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Once upon a time there was a kid, me. And I was asked to empty the dishwasher by my mother. It was one of my jobs. My least favorite part of emptying the dishwasher was putting away the clean dishes, namely the tupperware. You see, our tupperware cupboard was a total disaster. Lids were stuffed every which way and each time you opened the door something came shooting out at you. The worst thing was that on top of it being a hassle to put tupperware away, it was even more of a hassle to find the tupperware you wanted. Oh can this story possibly have a happy ending?

Yes, it can. But not right away. I ended up adopting the same chaotic tupperware cupboard as my parents when I lived in apartments in college. But one day I had an epiphany. Tupperware cupboards do not need to be chaotic. They do not need to be booby-trapped. They can actually be organized. My roommate and I thought of a clever idea for the lids one day and so we decided to tackle the tupperware once and for all.

You can organize your tupperware too! It isn’t a lost cause. I will outline here today a step-by-step process you can follow to get rid of unneeded containers, sort and stack your tupperware more efficiently, and ultimately make your cupboard more accessible. Never be hassled again. Always find what you are looking for.  Rejoice, it’s a thing of beauty.

tupperware

Step 1: Empty your cupboard

If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet with my step-by-step organizational posts, I’ll clue you in right now that I almost always start the process with step one involving some kind of emptying of whatever it is you are trying to organize. You can’t really get anywhere if you don’t start from scratch in my opinion. Anyways, I digress.

So, pull out all your tupperware, whether it is a top quality Rubbermaid container or an old sour cream container you decided to save. Also be sure to take into account any tupperware that you are currently using (i.e. check your fridge or dishwasher).

Step 2: Match containers with lids

I will tell you up front that this step might be a little frustrating. But it is necessary, so march onward. What you need to do is sort all your tupperware containers and make sure that every container has a lid that fits. If you find a container that does not have a lid or a lid that does not have a container, then set those items aside for now.

Step 3: Get rid of containers you don’t need

Now that you have all your containers matched with their lids sitting out before you, it’s time to make some decisions. It is VERY easy to collect random containers over time so it is likely that you have a few, or maybe even a lot of containers you don’t really need. Assess your needs, be honest, and start pitching (don’t forget to recycle!). Also be sure to decide what to do with the unmatched lids and containers left over from step 2.

Step 4: Stack similar shapes

It is time to begin the organizing now that we’ve taken care of a little clutter. The best way to organize your tupperware within your cupboard is to stack similar shapes. Put all the round containers together, all the square containers together, all the rectangular containers together, and so on. Be careful to stack by size and eventually you will have a few nice and neat piles. What’s that you say? You have a container that doesn’t nicely stack with anything else? I hear ya, I have those too. Let’s not worry about them just yet.

stacked-containers

Step 5: Arrange all the lids

Now that the containers are all stacked neatly, it is time to move on to the lids. You shouldn’t have any extra lids in your pile if you followed Step 2 correctly. The clever idea my roommate and I came up with to deal with lids involves taking some kind of box container to hold all the lids (a large shoe box or an old cake pan you don’t use anymore will work just fine). The trick is to arrange the lids by size in a row so they are kept in one place instead of scattered every which way. The beauty of this system is that you can easily remove and replace lids from this box since each lid has a particular place it belongs.

container-lids

Step 6: Return everything to the cupboard

Don’t worry if everything doesn’t fit exactly on the first try. But I guarantee what you did will at least be an improvement over an ‘anything goes’ system. Experiment with how containers are arranged and try to find the best fit. Keep in mind that you want everything to be accessible, so don’t stuff small stacks way in the back. And now is the time to figure out what to do with those strangely shaped containers…don’t be afraid to be creative!

Step 7: Stick to the system

Just as I start with some ‘emptying’ in step one of every organizational process, I always end with a note about sticking to your new system. If there is one thing that can easily become chaotic again after only a few days, it is the tupperware. But if you put everything back in its proper place, keeping the lids evenly arranged by size, and keeping the containers neatly stacked, then you will not have any problems. DO NOT NEGLECT THIS STEP. Trust me, I know.

Reader Reflection

I am itching to hear other clever ways to organize tupperware. For example, has anyone found a way to capitalize on the number system (i.e. lids and containers have the same number, thus making it supposedly easier to match them together)? Please share!

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It’s now day three of this week’s wardrobe series and we’re to the point where we can start organizing our clothes storage spaces. This is my favorite kind of organization, so pardon me for being a little excited this morning! Since you’ve done a little clothes decluttering by choosing what to get rid of and either selling or donating it, your storage spaces are now ripe for some creative arranging.

