Check out all of Lea
Schneider's helpful home and kitchen columns at
Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.
It’s the one organizing request that makes me
Leaning into the fridge, packed with
tiny plastic containers, plastic wrapped mystery items and aluminum
foil bundles, and my friend turned to me and said “Can you organize
I laughed. Then, I realized she was
serious. As a professional organizer, I am often asked if I can
organize someone’s child’s toys or their husband’s desk. I had never
been asked to organize a refrigerator. Since that incident, I’ve
actually been asked that several times.
If your fridge is frightening to you,
and you know what is in those bundles, then imagine what it looks
like to the rest of the family. No wonder the kids are always
fussing that there is nothing to eat or your spouse is standing in
the open refrigerator door asking what there is for a snack.
You can organize a refrigerator. Just
like all organization, it requires a plan. Think about the
refrigerator. It is designed for “like” items to go together. There
is a place for all of the eggs to go. There is a home for the fresh
produce. There is a drawer for the lunchmeat or cheese.
The problems lie with the open space.
The open shelves are the spaces that you need to designate for
If you have a large family, you might
want to choose a shelf for ingredients. I learned early on that if I
did not do so, my family would have eaten all or part of the
ingredients for a dinner. Telling them that the bottom shelf is not
for snacking – that it contains things you bought to use for dinner
preparation is an example of refrigerator planning.
Choose a shelf or portion of a shelf
for leftovers. Leftovers go uneaten most often because they get
shuffled, lost and shoved to the back until they turn into a science
Stop in a restaurant supply store.
Yes, they are open to the public. You can purchase some labels for
safe food storage. The labels peel off easily. Attach them to your
dishes and then you can label what is in that leftover dish, the
date and the use-by date. Now everyone in the house will be able to
Here are some tips for organizing your
Create zones inside the refrigerator. Place beverages in one
spot, leftovers in one spot, snacks in one spot, and ingredients
for meals in one spot. Label the shelves until everyone gets the
hang of the new system.
Purchase food storage containers that stack. To make life
easier, it is well worth it to ditch your old plastic bowls that
are all different sizes. Isn’t matching lids a nightmare? Donate
the ones with lids to charity. Throw out the odd ones. Buy only
two sizes of leftover dishes, small and large. The “disposable”
ones work great and actually last a long time. Buy a bunch of
the same. Choose square or rectangle ones. They fit the best in
the fridge as they line up side-by-side without wasting space.
They also stack. Now you only need to reach for two lids – a
large or a small. Simple enough?
your snack zone, add a bowl of fruit that everyone likes to eat
cold, such as grapes or oranges. Add your small vegetables
nibbles, containers of yogurt or pudding, cheese sticks and so
on. This keeps everyone from rummaging through the fridge.
out your condiments. Check for expiration dates. Place all your
like-items together. All of the salad dressings, mustards, jelly
and so on together in rows in the door. If when organizing, you
discover you have too many of something, then sort them out by
date. Keep the oldest one in the door so that it gets used up
first. Place your extra, but open, bottles in a plastic bag in
the back of the fridge. As you use up an item, shop from the
back of your own fridge before shopping at the store. This will
allow you to use up the items you already bought.
keep from buying and opening multiples in the future, add a
wipe-off board to the fridge. When you run out of something, add
it to the board. This starts your shopping list.
Finally, keep your fridge organized by checking the contents
each week before you put in the new groceries. In your closet,
you can’t fling things in the door and expect at week’s end for
it to be tidy. Same with the fridge. Before adding your fresh
groceries, make sure items are sorted in their places. Check the
leftovers to see what needs to be pitched. Place items to be
used first in the front. Place new produce, lunchmeat or cheese
on the bottom of their drawers so that the items you already
have in stock are on top and are used first.