The hoarding habit

The disaster zone kitchen has been largely cleared up now. The kitchen table is still piled up with foodstuffs that need to be re-housed, but otherwise things are mostly back to normal. Except that is for my general will to do some serious cooking. There is something about throwing away bags of ruined flour, sugar, and formerly dry pasta that damages ones will to live, er, that is cook with a light heart.

What I did discover though is that I am a hoarder. With a small household, there’s no need at all to have so many things stockpiled. Why did we even have 6 bags of sugar and buy flour by the ten-pack anyway, when it’s not even cheaper to do so? I don’t bake that much, and I only need sugar in large amounts during jam and preserve making time, which is still weeks down the road. Likewise, we have still 10 cans of tuna when we barely eat the stuff at all.

I think the answer lies in my fear of running out of ingredients. If I run out of certain staples, I feel mildly panicked: olive oil, canned tomatoes, garlic, fresh ginger, salt, rice, milk, bars of dark chocolate (used for cooking only - there’s another stash for eating). I’m not comfortable with just having one bag of flour (and of course, it’s not just one kind of flour - there’s white, whole wheat, spelt, buckwheat…), I need to see at least 2 backups. It’ not like we can’t just go out and buy it when needed…we live in a suburb, not out in the deep countryside. Still, I don’t feel comfortable in a house that isn’t stocked with food. I’m sure there is some sort of deep psychological reason for this stemming from a disturbing incident in my childhood or something.

There’s another problem too. Other people may have a compulsive shopping habit, but I have a compulsive cooking habit: it’s not at all unusual for me to wake up at 3 AM, start surfing around, land upon a particularly tempting recipe, and start cooking it right there. Max is now used to waking up in the morning and finding that some cinnamon buns, a batch of caramel, or a pot of mystery soup have materialized during the night, not to mention a messy kitchen. This is why I have a big plastic box labeled Baking Supplies (thank goodness it was in that box and didn’t get ruined) of things like dry yeast, gelatin, sticky vanilla pods in test-tube like cases, food coloring, and decorating sugar. I never know when I will get the urge to make glittery cupcakes.

Having to throw away quite a lot of that was difficult. But maybe this will break the hoarding habit, just a bit. Though I can’t stop that mild pang of panic at the thought that at the moment, there’s no spaghetti at all in the house. No spaghetti!

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My problem is not so much

My problem is not so much hoarding, as keeping things I will never use. I bought a can of beets one day when I was craving them, then I wasn’t craving them anymore when I got home from the store, so they’ve just been sitting on my pantry shelf, taking up room. I am never going to eat these beets! Likewise, food received as gifts (soup mixes, hot chocolate mixes, etc.). I will probably just keep buying food and never get around to eating these things I wouldn’t have picked out for myself, so they just sit there. I need to find somewhere to donate this stuff. (Lucky poor people: It’s beets for you!)

srah | 25 May, 2007 - 15:46

I feel your pain...

It’s amazing the things that can accumulate! You never realize it, either, until something like your kitchen disaster :( or moving happens to force you to look at what’s there.

I house-sat for a family once while they were away, and the father had a serious shopping compulsion: his wife warned me, and I didn’t really believe her. I wasn’t prepared. The whole basement of their single family home was lined with shelves that were stocked.. a half dozen bottles of catchup, for example. Two chest freezers full of food, plus an extra fridge. This was a family of three-and-a-half (the half being a son who lived there half the time).

Anyway, I’m glad your kitchen disaster is coming to an end. :)

Mo | 26 May, 2007 - 23:30

Wow! My dad does this.

Wow! My dad does this. Seriously, you could have been writing about him. I think he keeps a running list in his head of what things would normally cost, and then when something’s on sale, he buys them ALL. You could go grocery shopping in his basement. I can picture the shop-shelves of food in my mind right now.

I have no doubt that some stuff goes bad. After all, how old of a jar of olives would anyone want to risk eating? When you have that much stuff, there’s bound to be waste.

I think I might have the same tendencies, only I have no attic, no garage and no basement. I do have a small pantry, with plenty of things in it that are equivalent to the beets mentioned above. So when I get those impulses to buy things, I’ve really got to weigh whether or not something will fit in my house.

Candace Gallant | 1 June, 2007 - 20:52

I hear you!

I have the same fear of running out of an ingredient. I also live very close to several stores, but just can’t get over it.
I think part of my obsession was that between a meager food budget and my mother being in addition to a picky eater, was also always on a diet. The outcome was a boring and almost empty pantry and fridge. I would go over to friend’s houses and be awed at the lovely variety and amount of foodstuffs in their kitchens.

So now I buy too much and have a large variety but just don’t get around to some of it in time.

So recently I’ve started a “eat up the pantry” week every 6 weeks or so. We have to eat all the food in the pantry (except things like catchup or vinegar) until it’s almost gone.

All I will buy at the store during this time is fresh fruits and veggies and some meat. All the rest of the meals have to come only from the pantry.
It does help and when we get down to the end, we do have some interesting meals! But it gets me over the guilt of hording! lol!

BarbJ | 16 October, 2008 - 00:22

Re: The hoarding habit

Perhaps it's being brought up by wartime Japanese rellies (though of course I am not sure if you were) - my obaachan used to stockpile literally everything; those handout tissues, toilet rolls, neatly knotted plastic bags, watermelon rinds to make tsukemono and now I feel insecure unless I have hoards of rice, canned things and dried goods, hehe.

sasa | 28 August, 2009 - 01:55

Re: The hoarding habit

My mother did this, and it took me many months to restore order when I inherited her kitchen... However, I tend to buy special ingredients for certain recipes, and then (unless I make what I planned within a couple of weeks) move onto something else. So I have odd things like a jar of cranberry sauce, agar agar, and a couple of pomelos, that I really ought to do something with. I guess nobody's perfect! ;-)

scyrene | 17 January, 2010 - 18:29

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