The anatomy of a trip to the grocery store

Ask a “healthy” person what’s involved with getting groceries, and they’ll probably say: “Go to the store, pick items off the shelves, put them in the cart, pay, go home.” Those of us with pain, fatigue, cognitive, and other issues know that it’s not that simple.


Some people use grocery delivery services and some have spouses, parents, friends, or others who get groceries for them. For the rest of us, going to a store for food is inevitable. I just got home, and was amazed, as I often am, at how exhausting it can be. Here’s my own breakdown. It’s different for everyone, but I think it might be worth passing this along to your able-bodied friends who don’t seem to understand the difficulties you deal with. This may open their eyes a bit.

Buying groceries:

  1. Let’s assume I’m already dressed. The first thing is to sit down, put on shoes, and stand up again. Oy. Next, coat, scarf, and other wintery layers. In the summer, carry 1-2 water bottles.
  2. Walk down the hallways, down the stairs, and outside.
  3. Spend a couple minutes trying to remember where I parked my car. Beep the alarm to help find it. Before the memory issues, this was rarely a problem. Now it’s happening more often.
  4. Climb into car.
  5. Drive to grocery store.
  6. Circle the lot looking for a decent space. On bad days, I must be as close as possible to the door. On better days I can be a bit further back. It’s been a long time (years) since I’ve had a day that I could park at the back of the lot. Also, it’s better not to be too close to the next car on the driver’s side if I’m going to have trouble getting out of the car this day, or if I’m going to have trouble controling the swing of my door. My grocery definitely needs more handicapped parking spaces!
  7. Get out of car.
  8. Open back door and bend over to take out shopping bags.
  9. Walk into the store.
  10. Get a cart. Try to get one of the carts that’s smaller and therefore easier to push and manuver around the store.
  11. Check grocery list. Thankfully, I can keep mine on my phone now so I never forget it at home.
  12. Walk up and down the aisles, careful not to forget anything. Going back takes too much energy.
  13. Check grocery list. Memory ain’t what it used to be.
  14. Pick up items, sometimes having to crouch down (ouch!) or reach up (are you kidding me?)
  15. Examine items to be sure they don’t contain gluten or other bad-for-me ingredients.
  16. Lean over to place items in the cart. Anything unbreakable just gets thrown in. Bending is only for items that need more care.
  17. Mentally calculate the weight of all items in the cart. Only get more groceries if I think I can carry them to my apartment later.
  18. Check grocery list. Damn memory!
  19. Realize I forgot something after all. Go back.
  20. Repeat 11-19.
  21. Exhausted now. But almost done (sort of)! Head to checkout.
  22. Unload cart. Bend and lift. Bend and lift. Bend and lift. Heavy items in left hand, lighter items in right. Unless right is having a great day, then medium items in right, too. Pay attention, now, I don’t want to hurt later.
  23. Wait for cashier to scan each item.
  24. Insist on packing my own bags. I know from experience that the workers always pack my bags too heavy, since I look healthy, and then I can’t manage them. Lift each item and place it in the bag.
  25. Lift the bags into the cart. Oooh, feeling that.
  26. Pay the cashier. Most days I can pull out my credit card and sign the screen without a problem. There were times I couldn’t even hold a pen, though, which made things more complicated.
  27. Walk out to the car.
  28. Lift bags from the cart into the car. Not good.
  29. Return cart to store front area. No, neither of my groceries has a cart return in the lot.
  30. Trudge back to the car.
  31. Collapse into the driver’s seat. I want to be done. I need to be done. But I’m not done. Rest in the driver’s seat for a few minutes.
  32. Drive home.
  33. Attempt to park at least twice before succeeding. The more tired I am, the more tries it takes to successfuly parallel park.
  34. Rest in the driver’s seat for a few minutes.
  35. Climb out of the car.
  36. Pick up each bag from the car. Swing one over each shoulder. I try to get no more than two bags per trip. Otherwise, I may need to make more than one trip up to my apartment, and that’s too exhausting and painful.
  37. Get to my apartment.
    • Walk down my walkway.
    • Climb up the stairs.
    • Unlock the door.
    • Press the button for the elevator.
    • Wait impatiently with the bags on my shoulders, because it’s easier than putting them down and then having to lift them off the floor.
    • Take the elevator up to my floor.
    • Walk down the long hallway.
    • Fumble with my keys. Hopefully don’t drop them (I hate when that happens while I’m carrying things!)
    • Unlock door. I’m home!
  38. Walk directly to kitchen.
  39. Unload first bag from shoulder to the kitchen counter. Ahhhh!
  40. Unload second bag (if there is one) from shoulder to the kitchen counter. Ahhhh! Relief!
  41. Walk back to front entry.
  42. Close door.
  43. Remove coat, scarf, and other layers. Kick off shoes.
  44. Walk back to kitchen.
  45. Remove each item from the bags.
  46. Put all freezer items into the freezer. Hopefully apartment is warm enough that fingers don’t go warm right away.
  47. Put all fridge items in fridge. Hopefully there’s room on the upper shelves so I won’t have to do more bending at this point.
  48. If I have enough energy, put all canned items in the cabinet. Try to carry several at once to reduce trips across the kitchen (about 4 feet each way.)
  49. If I still have enough energy, put away the rest of the food.
  50. Walk to the front entry with the grocery bags. Leave the bags there so I remember to bring them to my car the next time I go out.
  51. Wash hands. I want to make sure I don’t get the flu on top of everything else.
  52. Drink lots of water. I’m probably dehydrated by now.
  53. In the summer, go to the bathroom. I’ve undoubtedly drunk 8-16 ounces of water, if not more, during this trip.
  54. Collapse on a chair or the couch.

