My former boss used to say that “work expands to the time allowed”, meaning that however long you have to complete a task is how long it will take you. As is true with most of his mantras, I have found this concept to be true – and applicable to more than just work.
One practical example being refrigerators. Food will expand to the space available in your fridge. Think about it. Have you ever seen a fridge that had a large, empty space? I haven’t. And while my own fridge has come close (see photo below), I’ve also never seen a fridge that couldn’t be shut because it was too full.
Whatever space we have, gets filled.
That being said, when we were remodeling our kitchen and searching for a fridge, I started with the biggest models and worked my way down. We had the advantage of working with a blank slate, meaning that we didn’t have a pre-determined space in which it had to fit. That was pretty awesome.
We have the Kenmore Elite 29.8 cubic foot (!!!!) French Door refrigerator. I fell in love with it when I saw it on the showroom floor. My husband looked at the price tag and then told me to keep walking. We ended up in the clearance section where we spotted the same fridge that had been returned to the store because it had numerous dings on the front. Josh and I talked about it and decided that sacrificing the aesthetics of a non-dinged fridge to get the size and features we were looking for at a fraction of the cost was worth it.
We love it. I see the dings every day and think “I don’t care. I love the inside too much to care about the outside.”
And I fill all 29.8 cubic feet.
Looking at it empty on a showroom floor, I never thought I would. But I do. Every week.
A few weeks ago, it got to the point where I was approaching not being able to shut the doors, which meant that it was time to pull everything out and do some re-evaluating of where stuff went.
This was the whole sad state of affairs
6 Things You Can Do To Organize Your Fridge
1 – Empty & Toss
Start by emptying your fridge’s contents. Toss expired food. And the stuff that you thought you would use, but haven’t and won’t. You know you have it.
It happens that here, I had packages of chicken breasts that needed to be divided & frozen. So I did that.
Leftovers that were in containers that weren’t ours got taken out and put in our containers so that they stacked nicely to maximize that space. We use these glass containers for our leftovers and cannot say enough about them.
That is a LOT of space. How was that ever full?!
I knew that I wasn’t going to dramatically change what was in the crisper drawers and that it was all good, so I emptied the rest of the fridge and cleaned it out. I also didn’t need to do anything with the meat and cheese drawer. You can see how that’s organized here.
2 – Determine What Works & What Doesn’t
For us, milk on the lower shelf, leftovers on the top, yogurt in the middle worked well. A much longer list including overfull fruit & veggie drawers, not fully utilizing top shelf space or containment and having to reach for too much were not working.
3 – Utilize the Doors’ Built-In Containment
No need to go to The Container Store and buy beautiful bins to hold stuff. The fridge-makers have done that for you.
Most newer fridges have door compartments that fit gallons of milk perfectly, but that is one of the warmest spaces in the fridge, which can cause milk to spoil easily. Shelves on the inside of the refrigerator doors serve as built-in containers and, from an organizing standpoint, are the perfect way to corral small items such as dressings and condiments.
Milk isn’t any harder to grab from the inside of the fridge than it is out of the door, but you can’t say that about a bottle of ketchup.
4 – Create Zones
Food is less likely to be wasted if can be easily found, and assigning zones to food groups helps to do that.
There are areas in our refrigerators that are more or less suited to different kinds of food. I found this infographic on Pinterest a few years ago and, generally, try to stick to these principles when deciding where items will go in our fridge.
Creating zones also answers your question of “Where should I put this?” before the item is in your hand. What got me in trouble was not using the (plentiful) space I had well, which led to haphazardly stuffing things in there because I didn’t have a pre-determined spot for them.
We kind of did this before, but not well. And, because the fridge was so full, we ended up just stuffing things anywhere they would fit.
5 – Make Healthy Snacks Easily Accessible
We had way more fruits and vegetables than we had space for in the two crisper drawers. It used to be that any of fruits & veggies that needed cutting up or were good grab and go snacks got put in containers in the new fruits & veggies section, but I had gotten out of the habit.
I cannot say enough about the value of uniform containers in maximizing fridge space. It allows them to stack easily, which utilizes the vertical space you have. For any food that doesn’t get reheated, we use these plastic containers. Now the drawers have fruits that don’t need anything done to them (i.e. blueberries) or are surplus and vegetables that are for supper and will be prepped when I make that meal.
We are so much more apt to grab a container from this shelf and snack on these than we are to open a drawer, pull out a veggie, cut or peel it and then eat it. It’s really quite lazy, but it’s true.
6 – Use the Back of the Fridge for Overstock Storage
Extras that don’t need to be accessed until you’ve finished the one that is already open, such as eggs and yogurt, can be stored where you don’t need to easily access them on a daily basis. This is how you utilize the depth of the fridge.
7 – Adjust Shelving
In addition to creating zones by type of food, you can also create zones by size of food. For instance, we had miscellaneous dairy products that were only using half of a bin, but an entire shelf. So, I took them out of the bin and redistributed them to a shelf that fit their containers perfectly.
8 – (As a last resort) Use Containement
We’ve all seen the beautiful pictures on Instagram of perfectly stocked, rainbow colored refrigerators. You what those fridges don’t do? Store food for people to eat!! I saw a photo today that had bins of sunflowers. Sunflowers! Between the bins of apples and mini pumpkins (pumpkins don’t need to be refrigerated!) and above the bin of candy corn (also doesn’t need to be refrigerated).
Don’t let those unrealistic photos be your standard.
Containment is great, but only when it’s functional and helps a fridge serve it’s purpose. For instance, I pulled a fridge bin that I had in storage out and it now holds any dairy products that were too wide for the shelves in the door and individual yogurts got put in the bin where they are now corralled.
None of these are huge tasks. None of it required an organizing degree (if there were such a thing…..). Nothing needed to be purchased. The entire project took me less than thirty minutes, and the payoff was huge.
What do you find is the hardest part about keeping order in your fridge?