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Posted on Mar 25, 2008 in Equipment, Organize | 42 comments

Reorganization of lunch gear storage

Reorganization of lunch gear storage


After seeing all of the great ideas in the lunch gear organization event and Rhiannon’s cool bento bookcase, I was inspired to do a reorganization of my own. First problem: my mess of a kitchen bookshelf, which was overflowing with my ever-growing cookbook collection and insulated lunch bags.

Old kitchen bookcase before reorganization

As with my first bento organization push, I turned to Ikea for reasonably priced storage. A new tall Billy bookcase and height extension (US$105 total) go almost to the ceiling of my kitchen and nicely fill the corner near the kitchen table. My husband anchored it to the wall to keep it from falling over in case of an earthquake or energetic little climbers. (Here you can also see Bug’s little play kitchen and an old wall organizer for pot lids, also from Ikea.) (Read on for details and more photos.)

New kitchen bookcase after reorganization

I also picked up some green Kassett organizer boxes from Ikea to neatly contain bento odds and ends that had been floating around the kitchen. The two large boxes on top hold rice molds (left) and seldom-used large and medium bento boxes (right). Bulky insulated lunch bags got stashed on top of the bookshelf, and I’ll be picking up another set of small Kassett boxes to fill the gap on the far left. If I’m lucky the lunch bags will all fit inside. (You can see my Japanese bento cookbooks in the middle shelf below, left half.)

Small and medium-sized Kassett boxes in the middle of the bookcase hold more often-used bento gear, and are labeled for easy access. Magazine holders on the bottom shelf (from Hold Everything and Ikea’s Kassett) store my cooking magazines (Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking & Saveur).

New kitchen bookcase after reorganization (lower)

From the left, the boxes hold: oshibori hand towels and cases, kinchaku lunch bags, egg molds, and small bento boxes and collapsible sandwich cases. Bug now has fun helping me select which oshibori and lunch bag he’d like that day, and we’re using the labels on the organizer boxes to help him recognize letters. (“Oshibori starts with the letter O, so which box do you think they’re in?”) (EDIT: Click for a full, organized list of all the food books in my kitchen.)

New kitchen bookcase after reorganization (boxes open)

With the bookcase organized, it was time to try taming some of the kitchen cupboards. My husband had been complaining about little bento boxes falling out onto the counter below, so I put the boxes I use most often for Bug’s lunches into a large plastic container in my main packing area by the stove. It’s not gorgeous, but it contains them and gets the job done.

Small side dish containers went into little plastic baskets in the cupboard next to the sink, with less-used boxes in another basket deeper in the corner cabinet on the second shelf. I got the baskets from Kamei and Ichiban Kan in San Francisco for $1 to $1.50 each (see my local shopping guide here).

My husband says, “It’s very nice not to have things fall on me, Bug, and on our wine glasses.” Next I need to see about doing something with our spice area, which is stuffed with odd bags and containers of spices from my local ethnic markets… It’s a never-ending process!



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  1. Bravo! That looks really great. So tidy and, I’m sure, very satisfying.

  2. I keep every old jar or small bottle I can find for the spices I get in bags. It helps a lot on the “shifting” portion of the mess! :)

  3. Ahh, since I’ve just moved, my 3rd bookcase is kind of in an odd place because it doesn’t fit with the other 2… maybe I’ll move it closer to the kitchen and stick bento stuff in there (since right now the bento stuff is stuffed into one whole shelf of my pantry). not a bad idea :)
    (It’s also from Ikea, think it’s Magiker, looks like billy but has feet)

  4. Hi!

    What a new look! I now store the spices in a drawer. I’ve bought a lot (more than I needed at that time) of spice bottles at a dollar store, so they’re all the same. I wrote the name of the spice on the lid. Very easy to find and to keep the drawer clean. Moreover, the spices are protected from heat and light, so they keep better.

  5. Great looking bookshelf and organization! Funny, the photo showing the bookcase and bug’s kitchen makes your house look very japanese!

  6. I have a billy bookcase too. There very sturdy and looks great. If only I had space to put one in my kitchen. :(

  7. Your old bookshelf looked like it was bulging! Great results on the reorganisation. Thanks for the post. I love noseying in other people’s kitchens ;)

  8. did you keep the magnetic “strip” on the wall and the see through lidded jars for the small stuff like the tiny forks and small soy bottles?

