Productivity Lessons from Tupperware

While doing spring cleaning, I looked in despair at two large piles. On one side was a variety of shapes and sizes of plastic containers. On the other side was a variety of shapes and sizes of plastic lids.

I was despairing not because I could not put the pieces together and match up lid with container. I was despairing because even if I put in the work of matching lids to containers, it would not be long before order descended into chaos.


Being an engineer at heart, I spent an inordinate amount of time pondering this problem trying to find a better system for the long-run. True, it might have been faster to “just do it”, but what would be the learning in that for future generations to come?

Approaching any problem requires some thought as to the problem definition. To begin with, I’m looking for a system that will enable me to easily retrieve a plastic container and matching lid when I need one. Second, I want an easy way to store them after cleaning them.

But starting with the foundational question, what do we use plastic containers for? Well, we primarily need it for storing leftovers and taking lunch to work. There may be other potential uses unknown at this time.

Now, what are the constraints? Anyone can solve this problem by having a massive amount of cupboard space dedicated to plastic containers. Unfortunately, we don’t have room for all the different shapes and sizes of plastic containers. Another constraint is that throwing containers away is not a solution because putting things into the landfill is unacceptable.

Looking at the previous solutions… storing containers in one bag and lids in another, failed miserably. Because the containers were all of different sizes, they didn’t fit readily in one bag. Finding a matching lid was also a struggle. Another basic solution of storing all the plastic containers with their lids on them is a non-starter as well because of the enormous amount of space consumed.

So what are some possible solutions? A better question is how might we approach the solution? We could find another way to meet the need. Plastic containers might not be the best solution. We might build a supporting structure like a cabinet sorts like containers and lids. Or perhaps there’s a better process (e.g. – what do we do after each wash?). Or is there some level of standardization that could work?

Tupperware sorting is a tricky organizational and productivity problem! As a result, tackling this problem can help with approaching any problems of this type. Questions like “What is the real problem? What are the constraints? What has been tried? What is systems can support the solution? What are possible approaches to the solution?” all support a higher level of inquiry than simply “doing it”.

By the way, how do you sort your tupperware?

One Reply to “Productivity Lessons from Tupperware”

  1. The related thread is the design constraint frequently ignored by Tupperware (to which, of all mftrs, should adhere) — containers of the same size should stack within each other. Failure to verify this property upon initial purpose makes sorting and storage MUCH more difficult.

    As to your initial question, ease of access for frequently used shapes and sizes must play in to the final solution.

    Happy sorting!

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