Dirty fridge? Organize your refrigerator with these tips

Tips to organize your refrigerator!

Right now, my fridge is tidy! But it wasn’t always this way.

Ready to organize your refrigerator? Use these tips to help organize your refrigerator, especially if you have a fridge that is sad, the way that mine was 6 months ago.

I have spent most of my adult life with a messy, dirty and sad fridge. I would buy lots of yogurt or milk on sale and shove it in, anywhere we could find. Leftovers all got chucked into a Rubbermaid container and placed in the fridge, sometimes labeled with contents and a date, sometimes not. I would buy lots and lots of produce and plunk it into the produce drawer. Deli meat and cheese would go in the meat drawer, eggs mostly on the door, and raw meat would often remain in its original packaging, stacked in the mess somewhere. We were good about portioning out ground beef into smaller sections, but that was about it.

I think you can predict the outcome.

Yogurt and milk took up so much space that it was hard to fit much else in some prime real estate. Those big leftover containers quickly became unappealing, and then they became unrecognizable as anything but a science experiment. Produce would rot in the drawer. Deli meat and cheese were fine, eggs continually took up a lot of space, and meat would sometimes leak and would usually take up too much space. We could never find anything and cleaning it was a chore. We wasted so much food over time.

Smelly fridge contents

When we moved into our current house 6 years ago, there was no fridge. This surprised us since it is a rental and we have never heard of a rental without a refrigerator provided. We asked on our local FB group and learned that it is kind of a thing in this area. And someone offered us a side by side refrigerator for $50. It is not a great fridge. There are some mechanical issues that make it okay but not great. The paint on the aluminum handles was chipping. It was just kind of ugly. However, the process of replacing a fridge is so daunting that we have continued to limp along with it and hate it.

Beat up old fridge
Sad fridge is sad

The Dude has been in the habit of blaming its side-by-side nature as the reason why it is always so badly organized, since a side by side fridge has less space than a top and bottom one. But my mother raised 9 children and only shopped weekly and always had a side-by-side refrigerator and it always held everything, so I knew this was not the issue. It was time to solve this. It was time to organize my refrigerator.

The process

One of my pandemic activities has been to organize our refrigerator. First, I watched some videos on organizing. I tried to find ones that are for family fridges and have a set up similar to ours. A french door fridge organization is not that helpful to my situation.

In the rest of this post, I will walk you through my process from mess to organized. I have included links where applicable. None of this is sponsored content, it is just the things I have found in my searches.

Help from: Simply Cherie

I found Simply Cherie’s videos on her organizing her refrigerator, which is a lot like mine. Her fridge is similar to mine, she has four people living in her house, and her kids are at or near adulthood. So I thought hers would be useful, and I wasn’t disappointed!

Watching her video taught me:

  • Bins within the fridge to help corral similar items
  • Doling out produce into smaller containers
  • Plastic reusable screw tops to Mason jars
  • Better Ziploc containers exist-they are a step up from their original plastic containers

Help from: Andrea Miller

I got a lot out of her video, but compared to us, it looked like she didn’t have a lot of food. We are eating all meals at home, we are big eaters, there is a lot stored in our fridge. So I searched for more inspiration and found The Mills Family. At the time of the video, Andrea had 8 kids and showed us how she fits everything into her side-by-side, including 15 gallons of milk!

What I learned from Andrea:

  • Labeling shelves
  • Modify camping egg holders to hold a lot of eggs in one place
  • having a container for deli meat and cheese
  • separate and prominent space for left overs

Note: this is the only video of The Mills family that I had ever seen, but upon digging around on their channel, I learned that, sadly, Andrea passed away last year. I will be keeping her sweet family in my thoughts.

Making it work for us

Everybody’s situation is different. I took the lessons I learned and thought about how best to apply them to our home. Here is what I am doing.

One of the most important steps before I could organize my refrigerator was to acknowledge how much space there is and how much of a product we are likely to eat in a week’s time. This was difficult. One of poverty’s effects is a hoarding mentality. So if I find something on sale, I want to buy lots of it. But this has led to clutter and waste throughout the years and I needed to stop it. We only go through 1-3 quarts of yogurt per week. We don’t need more than that.

Yogurt in the fridge door bin
2 quarts of yogurt are all we need this week. The vanilla is marked “honey” because honey is one of the many foods the Dude can no longer have.

 

I emptied the entire contents of the fridge onto the counters, threw out what was bad, and scrubbed the inside of the appliance until it was clean.

Next, I looked at what was on the counter. I thought about what we buy each week, what needs to be stored, what is used most frequently, and what is used together. Then through trial and error, I determined good spaces for each category. As you can see, I opted for bins to hold things together. I was nervous about this step because I was afraid we would have things that didn’t fit in bins and we would have wasted space. So far I haven’t found this to be true. One important step was replacing the containers we were using.

Organize your refrigerator: Containers

First, I decided to stop using large containers for left overs. This was crucial to my refrigerator organization. Large containers have a big footprint, they are more difficult to portion out, and they are harder to repeat evenly. We had these Rubbermaid containers forever. And they were okay. They stack and the lids lock together, which is nice. But they get beaten up rather quickly. And the tab is some wasted real estate that has to be accounted for. Finally, they didn’t fit in the bins well. And although the locking feature was cool, it only worked with containers that were the same size. After much research, I went with the Ziploc Twist N Loc containers, or Target’s cheaper generic version. They fit in the bins easily, their lids are secure, they stack, and they don’t have tabs. So far they are holding up well.

