Friday, November 30, 2012

The magic of the clipboard

I'd rather enjoy the time I spend with my wife, than waste it doing errands on the weekend.

At some point I realized that shopping for groceries (or anything else) did not require both Ariel and I to be there. And if I went out and got it done during the week, that left the weekend wide open. I also realized that it would be a lot easier if I batched all of the errands together: Grocery store, warehouse club store (Sam's, Costco, etc), and miscellaneous other errands, and got them all done at once. It's easier and faster for just me to run out and get everything done at once, than for both of us wasting the better part of a weekend day, not really enjoying each other's company, and still failing to get everything done that we wanted. (It's not that we don't enjoy each other, but there are much better, more enjoyable things to do than fight crowds and wait in long lines.)

At some point, I also figured out how to streamline the process of making grocery lists, in a way that ensured that nothing would fall through the cracks. We've been doing this for months now, and every time I explain my system to someone else, they tell me that this is genius. But I hadn't gotten around to writing it up until now.

This is the clipboard that hangs up in the kitchen. The top section of the page spells out the dinner plan for the week. (We generally prepare lunches in bulk on Sunday, and breakfasts are staples, so we only need to write what's for dinner.) This is great for those nights when we're tired and can't remember what the plan was for dinner. It's right there, and we don't have to think or decide anything.

The bottom section is the grocery list section, divided into 3 separate areas. (Grocery store, Costco/BJ's, and miscellaneous.) Whenever we run out, or are running low on some staple item, (milk, eggs, beans, oil) we walk over and add it to the grocery list for that week. If there's anything else we need for the household, it also goes on the list.

Once a week, we sit down to figure out what we want to do for dinner the following week. We take the old list off, and write up the new menu on the clipboard. Once we've figured out the menu, we add everything we're going to need, to the list of things we're out of.  I go shopping on Friday mornings, typically, so the next week's dinner plan runs from Friday through Thursday.

In the picture below, the page on the left is this past week's menu, and the grocery list that was written up over the course of the past week. The page on the right is next week's menu, with space for next week's shopping list underneath. When we generated next week's menu (right page), the groceries required went on this week's shopping list, (left page) added to the list of things we ran out or need more of. This gives us a composite list of everything we need (that we're aware of) to keep things running smoothly at home. This includes random household stuff, too: lightbulbs, candles, batteries, bicycle inner-tubes, or whatever else. There is no more uttering of the phrase "I have to remember to pick up _______ next time I'm at the store. We write it down when the thought occurs to us, so we don't have to remember it later... because we almost never do.

When I go shopping on Fridays, I fold the list in half, top to bottom, (writing out) and then in thirds, from side to side, so that the lists for each store are separate lists, and the whole thing is pocket sized. Everything I need to pick up that day is on that one piece of paper. (This week's list --->)

There have been some predictable benefits to doing things this way: There's usually less rotten crap in the fridge that we've forgotten about, because almost everything in the fridge is in there for a reason. So, the amount of wasted food has gone down, and the amount of wasted money on unused food has gone down. (Take a look at how short this week's list is for the grocery store: I'm only buying the things we need that we don't already have. And there are only 4 items on the list for BJ's.) The pantry makes more sense, too, because it's not filled with random crap we don't/ won't use. (Well, mostly.) This is pretty critical, because our kitchen is so small.

But there are also other, less expected benefits. The amount of impulse shopping has dropped drastically... even when I'm hungry.  And shopping is faster, because I know what I need, and I'm not wandering aimlessly through the store. ("Gee... what do I want? I'm hungry. That looks good. You know, I always think I should make something new, though... I never try anything new...") So the actual shopping process is a lot more efficient. Because I'm planning it all out ahead of time, I'm cooking a much more varied and interesting menu. If I find a new recipe that I want to try, I write it on the clipboard as a reminder, and add it to the menu for next week. And we don't have any more of those "Oh, crap, I forgot to buy..." moments. That goes for everything from food items to batteries, to whatever else... it all goes on the list, and it all gets taken care of.

Those are the upsides. The downside is, this is one of those systems that absolutely requires a regular routine, and it took an effort to make it habitual. We write up the list on Wednesday, and have Thursday as a backup, to make sure that the list is ready on Friday morning. Some nights I come home and I'm exhausted, or we're both exhausted, and it's hard to sit down and get it done... but we know that if we don't do it, there's no plan, and then all bets are off, and the week is just harder. Also, if I go somewhere on vacation, like when I went out to visit my brother recently, it causes problems. I got back, and there wasn't very much to make a meal from, because I hadn't gone shopping. But it was cool, in a way, because it meant the system was working, and we were running a very lean kitchen.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and in light of the things I heard from New York, I will also add that running a lean kitchen, and being prepared for a storm, are very different things.

The end result has been less wasted money, less wasted food, less wasted space, less wasted time, a much more interesting dinner menu... and a lot more quality time spent with people I want to spend it with.

Not too shabby.

No comments:

Post a Comment