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How to Organize Your Refrigerator

Put Science Experiments Back in the Lab Where They Belong


An organized refrigerator

Organize your refrigerator in one hour.

Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty

The Problem: A Messy Refrigerator

In what is admittedly a very unscientific approach, I counted the number of times my family of four opened the refrigerator in an average day. The total? Approximately 80 times. Granted, I have a 16-year-old son who eats continually, so my numbers may be slighter higher than yours.

Why did I count? To help you realize:

  • How your refrigerator gets and stays messy;
  • How you end up with moldy leftovers that have been pushed to the back of the refrigerator;
  • How easy it is for items past their expiration dates to get hidden in your refrigerator; and
  • Why it's important to organize your refrigerator.

The Challenge: Organize Your Refrigerator in One Hour

Take one hour this weekend and get organized. Use this step-by-step solution to organize your refrigerator and keep it organized. A clean, organized refrigerator is the sign of a clean and organized kitchen.

Tools Needed to Organize Your Refrigerator

  • Clear, stackable plastic containers in multiple sizes (with lids)
  • Clear, round plastic containers (at least three inches high)
  • 8" x 5" plastic baskets or plastic containers (lids not needed)

Step One: Empty Your Refrigerator

Remove everything from your refrigerator. This includes all drawers and bins.

Step Two: Sort Refrigerator Items

Sort everything you've removed from your refrigerator into the following categories:

  • Beverages
  • Condiments, salad dressing and sauces
  • Produce - vegetables
  • Produce - fruits
  • Lunch meats and cheeses
  • Eggs and butter
  • Yogurt, cottage cheese, hummus, etc.
  • Leftovers

Step Three: Eliminate Any Science Experiments

Throw away any leftovers that are past the point that they should be eaten. Do the same thing with fruits and vegetables that have been in the produce drawer far too long.

Step Four: Organize Your Condiments

Review all of your condiments, salad dressings and sauces. Throw away any past the expiration date. If you have two opened bottles of the same thing, combine them and throw one of the bottles away.

Step Five: Clean Your Refrigerator

Use warm, soapy water and clean the inside of your refrigerator:

  • Shelves
  • Walls
  • Drawers
  • Doors

Step Six: Putting It Back Together

Put everything back in your refrigerator as follows:

  • Condiments, salad dressings and sauces - should be stored on the shelves in the door. If you have more condiments than door space, you have too many. How many different kinds of mustard do you really need? Butter can be stored in the door as well.
  • Beverages - should be kept on the top shelf of your refrigerator. This includes milk and coffee creamers.
  • Lunch meats and cheeses - most refrigerators have a drawer specifically for these items. If yours does not, use one of the rectangular baskets to house them. When you make a sandwich, you simply need to grab the appropriate basket, and all of your lunch meat and cheese options are in one place. If you buy cheese sticks, use a round, plastic container and store them upright in the container for easy access.
  • Leftovers - designate one shelf for leftovers. Only store leftovers in clear plastic containers with lids. This will make it easier for you to keep track of what you have and to use it before it goes bad.
  • Vegetables - store all vegetable produce in its own drawer or bin.
  • Fruits - use plastic baskets or containers to store fruit. Keep apples and oranges in a basket together. When you bring grapes home, go ahead and wash them and put them in a plastic bowl. Studies show that both you and your kids will eat more fruit when it's easily accessible.
  • Yogurt - small containers of yogurt have a way of getting knocked over and making your refrigerator look messy. Store all yogurt in a plastic basket. On the same shelf you put the yogurt, also include cottage cheese, cream cheese and hummus. 

Step Seven: Don't Forget the Outside

While you're at it, clean the outside of your refrigerator as well. If you are one of those people with tons of magnets and papers on your refrigerator, consider eliminating this visual clutter. At the very least, remove all of it and wipe down the outside of your refrigerator.

Ongoing Maintenance: How to Organize Your Refrigerator and Keep It Organized

  • Now that you've organized your refrigerator, show it off. To your family, that is. Make sure you communicate your expectations that it stay organized. If your children are young, you may still have to clean up behind them, but now at least you have a blueprint for refrigerator organization.
  • Each week before you go grocery shopping, clean out your refrigerator. Get rid of older leftovers. Wipe down the shelves and bins. Put items back into their proper spot. Not only will this help keep your refrigerator organized, it will also be much easier to put your groceries away when you get home.




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