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The ‘Right Place’

The ‘Right Place’

Does your stuff have a spot where it ‘belongs’ – the ‘right place’ and, if so, do others in your household agree with that?

I returned a couple of days ago after going out of town with my family. Like many of you, we’ve been staying at home for the past three-plus months. The walls of our house were starting to look WAY too familiar. We really wanted to look at some new walls – or, better yet, no walls – while still being safe. It’s hotter than blazes in North Texas this time of year, which makes outdoor activities pretty miserable. So, we drove west to beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. For a week, we enjoyed social distancing, hiking, eating outdoors, and sleeping with the windows open in beautiful 60 to 70-degree weather.

To maximize the safety of our getaway, we rented a furnished condo while we were there. As a professional organizer, I spend most of my working hours in other people’s homes or offices. It’s part of my job to look in their closets and open their drawers and cabinets to evaluate their organizational systems. Even in a non-professional capacity, I still notice how people set up their spaces (although I hope it goes without saying that I would NEVER peek inside cabinets uninvited). It’s always fascinating to me to see the many ways that ‘organized’ manifests itself.

Can There Be More Than One ‘Right Place’?

Obviously, in the case of our vacation rental, it was difficult to tell what reflected the homeowners’ preferences vs. how much was the result of a series of guests putting things away after use. Every time I opened a drawer or a cabinet, I found myself looking at what was in there and wondering at the decision process that led to those things ending up in that spot. Most of the time, I could easily follow along but, every once in a while, I found myself really scratching my head.

For instance, on our first morning, I woke up early to 50-degree weather, so I decided to make myself some hot chocolate. I found a saucepan fairly easily in the lower cabinet to the right of the stove. Makes sense, right? Next, I needed a measuring cup and spoon. I had no success finding those in any of the five drawers on either side of the stove. I was also unable to find them in either of the upper cabinets.

However, I did finally locate a measuring cup in a drawer next to the sink on the opposite side of the kitchen. And I found a second measuring cup in a different drawer, and a third in a bowl on top of the refrigerator. I found a set of measuring spoons in yet a different drawer, along with an assortment of unrelated items (e.g. batteries, matches, and instruction manuals for small appliances I never located).

Who Decides What the ‘Right Place’ Is?

I doubt that the homeowners keep their measuring cups in three separate locations by design. So, I pretty easily chalked that up to renters putting them away in the wrong spot. But I started wondering, which spot did the homeowner consider the ‘right place’? That is always an interesting conversation to have with clients, as well as the source of a lot of conflict within households.

In pretty much every house I’ve ever been in – including my own – there are a few things in the kitchen that nobody in the house seems to agree on the ‘right place’ to keep them. For my family, it’s the small metal scissor tongs. They are used to pick up individual food items from a hot pan. So, I always put them away in the drawer immediately to the left of the stove which, to me, feels like the ‘right place’. Except that I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve opened that drawer and not found them there. They’re in the silverware drawer with the serving spoons and forks. Or maybe they’re in the drawer with the grill utensils, or the one where we keep the measuring cups and spoons.

How Important Is the ‘Right Place’?

There are a few situations where the ‘right place’ is critically important – e.g. a surgical suite or emergency room. But, most of the time, it’s a personal preference and it’s often highly subjective. Yet, it can lead to a lot of conflict between people sharing the same household or office space. How do we resolve that? Communication, compromise, and consistency are key.

Communication

Talk about the reasons behind why each person thinks their ‘right place’ should be the one. I had a client who adamantly believed that scissors should be in the kitchen junk drawer. Her spouse believed – equally adamantly – that they should be in the office. After discussing their reasons, they learned that each person used the scissors almost exclusively in their ‘right place’. So, both of their positions made perfect sense. Once they understood each other, they purchased a second set of scissors. Household peace for under $5? Priceless.

Compromise

One of the things I talk about with clients regularly is the importance of considering everyone in the home or office when organizing. On the items where you can’t find agreement, compromise has to be the solution. Who cares the most about this? The office manager responsible for filing the invoices wants them in a letter tray on top of the filing cabinet. That should be given more weight than the accounts payable manager who wants to leave them on his desk. Where possible, try and accommodate the person most affected by the decision.

