I don’t know about you but keeping our refrigerator organized is a never ending battle, that is when I actually get around to doing it… that is until now. I finally came up with a system that actually works! Don’t laugh but it seriously took me months to figure out the best way to get our refrigerator organized in a way that makes sense and can stay that way. So after some serious deliberating, arranging, rearranging and then rearranging some more here is how I organize my refrigerator…
A organization project would not be complete without before and after pictures:
As you can see, my fridge was not organized in the slightest bit. Well maybe the slightest bit. There was some sort of underwhelming organization that went on and in all fairness, I took this picture right after I had gone grocery shopping and was so fed up with the state of the fridge that I knew I was going to write a post about organizing my refrigerator. So some things are really just thrown in their haphazardly whereas most days I would sort of put things where they belonged or at least where they fit.
So onto the actual organization:
Step 1: Throw out all of your old food
Before you even begin the process of organizing, throw out all the old food in your refrigerator. While you are doing it, take notice of the food you are throwing away. Why did it go bad? Did you forget about it? Did dinner/lunch plans change? Do you get bored eating the same meal more than 2 days in a row? Did you buy too much fruit? Did you buy vegetables that you really weren’t sure what you were going to do with? The questions are almost limitless.
Step 2: Take inventory and make a plan
Ok, I don’t mean you need to write down every thing in your fridge but if you want to… go ahead. What I mean by inventory is take a look at what is in your refrigerator and think about how your food can/should be grouped together. By thinking about food in groups its easier to make a plan.
- Sandwich stuff – lunch meat, cheese, toppings
- Breakfast sandwiches – peanut butter (smooth & crunchy), almond butter, jam, cream cheese
- Milan’s snacks
- Meat – ready to cook and thawing
- Sauces for cooking
- Smoothie extras
- Baking helpers
- Salad dressing
After I took an inventory, I actually mapped out different zones in my refrigerator to correspond with the different groupings. Although our fridge is bigger than a dorm fridge, its really not that big. It is definitely on the small side of standard refrigerators so a well thought out plan is needed.
Start by measuring the inner dimensions of your fridge. Drawing a rectangle and sketch what you think your fridge should look like. Then see what containers you have around the house that will work. I spent an entire evening measuring, testing containers with different food types, making sure drawers and shelves could accomodate my food containers. It was a long process but in the end it was worth it.
Think about what you use most and put those things in the easily accessible areas. Also, think about what gets forgotten about most and put those items in the most visible areas.
Although, the one thing I didn’t take into consideration was the placement of the light in my fridge. My original configuration had to be modified because the items blocked the light to the rest of the fridge.
Step 3: Take everything out of refrigerator
I know that seems obvious. I suggest getting a cooler or at the minimum a big plastic bin to help keep your food cool while you reorganize.
Step 4: Clean out your refrigerator
Take this time to clean your fridge out. The easiest way is to take all your shelves out and put them in the bathtub. Caution: don’t put them in and immediately put on hot water or you might crack the glass (if you have some). Start with cold water and then slowly add in the hot water. Then turn off the cold once the shelves are all almost submerged. While the shelves are soaking, go clean out the rest of the fridge. Rinse and dry your shelves.
Step 5: Put your shelves back in the refrigerator in the desired configuration
If you have done a lot of planning, measuring, etc. then this should be easy. I divided my refrigerator into zones:
- Butter – If you use margin or some other tub based butter then you might want to put your medicine, vitamins or something you access on a daily basis. But for us, butter works the best here. I’ve tried it in numerous places and it just gets squished!
- Leftover bakery products that don’t get frozen and cream cheese – We use cream cheese a lot for breakfast and sometimes have multiple flavors so I find the quick access easier to see what’s available when I’m not thinking clearly in the morning.
- Morning sandwich fixings and extra condiment style toppings – We have a variety of nut butters and jams that we rotate between. Its easier on the door to see what you have and also my son likes to see what’s available and this prevents me having to pull everything out so he can see it. The extra condiment style toppings include capers, olives, pepperoncinis, jalepeños, etc.
