Day 37: The Joy Of Empty Cupboards

cupboards 001Because I was on a trip with Dylan on Saturday I didn’t manage to shop for food. Consequently, there is nothing much to eat in the house. I don’t mind this but it would have been an unthinkable position to be in while Dylan lived at home.

Empty kitchen cupboards make Dylan anxious. Food is important to Dylan but the supply of it is not something he has control of. At some level, I suspect, Dylan is aware of this vulnerability; he knows that he is dependent on others to shop for food and prepare meals. So while I may not be concerned about an empty fridge, it is perfectly understandable that Dylan might be agitated; he has no idea, after all, if or when I plan to shop for food.

In order to reassure Dylan, and avoid any anxiety, I maintained a routine approach to shopping while Dylan lived with me. For many years this involved a weekly visit to a supermarket. This was not the way I would have chosen to shop but it was the best way of managing with Dylan. A weekly supermarket trip meant that everything was under one roof which is important for Dylan who finds shopping at multiple locations difficult. Dylan was able to memorise the aisles in the store, which helped him to feel comfortable, and I was able to approach our weekly visit as an opportunity for learning, encouraging Dylan to make choices and follow simple instructions. On balance the positives outweighed the challenges and frustrations.

When I decided to remove sugar from Dylan’s diet a year ago, however, our Saturday trips to the supermarket became impossible. Dylan didn’t understand why he couldn’t put products which he was accustomed to buying into the trolley. Shopping became a source of immense frustration for Dylan; a weekly chore that we had taken some satisfaction in doing together was now causing us both stress and anxiety. There was nothing for it, I realised, but to shop online.

I am aware that the online shopping option is invaluable for some members of the community; those who are vulnerable or geographically isolated, in particular, can benefit enormously from such a service. I hated it however. Not only did the arrival of our online deliveries puzzle Dylan, I was frequently annoyed by the substitutions and short dates which created waste or involved me in time-consuming returns and complaints.ย  Why someone would imagine that a customer who ordered a packet of schnitzels (for Dylan) would be happy with sweetcorn grills instead (Dylan won’t touch sweetcorn) or that a customer who ordered Ethiopian coffee beans (for me) would be happy with decaffeinated coffee was beyond me.

The first thing I changed after Dylan moved to residential care was my approach to shopping. With Dylan visiting only at weekends, I now keep just a few of his staples in the house; my cupboards and fridge are gloriously light and my freezer stands empty and unused. These days I shop at small, independent shops a half mile away. This is a practice I love; not just the food, but the process of shopping, which is entirely different. Now, on a Saturday morning, I have conversations with people in the community; I buy local produce where possible; I spend less; I waste less;ย  it doesn’t take me as long to shop; and I eat more healthily.

I don’t mean to suggest by this that while Dylan was living with me I ate unhealthily or too much. I didn’t.ย  But living alongside someone whose habits are very different has an impact and it affected the way I shopped for and stored food, and when and how I prepared and ate meals. Tonight, because I didn’t manage to shop last Saturday, I called at a supermarket on my way home from work. I didn’t miss supermarkets one bit, I thought to myself while standing in line; in fact I would go so far as to say that one of the things I’ve appreciated most since Dylan moved into care are my empty kitchen cupboards.

10 thoughts on “Day 37: The Joy Of Empty Cupboards

  1. I am more like Dylan. I start to panic if the cupboards are empty. I stockpile beans and toilet-rolls, tins of tomatoes and packets of pasta. Five years later I throw some of them away…

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    • LOL Nell I laughed out loud at your comments. Dylan also stockpiles toilet rolls. He gets VERY anxious if I let these run below what he considers acceptable. He also stores the other things you do except for tomatoes and beans which he doesn’t like. My daughter and I have commented on a canny knack he has, if he thinks things are getting unacceptably low, of eating and drinking ‘our’ things first, knowing that we won’t touch his ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe this is nothing to do with autism, just different approaches to kitchen cupboards!

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      • Our cat, Jasmine, doesn’t like to run out of food. And, left to her own judgement on food, she will overeat, so our cats are feed a measured amount 3x/day, each in their own spots, with their own bowls, and we try to remember to pick up the bowls when they have walked away from them. Olive & Leo often leave some behind. Jasmine will leave her bowl, even if it still has food in it, to eat their leftover food if we don’t pick them up promptly. She doesn’t want to run out of hers! We don’t like having to control the food so much but she stays a good weight with our method. Olive & Leo would be fine with food always being available but Jasmine’s off-switch seems to be faulty.

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      • oh, i’ve been in the Jasmine/Dylan group too. Mindfully controlling my own off-switch this year has worked wonders on me! I still hoard some household staples though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. Actually, I need to revise that last comment. I never throw toilet rolls away and they never last five years. But the other things do. My partner once forced me to throw away tins of golden syrup and black treacle that were twelve years old. But they would have been perfectly fine. Except we would never ever have eaten them.

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  3. Z didn’t like going to the store too loud and so on, and he would start telling me things were gone and his stims would escalate. He knew or questioned if/when a trip to the store was coming.

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    • Ah that’s interesting – I suspect D if he had language he would also be telling me – I was pretty sure sometimes that his anxiety and stims were about him worrying about when the fridge would be re-stocked. Such a simple thing but I probably overlooked it often just because I knew the answer to the question ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  4. oh also, when he was younger and less verbal, i had images of things i would allow in the house that he could choose from and put the cards onto the counter beside the list for the store. I would tell him how many of each group, fruits, snacks, sweets if any. Helped him to learn limits and he was less frustrated that i understood he just wanted this or that thing, and not upset about store at all. More like a point of interest he couldn’t get off of, the cards helped that too. We also had an egg timer with sand so no sound, that if he signed me for think it over he could have one timed opportunity to change his mind. This too helped him not to be stuck and to repeat it mindlessly or in an ocd type manner.

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    • Sounds great Elisa – I love your approach. I think the learning of limits/self-regulation is a challenge and I can see your cards and choices could help with that. I like that it also showed you that it was not about the store per se but about a particular item ๐Ÿ™‚ Your observation about getting stuck chimes with me – that is exactly how D becomes – so much better to be able to identify the desired item, encourage moderation, then provide it! Oh sometimes I wish I had my years with D all over again, with this hindsight ๐Ÿ™‚

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