Let’s face it. Not all closets are created equal. Not all dressers are created equal. And those of you with neither closets nor dressers have had to find unique storage solutions for your clothes that perhaps no one else uses. My point is, I can’t really tell you exactly how to organize your specific wardrobe storage spaces, but I can give you some handy guidelines to go by.

Why organize your clothes? You know what you own (hopefully) and if you have a smallish wardrobe, you probably know just about where everything is. But what about using that space more efficiently? We could all use a little more room here and there. Furthermore, have you considered the benefits of logical arrangements of clothes? There are a lot of creative ways to arrange your bins, dresser drawers, or close racks, and by doing so, you will find your clothes more easily and keep track of what you wear (and don’t wear). And if your wardrobe is the opposite of smallish, then organized arranging is a must!

I dream of a walk-in closet

Honey, are you reading this? I’d like a large walk-in closet with shelves, numerous racks, and creative storage spaces. Are you writing this down? How does this weekend work for you? Um, ya, does this sound familiar? Do you dream of a large closet that will pretty much organize your clothes for you? Well, maybe someday I’ll get my wish (hint hint), but for now my basic single rack closet will have to do. And don’t get me wrong—it’s totally functional and it does its job (it’s better than no closet, right?). No matter what sort of closet you have, below I’ve outlined some simple guidelines to help you get it organized through a little creative arranging.

  • Arrange clothes by seasonMonday’s post generated some good discussion about in-season versus off-season clothing. Some people store their off-season clothes in another location (e.g. the basement) and then make the switch when the weather starts changing. I am able to keep my clothes in the closet all at once, so seasonal organizing isn’t a necessary solution for me. But consider the possibilities of removing half of your clothes (or your kid’s clothes) from your closet and storing them in bins in the basement for a season? Would this free up some much-needed space for other things?
  • Arrange clothes by type.  If seasonal arranging isn’t your cup of tea or you don’t really need to go this route, then the next logical level of arranging is by type. What I mean by this is pants, t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, skirts, dresses, etc. Keeping similar clothes together is a sure way to be able to find what you want and keep a good inventory of what you own. When you arrange your clothes in this manner, you’ll not only be able to just go easily grab a sweater from your sweater section, you’ll also be able to get an idea of just how many sweaters you actually have. You might just discover that a little decluttering is in order.
  • Arrange clothes by color.  Now don’t go rolling your eyes and think, “she’s one of those organizing nuts.” I admit that organizing something like your DVD collection by color might look pretty in passing, but it is not at all functional. However, arranging your clothes by color is a whole different story. When you choose a skirt to wear to a play, you probably have a particular color of blouse you’d like to wear with it, right? Let’s say you want to wear a pink blouse. If you have your clothes arranged by type and color, you’d first head over to your blouse section. Then you’d find your pink blouses and easily choose the one you’d like to wear. All the pink options are right there in front of you and you aren’t left digging around your entire closet to see you if have a better pink alternative. Plus, the beauty of the color system is that when you go to put your blouse back after you’ve worn it, you know exactly where to put it. Systems stay in place. Your clothes begin organizing themselves…well, you know what I mean.

The old faithful dresser

Perhaps you don’t have a closet. Or maybe you have a closet but you need a little extra space for certain clothes. Next I’d like to share a few tips about how your can arrange your dresser drawers. It’s one thing to let your eyes wander around your closet to find what you are looking for, but if you have to search through all your drawers to find that one pair of pants you need, then you are wasting precious time. If organized appropriately, your dressers can be as easy to navigate as your closet.

  • Assign dressers to basic categories of clothes.  My husband and I both have two dressers for our non-closet clothes. We each have a small night-stand dresser that contains our undergarments, socks, and other similar items. We also each have a regular-sized dresser where we keep the clothes that we prefer not (or don’t need) to hang up (like shorts, t-shirts, jeans, etc.). Therefore each dresser contains a particular group of clothes and makes for a logical division. If you only have one dresser per person in your household, then that’s fine—you’ll be more interested in the next tip.
  • Each drawer should contain only certain types of clothes.  It’s not really very effective to just throw clothes in whichever drawer currently has a wedge of room. How will you ever find anything? It’s best to assign each drawer to a particular clothes type (or a few clothes types). For example, one drawer can be socks and undergarments, one drawer can be all your pants, one drawer can be all your t-shirts. That way when you wear something, you not only know exactly which drawer to find it in, but you also know exactly which drawer to return it to. You’ll never be looking for spots to squeeze that clean laundry into ever again.
  • Maximize space usage in each drawer.  No matter if you are dealing with a sock drawer or a t-shirt drawer, it’s important to spend some time maximizing the space usage within the drawer. Is there a better way you can arrange the socks to fit more pairs? Is there a particular style of shirt-folding you can learn to be sure you are not wasting any space? Be creative!

