Over the course of many years, many “persistent” consumables have come into my life. Some of these were well-intentioned purchases (I had always wanted to try out chamomile tea after not having tasted it for over twenty years), some were inherited gifts from friends (a buddy heading off to join the military bequeathed to me a box full of exotic sauces and cooking wines I never would have thought to buy on my own), and some were outright giveaways (remember all those little tubes of toothpaste and floss from the dentist?). Whereas I was regularly burning through coffee grounds and water filters and jugs of kimchi, these “persistent” consumables somehow managed to remain in my pantry and drawers for years and years. Despite their being in plain sight at all times, I continued to overlook them well beyond their “best by” dates, but since they never reached the point of outright decomposition they never demanded my full attention. However, I never up and threw them all out because I felt that would be such a waste.
This consumable nonconsumption continued even as I was freeing myself of boxfuls of non-consumables. The old textbooks and clothes and trinkets left; the spices and sauces remained. Even more counterintuitive: I kept buying and using consumables similar to the ones I was ignoring. Even while in general I was consuming less overall, I had still figured out a way to keep holding on to my consumables far past the point of sensibility.
While I was aware of the absurdity of the situation, I always figured I’d deal with it later. Of course, later never comes unless and until you make it come, so one day I decided to finally make later into now.
Gradually and deliberately, I began to incorporate the overlooked consumables into my daily life. Tea replaced coffee for Saturday afternoon hot beverages. Dinners were seasoned with new (though ironically very old) spices. And when I traveled, I actually used the travel toothpaste. Eventually I reached the bottom of a spice jar or the last tea bag and earned the opportunity to consider whether I should replace it. Fennel? No thanks. Ponzu sauce? Not in a hurry. Fancypants toothpaste? The plain stuff is just fine. Chili powder? Heavens yes. The benefits here were twofold: not only did I gain better insight into my personal tastes in food and personal hygiene products, but I was able to reverse my trend of consumable nonconsumption and clean out my pantry in one fell swoop. Minimizing through attrition, as it were… and delicious attrition at that.
Has consumable nonconsumption snuck into your daily routine? Take a look in the back of your pantry or drawer and see what’s been lurking there for years. If it’s still usable, see what happens if you just up and use it; you’re under no obligation to replace it if you don’t end up liking it, but you may discover a new favorite spice for your life.
Over the past year I’ve managed to keep my pantry clear of consumables I didn’t care for and stocked with those I loved (as a side note, ponzu sauce has been upgraded from “not in a hurry” to “keep it coming!”). An odd side-effect of this has been that I’ve learned to love and appreciate so many new consumables that at times my pantry or fridge approach capacity with delicious whole foods, sauces, spices, and juices that I certainly burn through, just not all at once. The end result is that I’m back to where I began: too many consumables that I’m just not consuming quickly enough, except now at least they’re consumables I truly enjoy.
Fortunately, my experience with chipping away at consumable nonconsumption back in early 2017 served me well throughout the rest of the year and into 2018: when I notice things getting out of hand, I put a moratorium on new consumable purchases until the pantry and fridge are practically bare. Once there’s hardly enough left to prepare a full meal or two, I’ll go to the store and pick up just those consumables that are currently in my eating routine (I tend to stick to eating almost the exact same things for months at a time) and keep the total number of jars, bags, and cartons to a minimum the best I can. Inevitably they pile up (oftentimes when my routine suddenly shifts immediately after a large shopping run, oops) and the cycle repeats itself, but it’s a phenomenon I’m well aware of these days and one for which I’ve trained myself to gracefully accommodate.