Keep it in rotation

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to talk about consumable products. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

There are two types of things in our lives — consumable goods and what I call hard goods. Consumable goods are things we buy, use, and re-buy to sustain our lives. Hard goods are items we buy with the intention of keeping them long term. There are some important differences between consumables and hard goods. First, the obvious is that consumables get used up and need to be re-acquired. Second, it makes sense to purchase consumables in quantity because of their consumable nature, provided you have ample space to store them. But one of the most important differences is that while consumables get consumed, hard goods live with us until we choose to move them along. Another differentiating factor is that consumable items need to be balanced and stay in motion. If not, you’ve got trouble. Trouble in the form of overspending, crowded storage spaces, mystery inventory and expired products which equals more wasted money.

To avoid these perils, evaluate your consumable inventory regularly. This means keeping on top of three primary areas: the refrigerator, the pantry and your toiletries stash.

  1. Clean out the refrigerator weekly, preferably the night before trash goes out to the curb.
  2. Keep informed about what’s in your pantry and don’t buy things you already have. Sort through everything in your pantry at least twice a year.
  3. Except for toilet paper and possibly bar soap, only keep a few extra toiletries on hand at any given time. Toiletry goods expire quickly (especially makeup), so buy them only when you need them.

There you have it … three simple ways to make sure your consumables get consumed in a way that doesn’t crowd your life, waste money, or waste food.

20 Comments for “Keep it in rotation”

  1. posted by Another Deb on

    For once I was ahead of the game on the toiletries topic! I spent the other evening cleaning all of the drawers and cabinets in the master bathroom. Amazingly, for someone who wears lipstick about twice a year, I have about 8 tubes of the stuff. Same with nail polish, foundation, mascara and hand lotion!

    Ok, I thought I was ahead of the game…. I organized it, now I need to purge it!

  2. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Living in a smaller space means that we cannot stock up on tons of anything! I tend to purchase toilet paper, tissues and other toiletries when they go on sale. They always do so there’s no need to buy when they’re not discounted.

    Be sure to place items with approaching expiry dates (toothpaste, lotions, contact solution) near the front and put newly purchased items with farther away expiration dates behind them. This placement helps you use the older product first.

  3. posted by Michele on

    It’s always a challenge to balance emergency preparedness, buying necessities as cheaply as possible, and keeping one’s home organized. Cleaning out the fridge weekly and organizing the pantry regularly are key tasks. You have to know how long it takes you to go through a certain quantity of consumables in order to buy and then store them most cost-effectively. This is a good list of 3 simple tips!

    As for toiletries, though, I’d add that it’s worthwhile to stock up on toothpaste when it goes on sale. It doesn’t take up much space and doesn’t really expire (at least, note the kind I use), but the cost savings can be significant when it’s on deep discount.

  4. posted by Sammyboi on

    My own approach to food is similar to this (very good) advice, but expanded a little. I class my food in 4 areas: fridge, pantry, freezer, spices. I have an automatic reminder in GCalendar once a week to check my fridge only, and do a food shop to replenish (always on a Wednesday, which I’ve found to be the best day for groceries in terms of stock and dates). The other 3 areas have only a monthly reminder. This system works perfectly for me – because I know roughly which items should be in the 4 areas, I can do a very quick weekly shop to stock up the perishables in the fridge, and a longer monthly shop to refill the other non-perishable areas.

    I haven’t thrown anything expired in the rubbish at all this year (granted I live alone, so it’s a lot easier to manage my stock levels!)

  5. posted by Marcie Lovett on

    I recommend keeping one extra on hand so you don’t run out of things like tissues, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, contact lens solution, etc. When you put your surplus item into use, it’s time to buy the backup again. Keeping them in one dedicated space makes them easy to find.

    I find myself trying to convince people that we do not face a worldwide shortage of paper towels or light bulbs and that these things go on sale regularly, so it doesn’t make sense to “stock up.” In addition, they often forget where they’ve stashed the extras, so they run out to buy them again.

  6. posted by Rue on

    I refuse to stockpile anything – I don’t have the space for it and I don’t see the point. I’d rather spend a little bit more and buy things like toilet paper when it’s not on sale, rather than have to find a place to stash all the crap I bought when it was on sale!

    I will admit that I do have too many body sprays, though – I’ve bought a couple here and there but also have gotten many as gifts!

    I try to clean out my consumables every couple of months – toiletries and medications. The fridge usually gets cleaned out once every couple of weeks so I can wash the tupperwares.

  7. posted by Vicki K on

    I need to watch out for the consumables that become hard goods. Like the protein powder that I thought was a good idea to add to blender drinks. Or the sports snacks that my kids don’t really like. Best to just move it out sooner to the food bank than keep hoping it will catch on!

  8. posted by Mike on

    Cleaning out the fridge, while nice for the purge, turned into a real ordeal of “yep, another nice food item that’s expired because we never got to it.” I think an important step is to link the fridge/pantry food organizing to preparing a menu of one’s meals for the week, or for two weeks (whichever gets you to the next grocery trip). Buy only the ingredients required for the meals you know you’re going to eat, and there will be MUCH less waste, not only due to expirations but due to stuffing your storage space with excess food. Even when we eat out sometimes, it’s not as bad because you’re only one meal heavy in storage (and you can adjust grocery buying accordingly).

  9. posted by Jay on

    When we open soy milk (or the like) or put sliced fruit (or the like) in the refrigerator, we write on the container or ZipLock the date we opened it or put it in the refrigerator. It only takes a second or two, and saves us the hassle of trying to remember how old something is. If we store something in a glass bowl, we slip a ZipLock over it to keep it fresh; we write on the ZipLock.

