Is your pantry overflowing?

Buy too much for your pandemic stockpile?

You aren’t alone!

With COVID-19 forcing us to bunker down at home for self isolation, we saw grocery store shelves empty in a hurry and our emergency senses went into overdrive. It’s normal to feel a sense of panic in these circumstances, and many of us kicked into doomsday prepper mode – filling our carts with much more than usual. We stockpiled normally abundantly available pantry items to ease our anxiety.

I was no exception! Even though I try to live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle, my inner mama bear took over. I wanted to make sure I could feed my children, so I bought more tins of tomatoes, tomato paste, noodle packets and soups than usual. If I’d normally buy one, I bought two or three – because I’d use it right?!  I also bought a 5 kilogram bag of rice as that was the only option left on the shelf and we have rice with dinner at least two or three times a week.

Whatever the reasoning, I ended up with a huge stockpile which I struggled to fit into the kitchen cupboard that serves as our pantry. I also have quite deep cupboards, not nice, wide, shallow pantry shelves like you often see on Pinterest. This makes it challenging for me to have a tidy, functional pantry in normal times – during pandemic times I ended up with a cupboard stuffed full of jumbled packets as our family of 4 rummaged around for something to eat at various times of the day.

This made me incredibly frustrated, as it slowed me down whenever I went to cook a meal or fix a snack. I also couldn’t keep track of the pantry inventory. I found it harder to meal plan and make up a grocery list for the next grocery shop without buying something I already had. It was incredibly inefficient, but with a little time it is easy enough to fix.

Organising your pantry overflow

Set aside a decent chunk of time to tackle your pantry re-organisation. Depending on the size of your pantry, you’ll need at least an hour, maybe more. The whole process took me a couple of hours, however this is longer than normal as I was also filming it for my YouTube channel (you can watch my pantry declutter video below, with additional tips on how to organise your items).

  1. Take everything out of the pantry cupboards. I mean absolutely EVERYTHING! This is the only way you’ll be able to see what you have and take proper inventory. If your pantry is already relatively well organised in categories and you have a ton of stuff, you can break this down into smaller bites and do a category at a time eg. canned goods, pastas, snacks, etc.

  2. Clean the cupboards thoroughly. The easiest way to do this is to vacuum any crumbs out of cupboards and drawers, then wipe down with a clean cloth and solution (a multi-purpose cleaner or solution of dishwashing soap and water will do the job).

  3. Group all of your pantry items into categories. As you do this, check expiry dates.

    • discard any items that are past their Use By date. Wipe each item clean if necessary.

    • set aside any items that you do not intend to use but are still within their expiry date.

    • Set aside any items that are very close to expiring.

  4. Put your kept items back into your cupboards and drawers. Keep like items together in their categories where possible. If you have an excess of one particular item and cannot fit them into the allocated space, you can keep these in an overflow box or container at the bottom of your pantry, or in another room if necessary.

How to use up everything in your pantry

You don’t have to use up absolutely everything, but if you do want to eat down the items in your pantry to make space, here are some tips.

Remember the items you set aside that are close to their expiry date? Set those in a “Use First” basket or container on your kitchen counter or somewhere where they will be front of mind next time you make a meal or grab a snack. The goal is to use these items first.

Donate or give away to friends or family, the items which are still within their expiry date, but you don’t want them or will not likely use them in the near future. Don’t risk these items expiring before they get used. Yes, you spent good money on them, but make sure that someone will be able to use them!

And, I CANNOT stress this enough – before doing your next grocery shop, look at what you already have in your pantry and plan meals around those items. This will save you a LOT of money and prevent you from buying items you already have.

After this initial reset, all it takes is a little ongoing mindful consumption to keep your pantry from overflowing again.

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Easy ways to use up food items

– Have a pot luck night, where everyone gets to choose a quick meal from the fridge, freezer and pantry to heat and eat eg. Soup, noodles, leftovers from your fridge and freezer. Use older items up first.

– Tinned tomatoes – Bolognese, pasta dishes, homemade tomato soup

– Excess pasta – macaroni cheese, one pot pasta dishes, pasta salad

– Noodles – chicken soups with noodles or even rice stirred in, stir fries

– Rice – Make fried rice. Use microwavable rice the same day, otherwise cook rice one day ahead – separate it with your hands the next day so it doesn’t clump together, and fry with your favourite add-ons.

– Tuna – fish pie, leafy salad, pasta salad or warm pasta dishes, stir into macaroni cheese, stir fries or even into fried rice!

– Spam!? My husband bought several cans of Spam and corned beef for our pandemic pantry stockpile. He recently cooked some of the Spam into an egg omelette, but I did not rate it at all!