When You Don’t Know What Product You Need

Last week, I wrote about a new lower cabinet in my kitchen that has replaced a utensil drawer. This week, I want to talk about the new upper cabinet.

I used to have a set of open shelves in that spot. Now, with the widened doorway, I have a narrow cabinet with three shelves and a door.

I used the open shelves for stuff that I liked to keep handy. I’m using the new cabinet for some of that same stuff. The bottom shelf — the most accessible — holds trivets, a box of crackers, and a food scale.

When I had the open shelves, I managed to stand up the food scale on its side perpendicular to the trivets so that the scale wouldn’t fall over. However, in the new cabinet, I couldn’t do that. Every time I took something out of the cabinet, the scale tipped over. So I decided that I needed a cabinet organizer that would hold everything upright.

I looked for cabinet organizers on-line but found that they were all too wide for this narrow cabinet. I knew that there was a product out there that would help me, but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was.

Shortly after, I went to the Container Store to get the utensil holders that I wrote about last time. I was browsing the aisles looking for ideas when I saw an adjustable-width napkin holder. I wondered if a napkin holder would be the right solution for the food scale conundrum.

When I got home, I measured the food scale and went on Amazon to search for napkin holders. I ended up buying a clear acrylic napkin holder that is exactly the right width and is also tall enough to support the weight of the food scale. You can see it in the photo above as well as in the close-up below.

Had I not stumbled upon the adjustable napkin holder at the Container Store, I wonder if I would have ever thought of this as a solution. Sometimes you just get lucky!

Rethinking My Utensil Drawer

My recent home renovation included replacing all of my kitchen appliances. This required a widening of the doorway (don’t ask). As a result, one of cabinets was replaced with a narrower cabinet.

The original cabinet had a drawer that I used for kitchen utensils. I was lucky to have multiple shallow drawers in different areas of my kitchen. I used one for silverware, one for utensils, and one for my wraps and baggies. Now I was down one drawer.

Even when I had a utensil drawer, I kept some of my utensils in a bin in a lower cabinet because the drawer would otherwise be too crowded. The ones I didn’t use often, but was reluctant to part with, went down below. The ones I used all the time went up top.

When I prepared my kitchen last fall for the impending renovation, I got rid of a lot of the infrequently used utensils. When my kitchen was completed, I got rid of even more. Now I was ready to figure out how to compensate for the loss of one drawer.

The narrow cabinet was outfitted with a Rev-A-Shelf pullout with three levels. With the help of some clear plastic drawer inserts from The Container Store, I created three levels of utensils:

  • The top level uses an iDESIGN Linus Deep Drawer Organizer to hold my most frequently used utensils, including the ones I use at the stove, which is right next to the cabinet. It holds two spatulas, a slotted plastic spoon, and a can opener. The drawer organizer is low enough (3-1/8″ high) that I can simply reach into it from the side to grab the utensil I need.
  • The bottom level uses the same iDESIGN drawer organizer and holds utensils for opening stubborn bottles and jars.
  • The middle level holds the less frequently used utensils and uses two iDESIGN Linus Narrow Pantry Bins. Those are taller (6″ high) so they hold a lot of utensils! The clear drawers allow me to see what’s in there so I can find what I need on the infrequent occasions that I use these utensils.

By rethinking how to store utensils and by making use of some organizing containers, I was able to overcome the loss of a drawer. And all of my utensils are reunited in one place instead of having the infrequently used ones in a separate cabinet. I plan to revisit that middle level in 6 months to see what more I can get rid of.

Double Your Space with Helper Shelves

One of my favorite organizing products is the helper shelf. You may not be familiar with the term, but I bet you have seen helper shelves in action.

Do you have different size dishes piled on top of each other in the cabinet but you’re tired of moving the smaller dishes every time you want to get to the larger ones? Then you need a helper shelf. It provides a higher surface for the smaller dishes but still gives you access to the larger ones. Here’s an example of a helper shelf:

Helper shelves work in spaces that are much taller than the items you want to store. In addition to dishes, they are helpful for cups, glasses, cans, and spices. Once you become aware of them, you’ll start noticing places in your home where they would be useful.

I was using helper shelves in my refrigerator to provide extra storage for shorter items. However, when I got a new refrigerator recently as part of my still-ongoing renovation, I found that I no longer needed them. I didn’t know where I would use them, but I knew that they would come in handy somewhere, so I put them aside and stayed alert to an opportunity to redeploy them.

