Hoarding: The Food Wars

In my last installment, as promised, I will talk about food. And again, I want to emphasize that I am not picking on anyone, so if you see yourself or someone you know in these articles, it is purely coincidental. So here goes.


Even though some models on television make it look possible, we can't live much longer than 3 weeks without food. I personally wouldn't want to! I love food and the longer I live, the more I love it! I can't imagine a world without salads and cheeses and chicken, oh my!

So, to talk about how not to have too much food almost goes against my grain. Frugal people stock it up just like my people did. With families getting bigger and paychecks getting smaller, a sale on soup is almost a red letter day, so please don't think I am asking or advising anyone to stop being thrifty about food or the collection of enough to get us through a rough patch. What I will address today is the need for 112 cans of peaches.

As most of you know, I recently went through five months of digging out of a hoarder's home, who was not just a collector, but never threw anything out. If you have not read my other articles, it would help to understand this one if you did.


Editor's Note: Links to Sandi's other articles on hoarding can be found at the end of this article.

When I first arrived in her home, it was worse than I had left it and that was 28 years ago. However, I remembered the same things sitting in the same places, so you can imagine the food situation.

This lady and her husband never threw anything out, and that included food. They lived in a double wide that was good for 25 years which was over in 1999. During the time I was there, I personally carried out 3200 lbs. of trash, personal items, purses, books, dishes, kitchen items, clothes, and much more that was either recycled, burned, or stored in a Mersk storage shed. I was not allowed to donate anything as the lady had Alzheimers and her things were sacred.

Then, I tackled the food.

Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in a good storage system where things are rotated and consumed, not just for a disaster or a rainy day, but for to eat on a daily basis. Good planning and smart maintenance is key. You do not want to get to the point of this family.


They had a 3 bedroom home, and while food was stored in tubs, boxes, cupboards and shelving units everywhere in the house - even the bathroom - there was what we affectionately called "the food room".

It was in the back of the mobile, with a small window and closet. When you see the photos, try and imagine that much weight on the floor, which was falling through. They had 6 shelving units, plus one that was made of wood. In truth, I never had time to completely get to that one, so it remains this condition even now.


The first thing I had to do was move 145 bags of canned and boxed food from the floor, just so I could safely walk. That is not easy when there is little or no floor space outside the room to set anything, so I "moved things around" a lot. I don't recommend this as it's not like you are moving bags of marshmallows.


When you are trying to organize food, a good plan is to have all like foods together. The first thing to do is pick shelves for seafood, fruit, veggies, meals in a can, stuff to make meals with, boxes mixes, pasta, and baking goods. It took two days to check all the bags and boxes of things to throw out the tainted food. And just in case you are sensitive to stories of critters, I will simply say that all things "once alive were now not" and leave it at that.

Unfortunately, they ate things and didn't think about what might be in them. For example, 8 bags of opened baking mix that should not have been bought over and over again, half used, then simply rolled over to close, is not safe to eat. Raisins that had been open a year didn't bother anyone. Canned goods that were no labels and not dated were eaten simply because "it was food and someone worked hard on it" was the norm in that house. It was more or less "we haven't gotten sick yet" and that is how they lived.


So, after unpacking and sorting food for literally days, I finally got some organization to the food room. They had: 268 cans of fruit, 89 cans of chili, 90 soups, 118 packages of pasta, 145 boxed goods, 87 condiments (most opened), 95 cans of beans, 14 jars of peanut butter (none good anymore), and an astounding 349 cans of seafood.


Now, you might ask, "How could this have happened?", and it's very simple. When you don't know you have something, you go buy it. All the food that he had bought was in bags on the floor, he didn't know he had the food he wanted in the bags, so then he would go buy more and cover that with new bags, and so on.

We have all done it on occasion - you get a sale on soup and forget you have 10 cans at home. Whoops!, but still no biggie.

The problem with this situation was two fold: One, they only had so much room. And two, their food was not designed to last forever. Out of all the numbers above, I was only able to save about 2/3 of the food. So, all that money and effort to stock up the other 1/3 was wasted. It would have been better to not buy it then buy it and toss it, which is what I had to do.


Earlier I mentioned that food was everywhere in the house. I was not kidding. It was on the porches, in storage units, in closets, in cupboards in the bathrooms, in boxes under the beds, and even in the kitchen. Now you might think this is a funny thing to say, so I will explain. With all the cupboards full of dishes, baking pans and utensils, the only place for food was the precious little counter space and of course, on the cart.


When you have a daunting task like this, you eat the elephant one bite at a time. Getting to the point where I could address the food took almost 2 months, making sure on a day to day basis that what we ate was good. Once I was able to make it the daily chore, it was easier to focus.

