The Minimalist Pantry

There seems to be a lapse in thinking between the ideas of minimalism and food.

Minimalism can quickly get associated with high-brow ethos: we tag vegetariansim, a gluten-free diet, only buying organics or non-GMO’s etc. onto the idea. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this Year of habit study, it’s this: self-improvement only works when we really want it to. If we don’t want to be vegetarian / organic-only / gluten-free etc., we’ll eventually drop the ball and, in shame, return fully to whatever habits we had before.

If we don’t really want to live in a space with almost no stuff, we’ll go back to filling it.

I’d rather just rid my space of the fluff, and keep what I truly love and utilize. That way I get the best of both worlds.

While listening to the Minimalists podcast about food, I took a hard look at my kitchen and applied this Year’s Challenges and the concept of Minimalism to my fridge and pantry:

In my No Shopping Challengenon-essential food came out of my life for ninety days: I could only buy a food item when that item ran out, or when cooking it for sustenance. I found myself buying the same items over and over: eggs, lemons, yams, green vegetables, chicken, ground beef and pork, raw almonds and cashews, coffee, etc.

In my No Sugar Challenge, I cut out honey, jam, fruit, and other traces of sugar in products I use, simplifying my already simple diet.

Now in my Zero Waste Challenge, I’m observing packaging, and am disgusted by what I see. So many times, I’ve fallen with the habit of buying something I know I won’t use fully because I’m curious about food and the thing looks fun (!). That means boxes and jars of such things get pushed back in the pantry until they’re forgotten. Or they’re used for one specific purpose and then linger, year after year. Eventually, their packaging ends up in the trash, or utilizes more resources to be recycled into something else.

Not cool.

With these things in mind, I start tossing: fish sauce, james and chutneys, a bag of amaranth (I just don’t like it as much as I pretend to), boxes and tins of tea gifted to me that just aren’t good enough for a tea snob like me, random boxes of this or that; they all go. I give myself permission to not love them. I make a promise to not bring such things back into my space.

There’s something to be said for acceptance in buying the same things, over and over. There’s something to be said of acceptance in that I cook simply, too: I am a former recipe builder and private chef, and so I know how to plan, market for, prep, execute, and plate five-course dinners. But it’s okay to let that part of my life go. On a regular basis, anyway.

It’s all about letting go.

Your Minimalist Pantry in 5 Steps

  1. Only What Goes Out Comes Back In: If you’re a patient person and you’ve got the time to chill with this idea, mark out a period — two weeks, a month, your call — when you won’t buy a food item until you’ve run out of it or truly need to buy it. Start observing what you eat on a regular basis, and what you really love to eat. Can you not live without smoothies for breakfast? More power to you. Can’t live without Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat Potato Chips? Welcome to my Minimalist club, friend. Whatever you eat, take note. And what lingers… give it the stink eye.
  2. Accept Your Observations: No matter where you are on a path to self-improvement — you may be completely overhauling your family’s diet, on a quest for your Year of Yes, or bringing in some Big Magic — this exercise is about slimming down your pantry. That’s it. So just take stock of what you eat, and what you don’t. Changing the rest can come later, if necessary.
  3. Start Tossing: Be harsh with this part. Get rid of sauces you don’t really use, dig all the way to the back of shelves, and wipe everything clean. Give yourself the freedom to toss without guilt. Let it go. Sing it out, if you need to. It’s fun.
  4. Watch Out For Packaging: Now that things are tidy, ponder if there’s anyway you can replace your favorited items with more sustainable replacements. Example: the raw nuts. Does your grocery store sell them in bulk, or do you know some place in town that does? Find some pretty glass jars for storage, and bring plastic or cloth bags with you. Since you use them regularly, you’ll be saving a lot of plastic by not buying them already bagged. The same goes for all your staples: can you bring back containers and refill, or opt for recycable packaging? Enjoy the triumph when discover a win!
  5. Splurge With Your Savings: You’ll most likely save a little dough buying less stuff you don’t use. So when you get a real urge for something new, splurge on something special you’ll eat now — a cereal your family will devour on a Saturday, an extra fancy chocolate bar, some phenomenal seasonal fish — and savor it. Have empty pantry shelves with doors that close that now have more space on them? Move stuff from exposed shelves in, and keep prettier things out so that you see them.

Enjoy the things you love. The few, and the many.

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