Additional clothes storage options

If I wanted to bore you, I could outline and review a practically endless list of alternative clothes storage solutions. But I most certainly do not want to bore you! Instead, I’ll just suggest a few popular options if you are looking for additional space beyond your traditional closet or dresser.

  • Storage bins.  Clear plastic storage bins are the best kind because you can see what’s inside and they are usually stackable. Put them in your closet or under your bed, the locations are limitless! And if you want to be even more organized, you can label each bin so you can keep track of what’s inside. This type of storage solution would work particularly well if you wanted to arrange your clothes seasonally.
  • Collapsible clothes racks.  Perhaps your closet is full and you need more room. Or maybe one bedroom in your house has no closet, but you still want to hang certain clothes. Clothes racks are nice because they are usually cheap, quite adjustable, and can be collapsed and stored if you aren’t using them. Plus, you can pretty much put them anywhere!
  • Wardrobe armoires.  A level up from the adjustable clothes racks perhaps, these fancy pieces of furniture often offer a closet and dresser in one. They look nice and they are mobile, but you must be willing to spend a little more money.
  • Closet organizers.  This last option isn’t really an alternative clothes storage option per se—it’s really more of an improvement or addition you can make to your existing set-up. Google ‘closet organizers’ and you will find an overwhelming list of choices. These popular space-savers can be purchased at a number of stores, but you can also build one yourself!

Reader Reflection

I’ve offered some general clothes organization guidelines above that hopefully you will be able to apply to your wardrobe no matter your situation. However we all have unique lifestyles and homes, so would anyone like to share some creative clothes storage solutions you’ve come up with?

What’s next?

Continuing the wardrobe series, tomorrow we’ll investigate some shopping tips when it comes time for us to have to buy new clothes.

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This week I’d like to do a series on the pantry. We all have some kind of space in our kitchen where we store food. Whether you have an actual pantry or just utilize various cupboards like I do, there are definitely ways to better organize it. Today I specifically want to talk about creative ways to stock your pantry so you can save time when you need it the most and have more flexible meal options.

Why stock your pantry?

A while back, I wrote up an illustration about two starkly different scenarios with regards to meal preparation. One instance in each scenario involved going to your pantry and seeing if you had the ingredients you needed for the recipe you chose. In the chaotic scenario, you were missing some ingredients and had to make a run to the grocery store, while in the organized scenario, you had what you needed and were able to get started right away. The key here is saving time by avoiding inefficient and inconvenient trips to the store when all you really want to be doing is getting that meal cooked. Let’s face it, evenings especially can be busy and stressful with meetings, kid’s activities, and generally everyone running in different directions. Furthermore, if you’re like me and live well out into the country, a trip into town to just go to the store for a couple of items is a real time killer and gas waster. Finally, stocking your pantry certain ways can offer your family more flexibility in cooking–who wants to eat the same thing every night?!

What about meal planning?

Some people are meal planners. In other words, they map out their days or even weeks and decide what they will cook each night. This makes grocery shopping easier and stocking your pantry a little less important because you know exactly what you will need and can buy it in advance. However, if you aren’t really much of a meal planner week to week (I tend to decide what I’m going to cook right before I cook it), keeping your pantry adequately stocked will accommodate this lifestyle beautifully. So let’s take a look at how we can do it!

Assessing what you need

The first thing you should do is figure out what you need in your pantry so you can maximize its usefulness. This involves a little analysis, but you only have to do it once and it’s definitely worth it in the end.

  • Skim your recipes. However you organize your recipes (we’ll talk about that later!), you most likely have a set of recipes that you make regularly. Take a look at those recipes and see if you can spot common ingredients. For example, when I look over some of my regular recipes, I repeatedly see ingredients like pasta, rice, onions, chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, french fried onions, soy sauce, white cooking wine, flour, sugar, baking powder, and various spices to name a few. If you stock up on these common ingredients, you are much more likely to have what you need to make a complete recipe on any given night.
  • Think about how you improvise. Admit it, we don’t have time to cook everything from a recipe, now do we?! Sometimes I just throw things together quickly so I definitely want to make sure I have those ingredients on hand. In fact, just last night I made a quick batch of spaghetti before our meeting and all I had to do was go over to the pantry and grab a box of pasta, a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, an onion, and some spices. What do you improvise with? Do you have the ingredients to get by?
  • Walk through a typical day. What do you eat for breakfast or lunch each day? Do you have to prepare meals for your kids, yourself, or your spouse for school or work? We always make sure we have plenty of things like cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, bread, crackers, chips, pudding, macaroni and cheese, canned soup, etc. on hand. Even though these meals don’t take as much prep time, they are still necessary and you don’t want to be milling around the kitchen 10 minutes before school starts trying to figure out what to make for your kids in their lunches.

Assessing how much you need

This step is a little trickier and really takes some trial and error to get it down to a science. I avoid just having one of any given ingredient because you have no idea how much or when you will need it between stops at the grocery store if you don’t plan ahead. So I usually end up getting a minimum of two, but with extremely common things, I often try to have several on hand. To illustrate, let’s look at two examples, cream of mushroom soup and chicken broth. I use cream of mushroom soup in casseroles a lot, but I don’t tend to make casseroles that often. Therefore I keep two cans on hand at all times because when I peruse my recipes, I see that the most any given recipe calls for is two cans. However, I cook with chicken broth a lot more regularly, especially if I am just throwing something together (it makes great additions to improvised soups, sauces, and sautés). So in that case, I keep about 5 cans on hand. You will need to keep track of your own cooking habits to decide how much of any given ingredient to keep around. Just don’t forget to consider the ultimate goal at all times: having what you need when you need it so you don’t have to go to store or change your plans.

What about perishable foods?

I’ve really only mentioned non-perishable foods in your pantry up to this point. As far as perishable foods go, I take the same approach, but with moderation due to the fact that these foods don’t keep as long. I also rely heavily on my freezer to keep foods like meat on hand. I always try to have chicken, hamburger, Italian sausage, and pork available to cook with. You just have to be careful not to forget about these items to avoid freezer burn and spoilage. Furthermore, I also use my pantry to store back-ups of ‘refrigerate-after-opening’ items like salad dressing, BBQ sauce, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, etc. That way when the item in your fridge runs out, you have another one available in the cupboard.

Keeping on top of stocking

So you’ve stocked your pantry once, but when items start disappearing how do you keep on top of re-stocking? I keep a grocery list magnet on my refrigerator and whenever I take an item out of my pantry, I add it to the list. It’s like keeping an inventory and always making sure you replace what you use.

Reader Reflection

How do you stock your pantry and keep track of how much you use? I’d love to learn creative ideas from people with different lifestyles.

Coming up…

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at a few money-saving tips in your pantry because if we’re going to buy ahead, we might as well try to save money too!

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If you garden like me, this is the time of the year that you can start looking back at your harvest and really begin to appreciate the fruits of your labor, literally. And no one can deny the popularity of the tomato…they are tasty and versatile! I’ve been busy with my tomato crop for the past month and today I’d like to offer some tips on how to organize your own harvest. With a little creativity, you can get the most out of all your hard work and hopefully save some time and money in the future.

The possibilities are endless

There’s nothing better than slicing up a tasty vine-ripened tomato at the end of summer. Toss it in your salad, include it in your sandwich, make spaghetti, or just eat it plain. But if you’re like me and go crazy with planting (I grew 16 plants this year), you probably have more than a few fruits to figure out what to do with beyond just the occasional addition to a lettuce salad. And of course that’s exactly why I grow so many tomato plants in the first place: I love the endless possibilities with respect to how you can cook with them right away and store them for later. Below I’d like to outline several of the ways you can creatively manage your tomato surplus so you can get maximum enjoyment out of these delectable fruits.

I want to eat them now

You’ve got a lot of tomatoes and they’re fresh out of the garden. How can you use them right away? I’ve already mentioned the obvious: eat them plain, put them in a salad or in a sandwich, make spaghetti sauce, etc. What else is there?

