Why You Need a Pantry & Freezer Inventory

Many years ago a relative stopped by to visit and brought with her three of those huge storage containers full of pantry staples and fresh meat. My husband had just been laid off and while we were managing alright with the paltry unemployment income and our savings, this relative knew from experience that lean times were ahead. Her act of kindness hasn’t been forgotten all these years later. Not only was this a lesson in kindness and humbleness, it taught me another lesson that has lasted.

When you have no income and limited funds you know you need to make everything you have stretch as far as possible, so I knew I needed some kind of simple organization system that allowed me to easily see what we had on hand.

Once I figured a simple system out I actually got angry with myself for not figuring it out earlier, imagine all the waste I could have avoided! After using the system for a few weeks I realized that not only did the system prevent waste, it also made shopping a lot easier and cheaper! File this under “duh”, right?

I started by inventorying our pantry. We didn’t have dedicated pantry space in this house, rather, our pantry items were split between cabinets, the linen closet and the laundry room. I went from space to space making a list of everything we had. I then did the same with the freezer contents, including the meat the relative had given us that I planned to freeze later that day.

Later that evening, after my daily chores were finished and the kids were in bed I sat down and re-wrote my lists. I organized everything by category (see below) and placed tick marks next to the items I had more than one of. My lists were hand-written so I could easily mark things off and add to the list as needed. I taped the inventory lists to the inside of my cupboards, I put a pencil in the cupboards too because in my house it’s usually impossible to find a writing instrument when you need one. I taped a blank piece of paper beside the inventory so I could write down items I needed to get the next time I shopped, or when funds allowed.

As I use an item I cross it off the inventory list, and when I get something I add it. It does take a bit of time to get this system started but once you have your first inventory done the only work needed to keep it up is the maintenance. Every month or so I take the list down and start a new one. Below are the inventory categories that work for us, change it to meet your needs J


Canned veggies and fruit

Canned beans

Dry beans/rice/mixes

Baking supplies

Breakfast foods


(I didn’t include my spices because we normally have a pretty full stock, or can substitute if we don’t have something)


Veggies and fruit




Misc (leftovers for soup, pasta, individual portions, etc)


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