The Easiest Way to Organize Food Storage Containers
Although many of our kitchen organization solutions change from home to home, I have been organizing our food storage containers the same way for years! And while I’ve mentioned it here and there, I’ve never quite spelled it all out in a dedicated post. So today, I’m showing you the easiest way to organize food storage containers. And best of all, this works in any kitchen, without any fancy organizers. Let me show you!
The Common Container Problem
One of my clearest memories of my childhood home is of the skinny cabinet just next to the stove. Like many of these little cabinets across America, it was stuffed full of food storage containers. And opening it always resulted in a plastic avalanche.
I can vividly remember dreading opening the cabinet door any time we needed a container for leftovers…never sure what I’d find…or not. If I quickly found a matching lid and container, it was a lucky day! Usually, finding a matching pair required emptying almost everything out and then stuffing it all back in before quickly shutting the door again.
You might think I’m being dramatic, but I assure you I am not. The state of that cabinet and the stacks of mismatched containers and lids has stayed with me all these years. And I suspect, you might have a similar kitchen cabinet in your home too.
Why? Food storage containers are notoriously finicky to organize for two main reasons:
- They include two pieces: a container and its matching lid. And if you keep these units together, they are incredibly difficult to stack in a way that doesn’t topple over every time you need just one.
- They come in lots of different sizes and shapes. And while this is handy for packaging up various foods, this inconsistency in shape makes it difficult to find organizers that fit everything just right.
While I don’t currently own enough food storage containers to cause an avalanche, our collection too had become quite unwieldy since moving into this home last summer. But really…that’s only because I never implemented my favorite container storage solution!
No fancy supplies or complicated steps here! One simple trick and about 5 minutes can take your food storage containers from a toppling tower to totally tidy. And most importantly, everything is easy to access AND put away.
The ONE Simple Trick to Organizing Food Storage Containers
Alright…are you ready for it?
Food storage containers come in pairs: container + lid. And it’s understandable that you’d want to keep them matched up. But the key to successfully storing food storage containers is to break those pairs up.
Yep…put all the containers together, nesting similar shapes and sizes into each other…
…and then put all the container lids together. (Don’t bother to sort or stack lids; I’ll explain more on this below.)
I told you it was “tricky,” right?!? 😉
Why This Works
The primary reason this works is that removing the lids from the containers allows the bases to more easily nest into each other. This naturally keeps the entire collection more compact (so it better fits into the space you have!) and less prone to topples (no more avalanches!)
This separation also makes it easier to see what you have at-a-glance. So don’t worry about not having the matching bases and lids together. It’s actually easier than you might think to grab a container from one pile and the matching lid from the other. With two smaller groupings, the item you need jumps right out!
Where to Store Food Storage Containers
So now that you know the basic concept for organizing food storage containers (bottoms in one spot, lids in another), you next need to figure out where to put the two groups. The location will primarily depend on your particular kitchen layout, the amount of food storage containers you have, and how often you use them.
Why Skip the Fancy Organizers
Regular readers around here know I love a good organizer to optimize space and keep items tidy. But this is one time when you can likely skip the expensive shelf dividers, lid organizer, pegs, carousel, wall-mounted racks, or built-in drawer organizers.
While they sure look pretty, these systems tend to work best when you have all identical containers and lots of them. Very rarely can you find something that fits your specific storage space just right AND has compartments with enough room to accommodate a wide range of containers. (And if you have kids emptying the dishwasher? Game over! They usually just throw the lids and containers wherever anyway…not nicely stacked up exactly where you want them, right?!?)
So what do I recommend instead?
We’ve had really good luck with “catch all” systems such as drawers or baskets for our food storage containers. Both of these allow you to keep items separate, but work well for a wide variety of container sizes, spaces, and lazy kids!
Storing Food Storage Containers in Drawers
Small drawers are an excellent location for food storage containers and lids. If you have the space, I recommend loading all the containers into one small drawer and all the lids into another.
If you only have a larger size drawer, you can still keep tops and bottoms separate (like I did, below, in our California kitchen). To prevent lids and containers from mixing, divide the depth of your drawer in two (perhaps using these DIY Drawer Dividers) or use a large container inside the drawer to store lids.
Storing Food Storage Containers On Shelves & Cabinets
Our rental kitchens rarely have enough drawers; so more often than not, we have to use cabinet or pantry space for plastic food storage containers. And in these instances, I highly recommend you reach for two sturdy baskets!
I know, I know. I will put almost anything into a basket, but I actually have some very practical reasons for doing so this time!
