Buy in bulk, minus the clutter

Buying in bulk can save you tons of money, but 36-packs of toilet paper and bulk packs of trash bags can quickly clutter up your home. How do you save money and space? Hamm walks readers through organizing their purchases.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP/File
Walter Pugh, 83, of Belzoni, Miss., loads a case of his bottled water into his shopping cart in Jackson, Miss. earlier this year. When you buy bulk packs at the grocery store, you can save money — but it's important to organize your home so those bulk purchases don't clutter up space, Hamm says.

I’m an enormous fan of buying many things in bulk. I make no bones about it. You can save a lot of money if you buy nonperishables in bulk as well as if you bulk buy perishables that you’re sure to use up.

The challenge is that if you’re buying quite a few different things in bulk, these things begin to take up serious space in your home. One four pack of toilet paper fits under the sink easily, but what if you buy a 36 pack of toilet paper? What if you do the same thing with paper towels, trash bags, shampoo, dishwashing detergent, soap, olive oil, black pepper, pasta, tomato sauce…. you get the idea?

We have a very large pantry, but we run into this issue all the time. Our pantry is full and sometimes a bit chaotic and we have more items that need to go into the pantry than we have space for.

This introduces another issue. When you need something specific and you open the pantry door to find it, only to discover that your pantry is stuffed to the brim with your bulk purchases, you can sometimes really struggle to find the thing you need. More than once, I’ve been convinced that we were out of a particular item, added that item to the list, only to have Sarah later find that item … or, at least a couple times, I’ve actually purchased the item again.

In the best case, you waste time looking for the item. In the worst case, you waste money buying something you already have, sometimes building up a backlog big enough that it goes to waste.

The answer to all of this is simple. One big part of successful bulk buying is organization.

Here’s the system we’ve started moving to. I should note that this system is gradually being implemented, but it’s working well so far.

First of all, we cleared some space for some shelving in the garage. We wanted a distinct place from our normal pantry to store all of our bulk purchases, so we decided on the garage. The temperature varies out there, but it’s never extreme, so we weren’t worried about keeping stuff out there.

Then, we built some of our patented “cheap” shelving. Cheap shelving consists of whatever flat boards we can find for cheap along with cinder blocks. We put these together to form a basic shelving unit.

After that, whenever we buy something in bulk, we put it out there on the “cheap” shelving unit. We only take some of it in the house if we’re sure we need it in there. Otherwise, we just put it out on the shelving.

Then, we did a thorough pantry cleaning. We tried to keep only one or two of each item in our kitchen pantry and we moved the rest out to the garage.

Now, whenever we look for something in the pantry and find it’s not there, we look out in the garage next. This has to happen before we can add something to the grocery list. If there’s an item we need that’s not in the pantry and not in the bulk shelving, we know we actually need to refill it.

This simple system allows us to keep both the pantry and our bulk purchases organized, which means that individual items are far easier to find than before. This means less wasted time and fewer unnecessary purchases, both of which are big wins in our life.

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