Making a List, Checking it Twice

Written by Chani Feldman on . Posted in Advice Columns

Picture the following three real-life situations:

Number One: You’ve delegated the task of baking a cake to you daughter. The only problem is that there is not enough oil in the house. Should she pretend we are watching our fat intake and substitute applesauce? Whoops— we don’t have any applesauce either!

Number Two: You promised your kids eggs for breakfast. However, you ran out of eggs last night. You send your kids in pajamas to knock on the neighbor’s door.


Number Three: You are finally home after two morning carpools, an exhausting day at work, which included just barely meeting your deadline, basketball carpool, and a stop at the pharmacy. You are hungry. Your kids are hungrier (based on the whining and bickering that is occurring). You resign yourself to another night of macaroni and cheese. The only problem is that you finished the last box of macaroni. Pizza anyone?

The above scenarios may or may not have ever occurred in my house

1.) The cake batter sat on the counter until my husband ran to the store

2.) The kid never came back with eggs and stayed at friend’s house for breakfast

3.) Forget pizza…cereal tonight!

No matter how organized you are, there will always be an item that you don’t have that you desperately need. It’s part of running a home. That’s where good neighbors come in. You can ask mine how often I shop in the “neighborhood grocer.” However, if you find yourself running out of things on a weekly (or daily!?!) basis, you may need a better shopping list system.

(If you are thinking to yourself right now, “Who needs a shopping list? I remember everything I need…” then you are probably the exact person who needs a shopping list OR your house looks like Costco and then we have a different issue that can’t be tackled in a short column!)

There are two main parts to the list system that works for my family: 1.) separate lists by store, and 2.) always have “one in the wings.”

In our kitchen, we have a square magnetic board that holds four (yes, 4) different magnetic pads. Each pad is about four inches by eight inches and they are stuck on the board. In the middle of the pads, there are two small magnetic baskets for pens (and pencils with no points, markers that don’t work, and any other random writing utensils or office supplies that get put in there by younger members of the house who don’t feel like putting them back in their original locations).

We shop in three different stores on a regular basis (Giant, Shalom Kosher, and Costco). Each store gets a pad. The fourth pad contains random items that are needed in places that we don’t shop as regularly (sorbet from Trader Joe’s, light bulbs from Home Depot, nice disposable paper goods from Kugler’s, socks from Target, you get the idea). This way, if I do the Shalom’s shopping, I remove the list from the Shalom’s pad. If my teenager goes to Costco, then he or she takes that list, etc. How many times did I lose my weekly shopping list written on one piece of paper (back of a napkin, in the margins of a circular, someone’s homework paper…) after completing the shopping in just one store, with three stores left to go and the list needed to be recreated? With this simple system, you shop in one store, then you can get rid of the list (or let it pile up in your bag with all the others, where the sticky part of the papers can pick up any crumbs from the bottom of your bag that gets cleaned only once a year for Pesach, or gets shoved into closet that gets sold, in which case you are looking at many old and crumby papers in your bag, which can be discussed in a different column).

For the second part of this system, we always attempt to have “one in the wings.” This means that all staples (oil, sugar, tomato sauce, garlic powder, soy sauce, toothpaste, etc.) have a replacement in your home. The “wings” don’t have to be in your kitchen. It can be a closet, your basement, boxes in your garage. Just somewhere that doesn’t require you to leave your house when you need a bottle of ketchup. Or a tablespoon of salt. Or some mayonnaise.

How can you start this system? The next time you run out of napkins, write napkins x2 on your pad for whichever store you buy your napkins. Put one into use immediately so your kids can stop wiping their hands on their clothes, and put the second one in the wings. When you run out of napkins the next time, get the package that is in the wings, and write napkins (only one this time) on the appropriate list. Basically, you are restocking your “wings” so you don’t have that frantic I-need-to-get-to-the-store-now moment and you get back some quality time that is not in the store. I used napkins as an example since it happened in my house yesterday that there wasn’t a package in the wings. The system is only as perfect as the people using it. So, remember, go easy on yourself and others in your home when it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Kind of a good suggestion for all things in happen in life…

Next column: Getting organized for this Pesach…and next!