Every January, I choose an area of the house for extensive scrutiny. Everything is pulled out, looked over, and reorganized. In 2017, I did my fabric stash closet, and it remains close to this organized fashion today. A few of the bags are gone now as I did use up some stash for projects over the past couple of years. But, the bolts have increased in number, LOL!! See my post January Scraps Clean Out from 2019, and Clearing Away from just this past year. Some years, doing these projects is easy, but there are other times when the emotional baggage that goes with it is a bit more than I bargain for.
In 2017, I tackled my linens and some of the dishes in my post January Clean Out. Not a hard task. I do donate dishes back to the thrift store when I bring home new goodies. Most of the time it is fine.
I don’t miss the black octagon plates, the magnolia dishes, the Italian Mardi Gras color plates, the brown and black checkerboard plates, white leaf dishes, or some of the others that I don’t even remember. I’ll use them for a time, then find something new to me to play with. So, I don’t have quite as many dishes as it seems. But I am still mad that I donated these green soup / salad plates that went with everything.
One year I did my closet, pulling out all my clothes and going through them with a critical eye. See my post What’s In Your Closet? to see that process. With a year of wearing mostly pjs around the house, I need to do this again so that going forward everything I keep fits and is in good shape. This is where it starts to get difficult at times, donating clothing that has memories attached. Some pretty things I got from my mother, and although I don’t wear them, I have them in the closet still. Those things probably should be donated, but it is hard to let go of them. Now that I’ve tackled another difficult project, maybe I can do this soon.
One of my lockdown goals was to get through this box of papers and memories I brought home from my mother’s house after she passed away. It has been over 10 years, and I have finally been able to do this. It is really hard to get through sentimental items, but biting that bullet made me feel better in the long run. Shredding old report cards from grammar school and photos of people I didn’t know was difficult to start, but once started became easier. I pulled out historical things and mailed them to other family members with common ancestors who are doing genealogy charts. I kept a small box of photos, but now this big box is gone.
Cooking over the holidays was not as much fun with no potlucks. But I did want to make a chocolate pie and knew I had two cans of sweetened condensed milk I could use. But, when I was ready to make the pie, I opened this can, and the inside was just awful. The normally creamy white milk was dark brown. Ugh!
Mercy, I guess I don’t use this stuff much! Look at that date, past its time by over seven years! According to the US Department of Agriculture, you can use canned items after the ‘best by’ date – Before You Toss Food, Wait. This is not an expiration date, canned food is apparently food-safe indefinitely as long as it is stored properly and doesn’t have any dents or bulges. But, the longer past the date, the quality will suffer. Boy did it with that milk!! The second can was just as old so I tossed it without opening it. I found a different recipe for the pie.
OK, so here is my dirty little secret, my pantry is a mess. These are the two shelves where I keep baking goods and canned items. It is any wonder that things get shuttled to the back and forgotten? Other shelves hold dishes and specialty cooking things like my salad spinner and bamboo steamer. Shelves above hold boxed items like cereal and pasta. The top shelves have rarely used, but needed-when-they-are-needed items like my huge turkey platter, big serving plates and baskets, and large carry-alongs like a big Tupperware bowl for potluck salads.
After finding the bad canned milk, I pulled out all the cans and bottles and looked at the ‘best by’ date on every one. Why I didn’t think to do this when I cleaned out the spice cabinet, I just don’t know. Happily, only three cans were past the ‘best by’ date, and not by much. So, I left them on the counter to use this week. I used to make salmon croquettes pretty often with canned salmon. I prefer fresh or frozen fish now, so that can must have been in the pantry for at least 2 years and likely longer. I made them again on the day after the clean out, and won’t buy canned salmon again. The pumpkin was baked into bread, and the tomatoes will be made into thick and creamy tomato basil soup with ricotta. From here on, I need to rotate cans on those shelves in much the same way I do my freezer.
I mentioned this idea to a friend recently who said I should share it. A couple of years ago, I decided to clean out the freezer when I found several freezer burned items. So, a different way of doing things was put into practice. I found some trays and baskets to put on the freezer shelves to organize the food. Now, when I buy meat to freeze, it goes into the basket tray at the bottom, where the freezer is the coldest and food will freeze faster. Items already frozen in that bottom basket are moved to the shelf above, and those items are moved to the little basket on the second shelf on the left. Food to defrost and cook is pulled from that upper basket, so I am always using the oldest items first. The trays on the right have shredded cheeses, with newest on the right, and older packages on the tray nearest the ‘use first’ basket. My Sweet Babboo has his breakfast items on the top shelf, and he rotates oldest to the front for use first. Bread and frozen pastas are on the door, and the same thing applies, freshest on the bottom, moving things up, using the items near the top first. The freezer in my refrigerator in the kitchen holds lunch items and quick fix meals, rotating things from this freezer into that one. Using this system, I have not had anything freezer burned in several years.
While we are on the subject of cooking, I made a mistake in the recipe instructions in the pdf. I left out when to add the white sauce. How that happened, I’ll never know, since it is in the blog post and I usually do a lot of copy and paste. Thank you, Karen, for spotting the mistake and letting me know! Download the corrected recipe – Butternut Squash Lasagne
I’m still working on purging books too, taking a box to either Books for Good or the library book sale site a couple of times a month. I am whittling down the fiction the fastest, finally deciding to donate everything I have read off the overstuffed library/dining room shelves. Somehow this also had an emotional component, as some of the books were gifts to me. Some are travel souvenirs I want to keep, like my big book on Maui or the book on the Notre Dame Cathedral. But many just need to be donated. I also need to decide if I am ever going to read a few of these that my grandmother gave me and wanted me to read. I’ve kept them over 20 years since before she passed away. Every time I pull one of those and read the synopsis, I am not interested in it, but I can’t bring myself to put it in the donate box. I’m sure if I can just let those go, I’ll feel lighter and less weighed down by someone else’s expectations. Here’s the ‘before’ shot of the shelves.
Now it looks like this, and I’ll be purging more in the months to come. Having some empty places allows some spots for my pottery and other things. The shops don’t want more than a box or two at a time, so it is hard to get it done quickly. Plus, the MINI doesn’t hold more than about four boxes, LOL!!
I need to tackle the cookbook shelves as well, perhaps donating the entire Cooking Light series or the Taste of Home series. I still use the Southern Living ones pretty regularly, and it has an index to find recipes across many years, so they get more use. See my 2016 post on how to Organize Recipes into binders to decrease cooking magazine clutter.
So, that’s my plan, and a few of the clean-outs from this year. With lots of time at home, it is a good time to take stock of what really brings us joy, and let go of the extra clutter. Are you clearing out or reorganizing for the new year? Do you find it hard to donate or give away items with sentimental meaning?