How to Start Decluttering: Pantry Clutter

What’s the oldest item in your pantry? If I don’t clean out my kitchen regularly, things can be there for years. As part of the decluttering process, don’t forget about cleaning out your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Not only can this help make for a cleaner, less cluttered home, but you may also reduce food waste and save money on your grocery bill.

This week’s Food Finances Friday feature is consistent with this week’s theme of decluttering. In the last post, we talked about physical clutter. This post is about decluttering pantries and fridges. Next in this series, we will tackle the subject of mental clutter.

Shelf cooking in the new year

Jordan Page popularized the Shelftember challenge. For the month of September, she challenges herself and others to do “shelf cooking” by planning meals based on what one already has in their home, supplementing with only $25-$50 worth of groceries that week.

September is in the middle of hurricane season so I am usually in the process of building up my stockpile at that time. Although September doesn’t work for me, January is the perfect month for shelf cooking and ties in perfectly with my decluttering ambitions.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

In January, we are tight on money after having just celebrated Christmas and four birthdays in our house. We also tend to go out to eat, attend a lot of parties, and host a number of events in December and January, which could result in a lot of food waste, if we let it. January is also perfect for decluttering our pantry so that we start each New Year out with clean shelves.


Small declutterings happen throughout the year. But I like to pick at least once a year for a major pantry clean-out. January is best for me. What month is good for you?

My Pantry Clutter

As I went through my kitchen, this is what I found:

  • a few carrots

    Photo by Ernest Brillo on Unsplash

  • eggs that were nearing their best by date
  • nearly empty container of beer cheese spread
  • unopened sour cream
  • bottles of water that we were saving for an event that didn’t allow open containers but are now expired
  • 4 juice boxes (from Grandma)
  • 4 newly purchases packages of chicken breast (bought on BOGO)

    Photo by Dev on Unsplash

  • bread (which we keep in our freezer, not the pantry)
  • container of veggie scraps
  • a package of bacon
  • 2 small, single-serving cakes
  • no, there was no ice cream – I ate it all
  • Sugar packets
  • Packets of condiments (mayo, ketchup, BBQ sauce, soy sauce)
  • chocolate spread from Europe (someone gave us)
  • 2 boxes of corn muffin mix (someone gave us)
  • 2 boxes of pudding mix (someone gave us)
  • 2 packets of instant oatmeal
  • 1 packet of Ranch Dip mix
  • 2 onions
  • 1 fortune cookie
  • unopened jar of queso that we got for free and were saving for company
  • 1 single serving packet of coffee
  • 10 packages of nuts (expired)
  • popcorn kernels
  • lollipops
  • 1 serving of macaroni, but boxes and boxes of spaghetti
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • 4 tea bags (I don’t drink tea)
  • a box of fancy tea (I don’t drink tea)
  • 3 bottles of wine (I don’t drink wine)
  • ingredients for granola (including maple syrup, almonds, nuts, raisins, whole oats, and brown sugar)

Many things I had and didn’t know

We still had enough ingredients to make granola?! We still have that oatmeal? How long has this fortune cookie been there? (I know it’s been less than a year because I cleaned out my pantry last January.)

Some foods clearly went together, so we used them up.

  • Bacon and eggs
  • Carrot sticks, make dip out of ranch mix and sour cream
  • Chicken, carrots, and potatoes
  • Soup from carrots, onions, and stock made from veggie scraps
  • Pasta
  • Chicken with BBQ sauce packets
  • Chocolate spread on top of cornbread

Trends in what was “clutter”

I also noticed that most of my clutter fell into one of these categories:

condiments and single-servings

I don’t mean the ones that we take as snacks when we leave the house or for school lunch. I mean things like packets of ketchup or a cup of coffee. We had so many packets of soy sauce, and I completely cleaned out my pantry last January!

Only a little left

Sure, we don’t have all the ingredients to make granola up to the standards of my husband’s amazing recipe. But there are enough ingredients to still make a snack. Cook up the maple syrup, almonds, nuts, raisins, whole oats, and brown sugar we do have, please. Thank you.

not enough for everyone

I have 3 kids. If one gets something, all of them want it. Through my declutter I noticed that if there’s only 1 or 2 left, it tends to sit unused. I am going to use these up and avoid this in the future.

gifts or giveaways

Many of the things in my pantry and freezer were gifts from loved ones. I am honoring that by using up what they have given. I also learned that if it’s not part of my usual diet, then I’m probably not going to eat it. So if I wouldn’t spend money on something, I don’t accept it for free.

foods that are time consuming to prepare
Photo by John LeGrand

Fresh popcorn and homemade granola are healthy, delicious treats. But they both require time over the stove, which you don’t have with three children running around. Which is probably why the ingredients for both are still in my pantry.

Saving for a special occasion
Photo by Kir Rostovsky on Unsplash

The jar of queso and bottles of wine we were saving for unexpected company we wanted to impress? Maybe one day we will have an unexpected need for queso or a wine collection. But I need my house clean now! If an unexpected quest does arrive, I don’t think they will be expecting queso.

How to Declutter Food

Eat it or donate it. It’s that simple.

To maintain a clutter-free space, I learned that if I wouldn’t spend money on something, I don’t accept it for free. That goes for food and beverages, too. I find myself accepting juice boxes for some imaginary future when I attend a concert where the only drink allowed in is a juice box. Now I’ve had 4 juice boxes sitting around for a year! Maybe I should just let my kids enjoy the juice.

Benefits of Decluttering

By decluttering and using up what you have, you may be able to postpone going to the grocery store a day or two, and even save money off your grocery bill for weeks to come. Reducing food waste is also an important benefit to decluttering, not to mention the peace and calm that comes with having a clean kitchen.

Final thoughts

Once something does enter our lives, we need to use it, repurpose it, donate it, recycle it, or dispose of it properly. This goes for food, too.


When did you last clean out your freezer, fridge, and pantry?

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