Consistency

Finally, once you decide on the ‘right place’, everybody needs to do their best to be consistent in using it. Don’t be passive-aggressive if your first choice wasn’t the final selection. And don’t assume that others are being passive-aggressive either. Gentle reminders and consistency will eventually train everyone to return the item to its ‘right place’.

Personal Note

On our last day of vacation, we received word from the DFW Labrador Retriever Rescue Club that we had been matched with a dog! He’s approximately 12 weeks old so we are going to have our hands full for a while with puppy training. I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the month of July so that I can focus on clients and our new family member (yes, that’s his picture at the top of the blog). Have a great July and I’ll see you back here on August 12th!

Moving In

Moving In

Congratulations on moving in to your new home! Right now, it probably doesn’t look much like home. It probably looks more like a sea of monotonous cardboard stretching as far as the eye can see. The boxes all look the same, and they seem to multiply when you turn your back. How do you bring order to the chaos? One key is to prioritize how you unpack.

Open Up Your Ready Box

Remember in the previous blog post, I urged you to pack a box with essentials that you would need immediately upon arrival at your new house? Time to open it up!

  • Put toilet paper in all of the bathrooms if there isn’t already a roll. I’ve been surprised how many times homeowners take the toilet paper with them when they move out. Also, put hand soap in there and a towel, or a roll of paper towels.
  • Designate a space that you can keep at least somewhat clear for snacks and drinks. Make sure that everybody can access it (but you can keep an eye on what younger children are eating and drinking).
  • Keep your tools handy. Try to return them to the same place after you use them. It’s all too easy for them to get lost in the debris of boxes and paper.

If You Have Children, Start in Their Room(s)

Kids’ rooms should be at the very top of your list. For younger children especially, making their room feel as familiar as possible will go a long way towards easing the transition into your new home.

  • Assemble their beds as soon as possible and make them. Remember those clean linens that you carefully packed before you moved out of your old home? Little ones might even be able to take a nap while you do some more unpacking.
  • Unpack and assemble or set up any storage, e.g. bookshelves, cubbies, etc. Don’t start unpacking boxes until you have some place to put their contents.
  • Let your kids help unpack their clothes, toys, and books and put them in their new places. Depending on their age, you may even be able to let them handle this on their own.
  • While you probably won’t want to spend hours decorating, hanging one or two special favorite items on the walls will make it feel like home. Well worth the time!

Tackling the Kitchen

The kitchen should be high on your list to unpack. Apart from being the ‘heart of the home’, moving is hard work and you’re going to need to eat.

  • If you’re going to line your shelves, do that before you start unpacking. Ditto for drawer organizers or silverware trays. Make sure that you wipe down shelves and drawers thoroughly and dry them, especially if you are using adhesive liners. Dirt, crumbs, and water will keep the liner from staying in place. And you definitely don’t want mold growing under your shelf or drawer liners.
  • Before you open a single box, make a plan for where you are going to store things. Consider the layout of your kitchen as well as what you will use most often. Generally, upper cabinets are best for lighter weight items, or more frequently used items. Lower cabinets are best for pots and pans, heavier items, and infrequently used items. Think about the dishes and cups that you’ll use every day and locate those things in cabinets close to the dishwasher. Put pots, pans, casserole dishes, etc. near the stove or oven.
  • If your items were packed in newsprint packing paper, you shouldn’t need to wash them before putting them away. Of course, if anything looks dirty, or was wrapped in bubble wrap, newspaper, or other non-clean materials, a quick spin in the dishwasher is probably a good idea. If you decide that you want to wash all of your dishes and cups just to be safe, then unpack those first and get the dishwasher running.

Unpacking the Kitchen – Box by Box or All at Once?

