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Waste not, want not! Finding the right balance between an adequate amount of food in the house and overstocking can offer you extra room, extra cash and peace of mind.


The fear of a bare cupboard is instilled in us at an early age. The foibles of nursery rhyme matron Old Mother Hubbard, for instance, sets the stage for a lifetime of concern regarding accessibility to foodstuffs (as well as the perils of pet ownership).

Food, obviously, is important. However, like many issues that cause us concern, we tend to overreact in the name of safety. As a result, we waste a ton of food, storage space, and money.

How much? Brad Plumer of The Washington Post reports that “American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy,” a phenomenon that can cost each household as much as $2,275 a year.

Waste not, want not! Finding the right balance between an adequate amount of food in the house and overstocking can offer you extra room, extra cash, and peace of mind.

1. Why do I keep buying the same food by accident?

A common food storage problem — you go to the grocery store, load up on dry goods, then come home and realize that you had half of this stuff in your home in the first place. Oops! You just spent $50 more than you needed.

A few simple tips prevent this problem:

  • Clean your cupboards and pantry regularly. Getting any loose food, open boxes or spilled sugar out of your food storage spaces is not only aesthetically pleasing but also discourages multilegged houseguests.Additionally, as notes, organization begins with knowledge. “The first step is to get everything out of your pantry so you can see what you have and start sorting. Separate items into these four categories: items you use every day, items you use less frequently, unopened items that can be donated to a food pantry (and) expired or suspicious items to trash.”
  • Make a list.  Take inventory, and keep it up. Better Homes and Gardens advises that you “keep a running grocery list of what you need. Post it in the kitchen so it’s handy to write down items as they run low.”
  • Store logically. Jamie Morrison Curtis of writes, “One way to organize (your pantry) is by storing your food by meals instead of grouping types of food together.” This tip saves both time and space. 

2. Should I buy food in bulk, or is that a waste of food storage space?

“You’ve most likely seen the dark side of buying in bulk,” Vivian Giang of Business Insider writes. “People can’t seem to resist the four gallons of ketchup, boxes of diapers and shampoo.”

It may seem like you save cash when you make these large food investments — but, as Giang continues, “If you can’t use up your purchases before they expire, it’s a waste of money to buy in bulk no matter how much money you’re saving.”

Add in the cost of a wholesale food chain membership, the space in your home or storage unit that you use to stock your dry goods and the extra dollars you spent to buy enough mayonaise for a professional football team and you’ve actually lost badly in the bargain.

When buying in bulk, remember:

  • Some foods are better to buy in bulk that others. Matt Sailor of How Stuff Works recommends buying cereal, dried beans and pasta, canned tuna, soup and even alcohol in mass quantities due to the long shelf lives and significant cost savings.
  • You can store bulk items in your storage unit. If you have a storage rental, keep these oversized boxes of food out of your house. It’s more convenient to stock these supplies off-site at the storage facilty — just make sure the goods are packed tightly in unopened original packaging. Find a Life Storage near you.

3. Should my food storage plan include a lot of canned goods?

The golden rule of canned goods: Buy these…

Don’t turn up your nose at canned produce,” Holly Pevzner of Eating Well reports. “Some of the best canned vegetables and legumes are not just cheaper and more convenient, they may also be healthier than you think.”

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Canned beans, corn, pumpkin and tomato are all healthy canned food options, Pevzner notes. William Leigh of Ask Men adds a surf-and-turf option to the menu, claiming that canned salmon, smoked mackerel, sardines, clams and chicken are also safe bets.

…not these.

On the flipside, Leigh cautions against canned jalapenos, chicken noodle soup, peas, juice and ravioli. “There are a whole host of negative properties out that come in a convenient canned form,” Leigh warns.  “A wide range of preservatives are packed into tins to make sure food retains its color, flavor and even shape.” Yuck.

4. How do I keep my food storage space organized?

As previously mentioned, regular cleaning and a working list go a long way — but there are ways to make those tasks easier, as well.

Consider these solutions:

  • Storage baskets. What’s that old rule? Store like with like. For example, an attractive baking basket (like those pictured above) containing your sugar, flour, vanilla, imitation butter (I’ve bought this product so many times), baking soda and powder, etc. can be a huge timesaver and clutter-buster.
  • Storage containers. Opened pasta boxes spill. Tea and coffee spills. Sugar and flour spills. See a pattern here? See-through storage containers, like these cool examples from Ikea, prevent spillage, allow easy indentification of products on shelves and maximize storage space. They look pretty sharp, too.
  • Tags. You can never be too organized, as our friends at Good Housekeeping know — affix a simple tag to containers and boxes to take all of the mystery out of your search for the sea salt.
  • Extra shelves. We actually offered an easy tutorial for building DIY shelf space in the blog awhile back, but there are solutions for even the least handy among us. A rolling metal cabinet organizer can fit in a tight space and effectively enhance your food storage options.

5. What should I store in case of emergency?

Are you concerned that the day will come when your access to the national or international food supply is abruptly cut off?

Include these items in your emergency food storage plan:

  • Honey. Honey never really goes bad,” Tess Pennington of Rwady Nutrition writes. “In a tomb in Egypt 3,000 years ago, honey was found and was still edible.  If there are temperature fluctuations and sunlight, then the consistency and color can change.  Many honey harvesters say that when honey crystallizes, then it can be re-heated and used just like fresh honey.  Because of honey’s low water content, microorganisms do not like the environment.”
  • Soft and hard grains. Robert Richarson of Offgrid Survival claims that soft grains like barley, oat groats, quinoa and rye “will last around 8 years at 70 degrees, sealed without oxygen,” while hard grains like wheat, corn and spelt can survive over a decade.
  • White rice. Again from Pennington: “White rice is a major staple item that preppers like to put away because it’s a great source for calories, cheap and has a long shelf life.  If properly stored this popular food staple can last 30 years or more.”
  • MREs. MREs or ‘meals ready to eat’ are processed foods stored in a durable plastic pouch,” explains. Typically associated with military use, MREs are also made for the average citizen — and be careful not to buy a military MRE, it’s illegal! An MRE contains a nutritous meal and can last up to 10 years in climate controlled storage.

Have food storage tips, hints or ideas for us? Please share in the Comments section below, or tweet us @LifeStorage today.


About the Author

Ben Kirst

Hey, everyone -- I'm a guest blogger here at the Life Storage blog, which, based on my lifelong battle against clutter, messes and household chaos of all kinds, makes this a bit of a dream come true. Best birthday ever? I got a Dyson.

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