This episode of the Feel Good Effect podcast will walk you through the step-by-step of decluttering your fridge and pantry you you can live well, feel really good, and find the healthy life that you want to live.
How To Declutter the Fridge & Pantry
We’re walking through the secret to decluttering your fridge and pantry, no matter how small or how big. In this episode, I’ll give you the exact steps you need to streamline meal prep, meal planning, and cooking real food.
Today I’m going to give you the secret to decluttering your fridge and pantry, no matter how small or how big, and the exact steps for you to do it.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a three-part mini-series on decluttering.
Last week we had Gretchen Rubin on the show talking about her new book, how to declutter practically, and how to walk through the process with other people in your lives.
Today, I want to get really specific and talk about decluttering when it comes to your kitchen, and even more specifically, your fridge and pantry.
I know, I know, decluttering and minimalism are all the rage right now and everybody is Kondo-ing their closet.
But this show isn’t about decluttering or organizing for the sake of decluttering or organizing.
This is about living well, feeling really good, and finding the healthy life that you want to live.
Part of that is eating well, and part of eating well is having a system that works for you in your life.
What I find when I work with people on changing their lives and shifting toward gentle-wellness, doing the things that make them feel good, eating real food, and feeding their bodies, there are a lot of barriers that come up.
So it’s not just about knowing what to eat, it’s knowing how to grocery shop, and when you get home knowing what to do with the food.
And in all of my work, I find over and over that the fridge and pantry are major pain-points.
Be honest and think about it: are your fridge and pantry crammed full of random items, half-used, some expired, shoved in the back, and just overall a chaotic mess?
If you’re answer is yes, it’s so common and it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.
We’re busy, we get home, we have groceries, we throw them in, and we move on.
But today, I want to share the secret to decluttering and the step by step to create a better process for yourself so that you have more ease when it comes to real food.
So that preparing meals or cooking at home becomes simple, even effortless, and when you open the fridge or the panty you feel a sense of calm and a sense of purpose, you know what you’re going to do, you know what you’re going to grab, and the whole thing becomes easier.
I’m not here to tell you to declutter because I think you should have a perfect pantry for Pinterest; this is really about having a system that works so that you can find health in your daily life and make it simple.
It’s one of the many free resources that I provide for you, because I want you to do this, I want you to take action, I want you to make it work in your life.
Don’t worry if it’s not “instagram-worthy” or that everything isn’t in perfectly matching glass containers.
This is less about how it looks, and more about that you’ve done it and have a process and system that works for you.
I have this process broken into three simple steps.
Before we walk through each one, I just want to remind you that it doesn’t matter if you have a giant walk-in pantry or just one little shelf of one cabinet; we’re all working with a different set of circumstances and different kinds of spaces.
I don’t want you to think that if you don’t have a giant pantry or a giant fridge that you can’t go through this same process, in fact, I think the smaller the space the more important it is to declutter and maximize what you actually have.
Step 1 | Know your why.
I know you’re probably super pumped and Kondo-ing your way to the perfectly tidy and organized pantry, but let’s just press pause for a second.
Before we dive into all the decluttering, it’s really important to be clear on why you’re actually doing this in the first place.
Starting with your why makes a big difference and will help you keep it up in the long-term.
The concept is that if you start anything by really reflecting on the reasons why you’re doing it, you’re more likely to actually take action and to stick with it long term.
And you know we’re all about consistency and sustainability around here, because I don’t want you to spend a bunch of time and effort getting your kitchen cleared out and cleaned up just to fall back and find it’s a big old mess again in a few weeks down the road.
I’m guessing your why behind decluttering is not just to have a pantry that looks perfect or to organize for the sake of organizing.
I’m guessing your why has something more to do with helping you streamline the daily process of eating well, of meal planning or meal prepping (if those are things you do), and even if you do none of those things, just to clearly see what you have so it’s easier to pull together healthy, real food effortlessly.
Or maybe your why has something to do with simplifying grocery shopping, so you’re not wasting so much time wandering around the store, or buying things and throwing them away after they go bad because you didn’t know what to do with them or because they were buried under everything else and you couldn’t see them.
Maybe your why has to do with making fewer decisions on a daily basis and therefore have more time and energy for the things in your life that really matter.
That’s some inspiration if you’re feeling a little stuck coming up with your why; I gave you some prompts in that free guide, too, which you can grab here.
But don’t overthink it, this doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all, it’s just a place to ground down and center yourself on why you’re going to take the time and effort, because you may find halfway through, in the midst of the mess that comes before the streamline, you get overwhelmed, and that’s the point when you come back to the why. Why am I doing this? Why am I spending time on this? Why does this even matter to me?
I even have some really specific prompts to help you out in that guide.
Step 2 | Fresh start.
So you’re crystal clear on why you’re even doing this in the first place, now it’s time to take action– let’s make it happen.