Luckily, cans tell me right away if they are safe to eat. I opened all the boxed foods and checked for critters, then resealed them in zip lock bags. Since pasta contains eggs, I tossed out a lot of it. I actually made a small pie crust out of the 8 opened bags, and once I realized it was OK, I tossed 4 of the oldest and mixed the rest in a big glass jar. I tossed all the open condiments, and recycled the containers. I found a lot of tubs that were "packed for camping" so there were food stuffs from 1989 to 2000.

They had a pipe break in '05, and a tub of canned goods had been damaged. When I opened it, the bottoms of a lot had rusted through and there was essentially "food soup" in the bottom. If "oogy" things make you queasy then don't look at that photo.


I could fill two or three more pages with what I did, but I can do more to help by just pointing out some things to keep your food and families safe.

Know What You Have If you love computers, make an inventory of your food, especially if you have a big family. Pantries are great, but learn to rotate your stock to keep everything fresh. This keeps food safe on your shelves, like the stores do.

Even if you don't want to put your simple menus' on the computer, a clip board in the pantry is invaluable when it comes to keeping track. Small boxes can keep things organized, but if you can't see the food, you don't know it's there. If you use a small box for all your seasonings, put a used one on the front with tape and that will remind you to look inside. If the canned goods don't show, write the contents in a felt tip marker and have a couple pens close. Baskets from thrift or dollar stores help in this too, as do free shoe boxes.

Know What You Need: If you want to make lasagna this weekend, this will help you know that you have everything but the pasta. I keep an "I need" list on the fridge, sectioned out by canned goods, dairy, meat, etc, and write on the list as I need it. This really helps and might be a good way to start those kids on planning the meals with you. Not only is it a good practice, but avoids the whole "268 cans of fruit".

Menu Planning: I learned some time ago that planning can help all things go smoothly. I found this to be true with meals, as well. I now have a pasta night, salad night, just veggies night, fish night, casserole night, chicken night, and free night. This helps me to plan the shopping. I can make meals ahead and keep my food intake balanced.

Food Banks: I tried to give to the food bank, but was not allowed. If you find that you have "overdone" the whole food purchasing chore, please don't let the canned and boxed goods go to waste. I have lived off commodities and food bank boxes from time to time, and give to them whenever I can. With the holidays coming up, the need is greater than ever.

When Good Food Goes Bad: You would be astounded by the number of food poisonings there are in hospital around the nation. It is the highest form of poisoning deaths in the country. In fact, from a recent episode of Dr. Oz, one can of ptomaine or botulism tainted food can kill 1000's of people. And yet, some think nothing of eating a can of beans that is 4 years old. While we are all struggling to make ends meet, most of us don't have insurance. Imagine the karmic joke being played on us by running up a 2500.00 hospital bill to save the cost of an .89 can of food. If food is bad, throw it out! Flush it! Toss it! Don't let another human or animal eat it! If this article gets nothing else across than this, please remember it!

A Sale By Any Other Name: When you find a great sale at the store, but you have enough to last 6 months at home, buying that food is actually wasting money. Say you bought $10.00 worth of food in May and you want to spend another $10.00 when you know you won't eat the first before it goes bad. You could have spent that $10.00 on something else that you can eat now. Do that often, and your food budget gets strained. Do it a lot and you will be in trouble. Do it all the time, and you end up with a "food room" like theirs.

So, thus ends my journey with you all, which started out with all the wonderful responses that you have sent me. I hope you enjoy the second one and this one just as much. It is all true and from the heart.

So I have a challenge for all of you who might see a bit of "you" in these articles. Be kind to yourself. Take it a little at a time if you are disabled, and ask for help. Your friends will love and not judge you, and strangers will help because they understand. If you know someone like these folks, share these articles with them.


As for our relationship with food, I used to say that food was the only thing that didn't betray me. But it had no feelings so that was just an excuse. I am down to 180 from 215, so while I have come a long way, I still have 40 to go. I think about food differently now than I used to. It is the fuel I need to do what I want, so I have changed from "I live to eat" to "I eat to live". If you or someone you know has issues with food, there are some excellent places to get some help:

And that is just the start.

I have enjoyed the journey with you and I hope you have, too. As for me and the upcoming holidays, I will be volunteering at the local shelters to help cook. I get a free meal for my body and nourishment for my soul. Will I see any of you there?

Your friend, Sandi/Poor But Proud

By Sandi/Poor But Proud from Sweet Home, OR

Editor's Note: Here are links to the other Hoarding articles by Sandi/Poor But Proud:

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October 20, 20100 found this helpful

Another great article. Thank you Sandi. You are a very kind person. My food cupboard is small enough to see any cans, but I do keep lists of the rice, lentils, dried peas etc and also whats in the freezer. Absolutely invaluable.

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October 21, 20100 found this helpful

Love your down-to-earth but humorous way of putting things, lol! We've been guilty of hoarding to a much smaller degree. However, I'm much more likely to find someone else in need and pass things on long before they expire. Makes everyone happy, the recipient gets needed foods, we get more space in our freezer, fridge and cupboards. How many thumbs up can I give you?

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