In the best-selling novel “The Husband’s Secret,” by Lianne Moriarty, one of the main characters is a successful Tupperware saleswoman.
I was kind of surprised; maybe Tupperware parties are still a thing in Australia, where the novel is set, but for most of my clients, trying to sell them Tupperware would be like selling ice to Eskimos. They’ve either got what they need, more than they really need, or so much of it they have 27 different words to describe it, sort of like Eskimos and snow. There’s Rubbermaid and Ziploc and Glad and random yogurt containers, all with their own unique lids, unless, of course, the lids have disappeared.
Earl Tupper began cluttering kitchens in 1946, part of a plastic revolution that was part of the post-World War II/baby boomer era. Unbreakable, light and relatively inexpensive, Tupperware helped busy families store ingredients and leftovers. By the 1970s, most kitchens had a drawer or cupboard crammed with Tupperware containers, from mixing bowls to the strange wedge-shaped container meant for a single piece of pie.
Reuseable plastic storage is a difficult item to organize because it’s bulky, doesn’t nest well (one item inside another) or stack well, comes with lids (an additional part to track) and is cheap enough that it’s easy to keep bringing more in but costs enough that it is difficult to simply throw out. There’s also the guilt factor — we don’t want to add all that plastic to the landfill, so we hold on to a bunch of mismatched stuff.
I have two square Rubbermaid containers with red lids (easy to spot) that I use for storing leftovers. I also have three glass nesting bowls with plastic lids for the same purpose. I’m also a huge fan of just wrapping a platter or ceramic bowl of leftovers with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Occasionally I will wash and reuse large yogurt containers for freezing stock. I have minimal storage in my kitchen and so keep it really simple. But I don’t have kids at home and I’m not much of a cook. Some of you will require much more food storage than I do.
Buy glass containers when possible. My philosophy of owning less of something but higher quality goes double for the kitchen. In a cupboard stuffed with plastic containers in multiples of every shape and size, not only will you have more trouble finding what you need, it’s much easier to throw a few new ones into the grocery cart. The semi-disposable nature of these containers, like Ziploc, has its place, but I believe it does encourage overbuying and creates clutter.
Here are some tips to organize your plastic food storage:
For small items, like Tupperware Popsicle molds that have multiple pieces, keep them together in a resalable plastic bag.
Keeping track of lids is a toughie. I’ve tried lots of methods for lid storage, and the best has been to store the lid immediately under the container to which it belongs. If you seal it onto the container, it will trap odors. If you separate it from the container, it will mean going through all the lids to find the one you want.
Keep your plastic containers in one cupboard or drawer, preferably not too deep. A cupboard with pull out drawers is perfect. Lower cupboards work better than upper cupboards because stacks of lightweight plastic containers and lids have a tendency to tumble down.
Try to keep your plastic container collection to one brand and style. Buy something you will really use, not just because it is clever or will make your refrigerator look like a Real Simple article. Do buy square over round when possible, and do buy nesting sets if possible.
Toss anything that has been melted out of shape by the dishwasher or that has other damage. If something is unpleasantly stained from storing food like tomato sauce, consider tossing it and use glass for items that tend to stain.