Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Challenge Day 6 - Storage

The average family shops for groceries once a week or so, fills the cabinets, eats them down, and fills them again, shoving uneaten items to the back. You can still shop that way on foods stamps, but you are likely to run out of stuff before the end of the month. If you want to eat decently on food stamps you need food storage. You want to buy staples in bulk, at the best price you can, then save the rest of the money for fresh produce and dairy the rest of the month.

Where will you put a month's worth of oatmeal, rice, and beans? What if you score an awesome deal and buy 20 pounds of potatoes, or a case of tuna, or a 50lb bag of sugar? Most houses and apartments don't have pantries anymore, or even room for more than a week or so of food in the cabinets.

I have three kinds of storage: Long-term bulk storage, short-term bulk storage, and everyday-access storage.

Let's look at my storage. But let me get my defensiveness out of the way, first. I am a bit self-conscious about our house. We moved in with my mother, who has dementia and other issues. She is 83, was widowed almost 30 years ago, and had become a hoarder. No house maintenance was done for about 25 years. My kids and I moved here in July of 2009, when the house was still filled from floor-to-ceiling, every room, with a mix of trash, "collectibles," and some useful stuff. We have slowly carved away most of that stuff, with help from many caring friends, on a tight budget. We are finally getting to something closer to a normal suburban 4BR/1bath split level. We are still left with a house that was neglected for 30 years, and there is no money to address most of that right now. So, ignore the shabbiness, and focus on the storage concepts. OK, let's go on tour.

Everyday-access is just what it sounds like - stuff I am likely to use frequently, easily gotten to. My refrigerator and the freezer over it. My kitchen cabinets. My kitchen pantry shelves. For most people that is ALL the food storage space they have.

To have storage, you have to have storage containers. I am extraordinarily fond of glass jars. I said the other day that there are only 4 lid sizes to fool with in my kitchen. Here they are:

Lid 1 and Lid 2: I get heavy duty quart and pint size deli containers from the restaurant supply store, a sleeve of each every few years - they wear out slowly. The same lid fits both. You can write on the lid in Sharpie, and it scrubs off. You could save these from Chinese takeout - but you can't afford takeout. :-)

The blue-lid container is for larger amounts of leftover, and sometimes cheese, if I grate a block. They are the "disposable" kind, but I reuse them.

Inside THAT particular one is roasted squash, a beautiful Red Kuri Squash, a locally-grown organic splurge for $5 from the grower - but tragedy has occurred. It got pushed to the back of the fridge and I didn't make the soup and cake I intended. It has mold on it. Don't let this happen to you! Five bucks wasted! Ugh!

Lid 3 and Lid 4 are the regular and wide-mouth kind, seen here on a variety of new and vintage canning jars. I have the lid-and-ring kind for actual canning, and plastic storage lids for shelf and refrigerator storage. That red funnel is very important - a canning funnel makes it much easier to pack things in jars. You can see some of my other jars in the background, for everyday staples.

I have a bread basket on top of the fridge, and a pretzel-crouton-chip basket.

I save produce bags and plastic bags from cereal and cracker boxes . It saves on plastic wrap an ziplocks. But don't collect too many, or you turn into my mother. Once the basket is full, no more until it starts to empty out.

The cupboard over the stove has boxed cereal, crackers, jars of various hot cereals, peanut butter, tuna, my mother's disgusting instant decaf coffee, DD15's soup, cooking spray. Just what is in active use.

There are only three cupboards. One has cups, bowls, and plates. This third one is almost all tea and storage containers. The green basket is lids - with only 4 sizes, it is easy to find what you want.

This is a small 10'x10' kitchen. Very little counter space, and a big chunk is taken by the dish drainer and sink. As a result, the little table is not often used for eating, but produce storage. In an ideal world, I would replace it with a storage island. But the other main storage feature of the kitchen is a large shelving use that houses all my JARS.

