Let’s Talk Plastic Containers

Dear Sharon,

I’ve helped several clients lately with organizing their plastic containers, and I’ve also been redefining how I use mine. So this seemed like a good time to address this topic.

Helping my clients with their containers has brought the following four principles to the front of my mind:

Don’t keep more containers than you have use for.
While it’s tempting to save every plastic container that crosses your threshold, it’s unlikely that you will ever have a need for all of them. They will just become a storage problem.

Rectangular containers are more efficient than round ones.
A rectangular or square container is a better use of space than a round one. This is true in your refrigerator as well as in your cabinets.

Containers are practically useless if they don’t have a lid.
There are limited uses for a plastic container that doesn’t have a lid. And needless to say, a lid is useless without its container. Match all your containers to their lids, and then dump the rest.

You are wasting too much space if your empty containers don’t nest.
Having too many different types and shapes of containers results in a very inefficient use of space. If you can’t nest them in the cabinet, they will take up way more room than necessary.

I will confess that I have an ongoing love affair with Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids™ containers. I first wrote about them in 2009 in “You’ll Flip Over These Lids“. I just reread that post, and I still feel as passionate about them 14 years later. Here is why I love them:

  • In the cabinet, they nest inside each other, and they are easy to stack on their lids (which also nest with each other).
  • They stack beautifully in the refrigerator.
  • The lids are interchangeable. For example, the 5-cup container has the same footprint as the 3-cup container — it’s just taller — so they both use the same size lid.
  • The lids snap on securely but are easy to remove.
  • They are transparent so I can easily see what’s inside.
  • They are dishwasher safe.

If you need to up your plastic container game, I recommend checking out the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids™ containers. Even if you aren’t ready to purchase new containers, see how your existing containers stack up against the four principles I discuss above.

Living With Less

Recently I wrote about an impending renovation project in my apartment (see Would You Keep This If You Were Moving?) Well, it’s no longer impending — it’s starting in a few days. Yikes!

In order to get things out of the way for the contractors who will be tearing up parts of my kitchen and bathroom, I’ve been reviewing and relocating stuff. Even though I do that fairly often, I can still find stuff that I don’t use and don’t need. Sometimes we keep something because we have the room for it. But when room becomes scarce, it has to go.

My daughter happened to visiting here a few days ago when I was taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets. She was giving me a needed dose of reality, saying things like, “You’ll never use that again. Get rid of it!” In most cases, she was right.

Everything that we use frequently found a place in the cabinets that didn’t need to emptied. The rest ended up in three piles: stuff that got donated, stuff that went into trash or recycling, and stuff that went home with my daughter. She was enthusiastic about some of my castoffs and I was happy they would get a new life with her.

Although I’m dreading the inconveniences that we’ll be dealing with over the next few months, I’m excited that we will be living with less.

Would You Keep This If You Were Moving?

I think it’s pretty clear that we will keep accumulating stuff until we run out of room. Sometimes we continue even after we’ve run out of room. (That’s usually when people contact a Professional Organizer.)

If you’re someone, like me, who has an abundance of of storage space in your home, then it may take a while before you run out of space. So I’ve developed a question that helps me identify things I should let go of even if I have the space to keep them: “Would I keep this if I were moving?”

Relocating is a great opportunity to revisit everything you own and decide if it has a place in your future life. Unfortunately, many people panic prior to moving and don’t leave themselves enough time to do that. They think they will make those decisions when they are unpacking. But getting resettled into a new home is even more stressful than preparing to vacate your old home, so those decisions don’t get made.

I’m in a quasi-relocating situation right now. I’m about to do some upgrades to my home. This will require us to start living in our second bedroom while work is being done to our bedroom and en suite bath. We haven’t moved in yet, but I’ve been making preparations. I’ve already moved a couple of bookcases from our bedroom to the second bedroom since they will just be in the way of the renovation. This required us to take everything off those shelves, which meant giving them a thorough review. A lot of books got donated — and a lot of magazines and sheet music got recycled — as a result of that exercise.

I will also have to temporarily move out of my bathroom and start sharing my husband’s bathroom. So I’m giving everything in my bathroom the once over. All of the items that I have been keeping “just in case” are getting tossed. I plan to move my daily toiletries and makeup into his bathroom, as well as useful sundries like Band Aids and cold medicine. Everything else will go into boxes. My goal is to minimize what gets stored in a box — just the backup items like extra tubes of toothpaste, since I know I will use those in time.

I will be doing some kitchen upgrades as well and I will have to shift things around in my cabinets to make that work. I plan to revisit everything in my kitchen and ask myself what I am likely to use in the future. I streamlined my cabinets quite a bit already, as I’ve written about in Tricking Out My Kitchen and Changing It Up. But there is always more to get rid of!

Don’t wait until you are relocating to give your stuff the once over. Living with less is much more relaxing than living with too much.

The Dangers of Buy One Get One Free

When you go to the store to buy something you need, isn’t it great to see the sign “Buy One Get One Free” or “Buy One Get One 50% Off”? Well, yes and no.

We all love getting something for nothing, or for less than we expected. But there is a danger in taking advantage of BOGO opportunities. You need to carefully manage where you put the spare item so that you don’t forget that you have it.

I’ve recently experienced TWO situations where I thought I needed something, only to discover that I already had at least one extra. Luckily I realized it before I went to the store to buy more.

Here are some solutions for managing the extra stuff:

  • If you have enough cabinet space, put the new items behind the one you’re finishing up. Don’t buy any more until you are running low on the last of the them.
  • If you don’t have enough cabinet space, designate a more spacious area in a closet or cabinet to keep extra items until you are ready to use them. Be sure to group similar items together so that you always know how many you have. Remember to shop your closet before going shopping.
  • Resist the urge to stash the extra item somewhere else, especially if it is going to be buried behind a lot of other stuff. You may think you’ll remember you put it there, but by the time you are running out of something, you will have forgotten. (Trust me on this.)
  • Be sure to look at expiration dates before buying extras. There’s no use getting an extra one at 50% off if it is going to expire before you have a chance to use it.

Making Friends with Expiration Dates

I love when my clients say they want to organize the kitchen or the bathroom, because I know that expiration dates can be your best friend.

People have varying reactions to discovering that an item’s “use by” date has passed. Some want to toss the item right away. Others say, “Oh, those dates don’t mean anything!” But what do expiration dates really mean?

When it comes to food, as articles on WebMD and Cleveland Clinic explain, the date printed on the package more of  a suggestion regarding freshness rather than an outright statement that the food has gone bad. (The one exception is infant formula, which is the only food required by federal law to have a food quality date on it.) You can usually rely on your eyes and your sense of smell to determine whether a food has turned.

Regarding over-the-counter medications, articles in The New York Times and Harvard Health Publishing explain that you may not get 100% effectiveness past the “discard by” date, but the product will most likely still do its job. If you have a splitting headache and the only analgesic at hand is past its prime, it’s better than suffering!

So why do I say that expiration dates can be your best friend when you are organizing? An expiration date lets you know just how long ago you bought that item. If your Advil expired in 2015, or that packaged cake mix expired in 2016, it’s an indication that you just aren’t using those items frequently enough to warrant keeping them. It’s best to throw them away, especially if you have other packages that are fresher. We often buy something that we think we are going to use but instead we try it once and then never look at again. Or we never even open the package.

Rather than stubbornly clinging to the illusion that you really will use this item, it’s best to accept the reality that you really won’t. Cabinet space is always at a premium, so make room for the stuff that you really do use.