Inside the mind of a professional organizer: Out with the old, in with the new — Make room for summer food and drinks

Jessi Bushman PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Jessi Bushman PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Summer is the ideal time to expand our daily meal variety, allowing us to incorporate seasonal foods and beverages.

Fresh, local produce is readily available, providing regular opportunities to support family owned vendors.

While meal-planning for summer dining and outdoor gatherings, I encourage your shopping routine to include local options, such as farmers markets, where local vendors offer a wonderful variety and worthy of the effort to visit.

Summer, as well as every season change, is the perfect time to evaluate our fridge, pantry and overflow stock. This re-occurring habit allows us to elevate our organization and accessibility of seasonal goodies. Our awareness lessens the act of cramming new items into a space that likely is already consumed with expired, forgotten and not-so-desired food.

Clearing out our fridge and food storage is a task highly avoided by many.

Ironically, this happens to be our most utilized space within our home. Unfortunately, many struggle to establish and maintain organization in the kitchen, and upkeep becomes a low priority.

We can identify the root of our problem. More often than not, we are over purchasing food based on lifelong influence, habits and discount pricing.

Our ritual of grocery shopping should vary as our lifestyle evolves.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that while shopping, our grocery needs continuously fluctuate.

Common circumstances to consider when creating a shopping list:

• What “staple” items do you consume on a daily basis?

• Eggs, grains, dairy, produce, protein and supplements.

• Beverages.

• What items do you already stock, but continue to buy based on habit?

• Has the number of residents in your household changed?

• Empty nest.

• College students; frequency and duration of visits.

• Are they eating at home, or dining out?

• A spouse or resident moved out or passed away.

• An increase or decrease of social gathering.

• Appetite variation with age and activity levels.

• Dietary and nutritional needs and restrictions.

• Change of lifestyle; dining out and meal delivery.

• Realistic storage availability.

• Realistic usage of what we already have.

• Realistic budget based on an increase or decrease of income.

When I assist clients who are focused on pantry, fridge and overflow storage organization, I start by removing everything.

As I gather each item, I verify the expiration date is within a reasonable time frame. You’d be shocked at the amount of fresh, frozen and canned items that end up in the garbage. Disposal of food is comparable to running our paycheck through a shredder.

A majority of consumers tend to “jam and cram” boxes, bags, spices and cans into whatever vacancy of space, with no rhyme or reason when it comes to placement.

This habit ultimately adds to confusion of what we have and where it’s stored. This scenario spirals when there are multiple household members consuming, purchasing and placing food.

Several suggestions to embrace while unpacking groceries:

• Unbox items. Boxes consume air and valuable space.

• Don’t forget, boxes are for shipping and retail display convenience.

• Worried about an expiration date? Use a Sharpie and write it on the bag.

• Most individually wrapped items display the expiration date.

• Most bags are translucent. You easily can identify the contents.

• If the bag is opaque, include the content name, as well as expiration date.

• Unboxed items simplify our visual inventory.

• Group like items in size appropriate bins.

• Consider bulk purchased items when selecting bins.

• If you purchase 24 snack servings, don’t use a bin that only holds six servings.

• Overflow storage instantly becomes an additional challenge.

• If adding to your existing inventory, rotate the oldest to the front.

• Address fresh produce ASAP.

• Remove items from original packaging.

• Salad can be divided between bowls. Add a paper towel to extend freshness.

• Cut up veggies to encourage consumption, sometimes adding water to prevent drying up.

• Divide bulk items between fridge and freezer based on freshness guidelines.

• Portion items to encourage serving size.

• Don’t open a like item until finished with our current option.

• Chips, cereal, crackers. The examples are endless.

If pantry organization is something you struggle with or straight up avoid, enlist the help of family members, friends or a professional organizer to accomplish this overlooked task.

Jessi Bushman is a professional organizer, member of the Iowa Professional Organizers Association and owner of Organizer Jessi in Dubuque. Visit her at

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