- Baskets…by their very nature…are “catch all” systems. And while this maybe isn’t great for silverware or kitchen gadgets, good sturdy baskets can easily accommodate a wide variety of containers and lids in a way that keeps them safe and easy to access without a lot of fuss.
- Baskets come in so many different sizes, shapes, and materials that you can be sure to find some that will fit wherever you need to put them, whether it’s a wide pantry shelf or tiny upper cabinet.
- Open shelves can quickly become unruly and deep cabinets can become cavernous holes. Baskets allow you to create boundaries where there aren’t any.
- Baskets are easy to pull out and put back, allowing you to take advantage of awkward cabinets or shelves you might not otherwise be able to use.
Here are a few examples!
In our first North Carolina home, I loaded containers and lids into two shallow y-weave baskets.
They slid perfectly into the un-used short upper cabinets above the kitchen sink.
Without the baskets, items would have gotten lost or stuck in these high cabinets, and getting containers up and down would have just been too bothersome.
But by splitting up our containers and lids into two different baskets that fit these shelves, we were ultimately able to use these un-usable cabinets, leaving other cabinets for more important items!
In our current kitchen, these two deep blue baskets not only fit our container collection more comfortably but also took full advantage of the skinny, deep Tupperware cabinet.
Instead of items getting lost in the depths, these skinny baskets pull in and out…just like drawers!
If we ever need to clean out our collection, unload the dishwasher, or load up a bunch of leftovers, it’s easy to pull both baskets all the way out, place them on the counter to get what we need, and then slide them both back in!
Watch Me Organize Our Food Storage Containers!
Want to watch me clean out this messy cabinet? I didn’t even bother speeding this one up so you can see how easy it is to make a positive change in your kitchen with just a few minutes! (Video not loading for you? You can watch it HERE!)
Tips for Success
Declutter Your Food Storage Containers…First
It’s no accident that my food storage container collection is fairly compact and uniform. Although many of us have a tendency to accumulate lots of Tupperware and other random containers, you likely don’t need everything you have.
Before organizing, spend some time going through everything. If something is damaged, discolored, doesn’t have a match, or just never gets used, it’s okay to toss it. Less clutter will make storing and accessing what you do have even easier!
Leave Room to Grow
It’s not uncommon to purchase or end up with some extra food storage containers that don’t match the rest of what you have. Whatever system you use should have plenty of room to absorb these new additions; otherwise they can all-too-easily end up on the counter, on top of the fridge, or stuffed in the back of cabinets (and therefor, never used!)
I know…it’s only two baskets. And depending how see-through they are or where they are located, you might even be able to see right into them. BUT! Remember that labels are just as much about accountability as they are location identifiers. If you want everyone in your household to know where items are AND where they go back, add quick labels to help everyone out!
Other Great Kitchen Storage Solutions
Ready to organize even more things in your kitchen? I’ve got you covered with more easy solutions!
This solution for plastic food containers might seem common sense and too easy to really work. But we’ve been sorting out tops and bottoms like this for years…in home after home after home…and I’ve yet to replace it with something “fancier” because it just…works!
If you have an avalanche of food storage containers (like my Mom did!), it’s time to grab two baskets (or two small kitchen drawers) and get sorting. I promise this simple solution will save you time and sanity day in and day out, meal after meal after meal!
2 Comments on “The Easiest Way to Organize Food Storage Containers”
Since almost all my food storage containers started life as canning jars, I use a variation on this theme. I use an upper cabinet with risers for the half pints, while the pints sit on a shelf. Flat lids go in a bread tin (you can reuse until they rust if you don’t need them to seal), rings in a crock.
I save the top shelf for occasional use items, freezer bags and other plastic bags I reuse, in baskets.
Divide and conquer really is the theme here, no matter what sort of container you have.
Avalanche! Ain’t it the truth. Every day I threaten my containers with banishment. Currently in my new kitchen I have a very deep drawer and used a divider, but before I’ve had them pouring out a cabinet as described.
My grandmother used to call this sort of thing a Fibber McGee and Molly closet. That was a radio show from the 30s to ‘59. It went off the air when I was ten. Wikipedia had this to say about the closet — “ None of the show’s other running gags was as memorable or enduring as the overstuffed hall closet. The gag involved McGee’s frequently opening a cacophonous closet, with the bric-a-brac it contained clattering down and out and, often enough, over McGee’s or Molly’s heads. ‘I gotta get that closet cleaned out one of these days” was the usual McGee comment’ “