No matter how long you've done it or how many different people you've lived with over the years, sharing storage space is one of the most challenging parts of living with roommates. The refrigerator can be especially tricky territory.
If you're currently navigating a roommate refrigerator situation, here's some advice on how to keep it organized and keep the peace.
1. Decide whether you're sharing staples or buying your own.
Since going off to college, I've lived with a total of 15 different people. Some of them were just summer roommates in college, and some of them I've lived with for multiple years, but each set of roommates has approached this differently. In some cases we've only shared condiments and baking ingredients. In others we've rotated who buys the milk to make sure it's equitable. Whatever you decide on with your roommates is fine, just talk about it and find the solution that fits for you.
2. Make the fridge as symmetrical as possible.
Yes, this might seem like an odd piece of advice, but by keeping the shelves as symmetrical as possible, you can divide the fridge more equitably for each person's groceries. If you have just two people in your apartment, go straight down the middle. Keep in mind that there will be overlap in some areas since you'll likely have a taller shelf on one side and a deli drawer on the other.
3. Designate the door as communal space.
There are some things that just fit better in the door — condiments, SodaStream bottles, cream for your coffee, and so on. Don't clutter up the rest of the fridge with these items when you can stash them in the door. We're also going to guess that you'll share things like ketchup and mustard, so storing them in a shared section just makes sense.
4. If you want something to be off-limits, say so.
Sometimes you splurge on something fancy like a delicious jam or a special kind of sauce or other condiment that you don't really want to share. That's totally allowed. Just be sure you communicate that to your roommate. And it works the other way around, too. If you see something enticing in the fridge that isn't normally there, check with your roommate before digging in. You'll avoid unpleasantness later.
5. Keep crisper drawers evenly balanced.
As we noted earlier, make the fridge as symmetrical as possible. If you have two veggie drawers and two roommates, then you should each get your own drawer. If you have more roommates, double up on drawers, but keep things as evenly balanced as possible.
6. Ditch old or expired food promptly.
Not only will getting rid of leftovers you didn't eat or veggies that have turned mushy keep your fridge from developing a funk, it will also ensure that there's enough space for everyone's stuff after a trip to the grocery store. Don't be the jerk who makes your roommate shuffle around moldy leftovers (or worse deal with the gross containers) just to fit her food inside. Related to that, make sure your leftovers are in the smallest container possible, and downsize as you use it up if you can.
7. Keep things out of sight and out of mind.
No, we're not recommending forgetting last night's leftovers and letting them languish in the back of the fridge for a month. Instead, if you are buying specialty ingredients for a recipe or a dinner and will be using them with in the next 24 to 36 hours, stick them in the fridge in the bag from the grocery store or a reusable tote. That helps distinguish them as special, and will keep snacking roommates away.
8. Don't forget the freezer.
Depending on your eating habits, the freezer is either chock-full of food or home to just a few ice cube trays. The biggest rule with sharing the freezer is to use the food you put in it in a timely manner. That means not filling it with 20 bags of frozen broccoli just because it's on sale. Make sure there's enough room for everyone to lay in some extra supplies.
9. Make a mess? Clean it up.
We hope against hopes that this is common sense, but it always bears repeating. If something of yours in the fridge leaks or spills or gets forgotten in the back and devolves into a mushy mess, clean it up. Of course, there's the other side to this rule as well: If you notice a mess, you should also clean it up immediately. Don't wait for the roommate responsible — just keep things tidy.
10. As a last resort, break out the Sharpie and washi tape.
No one really wants to be the one to resort to marking all their yogurt cups or frozen meals with their name like you have to in an office refrigerator. But sometimes it comes down to that — especially if your roommate isn't respecting the "you bought it, you can eat it" rule.