  9. Similar to Mel, I keep all the small containers that come my way.
    I keep spices in everything from hummus containers from the supermarket to baby food jars that I snag from friends with infants.
    For taller spices (like cinnamon or long basil leaves), I use POM glasses. Incidentally, I use POM glasses as bud vases, as well. TheBoy and I paint them to cover the logo and make them beautiful.

  10. As soon as the contest results appeared, I headed to the dollar store for plastic baskets to hold everything in my cupboard. What a difference! I can even put things away damp from the dishwasher because the baskets have lots of vents. (I don’t stack or put on the lids when wet.)

    Now each category of stuff (beverage containers, bento boxes, accessories, etc.) is in its own basket, and it looks so good, and I can find things now.

    How did we ever get by without Biggie?

  11. Your new bookshelf looks great.
    Sorry, I don’t leave many comments here, but I am a big “fan” of yours and thank you for all the great tips you have given me. I’m living in Seoul, for the time being, and am finding so many cute bento accessories. :)

  12. @1 from Kitt: Oh so satisfying, you’re right! I keep smiling whenever I walk by it or need to get something from it. :-)

  13. @2 from LillyAnn: I’m definitely not immune to clutter (in the kitchen or elsewhere)! I think I had to hit rock bottom with things falling out of cabinets before I was ready to shell out the money for a new bookcase, though…

  14. @3 from Mel: I do that too (save all small jars and bottles)! Very convenient for spices, it’s just that I’ve accumulated SO MANY spices that they’re busting out of the two areas I’ve allotted for them. Hmm…

  15. @4 from Yvo: The bookcase plus organizer box solution is working quite well; I think maximizing use of the available vertical space is key here.

  16. @5 from fossettes: Your small Parisian flat reminds me of my tiny first apartment in Osaka. I think that’s one reason the Japanese are so good at organizing lots of stuff in small spaces — small living quarters.

  17. @6 from Sophie: My dream kitchen would have lots of slide-out drawers for spices… (a girl can dream, right?) Currently my lesser-used spices are in baskets back in a corner cabinet, with the more often-used spices in labeled jars and bottles up front. It’s just that there are SO MANY!

  18. @7 from Yvette: That is funny that you think my place looks Japanese — it’s not particularly a look I’m going for (but I don’t mind it).

  19. @8 from Jessika: Ah yes, not surprising that you’re using Ikea there! See, when I proposed that you take up residence in my new bookcase I had a nice place in mind for you! ;-) I hear you on clutter and baking stuff — my kitchen is actually quite big with lots of storage space, but as you say, the problem is that I keep accumulating more stuff as I explore different cuisines. One of these days I’ll attack the baking area, but it’s on the back burner for now.

  20. @9 from girdtmom: I’ve been using Sharpie markers to write on the top of my spice jars and bottles, but masking tape or labels would probably be neater.

  21. @10 from Sharon J: I wasn’t actually considering the Billy bookcase before I went into Ikea, but when I saw them displayed and I pulled out the measuring tape I realized that it was the best (and most cost-effective) solution to my predicament. Yay Ikea!

  22. @11 from KCatGU: Uh oh, a label maker? You may have just awoken the Virgo organizer in me!

  23. @12 from Nilmandra: I adore poking around in other people’s kitchens and bookshelves too! Glad you enjoyed the post — let me know if you post something similar so I can see yours! :-)

  24. OOOOOOOOoooohhhhhhhhh I feel another “let’s reorganize the kitchen” attack coming.

    I have so much stuff, and such a little kitchen.. Looks neat! I like the boxes all the same color. Looks very tidy.


  25. Wow, that looks great! (I miss IKEA! Almost 3 years… the withdrawal is getting bad!)

    I am loving your site. You’ve really inspired me to take a few minutes to make something nicer and at least a little healthier than the junk I often wind up eating. Domo arigato gozaimasu! I made my first bento Sunday night! It wasn’t as pretty as yours though. I made it in a square Lock & Lock sandwich box (600 ml) and to keep one item separate, I cut the bottom off a plastic cup.

    Cutting off the bottom of a cup neatly is a lot harder than you’d think, so today I bought silicone muffin cups at Wal-Mart (about $7 for 12) and a set of flexible cutting boards ($3 for 3). I am planning to cut a strip off one of the cutting boards to see if it makes a good divider, because if it does, it should be easy to wash in the dishwasher (I already have the little basket).

    I can tell I’m in trouble because I already don’t have any extra room in my kitchen, so a lot of bento accessories will not help, and there isn’t room for Billy, either. I’m sure I could make perfectly fine bento lunches with only the stuff I have now, but I’m a Virgo too, so I’ll probably obsess (as usual) about havng the exact right thing.

  26. @13 from Monica: Yes, this whole bento thing has upped my cookbook count considerably! I don’t think there’s any one right answer to the organization question. A combination of bookshelf/boxes, magnetic spice tins, and under-cabinet drawers works for me, but if I had a smaller storage area I’d have to rework everything.

    The spice box idea is a good one, but I have a scary number of spices — volume is my problem. I like your technique of putting on Closed Captioning to help learn words. That might help reinforce other learning. Thanks for the comprehensive comment!

  27. @14 from Jessika: Absolutely I kept the magnetic spice tins on the wall strip and the under-cabinet drawers (shown in my original organization post). That system still works for my little accessories; the bookshelf helps for my big accessories and seldom-used boxes.

  28. @15 from psulinkie: I keep little jars and bottles too — very convenient for spices. Clever idea with the POM bottles, I wouldn’t have thought of using them as vases!

  29. @16 from Tory: Ha ha, you’re too kind. Glad to hear you got some immediately usable ideas out of the organization event — I know it made a difference in my kitchen (as you can see)! It’s so nice to find things without causing a bento avalanche.

  30. @17 from Manuela: Thank for for the sweet comment, Manuela. That makes sense that you’d be able to find cute bento stuff in Korea. Are they Japanese imports or local Korean products?

  31. @30 from Willow: Small kitchens really are an organizational challenge, aren’t they? In our old place I finally had to put a stop to buying any more kitchen gear because I’d absolutely run out of space, even using organizing tricks.

  32. Very cool! I’m always looking for storage ideas!

    I will admit I was trying to see what cookbooks you have, since I’m a cookbook junkie. Maybe you could do a post on all the ones you have?

  33. @31 from Sunflower: I had to laugh when I read your line, “Cutting off the bottom of a cup neatly is a lot harder than you’d think.” What a great lead-in to a humorous blog post that’d be! :-)

    Anyway, I love your idea of cutting up flexible cutting boards to get reusable food dividers. Kudos!! And very inventive to think of repurposing an old cup, even if it didn’t work out well in practice. I like the way you think.

  34. @38 from Spiceaholic: You’ve opened up Pandora’s box, asking for a list of my cookbooks! I’ll put something together, but it may take some time to catalog everything I’ve got in an organized list. :-)

  35. I am renovating my house starting next week… we’ll be gaining a LOT of storing space, freeing the closet downstairs to use as a pantry… and a storage area for my kitchen stuff.

    I just totally can’t wait!

  36. Most of them are Japanese imports! They are so cute. Don’t you just want to buy them all? ;)

  37. Looks really nice, I have a little library with my cook books in my bedroom, but always my hubby said that is not ordened, but why , because we Have to use them!!!!xxxGloria

  38. Yay! It looks great! I do love a good bookshelf. ;)

    And I’m so ecstatic to see another mum getting a play kitchen for her son. I caught a bit of flack for getting one for my son in his toddling days (he’s nearly 7 now), but that’s what he liked! He still wants to be a chef (and a cartoonist, a teacher, a superhero, and a scientist, in that order, obviously!). I find it totally gender-neutral while some family members thought it was too girly. Psha, I say. Nothing better than a man who loves to cook.

  39. @42 from Willow: Ooh, a house renovation that’ll give you more storage space? Sounds great! Hang in there through construction — how long do you think it’ll take?

  40. @43 from Manuela: Absolutely — I have a new weakness for cute (CHEAP) bento gear.

  41. @44 from Gloria: I hope your bedroom is close to the kitchen so you can access your cookbooks quickly!

  42. Really not, Biggie but I have someones in the kitchen (these I use more) and others in the bedroom library, but I like to look at nice to see some recipes!! My kitchen is not big.xxxThanks by answer Gloria