82: Keeping a Pantry Journal Helps you Prepare for Emergencies
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I’ve always kept a freezer list/pantry list of what’s on hand here at the homestead. But what about keeping a pantry journal — a list of what we actually use? It was first suggested to me in my Grow a Year’s Worth of Food interview with Melissa K Norris, but then Nicole Sauce of Living Free in Tennesee recently talked about it again in Build Your Pantry the Right Way and my brain just happened to be in the right place to hear the logic of it.
***Hear this blog post as a podcast episode by pressing the triangle play button near the top of this post!***
What is a pantry journal?
Lots of people write down when they are out of a certain item—that’s called a shopping list. But do you know how often you buy peanut butter? Cat food? Do you know how long a jug of laundry soap lasts for you? How about a 25 lb. bag of flour?
Putting those items on a grocery list is great because it means you will remember to buy or order it. But it doesn’t tell you how often you need to buy those items. It’s important to track what you have and what you need, but it’s also important to keep track of how often you need to replace it.
Why you should keep a pantry journal
There are four reasons that keeping a pantry journal can be helpful.
Visual representation of what you’re using: I’m a visual person. My husband knows this, my kids know this. If mom needs something explained, it needs to be visual. In order for me to really get a grasp on how much we are using and at what rate we are going through it, I need to have a visual representation and record of that.
Helps you decide how much you need to store: The most helpful use of a pantry journal is in your prepping. You can’t know what you need until you know what you use. By keeping track of what you use in a week, a month, or a year, you will be better prepared to, well…prepare.
Tells you how short you are if there is a “panic”: Fear does crazy things to people. And while there are some folks that will hoard in an emergency just because, there are also some people out there who, when faced with an OMG we’re out! situation, don’t really know how much they will need to get by and totally overestimate—not because they’re a jerk, but because they really don’t know.
Helps you know how much you can give to someone else if they are short: In a panic or another emergency situation, you will know people who run out of stuff and they may ask if you can spare something. Can you? If you don’t know how much you need to have on hand for your own use, how will you know what you can give to others?
How to keep a pantry journal
The how to of keeping a pantry journal depends a little bit on how your brain works. It also depends on how big your family is and how old or helpful your family members are.
One option is to start by documenting every time you deplete something. Just tossed a bottle of laundry soap? Write it down in this month’s journal page. Went through four loaves of bread this month? Write it down.
The drawback of this, especially just starting out, is that if you happen to run out of vanilla this month and you just started keeping track, it will appear as though you went through a bottle of vanilla in a month—which may or may not be true.
Another drawback is if you have family members who aren’t on board with (or don’t remember to) write things down as they are emptied, your documentation won’t be accurate at all.
A second option is after shopping, write down everything you bought in a spreadsheet—then mark the items off when they are depleted. This method is potentially more accurate but clearly takes a bit more planning and work.
I love spreadsheets, but I find that anything that is stored in my computer gets forgotten about when I’m in the kitchen. Again, I’m a visual person. I need to see it in front of my face at the time that makes sense for me to do something about it.
Note: If you’re going to write things down after a shopping trip, you could just save all your grocery shopping lists and compile what you use by seeing how often items come up for your shopping trips.
A third method (and the one that I’ve settled on) is to keep a list on the fridge that is divided into three columns: item, open, empty. Obviously, the item column is the name of the item. When I open a new package of the item, I write that date on the form under open. When the item is finished, I write that date under empty. Repeat. Do this a few times with an item and you will see a pattern that will help you determine how much of it you use in a month or a year.
It’s important to also understand there are seasons to what you use. There are also situations when an item might be used much more quickly than other times of the year. For instance, if I go a long time without making bread, I can tell you the first couple weeks that I’m back to bread baking, the bread goes just. like. that. But eventually things level off. When keeping track of what you use, it’s important to note these situations.
I’ve seen all three of these methods work for different types of families, and any of these methods is better than nothing at all. Regardless of whether you use one of these three ideas or one that’s totally different, one thing is for sure: it will take time to figure this all out and to have enough information to help with your prepping.
Ahem. That’s why you should start today.
Keeping a pantry journal is a smart idea!
By keeping a pantry journal, you’ll know how much you use of the household products you buy (or make), which will help you know what you need to store to be prepared for possible shortages in the future. Knowing what you actually use and how often you need to replace it will help you better prepare and stock up for future emergency situations or lean times.
Other links mentioned in Episode: