If there’s one spot in the home we could probably all organize better, it’s the refrigerator. While not everyone has an air fryer or microwave, a fridge is a kitchen staple for just about everyone. And while most of us go into our refrigerators at least once a day, many of us tend to ignore the fact that these spaces can become very messy.
So what’s the best way to get your fridge organized? I recently spoke with two top organizing experts, Brandie Larsen and Ryan Eisland, of Home+Sort, to get their advice.
These sisters, moms, and entrepreneurs are a pretty dynamic duo. With a Pinterest-perfect yet real world approach, they’re perhaps best known for organizing the homes of celebrities including Katherine Heigl, Candace Cameron Bure, Hannah Brown, and Chrissy Metz.
I asked them how to organize your refrigerator and even chatted with them about their somewhat controversial take on the art of decanting. Their tips will have you on a major fridge cleanup this weekend.
Why your fridge gets so messy in the first place
If you live alone and have to ask yourself why your fridge gets messy, the answer is that you’re the problem. (Sorry!) But if you live with a partner or have a family, all bets are off.
“Not all family members value the same level of tidiness,” the organizers explain. “If your fridge is the Wild West, and there’s no system in there, your child, husband, or mom comes in and they’re just going to put things willy-nilly everywhere.”
That’s why it’s important to establish a system no matter how many people live in the home. Which leads us to…
How to organize your refrigerator
Start with a clean slate
To really get your fridge in order, it’s best to empty everything out, physically clean the shelves and drawers — then start again.
“Give it a deep clean,” say Larsen and Eisland. “We use Dawn Ultra Powerwash. It works great on fridges.” They add, “That way you’re starting fresh. So you can put all your good food back in and create a system so your fridge stays nice.”
Start by removing all the shelves because they’ll be easier to clean. Warm soapy water can also work, but make sure you don’t use hot water on cold glass because it may crack. Then you have an entirely different problem. Wipe down any surfaces and be sure to rinse well and dry with a dish towel.
Edit your condiment collection
Eisland and Larsen tell me condiment shelves are a major avenue for clutter and spoiled food.
“You think it will stay fresh forever, but it won’t,” they say. “So the sauces and the condiments that have been in there for 14 years that nobody’s cleaned out get overlooked. And with all the traffic, they become untidy.”
So when it doubt, throw it out. Not sure if that squeeze bottle of mustard is still good after last summer’s barbecue? Check the expiration date.
If something has separated, doesn’t smell right, or has a label that notes how many days it can stay fresh after opening, it needs to go in the garbage.
Break up your cleaning time
While it’s ideal to do a major clean-out of the entire fridge, not everyone has an hour or two to spare. If that’s the case, Larsen and Eisland recommend breaking down this project over a few days.
“If you’re on a time crunch, pick a shelf each day or pick a shelf every other day,” they say. “Start with condiment shelves and work your way up from them there.”
After condiments, it’s time to get rid of those leftovers and reorganize everything.
Consider decanting food items
Decanting isn’t just something you do before indulging in a good bottle of red wine.
Decanting your kitchen has been a major trend in recent years. If you’re unfamiliar with this practice, it involves removing your fresh food, snacks, etc., from the box or packaging and putting them in plastic or glass containers.
While this certainly makes your fridge look a whole lot nicer and can make food easier to find, it often requires a bit of initial investment and is frankly unnecessary for every single item. For example, while decanting milk (or your favorite milk substitute) looks pretty, it’s not necessary.
But it’s certainly a smart idea to decant anything perishable.
“I take all my fruits and some of my vegetables and wash them. Then I decant them into glass containers with bamboo lids from our line with mDesign,” says Larsen. “It looks good, which matters to me, but I’m also more likely to eat it because it’s already washed. It’s just as easy as grabbing a granola bar or goldfish.”
You can decant foods like raw meats and chicken into airtight containers. This also prevents bacteria that seeps out of the original packaging from migrating onto your shelves or other things, especially if you tend to stack packages of food. The mDesign Airtight Stackable Storage Bin is perfect for keeping food fresh.
Decanting perishables can also save you money in the long run. After all, if you calculated how much money you waste in a year on fruit that’s gone bad or that steak you never get around to cooking, it likely adds up to far more than the cost of containers.
Decanting can make storage a lot easier and can help you take advantage of both the vertical and horizontal space in your refrigerator, especially if you have a lot of food, limited room, or both.
This is especially applicable to snacks like string cheese, which can take up a lot of unnecessary space. “I take my string cheese out of the out of the storage container that it comes in and I put them in drawers in my fridge,” says Eisland.
Clean your fridge on a weekly basis
“I think as long as there’s room in the fridge, you just keep putting stuff in,” the sisters explain. So they recommend cleaning out your fridge every time you grocery shop or on a weekly basis.
Commit to spending a minute or two clearing out those take-out containers or open cans before you put in your new groceries. This will keep your fridge organized in the long run.