In case you missed my Introductory Post, my world was in such an upheaval that I was forced to take drastic measures by simplifying and organizing all the things that caused me stress. Each month, in 2017, I’m tackling different aspects of my life that are clutter-stressors by organizing and altering them into things that bring me joy.
April 2017: Food
First off, it feels weird doing a non-book topic… Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that parts of this post involved excessive organization, even for me. Don’t let me kid you though, I freaking loved every moment of it. The thing is, I had so many food-related goals to tackle, but just wasn’t getting anywhere with them. I was in desperate need of a change (also if one more thing fell out of my freezer onto my foot, I was gonna lose it). As the whole point of Simplifying Life in 2017 is to reduce stress and make life easier, “food” had to be a topic. While working on this project, I realized I had way too much for one post, so decided to split it up and focus on food this month and save health goals for May.
Here’s what I’d hoped to accomplish by the end of April:
- clean out and organize my kitchen.
- utilize foods from my freezer/cupboard.
- stop wasting so much food.
- Stay within a budget.
- eat better.
The starting point for this project was learning what I had to work with. I pulled everything out of my fridge and freezer and went through expiration dates. I threw so much stuff out – it hurts my heart. Inevitably, the root of my wasteful problems was not knowing what I had. Everything was hidden behind a thousand condiment bottles.
My husband has issues. Only two of these are mine.
Anyway, the initial organization of the fridge was a huge wake-up call for me. I let a lot of stuff get nasty in there, and that is definitely not helping my OCD/germaphobicness at all. I now have “clean out the fridge” on my weekly cleaning list to help maintain what I’ve accomplished so far.
The freezer was next. I learned a few things about what a freezer hoarder I am (is that a thing?). I’d somehow inherited boxes and boxes of freezer foods from my mom and grandma that I knew I wasn’t going to eat, but felt guilty letting them throw out. But maybe, just maybe I’d eat it (nope). After 2+ years of hanging on to it for no good reason – out it went.
Everything came out for evaluation. Almost everything I’d “inherited” was expired, and covered in enough freezer-burn to be almost unrecognizable – gone! I threw away almost an entire garbage bag worth of expired food. I vow here and now that this will never happen again!
Additionally, because we are crashing at my in-laws’ vacation home, we found this nugget hidden at the back of the freezer:
It was a solid block of ice.
Since I’m clearly not in the habit of exploring my freezer for things to eat, I decided I needed a better way to keep track of what’s in there. I grabbed a notebook, labeled it my “food log,” and proceeded to write every item in my freezer onto this nifty little list:
When I plan out meals for the week, I choose from these available items first. Not only does it help me use up my stock of food before it goes bad, but it saves me money. I have a lot of unutilized proteins that go a long way towards feeding my husband and I (when I actually take the time to plan ahead and thaw stuff).
When trying to eat healthy, planning is key. It’s impossible to not feel like you’re starving to death when your only options are unhealthy snacks or nothing at all. Over the last several years, I’ve been slowly introducing foods from this “brain foods” list into my diet and now have a pretty good selection of healthy options to choose from. Every week I create a shopping list in my food tracker which includes all the healthy foods I’ll need to take with me to work along with supplemental ingredients I’ll need to cook whatever items I’m utilizing from my freezer. Paperclipped to the back of that notebook are all of my coupons.
Let’s talk about coupons for a minute (because apparently when you turn thirty, saving fifty cents on cream corn is the highlight of your day). I have a strong love/hate relationship with coupons. It seems like in the past whenever I tried to utilize them, I always ended up spending more at the grocery store than originally planned. They make you feel like you’re getting a deal on something that you don’t normally buy or eat. I found myself buying $10 to $20 more in groceries just to save $3 and coupons. This is not good coupon shopping. The key is to only bring coupons for things you buy anyway.
Now, after all of that effort, it means absolutely nothing if you FREAKING FORGET to hand the cashier your coupons. I’d go through the trouble of cutting them out, bringing them to the store, making sure what I’m buying matches their specifications (which required me digging in my purse and pulling out the little wads until I found the right one… Assuming I remembered having them in the first place), and dragging them all the way to the register only to forget to use them. Then there’s the whole debate on whether it’s worth my time to stand in the return in line at customer service to have them make all the adjustments or just go home. For the record, I always just go home.
My new system solved all of those problems.
Right before heading to the store I’d go through and identify which coupons I’d like to use and add the items to my shopping list, writing the word “coupon” next to the applicable item so I’d remember to reference it in the store. Then I’d paperclip only the relevant coupons to the same page as my shopping list and – voilà everything I need is in front of my face. I take this list of the store and buy only what was on it, marking things off as I go along. If I were super savvy, I’d write the prices of everything I picked up next to the items as I cross them off (for future reference), but I’m not quite that far gone yet. Carrying around the notebook is a bit cumbersome, but if I set it down, I’d forget something on it or forget to hand the coupons to the cashier. It stays glued to my hand until I’m in the checkout line, and then it goes on that little counter right next to the credit card pad. I have not forgotten to hand the cashier coupons since, and it actually saves me ten minutes of digging in my purse each time I visit the store.
This method helps me in two ways – 1. I’m saving money on things I buy anyway and 2. I have a clear cut list of things I need to get. Having the list right in front of me means I usually stay within budget.
The final awesome thing that I’ve just discovered is the Walmart “savings catcher” feature on their app. If you scan your receipt after each trip and submit it to their “savings catcher”, Walmart will compare the prices of everything you purchased with competitors in the area and GIVE YOU the difference! Holy freaking crap – why haven’t I been using this feature all along? I’ve been submitting receipts since since the first of February and have already gotten back over $30 in price adjustments. O_o
The final thing I’ve started doing to help me not waste food is as follows:
As soon as I get home from the store, I take a minute to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables and put them into containers so they’re ready to eat. I discovered during my evaluation of what causes so much food waste was that most of the fresh produce I throw away was caused by laziness. How stupid is that?
Anyway, my food log now has a section on it for “perishables” in which I list all of the foods I want to make sure to eat before they go bad. When I need a snack, I’ll take a look at that list first. It’s working.
Also, with more room in the fridge, I can cook extra portions (or estimate what we would’ve wasted) and freeze it for later. Bonus meals in a month or two with no real extra effort or cleanup – win/win.
Overall, the goal of this month’s simplification goal was to organize the food I have and make it easier to stay organize going forward. Saving money and eating healthier are fringe benefits that frankly outweigh the initial goals themselves. I’ve been utilizing these new systems for a couple of months now and am loving them! There’s room in my fridge, money in my pocket, and a whole host of healthy snacks to eat every week.
Project Status: Foods Simplified!