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.

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.

With Ziploc Bags, Size Matters

When people ask me what my favorite organizing product is, I think they are surprised by my answer: Ziploc bags.

I’m actually brand-agnostic, so I use the term Ziploc to mean any sealable, transparent bag. One of my favorite things about them is their transparency. When we store things in opaque bags or boxes, we think we will remember what is inside, but much of the time, we just don’t. I can’t even count the number of times a client has been surprised by the contents of an opaque container.

I keep four sizes of Ziploc bags in my kitchen: gallon, quart, sandwich, and snack. While I use them all with food, I use them for many other things as well. Most of my clients have one size in their homes, maybe two. I find that having a variety of sizes will ensure that you can store things most efficiently.

When I’m helping clients organize a pile of stuff, I frequently ask them to bring me a Ziploc bag of a certain size. Here are some ideas for what you might use them for:

  • Gallon: good for keeping the manual and cables together for a specific device.
  • Quart: good for keeping note cards and envelopes together.
  • Sandwich: good for storing open packages of hardware, such as picture hooks or nails.
  • Snack: good for storing business cards.

Many brands of bags have a white strip on which you can write the contents with a marker. If your brand doesn’t have it, add a piece of masking tape or a label if you need to identify the contents. For example, if you have a lot of electronic cables, you can sort them by type, put each type into its own bag, and label the bag (such as “USB-C to Lightning”). Next time you need a cable, it will be easy to find the one you need, rather than wading through a drawer of tangled cables.

Just today, I found a Ziploc bag very handy. I had a dentist appointment scheduled right after a client appointment to which I had brought my lunch. Not wanting to go to the dentist with food in my teeth, I brought along a toothbrush and a package of floss. It turns out that a sandwich-sized bag was the perfect size for these items. They stayed clean in my backpack and the bag prevented my backpack from getting wet.

If you don’t have multiple sizes of bags, you can always store things in a larger size than what you really need. But this creates a lot of extra bulk and becomes a deterrent to using a Ziploc bag when one would be the best solution. I guarantee that if you start keeping multiple sizes, you will find a use for all of them.

Paying for Postponed Decisions

It’s funny how my work with clients takes on certain patterns. I recently wrote about multiple clients with whom I worked on organizing their jewelry. Lately, I have been visiting storage units with my clients.

As I’ve mentioned before, my very wise organizing colleague, Barbara Hemphill, declared that “Clutter is postponed decisions.®” When you decide to put items into storage, you are not only postponing the decision of what to do with that stuff, you are also paying handily for the luxury of postponing that decision.

Many clients over the years have gotten tired of paying hundreds of dollars each month and have asked me for help in closing down their self-storage units. The one I worked on recently was very satisfying for both the client and me. We went through every box at her Manhattan Mini Storage unit. She decided what should be kept and what should be hauled away, and then I repacked the boxes and added colored tape to each box indicating its destination.

My client arranged for a small moving company and a junk company to come at our next session so that we could empty the unit and close it down. The stuff that the junk company hauled away will be donated or recycled where appropriate, or put in the trash as a last resort. The stuff that she is keeping was moved to her apartment, where we stacked it up in a corner for us to put away at a future date.

Another client asked me to help her organize the storage cage in her building’s basement. The building was planning to haul away anything that wasn’t located securely in the cages, so this was an opportunity for her to review what she had and dispose of what she no longer wanted at no cost. This review reinforced what I’ve always believe: anything kept in an opaque container becomes a mystery. If you can’t see it, you’ll forget what it is.

My favorite moment during that session occurred while looking at another resident’s storage cage. This cage was filled completely with boxes from floor to ceiling, and the only thing keeping the boxes from spilling out was the chain holding the door closed. One of the boxes was labeled “Clothes I Don’t Wear”. That’s telling it like it is! (I don’t suppose I need to tell you what I would advise someone to do about clothes they don’t wear.)

The third storage closet project also took place in the basement of the client’s building. This was a room filled with postponed decisions, much of it relating to the family’s now-adult child. This is a struggle that many of my clients deal with. What do you do with the childhood stuff that your kids leave behind? At what point do you tell them that they need to come review their stuff because you plan to get rid of it?

Here are a few pointers regarding storage units:

  • I believe in renting a storage unit if you know it will be temporary. If you need a few months or a year to park your stuff because of a life change, go for it. However, if you are simply postponing difficult decisions, you will ultimately regret sending the stuff to a costly storage space.
  • Pack your items in well-marked boxes, or put them in clear storage containers. You want to be able to tell at a glance what is in the storage unit so that you can find it when you need it, or decide when it’s time to trash it.
  • Keep a list of everything you’ve added to the unit. You think you will remember, but you won’t.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Back in June, I wrote about a project on which I had done a good bit of procrastinating (see A Blessing and A Curse). To refresh your memory on the salient details, I was asked to record a 90-minute class I had delivered at a NAPO conference 6 years earlier, so that the class could be made available as part of NAPO’s educational offerings. I put it off and put it off, and finally got it done by setting myself a deadline. But as it turns out, that wasn’t the end of the story.

First, a little more background. Somehow, my first attempt at recording what had been a live 90-minute class came out to only 27 minutes. By going into more detail on some of the points in the class, I was able to extend it to 36 minutes – an increase of 33%. I was pleased that I could add more value to the class. But as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A couple of weeks later, my contact at NAPO headquarters let me know that the NAPO Education Committee wanted all NAPO courses to be at least 60 minutes long so that they could be used as Continuing Education Units (CEUs). As a Certified Professional Organizer® who needs to earn CEUs to keep my certification, I was sympathetic to the concept. But how was I going to add another 24 minutes to this class? Especially when I had already wracked my brain to extend it 33%? I guess I was going to have to do a little more brain-wracking.

The class is called “Less is More: Maximizing Small Residential Spaces.” I decided to add more examples of the guidelines I had included for small spaces. I gave more specific tips. I added photos of products. And I included more client anecdotes. I spent many hours researching more content, and I actually had fun coming up with new ideas. The number of slides in my presentation went from 18 to 42.

When I recorded the class, I was thrilled to see that it had reached 60 minutes and 51 seconds. Success!!

The class is now available on the NAPO educational website, NAPO University, for $45. While it is intended for Professional Organizers, it is chock full of content that is useful to anyone who lives in a small space and is looking for some pointers. Check it out here.

This experience was a good lesson for me that we do our best work when pushed out of our comfort zones. I started out by thinking “I can’t” but ultimately, I could — and I did.