People tend to have very strong opinions on how they want to unpack. Some want to open one box at a time and put away all of the contents before they move on to the next box. Others prefer to unpack all of the boxes (or have the movers unpack them) and put all of the contents on flat surfaces, then put everything away. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you packed yourself or had professional movers do the packing; personal preference; and sometimes, available space. Personally, I prefer the ‘all at once’ approach for the following reasons:

  • You can see everything you have to put away. If you have cups and glasses in three separate boxes, you will be able to group them together before you put them in the cabinet.
  • It is easier to measure for shelf placement. You’ll know exactly how much space you need to accommodate your bowls, plates, cups, etc. when they’re all stacked on the counter together.
  • I find that it minimizes rearranging. You’re more likely to choose the best location for your items when all of your options are in front of you.
  • On the other hand, your kitchen will look like a disaster area during the process. Some people get overwhelmed by that. So, if you’re one of them, I’d advise going box by box or at least modifying the all at once approach to minimize the visual chaos.

Unpacking the Kitchen – First Things First

There needs to be a method to the madness of the unpacking process. Make sure that you have your box cutter, measuring tape, and pen and paper handy.

  • If you have adjustable shelves (as all cabinets should but too often don’t, and don’t get me started on THAT), move them to the appropriate positions before you start moving items into the cabinet. Measure, or at least eyeball, how far apart you need to space them based on what items you’ll put in there.
  • Start by unpacking dishes, silverware, and cups – the items that you will use first. If you followed the ‘move in before you move out’ philosophy, hopefully your boxes are packed and labeled to make this easy.
  • As you are unpacking, make note of the cabinets that need a little help to be more useful or efficient. Write down what you need and the dimensions of the cabinet. For example, maybe a lid holder is just the answer to that ‘not quite right’ pots and pans cabinet. Or you could really use a stackable shelf to maximize your mug storage.
  • If you have a smaller kitchen without a lot of cabinets, plan where you will keep the things you don’t have room for. For instance, if you use your large slow cooker 2-3 times a month, you can store it in the pantry. And maybe the roasting pan you use 2-3 times a year can go on a shelf in the garage. The key is to maximize the space you have and use it to store the things you use most often.

Moving On

Where you go from here in your unpacking depends on your home, your family, and what time it is when you get to this point.

  • Get your own bed set up and made. You’ll be exhausted by the end of the day and the last thing you want is to be ready to crash and have no place to do it. So put your clean sheets and pillowcases on.
  • Make sure that your bathroom is functional. Unpack the toiletries you brought in the ready box. Personally, I always want to take a shower after being surrounded by boxes all day.
  • Living rooms and family rooms are relatively quick and easy rooms to unpack. If you want to get a quick ‘win’ and check something off of your to-do list, get one of those rooms set up. It’s always nice to have one room that you can walk into that looks ‘done’. It can serve as an oasis in the chaos. Of course, if your room has lots of bookshelves, knick-knacks, or complicated entertainment systems you may want to leave that for tomorrow.

Enjoy your new home! If you are struggling to settle in on your own, find a professional organizer in your area.

Moving is Stressful

Moving is Stressful

Moving is a stressful experience. Having your whole life placed in boxes, picked up and transported from one place to another, is inherently unsettling. Today, we’re going to talk about some ways to make it a little less stressful. Hint: It’s all about order.

Write EVERYTHING Down

Commit everything to paper or record it digitally. Do not think that, after looking at 1,376 houses in a weekend (or at least that’s what it will feel like), you will remember with any degree of accuracy which family room you actually chose.

  • Make good notes – Jot down any information that will help you remember what you saw or learned. The more details, the better the chance that it will trigger a full recall.
  • Take pictures (if the current residents agree) and/or draw diagrams of your new space. Again, the more detail the better.
  • Write down the dimensions of your new rooms so that you can plan where things will go. This will also help you decide what furniture you might want to give away or sell before the move.
  • Take measurements of the windows, so that you can plan for window treatments.
  • Make sure to note windows, doors, architectural features (angled walls, art niches, chair rails, etc.) that could affect placement of furniture or decor.

Likewise, when communicating with movers, relocation counselors, service providers, etc., take good notes.

  • Note the date, time, and substance of phone calls.
  • File emails together in a Moving folder or tag them so that they are easily searchable.
  • Put any appointments on your calendar ASAP.

At the best of times, I preach David Allen’s mantra that ‘Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them’. Moving is not the best of times so it’s even more important to not expect your mind to hold onto everything.

