No One Actually Owns the Tupperware

07 Feb No One Actually Owns the Tupperware

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 6.2.23


After years of summer barbecues and winter dinners at each other’s houses, I have finally come to understand that nobody actually owns these plastic food containers we all have. There is just a pool of them that exists in the universe and, from time to time, various ones will come to visit our kitchen, and then move on.

I took a proper look at the shelf-full of food storage boxes in my pantry recently and realised with shocking clarity that I didn’t actually buy any of them. Not only this, but the ones that I have bought aren’t here.

We haven’t talked about this before, but we all know how this works. I take my homemade salsa round to yours and we don’t quite finish it that night, and it feels rude to take it home again, and no-one can be bothered tipping salsa out of one container into another (probably identical) container at leaving time, so the whole shebang belongs to you now.

Swings and roundabouts. You’ll come round to mine with marinated chops in a leak-proof plastic thingy which ends up in my dishwasher and the cycle isn’t done before everyone goes home, so obviously that’s mine now. Until I take something moist and chop-sized round to Joyce’s.

Or not. Here’s a confession: my favourite plastic box in terms of shape, size and satisfying lid-closure was left here by I can’t remember who, can’t remember when. And I am ashamed to say this is not one I will use when I am taking things to other people’s houses because I couldn’t bear to leave it behind if that’s how the evening went. This one feels, weirdly, much more “mine” than any that I’ve bought.

But yes, I am aware that taking it out of circulation is mean and grabby, and very much against the rules. Because really, this is a kind of socialism in action – from each according to their onion dip, to each according to their tabbouleh. The boxes belong to all of us and none of us, and it is a law of nature and humanity that you will find, each time you open your cupboard, there will be enough there.

Or too many. Because of the constant inward/outward flow, it can be hard to keep them organised. Periodically, a cull is required. A friend will say, “I can’t come out because I’m sorting my Sistemas / tidying my Tupperware / co-ordinating my Click-Clacks,” and we recognise this is not an excuse of the “I’m washing my hair” kind. This is a real thing and there are days when it has to be done.

I like to store mine lids-on, because I feel like not being able to find the lid for a box you have chosen is a depressing domestic failure, and possibly speaks to other failures in the wider world. Consequently, my storage collection takes up much more space than if I stacked bottoms inside each other and piled tops separately nearby, but I like to think we are all happier this way.

There are days when we will say to a friend, “You look terrific, Jane, what’s your secret?” And Jane will tell you her boxes and jars are so organised that she can’t stop opening the cupboard to gaze at her perfectly contained containers. And we’re happy for Jane but there is also a hint of envy and we itch to go home and make this happen in our lives, too.