“How do you organize a refrigerator?” is a question that, for most of us, simply doesn’t get asked enough. You pile your groceries in, and it’s not until you find moldy broccoli buried beneath a 2-month-old burrito (or at least what you think might have been a burrito) that it dawns on you: Yuck. It’s time to clean this sucker!
If you’re finding that you have to rummage endlessly for that bottle of rose or never lay your eyes on fruit until it’s too far gone, then read on. These refrigerator organization tips will help you find your food faster—as well as waste less and maybe even eat more healthfully, too.
How to clean a refrigerator
“The absolute best tip I’ve got is to clean the fridge out the day before you go food shopping,” says Darla DeMorro of HeartWork Organizing in Wayne, PA. “The fridge is probably mostly empty at that point, so it takes very little effort to toss the few mystery containers and quickly wipe down the shelves.”
Start by moving what’s left to the counter or piling it onto one shelf while you give the other (now-empty) shelves and bins a good wipe-down (don’t forget to also wipe the shelf in use). A spray bottle filled with one part vinegar to 10 parts water works well.
How to organize your fridge
Next, group like items together to make it easier to find what you need. For example, if you put all the condiments together, you’ll be able to assess your selections quickly and avoid opening duplicates since you couldn’t find the first one, says Janet Schiesl of Basic Organization in Washington, DC.
Also, if sandwiches are a staple in your house, keep all of the fixings together.
“That will save you time by being able to pull everything needed for a quick meal, and it will also be easy to put everything back,” Schiesl says.
It will also look so very pretty. #fridgeporn
Tools to help you organize your fridge
If you find you need more space, you can always add an extra shelf or find a slew of organizational products to make maximum use of your space.
Tatiana Knight, a professional organizer with NeatWithKnight.com, says she’s particularly fond of products from The Container Store, such as soda can organizers and wine and water bottle holders.
“When you have the right tools for organizing, you’ll create more space and improve the appearance of your refrigerator,” Knight says.
Others have found creative ways to organize with tools that aren’t made specifically for the refrigerator. For example, a simple office supply holder (see below) can be used to keep kids’ snacks organized.
Keep safety in mind when organizing your fridge
Don’t forget about food safety while you’re organizing your fridge.
Judy Barbe, a registered dietitian in Casper, WY, offers these tips to keep in mind when you’re trying to decide where to place items.
- Don’t store milk in the door. That’s the warmest part of the fridge. Milk needs to stay cold, so the back bottom area is ideal.
- Don’t store eggs in the door. Keep them in their carton (to help retain moisture) in the middle of the fridge, where it’s colder. They may be refrigerated four to five weeks. Once cooked (such as in a pie or casserole) or out of their shell, eggs should be eaten within three to four days.
- Store packaged raw meat on a tray on a bottom shelf. Plan to use refrigerated roasts and steaks within three to four days and ground beef within one to two days of purchase.
- Do not store potatoes in the fridge. They like dark and cool places such as a cellar or pantry. Sweet potatoes, garlic, and onions are also best stored in a cool, dark, and ventilated place.
- Use the crisper drawer levers if your refrigerator has them. An open lever allows moisture and gases to escape for apples, pears, peppers, mushrooms, mangoes, and avocados. A closed lever keeps moisture in for lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and strawberries.
How to keep your refrigerator clean
Once everything is organized, the challenge is keeping it that way. One big problem that often thwarts that plan: leftovers. Schiesl says having a strategy for leftovers—such as taking them for lunch or using them in other dishes like soups or quesadillas—is key to keeping a clean refrigerator.
“So often leftovers linger in the refrigerator until they turn fuzzy and green, but not if you have a plan,” she says. “Incorporate leftovers into another meal to save time, make the next meal prep quick, and save money by not having to buy another whole meal.”
Or just toss them. Your fridge (and family) will be the better for it.