Create a System for Organizing Information. Use It.

Moving generates a ridiculous amount of information. And almost all of it is critically important. You’ll never remember it all, but the good news is that you don’t need to. You just have to have a system to organize it all.

For the paperwork you will need to keep, an expandable file (like this one) is invaluable. Label the individual sections according to the specific categories for your move. For information you want to access electronically, Evernote is an outstanding tool. You can either create individual notebooks for each category or have a master Moving notebook and use tags for individual categories. Here are a few categories to get you started:

  • Contacts – Realtors, moving companies, utilities, relocation consultants, mortgage brokers – you will be buried in phone numbers, email addresses, websites, etc. Find a way to organize all of it so that you can easily find what (and who) you need when you need it.
  • New Home – During the house hunting process, keep listing sheets and notes on the houses you’ve looked at, and are considering. After you sign a lease or purchase agreement, keep all of the paperwork associated with that (contracts, listing sheet and notes, inspection reports, etc.).
  • Mortgage – File all paperwork associated with your current and new lender, as well as the title companies handling the closings.
  • Current Home – If you are selling your current home, keep the listing agreement, marketing sheet, inspection report, receipts for improvements or repairs, etc. in here.
  • Physical Move – Keep copies of all quotes, estimates, contracts, inventory sheets. Remember that the moving company is going to, at some point, have control of all of your worldly possessions.
  • Relocation Info – Corporate moves come with policies that you need to be familiar with and refer to regularly.
  • Schools / Child Care – Keep track of recommendations and research as well as paperwork you will need to submit (immunization records, transcripts, etc.).
  • Community Info – File doctor recommendations, grocery or specialty stores, parks, area attractions, etc.
  • Banking

Take Advantage of the Opportunity that Moving Presents

Moving has one enormous hidden benefit that I like to remind my clients of. It is an outstanding opportunity to take stock of your possessions and create a more ordered life in your new home. The longer you have lived in your current home, the more stuff you have probably accumulated. This is the time to take a good, hard look at all of it and make conscious decisions about what you want to take with you.

Be Ruthless With your Decluttering

If you are paying for the move yourself, you are paying to throw things out hundreds of miles away. Even if you aren’t paying for the move, you are still the one that will have to deal with all of that stuff – in addition to everything else you will have to deal with. Sell, donate, or discard it before you move.

  • Will you be moving from a cold climate to a warm one (or vice versa)? Get rid of clothing, sporting goods and equipment, yard care tools that you won’t use anymore.
  • Did you move into this house with a four-year old child, but are moving out with a high school sophomore? Donate those old toys, games, DVDs, books, etc. that have been gathering dust.

Remember That You Will Have to Find a Place for All of This

For a treasured memento of a great trip, a beautiful piece of art, or a sentimental heirloom, you will easily find the space in your new home. But think long and hard about whether you really want to go through all of that effort for a long-ago gift that you’ve never really loved or an uncomfortable piece of furniture.

  • Are you moving into a smaller home? Think about the furniture you have. Now might be a good time to let go of some things that you no longer need or love.
  • How is your life changing along with this move? Set up your new house to reflect the life you are going to be living there.

Make Moving a Family Project

All hands on deck! Your spouse, partner, older kids – everyone but the family pet – has a part to play in this adventure.

  • If you have school-age or older kids, let them take the first pass at decluttering their stuff. If you have lived in your current house for a long time, they almost certainly have toys, clothes, school papers, books, etc. that they no longer want or need. Now is the time to let them go.
  • Donate beloved but outgrown items to friends, neighbors, charities. If you decide to sell them at a garage sale, consider letting your kids keep the money from the items that they contribute.
  • Take pictures of things that were special but won’t be going with you. If you (or your child) have the time, energy, and creativity, make a photo album.
  • Get them excited about the new place. Find something unique and interesting about it. Every place has something. You may have to dig a little harder some places than others, but you’ll find it. Plan to visit soon after you move in.
  • Help them plan out their new room. Maybe it’s time to replace their bed, or furniture; get new bedding; or rethink the color scheme of their room.

