in the fridge. Here's a link to those bins. They're specifically designed to extend veggie life, and nothing I put in those bins in the last few months has bypassed my mouth for the trash can. 

I also got a big egg holder bin with a cover so I can stack stuff on top of my eggs without squishing them. It's the best. I'm not for all sorts of bins and dividers in fridges and cupboards, but these couple items were Exactly what my little fridge needed to function optimally. There's a lot more space to see things and move them around now, thanks both to the reorganization and also to THE SPREADSHEET.

I had never even considered making a spreadsheet for groceries before both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law started talking about it over a holiday dinner. I grew up meal planning. We'd plan the meals and determine from the plan what groceries we needed for the week, but with Jon's crazy work schedule, meal planning just doesn't work for me anymore, and neither does shopping every week.

What works best in my house is shopping only a couple times a month (including once at Costco!) and keeping all the basics consistently on hand so that I can make any of our standard and favorite meals at anytime. 

The spreadsheet contains every single item I like to keep in the house, from ground beef to toilet paper, arranged by shelf-stability. The lists for more perishable items are shorter and more flexible. Most items on the sheet are specific like "jasmine rice" but others are broader to ensure variety like, "easy freezer meal" or "fish". I always keep Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and onions in the house because they all keep reasonably well and are quite versatile, but I won't buy another veggie unless I have a specific plan for it. The same goes for any other part of the spreadsheet. 

I can go outside of my spreadsheet all I want as long as I have a specific plan, and I often do, but that's the whole point. I don't have to have a plan. The spreadsheet ensures I will always have what I need in the house to make a wide variety of meals at any given time, but not so much of anything perishable that I ever have to throw stuff away. It also ensures that I don't get overwhelmed in the grocery store trying to make choices from the thousands and thousands of options. Wins all around.

Anyway, reader. That's what's been going on in my now highly-functional,  yet pedestrian kitchen. I am not even remotely confident this post will be helpful or even entertaining, so, as always, your feedback is much appreciated. 

Next Up: Cleaning House Postscript: Waste and Wishlists

and then back to bookish content. I've missed it. 


  1. I've learned it's better to by frozen veggies or freeze some when you buy them.

    Loving these posts.