And now the shopping is done! Yay!

I didn’t plan out this list in advance, I just wrote it as I thought of it. And then at the end I went back and added #24, because I realized I forgot to mention paying. I’ve probably forgotten other things too. But I find it interesting that I didn’t plan this list, and yet more than half of it involves what happens after I leave the store. That says something.

How does your list compare? Is it similar? Completely different? I’d love to hear about it! I think this is an activity that many people take for granted. I used to, but I sure don’t any more. I’m incredibly grateful that I can still manage this most days!

12 Responses to The anatomy of a trip to the grocery store

  1. TMK says:

    I use Peapod or Roche Brothers curb side pick up for everything except meat and produce. For those items I will go to Roche Brothers/Sudbury Farms because they unload the carriage when ringing up and bring the groceries to the car and put them in the trunk for you.
    I made the mistake of going to BJ’s on the way back from my Rheumy appointment in Boston because I was out of dog food (40lb bag plus a case of canned), and water (3 cases). Big mistake after almost 2 hours of driving. Luckily someone saw me struggling with both items and assisted me and they’re always great about helping me put items in my car. Everything is now sitting in my car until the boyfriend gets home from work.

    • chronicrants says:

      Hey, another New Englander! Hi there! Grocery delivery is out of my price range, unfortunately. I’ve seen places that load the car for you, but there aren’t any near me. If I move this spring (a possibility) I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for them!

      Those big box stores are tough – I’m glad someone offered to help!!

  2. I loved this and I can so relate. I wish you would come and join my Facebook group and share your new entries there. We are a group of pain patients who talk about stuff just like this. Find us at .

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks so much Kristi! I’m flattered, but I’m not on Facebook as Ms. Rants. I’m only on there as my real self right now, and I’m careful to keep this anonymous, so I don’t post about it as the real me. It’s frustrating, but I’m not ready to deal with a second Facebook account. But please subscribe (top right of the screen) and share anything that you think people will find helpful or enjoyable. And if I ever do get that second account, I’ll be sure to join your group!

  3. Lorna says:

    Totally true! I would like to add about the size of groceries you buy. For example have to think if I can manage the two bottles of milk(about 4 pints each) which are on offer or just the one. Fortunately I don’t have stairs to contend with. OMG that must seem so daunting at the end of a trip.
    It was good to see the whole trip written down – wonder what else we do regularly but unconsiously that involve so many steps?
    Lorna x
    PS Thanks to all my planning graduation was a wonderful experience!

    • chronicrants says:

      Good point Lorna! I added the size calculations to the post. I also added an examination of ingredient lists to check for gluten or whatever else. I probably should have included mental price calculations. Those are an issue too.

      I’m lucky there are only a few stairs, then an elevator. Still, if it wasn’t for the stairs, I could use a cart on wheels. I still use that sometimes, but getting it up the stairs is a real bitch!

      I’m so glad the graduation was fun for you!!! And congratulations to the new graduate. I hope he enjoyed it too 🙂

  4. I LOVE this! this is great! I think this is a great idea to show to anyone who doesn’t have chronic illness to think about what steps are actually involved in “small” tasks for us so they end up being huge tasks! Thanks for sharing!

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks Jen! Honestly, I think it’s easy for us to forget all those steps too. When I started, I expected there to be about 20 steps – and there were over 50! I knew I was tired, but I didn’t realize exactly why. When it’s all listed out, it’s hard to miss. I hope anyone you show it to will understand.

  5. Tamara says:

    I don’t drive but am lucky enough to have an electric scooter, but still I’m only able to go out once a week, and usually I have to go to get food (if I need an especially large shop I order online and get it delivered but still manage to forget things and there are some things that I need to rebuy each week anyway). However, I find concentrating on ‘driving’ the scooter is exhausting, as is attempting to get all my shopping into the basket on the back as it requires constant twisting. Not to mention the fact that there are so many people so half the time I can’t even see what I’m trying to buy as I have to wait for people to move and can’t just look past them as then I will block the aisle.

    Usually the person at the till will pack and organise my bags for me. And then I have to go home. Once home it takes me quite a few trips to take the food into the house, and I’m only able to put away things that need to go in the fridge or freezer, before collapsing on the sofa. The rest of the day, when I’m able, I slowly put the rest of my items away.

    And that is the only thing I usually do each week. If I’ve had a delivery I might go to the library as well, but that is a treat for me. When I say I’ve been out and therefore even more exhausted than usual, invariably I get asked ‘go anywhere nice?’ and I have to say, no, I went to Tesco, the same as last week.

    • chronicrants says:

      That sounds really tough, but good for you for managing your own grocery shopping! It’s a big feat, and it sounds like you’re handling it the best you can. I’ll keep my fingers crossed (well, figuratively, not literally) that you can get out to the library again soon. That’s one of my favorite outings!

  6. Emanuel says:

    Great post howevfer I was wondering if you could write a litte more on thiss
    subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

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