Move In Before You Move Out

This idea is the cornerstone of the move out services that Your Ordered Life provides. The more you can do ahead of time, the smoother your move in will go on the other end.

  • Create a map of your current home vs. your new home. You will obviously have a kitchen and at least one bedroom and bathroom. But you may have fewer or more bedrooms, living areas, garage stalls, etc. So, think about which rooms will serve what purpose.
  • Relocate items to the room that they will occupy in the new house before everything gets packed. Our stuff has a way of wandering when we’ve lived somewhere for a while. This is your chance to restore order.
  • Label boxes for the destination, not the origin. For example, perhaps your kids play in the basement of your current house but will have a playroom in the new house. Make sure the boxes of toys in the basement are all labeled ‘Playroom’, not ‘Basement’.
  • If you are being packed by professional movers, make signs for each room in the house and hang them on the door and at least one visible wall. That way, they know how to label the boxes.

Pack Your ‘Ready Box’

Before any packing starts, make sure that you have put aside the things that need to go in your ‘ready box’. This is the box that you will either take with you or unload first. It has the things you will need immediately when you get to your new home.

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • A cup, plate, bowl, and utensils for each family member
  • Snacks
  • Drinks
  • Dish soap
  • Hand soap
  • Chargers for phones, electronics
  • Box cutter or knife
  • Basic tools (screwdriver, hammer or mallet, pliers, measuring tape)
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie
  • Pen and paper
  • First-Aid kit (bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, pain reliever, etc.)
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lens solution, shampoo, etc.)
  • Medications – Bring more than you think you’ll need. If the movers are delayed, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Food and medications for pets
  • Entertainment for the kids

Pause if Possible

If there is any way to build in a period of a few days between closing and move-in, do it! It is so much easier to get your new home ready when it’s empty.

  • Have the carpets professionally cleaned or replace any undesirable flooring.
  • Deep clean the whole house. Hire someone or you can do it yourself. It will never be easier to get every corner of the place scrubbed down than it is now.
  • If you plan to paint any rooms, this is the time. The place is empty, and you can air it out for a couple of days.

Next time, we’ll talk about moving in!

Moving Season

Moving Season

In a typical year, May is the beginning of moving season. Of course, 2020 has been anything but a typical year. However, my friends and colleagues in real estate have reported being as busy as ever since stay at home orders have begun to relax in most areas. So, there’s a good chance that some of you are getting ready to relocate. My goal is to offer you advice that can make the process less stressful and disruptive. Despite the inherent chaos, an ordered life doesn’t have to go out the window during a move.

My History with Moving

In my adult life, I have moved in and out of six apartments; nine houses; and one long-term hotel. That last one involved two Labrador Retrievers, a cat, and a four-week old infant. And, yes, it was EXACTLY as chaotic as you’re imagining. My early moves involved multiple car trips, scavenged cardboard boxes, and a ‘crew’ consisting of family and friends paid in pizza and beer. Dorm rooms and one-bedroom apartments don’t hold a lot of stuff, no matter how much it feels like while you’re packing it.

In later years, the moves came with an enormous moving truck, matching boxes with stickers, and a professional packing crew. Four-bedroom homes hold a LOT of stuff, however minimalist they might appear. All of those later moves were interstate. Each one entailed a home sale, and a home purchase or rental. Every move taught me something new about how to relocate with my sanity and sense of humor intact.

Start Thinking About the Move Immediately

Whatever inspired your move – career, education, family, change of scenery, etc. – there are a lot of emotions around moving. And, there are a LOT of practical considerations. Start processing and working on both of these as soon as you find out the move is happening.

  • Think about what you like and don’t like about the community where you currently live. Make a list of the things that are important to you to have in your new community, and which of those are non-negotiable. This will help guide your research.
  • Are there things in your area that you have always wanted to do but haven’t done? Often, we take for granted what’s right in our backyard. Since it’s about to not be your backyard anymore, make a plan to check those activities and attractions off before you leave.
  • Plan your goodbyes. The hardest part of moving is usually leaving. You probably won’t forget to say goodbye to your closest friends but don’t forget about the more peripheral people you will miss. If you have children, make sure that they get to say goodbye to teachers, day care providers, friends, etc.

