If your fridge is anything like mine, it can get to be a miniature disaster zone, featuring a jumbled array of products, five tubs of sour cream (all in various stages of use), some leftovers you think might have been there since Christmas, and a drink bottle on its side that has done a slow leak all over the shelves.
But this doesn’t have to stay your reality!
Welcome to the next post in my decluttering series, which focuses on how to organize your fridge. If you’re just starting on the decluttering journey, my first suggestion is to start with the bathroom. I’ve written a detailed guide on how to do that here. The next area I would suggest tackling is this one. This is for a similar reason as the above – it’s one you actively engage with several times a day. I find clearing out fridges to be a super satisfying task, and I promise you will too. It’s also a task that is very easy to break down into small blocks if you don’t have a lot of time, or the thought of doing it all at once is too much to handle.
So here we go:
- Clear the kitchen bench so you have somewhere to put the food when you take it out.
- Gather your cleaning supplies. I suggest a bowl of hot water with a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid in it. You’ll also need a sponge to do the heavy wiping and a microfiber to dry it all off.
- Start with the inside door first. Remove everything that you keep here and put it on the bench. Now clean out each one of the shelves, either giving them a thorough wipe down, or, if possible, taking them out and washing them.
- Check all the products on the bench, and throw away any that are expired.
- Clean lids etc- for example around the tops of sauce bottles.
- Return all condiments to the inside door. I have these organised by mustards, relishes, sauces, and salad dressings. The reasons for keeping them here are that a) it’s easy to see them all and b) it’s the part of the fridge that experiences the most changes in temperature. I know this from experience- Until last year we used to keep the milk in the inside door because it was accessible and the most frequent item we got out. However, after it started spoiling fast during summer, we realised the error of our ways! Now we keep it inside the fridge proper and it lasts much longer. You can also keep water and juice in the inside door if space permits.
- Now take out everything in the rest of the fridge except any fruit and vegetables you have in the crisper section.
- Repeat Steps 4 and 5.
- Decide how your shelves will be organised. I organise mine by having sections that correspond to meals so that it’s easier to get what we need. For example, the lunch section is where we keep the leftovers, things like sliced meats for sandwiches, and so on. (Note that leftovers should be stored for 3-4 days maximum. In addition, if you know you won’t eat leftovers, don’t keep them – just compost or throw away and cook less next time). It’s a good idea to have this shelf at eye-level so you can easily see what is in there. The dinner shelf has things like fresh pasta, pasta sauce on it. I also have a dairy shelf, for margarine, cheese, butter and so forth. It’s really up to you- the only thing I would suggest is if you keep meat in the fridge (and I’m much more inclined to keep it in the freezer unless it’s what I took out the night before for defrosting), make sure you keep it on the bottom shelf, so you don’t get any nasty drips on any of your other food.
- Check for items that are in the fridge but actually don’t have to be. These include:
- Tomatoes. I do keep mine in the fridge to last longer, but most people recommend storing them in the pantry for better taste.
- Eggs. I keep mine in the scullery. There’s no evidence to suggest they do any better in the fridge, so it takes out one more thing. If you are worried about freshness, do the float test before using (Put the egg into a bowl of water. If it floats completely, don’t use it!).
- Bread. Keeping bread in the fridge will just dry it out.
- Avocados- keeping them in the fridge will stop them from ripening. However, I learnt something just the other day- once the avocado is ripe, if you put it in the fridge it will then last for several days, not the one day you seem to get once the avocado reaches that magical tipping point of not ripe, not ripe, not ripe, RIPE, rotten.
- Return everything to the correct shelf.
- Now clean out your crisper drawer/s. This is the part I hate the most, because there’s inevitably some fruit that has gone bad and stuck to the plastic. But stick with it because you are almost there! Chuck out anything that’s seen better days and thoroughly wash out the drawer. Return everything to the fridge. If you have two crisper drawers, then keep your fruit and vegetables separate. This is because the fruit gives off gases that can cause veges to spoil faster.
- Check the fridge temperature. The recommended temperature is 5 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but we have had amazing results turning ours down to 3 degrees. I have a lettuce in the fridge that’s been there for some 18 days, and it’s still looking fresh!
- Now it’s time for the freezer. Take everything out one drawer at a time, and throw away anything that is past its best. Remember the general guidelines for frozen meat are about 3-4 months for mince, and 4-12 months for other types such as steak or roasts. If there is no label, write today’s date on the packet with a marker, so you have a reference point going forward.
- Clean the drawers.
- Sort the drawers. We have three shelves in our freezer, so one has bread, one has meat and the other has frozen fruit and frozen vegetables. If you have open bags of frozens, use twisty ties or the little plastic tags you get on bread to keep them contained. In our previous freezer, we had small shelves on the inside door. I used to keep frozens “on the go” in there, to avoid having several bags of the same product open at once.
- Check the freezer temperature. It should be at -18 degrees Celsius, or 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
So I bet you thought you were finished… well, not quite. Take everything off the fridge door, give it a good wipe and buff, and then return what is really necessary. Apply the need, want, like, principle to everything: do I still need it? Do I still want it? Do I still like it? A clean fridge door creates a totally different feel in the kitchen. We have an awesome Smeg retro fridge (in the pic here) and the door is not magnetic! This was a bit of a shock at first, as I had always had my meal planner stuck on the fridge, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like ,looking at its clean lines.
And now that you’ve done all this, my number one tip to keeping your fridge clean and organised, is that when you make your grocery list for the next shop, also make this the time to give your fridge a quick wipe out. It means when you put your groceries in the next day, it will be clean, and you will also have not wasted money buying things you already have.
Good luck! I’d love to hear how you got on with organising your fridge and how this small act has made for a more relaxing feel in the kitchen.
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