- Juice, salad dressing, left over wine, chocolate syrup & ketchup – A lot of websites say you shouldn’t store juice in the door because of the fluctuation of temperatures but it doesn’t really last that long in our house. We use left over wine (when we actually have any) for cooking mostly. Salad dressing, syrup & ketchup (don’t t have any when this pic was taken) work best here because of their height.
- Eggs and sandwich making stuff – I don’t remember where I saw the idea for the sandwich making bin but it is easily one of the best and easiest ideas ever! My husband makes a sandwich almost everyday for work so we put all the stuff he likes on his sandwiches: lunch meat, sliced cheese, different condiments (wasabi mayo, mustard, specialty sauce), sun-dried tomatoes, etc. I love it because I can pull out the bin before I go shopping and see if he needs something for his lunches. I was always forgetting something he needed because everything was in different areas and I had to search for the items. Our large jar of mayo doesn’t fit in their and besides, I use it a lot because my son LOVES tuna! We also keep our camping/picnic sized condiments in the back behind the sandwich bin. They’re out of the way and we only pull them out on occasion. We can fit 3 cartons of eggs behind the mayo. If you buy flats of eggs, you’d need the whole shelf but up out of the way is a really great place for eggs when you have a toddler in the house!
- Leftovers – We dedicated an entire shelf that was the most visible to our leftovers. Leftover containers are by far the biggest culprit for cluttering up our refrigerator. We also keep open jars of half used sauces (like spaghetti sauce) and ready to make meals like tortellini on that shelf. When its time to think about what to eat, I check that shelf first before unknowingly opening the 3rd jar of pasta sauce!
- Cheese – We used to put lunch meat in this drawer and had the large bottom drawer for all cheese but since we now have a few places for our cheese depending on usage, we actually didn’t need as much space. Also, since its higher I actually look in there to see what cheese we have instead of just relying on my memory. Inevitably, my husband would by a special cheese and I wouldn’t know it was there and then it’d just end up getting to the point beyond recognition.
- Commonly used items that aren’t necessarily part of a category – In the back we have a basket of sauces and cooking helpers such as curry pastes, peanut sauce, gyoza sauce and a baggie full of condiments from take out. In the front we have salsa, yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, hummus. Its a big enough space that I can stack things on top of each other if I’m almost out of something and buy new containers before we run out.
- Milk, water & other beverages – There’s enough space for 2 jugs of milk, a 6 pack of bottled beer or an extra container of juice as well as our pitcher of filtered water. Our maple syrup is also here just because we couldn’t find a better place.
- Meat bin – I use a sterilite/rubbermaid bin to store all of our meat. This is especially good when you’re defrosting frozen meat. I take the fresh meat out and put the frozen meat on the bottom. Then if any juices leak out when it defrosts its all contained in an easily washable container. We also keep breakfast meats in here such as bacon, sausage and lox!
- My son’s stuff & smoothie & baking helpers – For a long time now, we’ve had a basket of stuff for my son… its so, so, so much easier that way. Things we keep in here, cold juice boxes, yogurt, mini baby bell cheese, containers full of already cut & portioned fruit. We use a leftover chocolate milk mix container without a lid for his string cheese. It takes up less space storing the cheese vertically. Definitely make sure you take apart all the sticks of cheese before you put them in or inevitably all of the sticks of cheese will end up on the floor as your child tries to get just one. In the back I have a basket with our smoothie/baking helpers – wheat germ, flours, breadcrumbs, etc.
- Vegetables – We keep our veggies (except for avocados, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms & potatoes) here. I tried putting them on the shelf to be in view so I’d use them more but they just ended up spoiling faster and I wasted more. I have pictures of some of the vegetables on the front of the drawer so my son knows whats in the drawer. I keep carrot sticks ready in snack size containers in his bin, though. I’ve schooled my husband on which veggies are ok to store here. If you don’t know which veggies are sensitive to ethylene take a look at http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1103
- Fruit – Most of our fruit sits in a bowl on the dining room table so that we eat it more frequently. Sometimes we just end up grabbing a piece at lunch or dinner because its right in front of us. But things like grapes, cantaloupe, kiwi and have used lemons are kept here. I put pictures of the fruit on here, too! Only cut up strawberries in a sealed container are kept here otherwise the berries are kept with the veggies (see link above if you are wondering why).