Do Your Research

We once had six months lead time before a relocation. Another time, we had three weeks. Make the most of whatever time you have so you know where you want to look for a home.

  • When you are moving out of state, it is often difficult or impossible to spend a lot of time checking out neighborhoods in person. Online resources like Niche and Neighborhood Scout can give you an overview of the types of housing, income and education levels, demographics, etc. Walk Score will tell you how easy it is to get around without a car, and what amenities are nearby. Trip Advisor and Yelp offer user reviews of activities and restaurants in the area. Search for the local Tourism department and read what they have to say about communities you’re considering.
  • If you have school-aged children, org is an excellent resource. With rankings, reviews, and a ton of data on curriculum, test scores, etc., you can get the information you need to find schools that meet your family’s needs. The U.S. Department of Education’s State Contacts can direct you to individual states’ websites for K-12, higher education, adult education, and special education. Once you narrow it down, visit potential school districts’, even individual schools’, websites.
  • Health care is an important consideration for most people. Your best source of information re: doctors in your new area is probably your insurance provider’s website. But, if you don’t know who your new provider will be, or you are interested in researching all of your options, Healthgrades and WebMD’s Doctor Search are very helpful.
  • If there is a corporate relocation policy, ALWAYS make sure that you are completely familiar with what it includes. For instance, your company may have recommendations or requirements for which real estate agents you can work with, which moving companies you can use, and what is covered. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand or are unsure of something.

Find Local Resources

Once you narrow down where you want to look, it’s time to get specific in looking for information.

  • Find a real estate agent. You are going to want someone who knows the area where you are interested in looking. Otherwise, they won’t be able to answer your more specific questions. You can start by going on national listing sites like Realtor.com, Redfin, Trulia, or Zillow. Then, look in the areas you’ve identified and find realtors who have listings there. Research those brokerage firms.
  • Get on social media and find out if there are pages for the cities, towns, neighborhoods that you are looking at. These are great sources of information and well worth your time.
  • Contact tourism bureaus in the area. They will have tons of information on things to do, events, hotels to stay in when you visit to look at homes, etc.
  • Reach out to your network of people and see if anyone you know, knows someone in the area you are looking at. You might be surprised to find that your coworker’s college roommate’s sister-in-law grew up there and is happy to give you the inside scoop.

Plan Your House Hunting

Whether you are looking to buy or rent, picking the place you are going to live is a big part of the moving experience. Now that you’ve found a community (or several) that sound like a good fit for you, you can focus your house hunting.

  • Be clear on what you are looking for. The more specific you can be about your needs, wants, and dreams the easier it will be to find options that might fit. How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Gas or electric appliances? Homeowners’ Association or no? Do you want a big yard? Again, start with what you like and don’t like about your current home and go from there.
  • Remember to consider regional realities. If you are moving from Minnesota, you might love your basement, but you will have a hard time finding one in Florida. On the other hand, pools are everywhere in Florida and much harder to find in Minnesota.
  • Think ahead. How long do you plan to be in this home? If you’re relocating for a temporary assignment, your ‘long-term’ isn’t going to be as long as if you’re planning on raising children here that you don’t yet have.
  • Know what your deal breakers are. If you know that you absolutely don’t want to live on a busy street, don’t waste your time looking at homes on busy streets. 

Moving – The Process

In the next post, we’ll talk about the actual moving process and what you can do to make that go smoothly. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, we can help!

Meal Planning

Meal Planning

Confession – meal planning was one of the few organizational tips and tricks that I had never adopted. I have helped clients with theirs, and I definitely saw the value in it. But it just hadn’t really worked with the kind of life my family led. We had dinner together whenever practices, rehearsals, part-time jobs, travel schedules, etc. allowed. I just didn’t usually have a plan, and that worked okay for us. Honestly, it was one of the few things that I enjoyed not planning.

Or so I thought.

Enter the Pandemic

Suddenly, my usual two or three trips a week to the grocery store were not going to be an option. I did an inventory of what I had in the freezer (not much) and the pantry (even less). I quickly made a list of things I could cook with what I had. Then, I looked at a dozen or so of our favorite recipes and added what I needed for those to the list. Finally, I went to Costco and to my local grocery store and got enough food to make three meals a day, for four people, for the next two weeks.