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    @Michele: I agree, it’s hard to balance emergency prep, frugal purchasing, space management and unclutter – and this is all assuming that one is organized.

    One thing I find that helps is that instead of having a separate stash for emergencies, I decided to keep extra of what I eat. I always know where it is and it’s easy to rotate by putting the new purchases in the back.

    I like having at least one extra of most things so that I don’t run out unexpectedly. There’s no reason to do this with things of large volume (20 lb bag of rice) or that I use infrequently (cocoa powder) because the risk of running out is small. But having an extra bottle of shampoo or another tube of toothpaste is really useful. Now much I keep depends on how fast I use it, price/sales, available space, and my ability to keep it organized. It works for me, YMMV.

    Monica’s post led me to realize another thing: an oversupply of consumables is easier to work down than an oversupply of hard goods. We will, eventually, consume the consumables (unless we discover we don’t like protein powder).

  11. posted by Eva Wallace on

    I’ve gotten into the habit of cleaning out the refrigerator before each grocery shopping trip. It really helps!

  12. posted by Celeste on

    I keep a backup of any item I use to get ready in the morning–anything that’s in the shower or medicine cabinet. My makeup bag is a minimalist’s dream, so I replace when I’m getting near the end of a container. I just can’t handle being completely out of something that I need to get myself ready for work. This includes an extra toothbrush. I would much rather invest in extra bathroom goods than extra food.

    I adore having a lightbulb stash so I can take care of burned out bulbs when they happen. We just got a new lamp with funky eco bulbs that CLICK in rather than turn in. So far I can only find them at Lowe’s, and in short supply there. I feel it is worth it to keep an extra of something hard to find like this just because of the time suck involved in a special trip for a non-standard item.

    I am also a big believer in having extra cleaning supplies like dishwasher and laundry detergents on hand. I prefer to remove a barrier to cleaning by making sure I am never completely out of cleaning supplies; this includes sponges, vacuum cleaner bags, furnace filters, and trash bags. When I crack open the last one, it goes straight onto the shopping list. I know I WILL use it up. This also applies to cat litter, but not cat food. I put the food off until I am down to a week’s supply.

  13. posted by Tiffany on

    We’ve started to use alice.com to manage our household consumables- things like TP, toothpaste, shaving supplies, laundry/dish detergents, etc. The prices are competitive with big-box stores in our area (and they automatically track manufacturer coupons), the shipping is free, and the application has a cool reminder function that will help you remember to order things ahead of running out of it. (No, I really have no affiliation with the company- I just think it’s a cool service- but if anyone wants my refer-a-friend link, I will happily provide it ;) )

    It does require a little bit of planning ahead, but for me, a little more awareness of just how much toothpaste, toilet paper, and detergent there are in the house is good for me anyway.

  14. posted by Magchunk on

    I find it useful to keep a little index card inside my kitchen cabinet (no pantry, sadly) that lists the spices that I own. If I’m quickly writing up a grocery list and want to try a new recipe, I scan this quickly to make sure I have curry powder, for instance. I always know I have cinnamon, basil, and oregano, but cardamom? Um… check the list! Saves a little time from checking each and every bottle (which, I’ll admit, aren’t arranged very efficiently in my weird cupboards).

  15. posted by Sky on

    I don’t buy anything unless it’s on sale and I stay stocked up. I have Rubbermaid bins (about 12X8) for light bulbs, batteries, candles, etc. They stack nicely and fit in a cabinet over my washer and dryer. Same in the pantry and bathroom. Like things together and labeled. With all my like products together, I can easily see what I have and need to replace.

    Think outside the box, if you have an empty drawer in a quest room, or anywhere, use it to store consumer goods.

    For me, a big part of being organized is not having to run out to the store when I run out of something.

  16. posted by Nikki on

    Last time I purged my bathroom cabinets I scribbled down a list of all the things I had duplicates of (for instance dental floss) and taped it to the inside of the cabinet door. When I start using the last spare I cross it off.

    For my pantry there are some consumables I want to buy as soon as I start running low (like salt). For others (like dried tarragon) I will add it to a list on the side of my refrigerator of “Rarely Used Staples We’re Out of” and not buy it until I actually need it again.

  17. posted by cv on

    The key with stocking up, I think, is to be realistic about what you use and what you don’t. I know that we’ll go through a bottle of our preferred brand of shampoo every couple of months, and it keeps for at least two years, so it makes sense to buy three bottles at a time if it’s on sale and I have the storage space. Same with contact solution, toothpaste, feminine products (really hate to run out of those!), etc. For things that get used irregularly in our house (cough syrup, painkillers, bubble bath, fancy-smelling lotions), we don’t buy until we’re actually running low.

    I find that the cost savings is less from the amount saved on a sale-priced item and more from the fact that I buy less stuff overall when I go to Target less often. Helps keep clutter down, too.

  18. posted by LT on

    @CV “I find that the cost savings is less from the amount saved on a sale-priced item and more from the fact that I buy less stuff overall when I go to Target less often. Helps keep clutter down, too.” I completely agree. I’ve saved more money in the last few years just by not going to stores to “grab the sales”. If I’m not in the store – I can’t pick up “just that one extra thing” thus saving money and just as important – not taking up space and making clutter.

  19. posted by Marie on

    We only stockpile emergency consumables: anything that would cause serious issues if it were to run out when the stores are closed. That basically amounts to TP and allergy OTC products. (It included feminine supplies before I converted to a DivaCup.)

  20. posted by Melanie on

    I love the end of hurricane season because it means we can get rid of the food and water stockpile. The grocery bill is lower as we eat down the supply.

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