If you’re an American living abroad, you probably miss Ziploc bags, zipped Hefty bags, and the like. Here in Greece, they do sell zipped plastic bags, but they are godawful quality, the zip doesn’t really work, and they aren’t real freezer bags. So if you’re like me, you beg your American friends and family to throw ziploc bags into anything they send you in the mail (“they make great packing material!”). And then you end up with a pile of bags, but no real secure feeling of being able to replace them. So you reuse them. Enter the ziploc bag mess.
A scary pile of used ziploc bags gathering on the counter, begging to be washed. No good way to dry them. No good way to store them. A drawer becomes home to a messy mixture of sizes. When you want one, you have to pull out five before you find the right size. Sometimes the ones you pull out of the drawer are still wet on the inside. It’s enough to break your American heart.
After struggling with this mess for over two years, I found the solution: my own personal Ziploc Bag System!
First, let’s take a look at how I stored my bags before I finally tackled the problem. I have a lot of kitchen cabinets (yay!) but am severely lacking in kitchen drawers – so much so that I don’t even put my forks and spoons in a drawer! The bottom drawer is where I store my plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, wooden skewers, and plastic ice-cube bags. And my bags.
Yeah. That’s not really a long-term solution, is it? I had been trying to come up with a solution for a long time. I tried a number of things. First, I organized them by size and put all the tiny ones into a small one, all the small ones into a medium one, all the medium ones into a large one, and so on. That meant that to get a tiny one, I had to open about 5 bags and scrounge around trying to find the one I wanted. It meant that the method was only effective for up to three days.
Then I tried rolling them by size and putting a rubber band around them, and storing each size separately. Something about pulling the rubber band off, unrolling, taking out a bag, rerolling, rebanding, just didn’t appeal to my innate laziness.
Then I tried rolling them by size and putting them into toilet paper tubes. 1 point for reusing an otherwise recycle-bin item, but -10 points for being only marginally better than the rubber band method. I briefly entertained the idea of using empty tissue boxes, but they were too bulky and we don’t go through tissues fast enough to generate enough boxes for all my sizes of bags.
The result of all these attempts was the same:
Yup. Doesn’t look any better the second time.
Unrelated to my ziploc struggle, I also have another kitchen struggle: that of breaking water glasses. When we moved here, we didn’t own any glasses (or pretty much anything else, for that matter), so we bought 6. Then about a month later, we bought another 6. And so on. The other day, when I realized we were down to our last two glasses again, I found our supermarket’s storebrand glasses on sale for only €1 each – a steal, since up til then I’d been paying €2.30 each for the cheapest glasses they sold. I grabbed a whole box of six – and after bringing home the box, I couldn’t just put it in the recycling bin. It was too special. It must have a greater purpose in life.
Well, now you see where I’m going with this. After sitting on the kitchen counter for about 48 hours, I knew what its greater purpose was. (Clarification: the box sat on the kitchen counter for 2 days. Not I.)
- 1 repurposed water glass box, 6 sections
- 1 piece of white contact paper
- a razor blade
- a crazy pile of ziploc bags
Total price: free, baby!
Step 1: cut your contact paper to the appropriate size.
Step 2: attach contact paper to the box. My super high-quality contact paper is very easy to work with, and peels right back up if there are bubbles or wrinkles, so this was a breeze.
Step 3: admire your finished bag organizer!
I wasn’t quite done yet. I still had that drawer to tackle.
Step 4: dump all ziploc bags into a pile for sorting.
Step 5: sort your bags by size. Since I had seven sizes but only six sections in my box, I combined the half-gallon (top right) and the tall skinny (bottom left), since I only had a few of each.
Step 6: roll each group of bags and put in the dividers, with the largest in the back.
The entire project took about ten minutes, start to finish, and was free, because I had the contact paper on hand.
With such a lovely new home, my bags don’t need to hide in the drawer. So I found them a more convenient home, which will save me aggravation in the kitchen.
If this picture confuses you, remember: this is Greece. There are no laundry rooms. Washing machines go in the bathroom or, if you’re lucky, the kitchen. I’m extremely lucky, because my washing machine goes next to my dishwasher. If you’re wondering about the clothes dryer, forget it. This is frugal living. We use the sun.
Before I even tackled the bag organization problem, I had to deal with the washing/drying problem. In the past, when we lived on a tiny, beautiful Greek island, I would hang them on the clothesline on our veranda, where they would dry gracefully in the breeze. Now we live in a city, and our balcony overlooks a major street. They can dry there too, but with an invisible layer of city street grime that I’d prefer not to eat, since I have to wear it anyway.
Do you know how to wash a ziploc bag? Here’s what I do: first, rinse out any bits of food. Then, put a few pumps of dishwashing foam in the bag, and fill it about 1/3 with water. Close the zip, and massage the bag with your hands, getting the soap into all the corners. Dump out the water, and rinse.
Then, hang it on the handy ziploc drying line that you’ve got over your kitchen sink!
I usually hang them inside out first, and then turn them right side out and hang again to dry the outside. Since I keep my clothespins on my washing machine (which is about a foot to the right of the photo), it’s all very convenient.
And when there are no bags to dry, it pretty much fades into the background. (Please disregard the pizza dough I’m rising on the counter….)
It’s also a handy way to hang pretty much anything that needs to dry quickly and you don’t want to put outside on the line.
To make this, I just used a white cord (€0.50 at Jumbo in the gift-wrapping section) and two no-drill stick-on hooks (€4.95 each at Praktiker) – these hooks are expensive, but they are reusable and we are renting, so can’t drill holes in the tile. They hold a lot of weight and actually hold up our shower organizer with all the shampoo and soap bottles, so they’re a great thing to have. In the US, I think they’re called “command hooks.”
That’s all there is to it, and the line can be removed easily if needed.
Let’s take a look at that drawer again:
Remember: if you are trying to save money, washing and reusing bags is a great way to save money. But make sure you’re not taking any risks with your health. I don’t store raw meat in these. For that, I use regular non-zip bags, which I then put inside a ziploc. I also sometimes put a little bit of bleach in the water if I think it’s necessary. Use your judgement, and if you think a bag may have lived its food-storage life, repurpose it in your craft room or another area of your home.
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