You’ve got your pantry in a twist! Let’s solve the 3 most common food storage problems right now! When I help organize people’s kitchens, I see the same problems over and over again when it comes to how people store and use their pantry items. (This article could be about 12 pages long, but let’s just tackle the top three!) 

1. Expired Food

The reason food expires is usually because you don’t know it’s about to expire! No one wants to waste food, and most people will either try to use food before it’s no good or give it to someone else. Many neighborhoods have food pantries that would be glad to take unwanted pantry items off your hands. 

Solution 1: Write the expiration date in big numbers on the front of the can or box when you buy the food. This is a VERY helpful tip for Seniors or any of us who have a hard time with small print. You may do this just with the food you don’t use regularly or want to do it with everything. (Time: Takes 10 Seconds)

*True Confession: I obviously need to practice what I preach because when I went into my own pantry to write an expiration date on some food and take a photo for this article, I found this can of Ghee that expired in 2021. I meant to use it! I keep such a small pantry I didn’t think I needed to use my OWN tip! I have to laugh at myself, but obviously, the struggle is real! 

Solution 2: Separate the food you use most often from the food that you bought on a whim or haven’t been using for whatever reason.  That way you have one area to check for expiration dates. (Time: Takes 15-30 minutes to separate, containerize and label this category)

2. Duplicates

Do you get home from the store and put the groceries away, only to find that you already had one of the things you just bought? Or maybe you keep some food in an overflow or restock area and keep forgetting what you have there so you buy more? 

Solution 1: One thing I always do is write “BU” on any item I’m using that has a “backup”. For example, I use a lot of cinnamon but don’t want two cinnamons cluttering up my everyday spice area, so I keep backup spices on the top shelf. I can’t reach that shelf without a step stool so I will forget what’s up there unless I have a system. So I always write “BU” on the current bottle of cinnamon to remind myself that I have a backup on the top shelf.  

Solution 2:  Keep a shopping list and stick to it so you won’t buy things you don’t need. There are a lot of ways to use voice commands with Alexa or your smartphone so that you don’t even need to write them down. Kevin and I have a shared grocery list in our AnyList app, and we both add to it and check things off as we buy them so that keeps us on track and communicating well. 

3. Overcrowding

Do you often buy more than what will fit into your designated food storage areas, whether it’s your kitchen cabinets, pantry, or your containers and bins?

This is usually a mindset problem and not a “stuff” problem.  

You might want to ask yourself, “Why do I buy so much food?”

Some answers that may come up are:

  • If an item is on sale then I feel like I need to buy it right then.
  • I know we’re going to use it eventually and want to make sure we have it when we need it.
  • I wasn’t sure what I had at home so I bought more.
  • I might not be able to find it again so I had to buy a lot of it.  
  • I have to buy it when I see it or I’ll forget and we’ll run out. 

Next time you shop, try asking yourself these questions instead:

  • If I buy this item now, will I have a place to keep it organized and easy to use, or will it make my pantry feel crowded and messy? Is it worth it? 
  • It feels like I’ll save money if I buy it right now, but will it actually cause me to waste money by having too much food that will expire before I can even use it all?
  • Do I have enough at home right now? Can I get it more easily when I need it so I don’t feel I have to stockpile it? 
  • Do I need to make a better list when I shop so I’ll know what I have?
  • If I don’t buy it now, and I regret it later, will that cause me to feel guilty and ashamed or is it something I’ll be able to overcome?

Suppose you feel like you really don’t have enough room for all the items you need to keep on hand. In that case, that’s when overflow, backup, or overstock inventories come into play, and that is usually stuff you keep in the harder-to-reach areas of your kitchen or in a garage or basement.