How To Organize Leftovers



Organize My Leftovers – Please!

It is the one organizing request that makes me laugh!


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 my refrigerator?”

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 have 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 certain categories.

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 experiment.

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 help themselves.


Here are some tips for organizing your refrigerator:

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. Is not 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?

For 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.

Sort 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.

To 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 cannot 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.


Lea SchneiderAuthor Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day, Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers and websites.  She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.

Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier.  The bonus is it often leads to saving money.  Lea Schneider’s kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.

Check out all of Lea Schneider’s helpful home and kitchen columns at Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.



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