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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Simple Solutions for Kitchen Organization: Plastic Storage Containers

Join me for the next 4 weeks as we look at simple solutions for kitchen organization. I will show you some inexpensive and creative ways to deal with those annoying kitchen areas--such as the Tupperware avalanche, the stuffed-into-a-box-in-no-apparent-order recipes and finding that one spice jar that you know is in there somewhere. Wait...maybe that is only going on at my house! ;)
Week #1 ~ Tackling the Tupperware (and other plastic storage containers)
I am going to venture a guess, that I am not the only one who gets assaulted by a Tupperware avalanche every time I open my cupboard doors. Heaven forbid this cupboard be in a location in your kitchen that is over your head! (What are you thinking anyway?!) This is a picture of what my plastic storage cupboard looked like last January. Okay...not really! This is what it looked like AFTER I straightened it up enough that I was comfortable taking a picture of its disarray. Just being honest with you, friends! :)
I was completely sick of having to hunt through the back of the cupboard to find the lid that matched the container I was using,multiple times a day. I attempted at one point to keep all the containers on one shelf and the lids on another, but when my husband unloaded the dishwasher he would just throw them in there any which way....completely negating my pathetic organizational system (if you could call it that!). I would let my toddler play in there with all the containers and when she was done, I'd just shove it all in and close the doors. This, of course, leading to the avalanche the next time I opened the cupboard.
I knew there had to be an EASY (as in everyone in my family can figure it out) and not terribly expensive solution to this Tupperware trouble. My solution was to purchase under the bed storage containers, creating a "drawer" of sorts in which to hold the containers and lids. I chose to keep them separate, because I liked the idea of being able to nest the containers and use up less space. The clear "drawers" I created, prevented items from being lost in the back of the cupboard. Locating the matching lid was fairly simple after first finding the right size container I wished to use.
I have pared down my plastic storage containers quite a bit over the last few years, because I have read so much about the potential dangers of eating from plastic, due to the toxic chemicals it can leech into food. I choose to store much more in glass jars these days and keep those in a basket on top of my refrigerator. (See more on BPA in plastic containers below.)

3 Simple Steps to Organizing Plastic Storage Containers
Step 1 ~ Take Inventory
  • Take every container and lid you own out of the cupboard and place them on the table or on the floor. (If yours isn't clean enough to eat off of, use a clean sheet or blanket!)
  • Sort through all of your containers, matching each lid to the appropriate bottom.
  • Throw out or recycle any container or lid that is cracked, badly stained, etc. You could opt to donate mismatched pieces if you like.
  • Be realistic about how many containers you actually need. If you have lots and lots of those cheapo Glad or Ziploc containers that are meant to be tossed after several uses, then either donate them or store them in a separate location for sending leftovers home with guests, giving away cookies at Christmas, etc.
Step 2 ~ Get Rid of What Isn't Safe for Food
  • Many types of plastic, including those sold to us for food storage, are made with a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA for short). A piece of plastic containing BPA will release the toxic substance when it is heated. (Think microwaving certain plastic containers--a big no-no or even putting them in the dishwasher.)
"Bisphenol A is a chemical used to make some plastics. It may be an endocrine disruptor, which means it acts like hormones in a human’s system. “More than 100 studies have been published “rais[ing] health concerns” about the chemical (from Wikipedia).” It’s possible that it’s carcinogenic, a term you’ll see around a lot. Read it as “cancer causing“. Big bummer. It’s possible that BPA may cause breast cancer. It’s possible that BPA may cause signs of early puberty. It’s possible that BPA may lower sperm count. Anyone notice any of that around our world?  
There isn’t conclusive proof that BPA is toxic, and the government still thinks there are acceptable levels. However…anything that messes with our hormones is not something I want to expose my children to. I look around and see rampant infertility, cancer, sexual disfunction and disorder, and I wonder why. If I can avoid something as easy as a plastic water bottle, I’m going to. It’s just a small step: over 90% of the general population carries residues of BPA in their bodies."

Read more at http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/03/18/food-for-thought-plastic-safety-for-people-and-earth/#cdCf3lXQg8G6oAqw.99
  • Look for the recycling symbol (triangle made of arrows) on the bottom of your containers. If it has a 4, 5, 1 or 2 it should be safe to use as long as you cool food before putting it into the container and use it to store, but never reheat your food. (For reheating, use a glass or ceramic bowl/plate in the microwave or heat leftovers in a pan on the stove.)
  • Remember the rhyme, "4, 5, 1 or 2...all the rest are bad for you!" and get rid of any containers that do not have one of those numbers on the inside of the recycling symbol or worse yet--no number at all. Your better option would be to use glass to store your cooled off leftovers and then you can reheat in the same container!
Step 3 ~ Shop for a Large Shallow "Drawer" and Organize Your Containers
  • The last step is by far the easiest! Measure the inside dimensions of your cupboard (including the height) and head to your local superstore or discount store to find a large under-the-bed storage box. I found mine at Wal-Mart for under $6 each. I would recommend a clear one, but that is totally up to you.
  • Store the lids for your under-the-bed boxes in a closet, next to the fridge, or in another out of the way location in case you need them down the line.
  • Neatly place all of the lids in one box, flat or on their side, whichever you prefer. Place the container bottoms, nested, in the other box. I like to have a stack of square ones, a stack of round bowls, etc. Hint: If you have too many to fit in the box--you may have kept more than you actually need for an average size family.
  • Wipe out your cupboard, replace any old shelf paper (optional) and place your new organized "drawers" inside. Stand back and breathe a sigh of relief the next time you open the doors.
And there you have it! A relatively simple and inexpensive solution to that avalanche of Tupperware that you have to shove back in every time you open the cupboard. I have been working with this organizational idea for about a year now, and I can honestly say I like it as well now as I did in the beginning. It is easy to maintain and still fits our needs well. I love pulling out my "drawers" to find what I need instead of getting on my hands and knees, digging around in the back of the dark cupboard for that one certain lid that I want. Not that I had to do that often....ha ha!
What areas of your kitchen are driving you nuts? Is there a specific location that needs to be tackled in the new year, in order to save your sanity? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

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