We’ve already talked about how to Kondo-ize your office to get that clean, minimalistic Mario Kondo feel with the right de-cluttering practices. But there’s another place in the house that holds a lot of clutter and doesn’t get talked about very much: The refrigerator.
It’s no secret that the average fridge can get really dirty and overcrowded in time. Do you wince a little when you open your fridge? Do you wish it was a little cleaner, brighter, and more pleasant to use? If it’s time to remove fridge clutter and find a better approach to storing food, then we have the tips that you need.
1. Start with a full surface clean
Pull on your spring-cleaning gloves and take everything out of your fridge. It’s time for a full surface cleaning to remove any spills, stains or crumbs that may be in your fridge. This is a great place to start, because it also allows you to inventory what you have in the refrigerator and throw away anything you absolutely don’t need.
With all the food removed, scrub and wipe down all the surfaces inside your fridge until it is spotless. An eco-friendly cleaner can make this job easier, especially if there are tough stains you have to remove. Once everything is cleaned, you can start reorganizing the items that you’ve chosen to keep.
2. Create a “throw away” day at least once a week
Refrigerators get cluttered because we keep foods and leftovers with a vague idea that we’ll use them in the future…and then we largely forget about them. The best way to avoid this problem is to choose one day a week (Saturday, for example) to throw away all unnecessary things in the fridge. If you have leftovers, either use them that day or toss them. If foods are spoiling or going stale, this is the day you get rid of them. If you have nearly empty bottles, either use them that day or chuck them. If you’re keeping foods or ingredients you rarely use, then toss them: Chances are good they will go bad (or are already bad) before you use them again, and you can always buy new versions for your next special cooking project.
Make this a weekly habit, and it will become very difficult to clutter your refrigerator again. Plus, you’ll always have a much better idea of what’s in your fridge and what you may need to purchase. Heck, it could even help your dating life.
3. Avoid reusing containers in your fridge
This may be a difficult step, depending on your refrigerator habits, but you need to get rid of all reused containers (think old sour cream containers, for example) in your refrigerator, and stop using them entirely. First, using all different types of containers (which are often not labeled) is poor fridge organization and leads to a lot unnecessary mess. Second, it’s not a very sanitary solution for storing leftovers. These things do not bring happiness to your fridge searching. Instead, buy a set of great glass or plastic leftover containers that match and are easy to label if necessary. You can stick these in the dishwasher and use them again and again. It’s a great way to keep your fridge clean and avoid unnecessary clutter.
4. Throw away all open containers
Having trouble deciding what to keep and what to throw away? Make a hard rule to always throw away open containers. If it doesn’t have a lid or a cap or a latched covering it, then use it or toss it. This will keep you from storing open cans and other things in your refrigerator. A container without a lid can get contaminated and will also make your refrigerator smell — they are better off in the trash.
5. Move all messy foods to the bottom of the fridge
If you have foods that may leak, spill or ooze—raw meat, for example, is a frequent culprit — then try to put them as close to the bottom of the fridge as possible. That way, if anything happens, they won’t leak over other refrigerator items, and they’ll be easier to clean up quickly.
6. Create organization rules for your refrigerator levels
How will you re-organize things in your fridge? The crisper drawers, typically found at the bottom of the fridge, are ideal places for fruits and veggies—but you should never mix the two in the same drawer, which can hasten decay. But that still leaves you with a lot of space.
You have two primary organization options. Option one is organizing by type, so that you put all the leftovers together, all the condiments together, all the cheeses together, and so on. It’s a practical option for many fridges that helps you organize and declutter at the same time.
Option two is organizing by use. In other words, if you make a sandwich every day, then you would put all the sandwich ingredients on one shelf for easy access. If you make breakfast smoothies, you would collect all the smoothie ingredients together in one place. This option is more dependent on your personal cooking habits, but can be very effective in the right situations.
7. Throw away old freezer food, and start using your freezer
Take a break from cleaning your fridge, then take a look at your freezer. If it’s a big mess, we suggest thawing it out and giving it a full cleaning. In most cases though, you can just throw away all old and unused items in your freezer, Since freezers can become hideaways for foods long since forgotten, this might take some extra trash space.
Try to at least clear out a full shelf or two in your freezer. This helps you get into the habit of transferring foods from your fridge to your freezer for longer storage. Meats, herbs, and other ingredients can last much longer when frozen. Just remember to keep cycling out old foods and moving in new foods well before they spoil.
8. Check your temperature settings
Help your food stay fresh longer by taking a minute to make sure your temperature settings are appropriate. A refrigerator should stay around 37 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have different temperature zones, you can adjust them to keep your most sensitive foods a bit colder, and less sensitive foods a little warmer, but try not to stray too far away from 37 degrees. Note that refrigerator doors tend to be a bit warmer than the inside shelves by default.
9. Use your refrigerator’s unique storage options
If you take a look at our list of the best refrigerators, you’ll notice many of them have unique or expandable storage options. If your fridge has a feature like this, use them! Dedicated shelves for larger bottles, pizzas, or smaller items are usually the best use of space you can find, and make locating these items very easy.
10. Don’t forget the front of the refrigerator
Since the inside of your refrigerator is getting a new look, don’t forget to clean and de-clutter the outside of your refrigerator too. We suggest removing any notes, calendars or other information from your fridge, and use a separate notice board or note-taking app for these things. When it comes to kids’ drawings that you absolutely have to put on the fridge, make a rule of only one drawing at a time, and switch out with a new version whenever you need to.
11. If you haven’t used it in the last several months, throw it away
If something has been in your refrigerator for several months, it’s almost certain to have gone bad and should be thrown away (unopened bottles are a rare exception). If items in your freezer have been there for several months, then there’s a good chance that they’ve gone bad too—but more importantly, it’s also a sign that you aren’t really using that food anyway.