The very top is enamel basins I use during canning season. Then a shelf of baking pans organized into baskets - round, square, loaf pans. Then a section of recipe binders, and large jars of macaroni, rice, salt, beans and other jars for storing the contents of large packages. The next shelf down is turntables for hot spices and baking spices, jars of dried herbs, canning spices. Below that is a tray of condiment bottles, canisters of seasonings, jars of whole grains, jars of preserves, dried milk. Then a shelf of oil, vinegar, nuts, dried fruit, liquor. Starting to be out of the photo is a shelf with a basket of kitchen towels, jars of popcorn, beans, dry milk, bread crumbs. Below that, you will have to imagine a row of flour and sugar bins and storage for mixers and waffle irons. I feel like I can cook anything from these shelves!

Under the table is a 5-gallon bucket of oatmeal, a potato bin, and recycling containers.

Short-term storage is stuff I will go through within a few months. I don't need it in the kitchen. I can go down to the basement to "shop" from this storage. These are things I need to rotate through and replenish all the time. I have sturdy pantry shelves in the basement for canned goods, a chest freezer, and a bunch of plastic buckets and bins. But if you have no basement, you might want to find a closet, put some bins behind the sofa or under the bed, even under a table.

I made a kind of storage cubicle. You can see the freezer on the lower left. The tall white cabinet is storage for empty canning jars. Then a steel shelf with bins for tea, spices, condiments, sealed bins of dried fruit and nuts. My bucket of most-frequently used tools is in there, too.

Against the far wall is part of a large shelving unit. The top has various small appliances and containers. Then, lots of canned goods. Soup, veg, fruit, canned protein. Lots of beans, tomatoes, corn.

The tomatoes come and go as we make big batches of pasta sauce to can in quarts. The beans and corn will be used more in winter when there are fewer fresh veggies and we make more soup.

Butted up to the shelves is a huge wooden cabinet I took off the wall to make better use of the space. It encloses the cubicle and holds filled canning jars, bottles of juice, larger cans, the flour I will use next, egg cartons, and paper towels. On the floor is a purple basket that is a sort of "inbox" for things I need to shelve.

Long-term storage is for things I buy in larger bulk, usually staples like flour, sugar, rolled oats, beans, rice, cooking oil. They go in bins and buckets, but more sealed up. Some of the sealed buckets are in front of the shelving. You can't see it, but there are cases of water jugs in the corner - enough to get us through10 days of emergency drinking and cooking.

On the other side of that cupboard is a wall of storage totes. They hold bulky boxes of cereal, crackers, flour bags, rice bags, boxes of grits. The rest of the shelves are accessible from this side. Canned pumpkin, canned milk, peanut butter, mayo and mustard, cooking wine, a rack of vinegar and oil jugs, bottled lemon juice.

Whew. That was an exhausting tour. That's a lot of food. We have eaten it down in the past, and built it back up, as our fortunes ebb and flow. This is the best is has been since I started serious pantry-building. You would have the best-stocked pantry and freezer now, going into winter. You eat it down until summer, then use the growing season to stock it up again.

This is a heated space, and I would like to add a sort of cold cellar in the unheated garage to store apples, root vegetables, and squash. Since we recently had an earthquake, I would also like to figure out how to secure the shelves against tipping over, and add some kind of barrier to keep things from falling off. Maybe the canned goods should be in bins.

You do not have to have that much storage just to eat decently on food stamps. I do notice that periods of food insecurity through out my life have made me feel like I want to have food "put by" for emergencies and unpleasantness. We live in uncertain times.

But, I may be a little crazy.


  1. I love the last line! Aren't we all crazy in some way or another? I know I am.

    You apologized for the "shabbiness", but I don't even see it. I am just inspired by all that you do in such a small space. You have me wanting to reorganize! I just love large shelving units like the one in your kitchen--it looks great. Your skills in the food department amaze me.

    This is nowhere near your radar right now, probably, but when you're ready to "spruce up" some of those spaces you should check to see if your area has a "paint exchange". Our hazardous waste site allows people to not only bring paint in to dispose of, but also displays those paints on shelves free for the taking. We have painted several rooms by mixing our own colors from those paints. It's wonderful!

  2. Hello again... Are you still here? I must have missed your post when you announced this new blog. Things have been a bit hectic and I'm not always good at catching every post that comes through. Glad to hear you are doing well. Hope to hear more from you soon.

  3. Great ideas here. I have a hard time finding enough storage for bulk items.

    Dani @ ONNO Organic Clothing

  4. Please post again soon! What is your other blog?