Produce jars

In addition to the Ziploc containers, we bought a few more wide mouth Mason jars. What I saw in Simply Cherie’s video was life changing! She had plastic lids for Mason jars! They sell them at WalMart in both wide mouth and regular sizes. With the metal lids, we were keeping track of two pieces, the lid and the ring. And they rust over time. These are really amazing. $3 for a set of 8. We are using them to store a lot more food than we did before. They are great because they don’t have a huge footprint and you can see the contents at a glance.

Organize your refrigerator: Labels

Would you like to organize your refrigerator? Please consider the lowly label. I used the label maker to create labels for each section of each shelf, and labels for the bins. For things that are used over and over, I made labels as well. For instance, the iced coffee is pretty continuous as the Dude just adds the leftover coffee to it at the end of the day (I am the iced coffee drinker and I am decidedly not snobbish about my coffee’s origins). We put yogurt in our containers because the sizing is uniform. Those have labels as well. The labels can go through the dishwasher with no problem.

Top shelf of refrigerator

We also purchased write on labels from Amazon. They make life a lot easier. We had been using tape, but it would have messy edges and was horrible if it went through the dishwasher. These labels stay on in the washer and come off easily with no residue.

The picture above was taken in July. This is the top shelf. We were buying 3 dozen eggs a week and stepped it up to 4 dozen now. The picture below is our new egg set up. The only other changes to the top shelf have been that we switched to Lite beer and slowed down on consumption (from one or two a night to one or two occasionally). Here are the camping holders for the eggs.

Plastic egg cartons

In the first picture, we could fit 36 eggs because we would buy 18 packs and we could stack them. With this new system, we can fit 4 dozen.

Organize your refrigerator: The dreaded leftovers

Leftovers in refrigerator are all labeled

The leftover shelf is very prominent, the second from the top. I labeled it “Grab N Go” because I have seen such labeling in supermarkets and I figure that if their marketers have found it effective phrasing, I should use it too. Each of these containers can hold leftovers, and the taller Ziploc containers can stand upright in here if needed. We try to keep everything in the single serve size, including leftover rice or pasta.

It is easier to dump a full container into a bowl and then microwave it versus scooping out an amount that is enough for one but still leaves a portion for someone else. We want to take the thinking out of leftovers. Now we can look at a container, know what is in there, how old it is, and how much is there. With this system, I also know which foods to push since I can check dates.

Organize your refrigerator:  Produce hacks

Some of the more life changing tips have been around the storage of produce. I knew I needed to organize my refrigerator for family harmony, but I have been impressed by how much produce we are saving from the compost pile.

Fruit

After the Dude’s multiple surgeries for diverticulitis and its aftermath, his diet is very restrictive. Almost all fruit makes him sick. But he can have grapes, so we always have grapes on hand. Each week, I buy 2 pounds of grapes. We were storing them in a bowl on the counter and were consistently throwing out the last ones because they would get sad and wrinkly. We tried storing them in the fridge with the same result.

I noticed that Simply Cherie was taking the grapes off the stems and storing them in single serve containers so people could just grab them. I didn’t want single serves, but I thought it might be nicer to have them in a jar instead of on the stem. We started washing them, taking them off the stems, and storing them in a Mason jar in the fridge. Not only does this make them prettier and easier to deal with, they no longer go bad! We have had some as long as two weeks with no mold, no mushiness, and no loss of taste.

Grapes in a Mason jar stay fresh a long time

This is also useful for blueberries. We got a flat of blueberries when in season. I put some into jars and I think they lasted over a month. We had some finally start to ferment so we did lose a handful. But they held up a lot longer than in the baskets.

Blueberries in a jar

Lettuce

One of the nicer outcomes as I organize my refrigerator: we have been treating lettuce more humanely. Instead of just throwing it into the produce drawer and hoping for the best, we now wash it, chop it, and store it in a container with a paper towel. It will last over a week this way, and is so much easier to use. Our plan is to treat the other veggies the same, but we have been a little lazier about them.

Produce in containers
The lettuce and pepper in bins. Spinach is in the blue container. Don’t tell the orange juice it is not milk. We don’t want to hurt its feelings.

Meat

The meat drawer has improved as well. I am trying something new that just started this month. Instead of buying meat weekly, I got some really great deals and purchased one month’s worth in one fell swoop. Then I broke it into meal-sized packs and froze them in freezer bags, all labeled and dated. Then I put each amount into a Google sheet, gave it a weight and a meal, with recipe links as needed. For the most part, this gives us a meal with enough leftovers for lunch. These meals are obviously not sequential, I just kept a date tracker to make sure that I have enough days.

Spruced up outside to match the organized inside

I now have an organized refrigerator!

After you organize your refrigerator, you can organize its doors! Remove all calendars, school notes, art projects, and magnets. If you have things you need to remember, set a notice on your calendar and stash the items neatly in a folder in a drawer. If you need the visual, tape any notices are calendars to the inside of a frequently used cabinet door.

Refrigerator with racing stripes

Here is my fridge now! It is not perfect. I bought paint to do a full makeover, but I just was not feeling it.So I added the stripes and called it a day. I am really happy with the top though. It is so cheery.

Yellow and blue decorations on top of fridgeWhew. I had no idea that I had so much to say about a fridge. I hope this is helpful to you and might inspire you as you organize your refrigerator. This has truly vexed us for years. We are in our 4th month of the new layout. It has worked well and the Dude has actually stopped complaining about the fridge!

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The fridge affects every one of us every day. I just got a pack of those Twist-n-Loc jars, and I really like them.
I am going to get some of those plastic Mason jar tops, what a great tool to have! I already love to use Mason jars because they are so reusable, clear, a useful size, and they have a fairly good chance of surviving from having been dropped- once.

I was so happy to discover the Twist-n-locs. I like that they sell them in small packages so you can add or replace a couple without having to commit to a while new set.

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