How to Shop in Bulk Even When You Live in a Small Space

Living downtown in the city sometimes means sacrifice: cramming clothes into smaller closets instead of spacious walk-ins, relying on public transportation instead of owning a car, and purchasing less at the grocery store because of tiny kitchens. (I am looking at you, three feet worth of counter space and two kitchen cabinets).

how to shop in bulk

When the pandemic first started to build momentum, my father frantically texted me asking if I had a month’s worth of groceries at my apartment. I smiled and scoffed under my breath with a resounding, “Hah! Umm, no.” Was he kidding me? I know he was coming from a place of concern for me and my well being, but a month’s worth of groceries in my 525 square foot studio apartment? Yeah right!

On the contrary, buying in bulk is surprisingly achievable, even if you live in a small space. Here’s how to shop in bulk even if you live in a small space.

1. Pay attention to patterns

Shopping in bulk is not conducive to impulse buying, so start to pay attention to your cooking and eating patterns to help you better determine which food and ingredients you actually need to buy in bulk. If you find yourself making a bowl of overnight oats every morning with a dollop of your favorite nut or seed butter, buy them both in bulk. If fresh smoothies are more your jam, then add bags of frozen fruit and vegetables to your bulk shopping list.

But stick to your regular grocery store of choice with one off items you only use every once in a while. An easy and efficient way to better identify which foods you use the most frequently is by starting a food diary.

2. Start a food diary

Keeping a food diary is often associated with dieting, but in order to decide what you should buy in bulk, you first need to know what you cook, eat and use the most often. Knowing what you eat and how frequently can help you make more strategic decisions about what items to purchase in bulk because let’s be real, why purchase a 20 pound bag of rice when you don’t even eat rice?

The best way to start a food diary is to make note of what you eat over the course of one to two weeks, so you can spot patterns of popular food items making an appearance in your daily and weekly meals.

3. Store strategically

It’s important to remember you don’t have to store all of your bulk items together, especially if you don’t have the kitchen space. Instead, divide your bulk items and store them by frequency. If you use beans frequently, keep a couple of cans in your kitchen cabinet so they are easily within reach. Then, reserve a higher up shelf (you know, the one that requires some impressive acrobatic climbing skills to access) to store the overflow.

Ally Milligan, founder of Loveleaf Co., a kitchen organization and lifestyle company, recommends venturing outside of the kitchen to store any extra items. “Store bulk items out of your kitchen so that your kitchen doesn’t feel cluttered – baskets or bins are great for this. That way you can shop your own bulk items when needed, but your kitchen doesn’t feel overwhelmed with food.” A hall closet, a plastic bin under the bed or a spare bedroom are all viable options for any extra bulk items.

Jamie Bacharach, Licensed Life Coach and Medical Acupuncturist recommends utilizing vertical space as well.

“Many individuals who live in a small space neglect to take advantage of their full floor-to-ceiling area. Make sure your shelves run up as high as possible in storage areas in order to take full advantage of shopping in bulk when you can.” You can even consider purchasing smaller shelving units that fit conveniently into kitchen window sills. Get creative!

4. Try decanting

De-what? Decanting. No, not the decanting you associate with wine. Decanting is the official term used by professional organizers that describe the process of removing items from their original packaging and storing them in something different like clear, glass mason jars.

Not only does decanting make items like dry goods look super cute in your kitchen (we have the Kardashians to thank for this one), decanting keeps things accessible, clean and organized. It also makes ingredients fit into smaller storage spaces more easily.

Kate Diaz, Interior Designer and Owner of for Swankyden, a home DIY, decor, and how-to website, explains that this concept works well for liquids, like cooking oils, as well.

“If you don’t like the idea of large containers eating up much of your kitchen, consider buying a smaller bottle, and just refill it from the larger container as needed.”

5. Take an inventory

Taking an inventory sounds like a total chore, especially after you just made a food diary. But setting up an inventory system helps you have a better grasp of what items you’ve already purchased in bulk to prevent you from forgetting and accidentally buying more.

Buying in bulk and living in a small space is one thing, but over purchasing in bulk and living in a small space is something else. It’s best to take an inventory every two to four weeks as cooking and eating patterns shift with the seasons and your schedule, so remember to stay flexible.

Buying in bulk and living in a small space can be possible when you remember to employ these five tips. Now go sign up for that Costco membership. 

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.

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