The first action step in decluttering is to take everything out.
Don’t overthink it, just take it out, put it on the counter or the floor.
A quick note as you get started with this clear out phase, don’t let perfection, comparison, or all or nothing thinking be the enemy of action.
I get it though, it’s so easy to get sucked into the all or nothing, perfectionism, comparison trap in this first step, I actually think it’s the number one thing that keeps us from moving forward in all things.
It’s normal and I totally get it, but I encourage you to resist the urge.
Take this step at your own pace and in your on way, just don’t put it off all together.
And if taking everything out all at once seems overwhelming, try breaking it down.
The incremental approach can totally work here, and there’s no one right or wrong way.
If you find you want the do it all at once approach but then you’re putting it off because that becomes very overwhelming, or you do part of it but then you lose steam and you’re unable to finish it, then take a step back and think about making it a little more incremental, a little more step by step.
If you want to go big you can try setting aside an afternoon and tackle the whole thing: fridge, freezer, pantry, bang it out, get it done.
Or you can take that incremental approach and try one area at a time.
First the pantry, then the fridge, the the freezer.
And if you prefer even smaller steps, which I think is a great approach, just do one area at a time: one shelve, one drawer, one bin.
I get that it’s not as satisfying as the big before and after reveal, but if it means that you did it, it is the right approach for you.
There’s no one right way when it comes to this clear out step, there’s just the way that works for you, which p.s., is the way you’ll actually do it.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or putting it off, back up and start with a smaller step.
Decide what to keep and what to let go: the rule of five.
This step is so important because, remember, we’re not just looking to organize here, we’re looking to actually declutter, which means letting some things go.
This is the ideal time to take stock of your fridge and pantry staples, and to get rid of anything that’s not serving you and your health goals.
I know, if you’ve read Marie Kondo’s book or seen her Netflix series, this is the step where she asks you to hold everything in your hand and ask if it sparks joy.
I’m going to go a different route.
If you want to have a joy conversation with your food, I do think that’s a great idea, but I also have some more pragmatic suggestions for you in terms of really making some decisions about the items that you keep on hand and whether they might really be working for you in terms of health.
In terms of deciding what to keep and what to let go, I like to give the rule of five.
The rule of five is a simple decision rule to help you decide what stays and what goes, here’s how:
Take every pre packaged item and do a quick scan of the ingredient list.
Depending on who you are and what you have, you might have a lot of things in packages with ingredient lists, or you might only have a few, either way is fine.
You’ll just scan the ingredient list, next to the nutrition information where there is a list of every single item that is included in that food or package.
Anything with more than five ingredients or with unpronounceable ingredients can go.
Toss it, donate it, whatever works for you.
The main thing is to get rid of pantry and fridge staples that are super processed or filled with less-than healthy ingredients.
But again, we’re not looking for perfection here, just awareness.
If you’re not ready to toss that processed salad dressing or frozen pizza, go ahead and keep it, but consider replacing it with an upgraded option next time you’re at the store.
I also think that for some people, there are just some staples that they’re not ready to let go of that make their life easier from a convenience perspective, or something that they really like to have on hand.
You don’t have to throw everything away and have nothing left, but it is a great time to take stock of how much of the total percentage of the food in your pantry and fridge are super processed or not real food.
And this might be eye-opening, you might find that there’s a lot in there that’s make with synthetic chemicals, that’s not real fool, that’s probably not going to serve your body, and maybe this is an opportunity to let go.
Start small and build, allowing wiggle room for your own tastes and preferences.
And you definitely don’t have to get overly rigid about the rule of five, maybe you have some bread that you love with seven ingredients, this is your call, it’s not about everything making the rule every single time.
There are definitely things in my fridge and pantry that don’t make the rule of five, I have a gluten-free bread that I love that doesn’t meet this criteria.
But for the most part, this is how I decide what to keep and what to bring back in.
And obviously toss anything that’s expired or bad.
And honestly, if you can to this point and you want to stop, I think you’re golden.
You found your why, you did a clear out, you decided what to keep and what to let go, and if that’s good for you that is totally fine, because you’ve already done a lot of work.
But if you do want to level up, I’m going to give you some more things that you can do to really streamline.
Clearly see what you have.
As you’re thinking about putting things back, it’s really helpful to be able to see clearly, I’m talking about putting loose items like cereals, grains, nuts, and seeds in clear containers.
And yes, putting items in clear glass containers does look pretty, but the point is to be able to see what you have so you can make better decisions about what you need.
If you don’t have perfect containers at the moment, don’t let that stop you from using what you do have on hand.
Glass mason jars are one of my favorite ways to organize a pantry, fridge, and freezer– they’re easy to find, reusable, and inexpensive.
I like to use glass jars and baskets to keep items together; totally not necessary though, so if that’s not in your budget do not let that stop you.
