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.

Space as a Finite Resource

I think we are all used to the idea of money as a finite resource. But space is a finite resource as well — not just for those of us who live in small homes, but for everyone. Even if you have an attic, basement, or garage to stash the stuff you aren’t using, eventually it will be so full that you will have to deal with it.

One way to avoid coming up against space limitations is to use them as an ally and not an enemy. Use space to help determine how much you own.

Here’s an example of this. I love cardigan sweaters. (For those of you not up on your fashion terms, a cardigan sweater is a sweater that opens in the front, as opposed to a pullover.) I wear them over turtlenecks in the winter, and I carry one with me in the summer to combat over-cooled restaurants and subway trains. But I can’t have an unlimited number of cardigan sweaters because space is finite resource.

So I have allocated one — and only one — drawer in my dresser for my beloved cardigans. That drawer is always full. If I decide to buy another sweater, I need to figure out which sweater to get rid of. Embracing my space limitations forces me to make choices, which is the key to avoiding clutter. And I can always find the sweater I’m looking for, because they are limited to just one place.

You can apply this method to anywhere in your home. When your bookcases are full and you want to buy another book, figure out which book(s) to give away. Don’t start putting books somewhere else (where you will never find them again) or lay them horizontally across the standing books or start another row of books in front of the existing books. That, my friend, is clutter.

Once you’ve allocated the space for a particular type of item, stick with it. If it’s something that gets used up — like toilet paper or breakfast cereal — you will easily be able to see when you are running low and need to buy more. If it’s something that doesn’t get used up — like handbags or neckties — having a limited number will enable you to find what you are looking for faster and more easily.

Unstick That Drawer

Do you have a drawer that is hard to open because something gets stuck? I’m guessing you do. Many of my clients do, and on occasion, even I have one.

I see this happen mainly in two places — the kitchen and the dresser. Occasionally it happens in the bathroom if you are lucky enough to have drawer space in your vanity.

There are two main causes for an overflowing drawer:

  • The drawer has too much stuff in it.
  • The items in the drawer need to be arranged a different way.

If the drawer has too much stuff in it, then the solution is clear. The best way to go about cleaning out a drawer is to empty it all out, then go through each item one at a time before putting it back. You’ll be surprised about some of the items that are in that drawer.

If it’s a clothes drawer, then there are probably things on the bottom of the drawer that you haven’t seen in a long time. Be honest about whether or not you will ever wear them. If it’s a kitchen or bathroom drawer, there are sure to be things you’ve forgotten about. There may also be doubles (even triples) of the same item. Get rid of what you don’t need.

You may also find that the drawer has strayed from its original purpose. Did pajamas find their way into your t-shirt drawer? Did batteries end up in your utensil drawer? By relocating the interlopers to their rightful locations and reestablishing the purpose of that drawer, you’ll reduce some of the overload and make it easier to find things when you need them.

If everything in that drawer really does belong in that drawer, and there’s nothing that you can get rid of, then consider arranging things a different way. In my kitchen, my utensil drawer has flat items (spatulas, cake server, pizza slicer) and rounded items (serving spoons, salad server). By keeping the flat items in one section of the drawer and the rounded items in another, I can nest them somewhat and prevent the drawer from getting stuck.

If a pile of clothing gets stuck when you open a drawer, consider folding the items a different way so that they stand up instead of lie down. It may take some experimentation to figure out how many times you need to fold each item so it fits in the drawer standing up — it depends on the depth of the drawer, and the length of each item. Once you figure it out, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to fit your clothes, and how nice it is to see everything at once.