The opportunity came when I was reorganizing the cabinet next to my computer desk. Long-time readers may remember that in 2020, I redid my home office, including donating my childhood desk and replacing it with a cabinet that doubled as a printer table. (See Transforming My Home Office.) That cabinet is full of office supplies and was starting to get a little unwieldy. Every time I took something out, everything shifted and needed to be straightened up again.

When I sat down on the floor to reorganize it recently, I remembered my helper shelves. Now I can pull out items out of the right side of the cabinet without disturbing everything else.

Helper shelves come in many different heights and widths, so be sure to measure your space and your items before shopping for them. Some of them have adjustable widths, which might work best for your cabinet. If you have a really tall cabinet, you can get helper shelves that are designed to stack on each other. You’ll find plenty of options at retailers like The Container Store, Amazon, and Wayfair.

Using Stuff Up, Part 2

Last time, I talked about how much I love to use stuff up. This time, I’d like to address a related topic: stuff that never gets used up.

When I work with clients, here are some of the most common places where I see this happen.

  • In the kitchen: food that gets opened but doesn’t ever get finished. Or food that gets purchased and never even gets opened.
  • In the bathroom: products that are used for a while but then get displaced by a different product. If the number of bottles of shampoo in your shower exceeds the number of people using that shower, then you know what I’m talking about.

Space is limited, so leaving products hanging around unfinished is not a good idea. They become clutter and they collect dust (or worse).

Many items in bathrooms and kitchens have expiration dates. As I addressed in my post entitled Making Friends with Expiration Dates, an expiration date lets you know how long ago you bought an item and can help you make the decision about whether it should stick around. Even if you aren’t concerned that your packaged cake mix expired in 2016, it’s an indication that you just aren’t into baking cakes.

Sometimes we want to try a product — a new face cream for example — and then don’t like it that much, so we stop using it. Or we try a new face cream and like it a lot, so the one that we were using before never gets touched again.

The best way to root out these unloved products is to remove everything from the space where they are stored. (This also gives you the rare opportunity to scrub that space, since it probably hasn’t been empty in a while.) Then start putting back the things you use all the time or plan to use very soon. I’m guessing that you’ll discover some items that you haven’t thought about in a while and maybe even forgot that you had.

If unloved products are long expired or just plain icky, it’s best to toss them. If they still have life in them, see if you can give them away. Products that have never been opened can be given away on BuyNothing, or donated to a shelter or thrift shop.

Let’s Talk Plastic Containers, Part 2

Last week I wrote with guidelines about plastic containers as well as my ongoing love affair with Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids™ containers. (See Let’s Talk Plastic Containers.)

I’ve received some requests for assistance in navigating the gamut of Easy Find Lids™ containers, as there are many types, shapes, and sizes.

I prefer the square-shaped containers, as opposed to the rectangular ones, as they fit best in my refrigerator. My go-to size is the 3-cup container, as they are perfect for leftovers. I generally have 5 or 6 of those in my fridge at all times. Here is a link on Amazon: 3-cup square container.

I sometimes use the 5-cup size for something too voluminous for the 3-cup, like an entire cooked cabbage. The 5-cup has the same footprint as the 3-cup, but it’s taller. That means you can stack them on each other in the fridge, and nest them in the cabinet. Here’s a combo pack with one 5-cup and two 3-cup sizes: 3-cup and 5-cup combo pack.

I also use the 1.25 cup size for small items, such as a cut-up bell pepper or half an apple. Here’s a set of two 1.25-cup containers: 1.25-cup set of two.

In searching for these items on Amazon, I see that Rubbermaid now features steam vents on some of the containers. Mine don’t have these, but I don’t miss them because I rarely heat things up in a covered container. If you do, then you may consider buying those containers that feature those lids.

You may be considering buying a set with a lot of different sizes, such as this one with 21 different containers and lids. If you are ready to ditch your existing containers and devote that space to these new ones, and if your storage needs are more varied than mine, then go ahead. But you may also want to start small and then add to your collection once you’ve figured out your needs.

Here is a photo of my actual refrigerator, with lots of Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids™ containers stacked up. In the front are three 1.25-cup containers. In the back are three 3-cup containers on the left, and a 3-cup container on top of a 5-cup on the right.