A Journey of Discovery

  1. Food is expensive. I had somewhat insulated myself from that reality by making multiple trips and only buying a few days’ worth of food at a time. Yes, when I looked at the ‘Groceries’ category in Quicken, it added up to a lot of money. But we also ate at restaurants more frequently than I appreciated.
  2. They call it ‘perishable’ food for a reason. The berries and avocadoes that my family liked to eat? You can’t buy those two weeks at a time. Making a grocery list required some algebraic calculations. How many people would eat this item? Realistically, how many would each person eat? How many days would they keep? My family can tell you about ‘Enforced Orange Day’, where everybody ate only Clementine oranges as snacks to finish the bag before it went bad. Or ‘Leftovers Dinner’, which is a motley assortment of storage container contents the night before the trash goes out.
  3. I needed to expand our menu. After a few years of less eating dinner together at home, my family had a small list of favorite meals that we cooked. Eating at home for every meal, every day, those would get old really quickly. Also, shortages at the grocery store meant having to make adjustments and substitutions. Some of our new favorite recipes so far are Spaghetti al Limone, Brioche French Toast, this Fajita Marinade (discovered when our go-to pre-marinated fajitas were no longer available), and homemade pizzas with this Pizza Dough.

Meal Planning – Getting Started

You don’t need anything complicated to begin planning your meals. The online magazine The Kitchn has a free downloadable template that you can use to get started. Or, you can Google ‘meal plan template’ and find hundreds of options. Then, you can customize and adapt one of those to your liking.

I’ve found it helpful to have these on my template:

  • A place to write (next to the meal for that day) what ingredients I will need to buy;
  • Enough room to write the name of the recipe and where to find it;
  • A section to list what perishable foods I need to use up that week; and
  • Some way to highlight meals that need to or can be made in advance.

Get Organized

It is REALLY important to organize before you start. Luckily, this was one I didn’t have to worry about. My pantry was in good order (although, I did have to reconfigure some things to accommodate so much more food). But you will need to know what you have before you begin and that is hard to do if your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer are a mess.

  • First, take everything out. If you’re working in your pantry, I always recommend taking ALL of it out at once. That way, you can see what you have and how much you have, and group things together in a way that makes sense. In the refrigerator, you can work by area (shelves, door, etc.).
  • Second, throw away anything that is past its prime. If it’s expired, stale, moldy, or discolored, it goes in the trash. If it’s something you use regularly, remember to replace it.
  • Third, set aside anything that has been in there for a long time, but nobody has eaten. If it’s been forgotten, put it front and center and remind everyone that it’s there. If nobody is going to eat it, get rid of it.
  • Fourth, sort the food into categories – canned goods, dried goods, snacks, breakfast items, etc. That way, you can see what you already have. Hopefully, that will spark some ideas for meals to cook.
  • Finally, take an inventory of what you have, and what you’re out of or running low on. Use this to make a grocery shopping list.

The ‘Planning’ Part of Meal Planning

Now it’s time to figure out what you’re going to eat for the next week or two. This was the part that I always found intimidating. Even though I’m a planner generally, I never minded winging it when it came to my meals. I thought that I wouldn’t like being locked into eating a certain thing on a certain night. What if I changed my mind?

So, my meal planning is pretty flexible. I buy groceries every two weeks, and I plan for that number of meals, but not necessarily on specific days. That way, I can adjust based on what we’re in the mood for. Do what works for you.

The essential part of the planning is to make sure that you have everything that you will need to cook that meal. Look at your inventory and see what you can make that will use up ingredients that are close to expiring, or that you have a lot of.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of people who have been doing this longer, and better, than I have. Dozens of websites have meal planning suggestions, recipe ideas, etc. I started meal planning more out of necessity due to the circumstances. But I have found that I really like going grocery shopping with a plan instead of wandering the aisles waiting for inspiration to strike. And, I like not deciding on a meal only to find that I don’t have one or two of the ingredients that I need. So, I will probably keep up meal planning even after life returns to normal (whenever that is).