Look around and see what you have and once you have a set of designated containers, transfer loose snacks, cereals, nuts, and grains to them.
Now you’ll be able to easily see what you have and what you need, which will streamline grocery shopping and meal prep.
As a bonus, storing food in tightly sealed jars keeps it fresher longer, which is also a great way to reduce food waste.
But I think you have to think practically, if there’s something that your family just blows through really quickly, it might not be worth transferring to a different container.
This doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
We definitely have some things we just keep in the bag because we know we’re going to get through it really fast, but there are plenty of other items that I will take a moment to just put into a jar or container and that way it’s fresher longer, I can see it, and it stays a lot tidier in there overall.
Step 3 | Only the essentials.
The final step in this whole decluttering process is to put everything back in a simplified, systematic way.
So first, we’re going to think about putting things back by type; the idea is to gather ingredients, food items, anything that’s in a jar or container in the fridge and pantry kind by type.
For example, put proteins together in the freezer and put the grains all together in the pantry, snacks and cereals can go together on another shelf, and baking items can be grouped in their own area as well.
No need to overthink this part, just do the best you can putting items together in a way that makes sense to you.
I think you’ll find that having items together makes meal prep and planning so much easier, plus it gives you a better sense of what you have and what you need.
In my kitchen, I have all of our frozen proteins all in one spot so when I go to the grocery store, I can take a quick look and see what we’re low on.
Same thing when I look in the pantry at grains and bases, like pasta, rice, quinoa, I can see whether we are running low on anything.
An extra bonus here: when things go on sale you can stock up if you know that you’re low, that way I keep that supply replenished and I save money, which is always a bonus.
Do an audit.
Okay, everything is back in place, you’re in the home stretch.
This is gold-star territory, some advanced steps so you may not want to take this on right now, or maybe it does sound like something you want to add to your overall system.
Because now it’s time to do an audit of your fridge, pantry, and freezer.
The purpose of the audit is simple, to create a list of grocery items necessary to fill in any gaps.
Because you’ve already organized, it should be pretty easy to see what’s missing and what needs to be replaced.
When you declutter, sometimes you’ll find that you’re actually missing some things that you really do need or that would make cooking and meal prep much easier.
So check the pantry and fridge, create the list, and then work on adding these items back over the coming weeks.
This doesn’t have to happen all at once, just a few items at a time will get you where you want to go.
As a extra tip, stock up on essentials, such as shelf staple items and protein when they go on sale, and freeze what you can’t use in a few days in individual serving sizes.
The magic list.
Okay you amazing human, you’ve made it to the last step.
The magic list is the last step in decluttering your fridge and pantry and will help you maintain the work that you’ve done to declutter, plus drastically cut down on the amount of time you spend figuring out what you need to buy at the grocery store.
Here’s how it works: using a piece of paper or the notes function on your phone (I’m a pen and paper girl at heart, but in this case I prefer a phone because then I always have it with me), write out a list of the fridge and pantry staples, these are the items you use often and you want to make sure you have on hand all the time.
And this list is going to look different depending on what kind of diet you follow, as well as the individual taste preferences of yourself and the people you live with.
We are a mostly dairy-free and gluten-free household; it’s going to be different from person to person.
And that’s the cool thing, you get to individualize this based on what you know works for you.
My magic list allows me to not have that moment when I come home from the store and realize that I forgot a bunch of really essential items.
I actually organize my magic list by the essential six.
Basically, the essential proteins that I want to have on hand, the essential grains and bases, sauces, veggies, and this list helps me be focused when I’m grocery shopping, making sure I don’t miss anything or impulse buy random ingredients that I probably won’t use all of.
It just reminds me about what my essentials are and helps me prioritize those things.
Again, these are the items you use often and keep on hand all the time.
And then each week as you make your grocery list, or even on the fly as you’re wandering around the store, you can take a look at that magic list to see what you might need to grab or stock up on.
It’s also a great thing to keep in mind when you find sale items at the store, if it matches your list that’s a great time to stock up.
There you go, you did it!
Good job for doing the work and taking the time to work these steps.
I truly hope that once you have that decluttered fridge and pantry, you’ll find meal prep, meal planning, and cooking really healthy food easy, simple, and streamlined, and that it makes your life a little bit easier.
Grab the free guide here!
By downloading it, make a commitment to yourself to actually walk through these steps.
It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, but put a time limit on it for yourself.
We know from the research that if you keep it open-ended and don’t give yourself a deadline, it won’t happen.
You know your schedule and when this will work for you.
Pick a time, make it happen.
Inner Order, Outer Calm and Decluttering, with Gretchen Rubin
Free Guide: Declutter Your Pantry & Fridge
Start With Why, by Simon Sinek
How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek TED Talk
More on the essential six, from The Simplified Guide to Meal Prep & Planning