  • Make soup (or chili). Set aside the Campbell’s for a second and consider the flavor explosion of a homemade soup. It’s a lot more work, yes, but it pays off! You get to enjoy a tasty soup now, plus you have the option of freezing the leftovers for later. My family loves eating homemade soup in the middle of winter and it doesn’t get much more convenient than simply grabbing a tub out the freezer and thawing it. It’s also a special treat for someone who has a cold or the flu. I have two recipes in particular that I make each fall with my tomato surplus—Spicy Tomato Dill Soup and Tomato Basil Soup.
  • Make salsa. Here’s an opportunity to use even more of your garden vegetables in addition to your tomatoes and prepare a salsa you love that you can eat right away or save for later. In addition to being a staple at potlucks or parties, salsa also makes a great gift!
  • Get creative. Step out of the comfort zone of your regular recipes and try some new ones. Prepare slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato dumplings, tomato preserves, or bruschetta. This last one is one of my personal favorites and allows me to use some of my fresh basil too.

I want to save them for later

I love stocking my pantry and freezer with vegetables and fruits I harvest from my garden all summer. That way you can enjoy your garden in one way or another all year round. That’s not to mention the convenience and money savings involved with growing and storing your own tomatoes. Here are a few ways you can prepare your tomatoes now in order to enjoy them later:

  • Can them. My family canned tomatoes every summer when I was growing up and I can still remember watching my dad pulling extremely hot glass jars out of a large pot on the stove. I don’t personally can my tomatoes due to how involved the process is, but if you have the time or desire, canning is one of the best ways to preserve your tomatoes without having to rely on a power source to sustain them…you simply store them on a shelf!
  • Freeze them whole. This is what I do because it is so simple and we have a large freezer. After I get a load of ripe tomatoes, I wash them, dry them, and cut off the tops. I then spread them out evenly on a cookie sheet (so they aren’t touching) and set the sheet in the freezer. After the individual tomatoes freeze solid, I just drop the “rocks” into labeled bags of any size. Whenever I need tomatoes in the future, I just grab as many as I want and seal the bag back up again. Thawing is easy and after a few chops with your knife, they are ready to be added to your favorite sauce or soup. It’s important to note that frozen tomatoes do not slice well…they are best used as stated above because the consistency is fairly mushy under the peeling after some time in the freezer.
  • Dehydrate them. Dehydrating is a unique storage option and if you have the equipment, it can be a real space saver. Simply slice up your fresh ripe tomatoes and stick them in a food dehydrator. After they are fully dehydrated, bag them up. Keep them at room temperature in a cool, dark place or freeze them for longer storage. The benefit of dehydrating is that dried tomatoes are concentrated and take up much less space. As far as cooking with them, they make great additions to sauces, soups, breads, casseroles, pizza, and much more. Finally, if dried enough, the tomatoes can be crushed into flakes or a powder for seasoning.

Green tomatoes and the perils of frost

Last year our first killing frost came on September 14. That’s early…too early. This year I hoped for more time for my garden to progress, so you can imagine my frustration when our weather forecaster called for a frost advisory on August 24! Fortunately, we didn’t get frost that night (it got down to 33 degrees). After several close calls throughout September, our first killing frost finally came on October 3. The point I’m trying to make here with all this temperature data is that sometimes gardeners are forced to harvest tomatoes while they are still green due to the fact that a hard freeze will likely kill any fruits hanging on the vine, covered or not. So to prevent waste, you need to pick them before they are ripe. But what in the world can you do with green tomatoes?

  • Eat them! Everyone’s heard of fried green tomatoes, but there are also other ways to cook with green tomatoes: traditionally these unripe tart fruits can be used in soups, salsas, and even desserts.
  • Ripen them indoors. Not a fan of eating green tomatoes? No problem. With the right conditions, unripe tomatoes can be ripened indoors. Here’s what I do: I grab a cardboard box or a paper bag and set the green tomatoes inside. I then close the box or bag so just a little air and light can enter. I store the box in a room with low humidity (to prevent rotting) and comfortable temperatures (tomatoes need warmth to ripen!). If ripening isn’t evident after several days, I add a few red tomatoes to the bunch because ripe tomatoes give off a gas that encourages other tomatoes to ripen. You can also use a banana or an apple. While the tomatoes start to turn red, I move them to the window sill in the kitchen and let them finish the ripening process there. That way I can keep track of their progress a little better and use them before it’s too late. Keep in mind that tomatoes ripened indoors aren’t quite as flavorful as vine-ripened, but when you have no alternative, you’ll take what you can get!

Reader Reflection

I’m no ‘top expert’ when it comes to tomatoes and I certainly haven’t created an exhaustive list of tomato uses here in these few paragraphs. I’d love to hear what each of you do with your tomato surplus, from storage methods to your favorite recipe!

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