Sunday, April 21, 2013

The 15-year supply of aluminum foil

Shortly after my folks got married in '73, my father went on one of his "OMG, there's a sale!!!" shopping binges. He bought aluminum foil. Lots and lots of aluminum foil.

Enough aluminum foil, in fact, that I was seven years old when we finally ran out.

Please note: my parents waited ten years to have me. If my dad bought the foil in '75 and I was seven in 1990, then my father purchased 15 years of aluminum foil. I might be able to justify that if it were canned food and we were expecting an apocalypse, but really? Aluminum foil?

My mother may be the hoarder, but my father is a compulsive saver, particularly when it comes to food.  He will drive to every. single. grocery store in town to save 50 cents on butter, $1.00 on eggs, and buy-one-get-one-free ice cream. It would be fine except that I figure 1/3 of what he purchases gets thrown out because it goes bad or no one likes it. The freezers (plural) in my parents' house are pretty good evidence of this.

My eating disorder has made me particularly dodgy about hoarding food. I feel a compulsion to save food and buy large quantities of it because I starved myself for so many years and my body and mind are quite honestly afraid that the food will go away. I've also probably acquired some of my dad's tendencies to hoard food that's on sale. I once broke my own granny cart trying to haul home 35 pounds of flour that was on sale. It's been a real challenge to start to break myself of this habit.

How can I avoid hoarding food?

Some of my food hoarding problems are being addressed as I work with my dietician and my psychologist. I've developed a mantra of, "I can always have more later," and have learned to give myself permission to go out and get specific foods when I really crave them instead of hoarding them in the house in case the urge strikes. Not keeping half the grocery store cookie aisle in my cupboard also makes me less likely to act on my bulimic habits.

Some of my food hoarding habits are a result of an occasionally obsessive desire to live in a more self-sufficient way. There's nothing wrong with this, but I tend to take it to an extreme. Do I need 75 pounds of flour? Good question.

To get through the compulsive saver tendencies I've inherited from dad, I have to ask myself these two things:

1. Am I likely to use it before it goes bad? It won't be saving any money if I waste any!
2. How long will it take me to go through this? 6 months is my limit. I won't keep more than a six-month supply of anything.

I've tried adding up the cost of wasted food and that has helped me see that I'm not saving any money by buying large packages. I clean out the fridge each week to keep better track of what we're using and how much we actually need to buy when we shop. I'm slowly learning to buy normal packages of fruit and veg instead of the costco-sized boxes which invariably end up going bad.

Food gone bad this week: alioli leftover from takeout (pennies), bean soup ($1),  rice-corn-and-bean taco filling ($2),  rice and haddock dinner leftovers ($7 of the $15 filet we bought.) Total: $10! In a week!
For pantry items I do have to think about how frequently we go through those items, which are tempting to buy in large quantities because they take a long time to go bad. And yet we bought 75 pounds of flour at costco last week.
a mere 25 pounds. each of those containers holds five.

This stuff we use and we go through 75 pounds in about 4 months. We make all our own bread, baked goods, and even our own bisquick. In the spirit of blogging more about eco-friendly and sustainable living, I'll post the recipe for that tomorrow as this post is already too long!

So how do you balance saving money / being frugal / living more sustainably with overbuying or hoarding food?

For those of you who were wondering, the first phase of the kitchen semi-remodel finished up on Thursday.

Next we'll be putting in a cabinet and counter where the table currently is and replacing the floor. That will probably happen in June/July as we do not plan to use loans to complete the project. If we don't have enough money, we'll wait. 

The countertop and the sink in the existing area are in pretty bad shape and need to be replaced along with the backsplash, so those we will have replaced in the Fall. The existing cabinets are brand new ( to us!) and it didn't seem very eco-friendly or wallet-friendly to replace a bunch of cabinets that are in pretty good shape. Those and the appliances stay. 

It's been a relief already. We each have food allergies (different ones) so it's comforting that I can make my dairy meals far, far away from the Chief Engineer's food with no worries that anything will accidentally get cross-contaminated. No ER visits for us tonight!


  1. Oh my... I inherited the food hoarding gene from my father too. I think he comes by his compulsions naturally though, as he grew up in extreme poverty and often went hungry as a kid.

    But my little grocery challenge is really opening my eyes to my food hoarding tendencies. I'm sure that this all plays into the eating disorder stuff too. I've noticed that even when I'm not buying obscene amounts of things, I have this strange aversion to eating things that I just bought... it's like I feel guilty eating something "new" and feel like I should "save it."

    Anyhow, I'm trying really hard to use up food that I have in the pantry and eventually I need to aim for "net zero" shopping. Meaning that I can keep food in the pantry and freezer, and stock up when things are on sale, but the goal is to use as much as I buy and not just keep adding more to the stockpile!

    I think your six month rule is an excellent guideline!

  2. I always find the best way to stop myself from buying three boxes of tinned baked beans or a truckload of softdrink is to make sure I don't have anywhere to store it.

    1. so far I think we're doing well...the advantages of a small condo!

  3. I imagine you probably thought the way your dad shopped for food was normal, at least when you were quite young. You didn't have a normal model, so you are having to teach yourself what normal grocery shopping looks like. I think you are doing a great job. Even without any eating disorder history, I think a lot of people struggle with how much sweet stuff they should keep in the kitchen cabinets. My friends and I who have school age kids have to think about how our choices re this affect the next generation. It's hard to find balance, sometimes.

    1. thanks! I'd be very curious to hear about how you've found the balance, if you'd be willing to share?

  4. We try to buy our fruit & vege at farmers markets and groceries at local shops instead of big supermarkets. It can sometimes cost more with some items, but it helps keep our local community more vibrant, which is important to us. We buy a few things in bulk, but only if bulk means less packaging or is something we use a lot of (but it still has to fit into its 'proper' cupboard!).

  5. I've come from a hoarding background as well, and it was hard for me, too, to know how much to buy when I first moved out on my own. No good role models there! I'm a lot better now, with only occasional slip-ups. 6 months is a good idea.
    As a kid, there was always food around and my mom tried to teach us how to eat in moderation. For example, she made cookies and those were almost always available to us, with the understanding that we should not eat them all at once. However, I had 3 cousins (sisters) who came to visit us most summers, and their mother had the pretty much banned sweets for them. They would come over to our house and eat all the cookies and anything else they could find because their mom would not let them have these at home. Two of the three have grown up to have, by their own admission, serious problems with regulating their own food intake. They saw it - they ate it, until they started counseling. They never learned how to self-regulate as kids. I've seen this with the children of friends as well - the mom has made it very, very hard to ever have sweets and so the kids overeat when she's not there to control them.
    If you make things forbidden for kids, I think it makes them more appealing. Food is everywhere, and kids have to be taught what and how much is reasonable to eat.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head -- I had a very similar experience with my mother. I wonder if that kind of behavior plays out with the hoarding too? Did our parents get deprived of objects as a child?

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