Your Kitchen Needs an Inventory List and Here's Why

From saving money to smarter meal planning, this extra step is a no-brainer.

Woman looking at her phone in the grocery store
Photo: Dotdash Meredith / Sabrina Tan

Sometimes having storage space in the kitchen is a gift and a curse. After moving to LA in 2020, I upgraded to a fridge and freezer combo that was at least double the size of what I had in my small NYC studio. I also got a very deep pantry that was taller than me. And I filled it all—every cupboard and nook and cranny of the fridge and freezer.

A year and a half into hoarding way too much food, I was overwhelmed and realized it was time to take action. In January 2022 I made a New Year's resolution to get a full grip on what I had to cook with, and began with my freezer. I enlisted a friend to help me purge anything that was freezer burnt or questionably old, categorize everything, get bins that stack together, and put everything back in. Then, I wrote down everything that was in there on a large piece of paper and taped it to the freezer. It was admittedly an eyesore—my fridge isn't magnetic, so it was the only thing on there—so I eventually transcribed it as a checklist in my iPhone's Notes app. My goal was to keep tabs on what was in the freezer before it got freezer burnt. Step one!

I followed suit with my fridge and pantry, getting those in better shape...and then jotting down their contents in my Notes app. (I remain on the hunt for an app that could help me organize all of these inventory lists in an aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-update way.) Meanwhile, though, having easy access to my inventory lists is what makes them work so well for me. It's been a kitchen game changer.

How My Inventory Lists Help Me Every Day

In addition to helping fight food waste (I don't overbuy because I know what's actually in my kitchen storage at all times), my inventory lists are a quick way for me to know what I have on hand before meal planning. I will usually start with a protein and build from there. For instance, I had five individually vacuum-sealed salmon filets in the freezer from a short-lived Alaskan seafood CSA. One week, I made crispy rice paper dumplings, and the next I roasted two with veggies so I could eat some for dinner and make an Emily Mariko–inspired spicy salmon rice bowl for lunch the next day. Because of my inventory lists, I knew that I had vegetables that were about to rot away in the crisper drawer, short grain rice and rice paper in the pantry, and I was almost out of Kewpie mayo and needed a restock. If not for my inventory lists, I may have accidentally bought salmon when I went to Costco this week (which I love to individually wrap and freeze). Again, everyone wins.

Some Kitchen Inventory Advice

Inspired to do your own kitchen inventory? If you have a magnetic fridge (unlike me), think about getting a white board to put there to keep track of everything. If you love spreadsheets (you know who you are), that may be an even better option! Bullet journals can be helpful for lists like this, as can list apps like Notes. Pick the style that suits your temperament—the more comfortable you are with the medium, the more likely you are to stay up to date with what the heck is in your kitchen at all times.

And be forgiving if you slack a bit. If I'm honest, as I write this article I'm aware that my inventory lists are a bit, um, outdated. But even if just the "bones" of my lists are with me, I feel that prompts me to check what I've got in-house before heading to the grocery store. And that's always a good thing.

And speaking of bones, that reminds me that I have a bag of rotisserie chicken bones ready to make stock for soup season. Future me is set up for cozy, comforting success!

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