The refrigerator is certainly the hardest working appliance in any kitchen. (No offense, Mr. Oven!) For those who don't cook, it's busy holding your leftover takeout and bottles of wine; for those who do, it's a constantly rotating repository for a mini grocery-store's worth of goods. No matter how you use it, regular maintenance — plus a couple just-for-looks tricks — can help you love your fridge more and more, every day. Here's what to do.
1. Schedule regular cleanings.
No one ever wants to clean out the fridge — until there's some sort of mysterious odor that requires investigation. Our best advice? Just do it. Put it on your calendar: About once a month, plan to spend an hour cleaning the fridge. Take everything out, toss anything that's gross, and wipe down the shelves. The more often you do it, the quicker it'll go.
See the steps: How To Clean the Refrigerator
2. Date everything.
This is something I swear by. Who has time to think about when they last used that wedge of cheese, and whether or not it was blue cheese to begin with? Anytime you open a new container or toss a leftover into the fridge, take a second to label it with a marker (or a piece of tape and a marker, if you don't want the label to be permanent) and you'll spend less time wondering if your dinner will give you GI issues.
3. Banish odors.
If everything's sealed up properly, your fridge shouldn't smell — but sometimes you cook something so potent, the scent leaches out anyway. And sometimes you just, um, don't seal things properly (whoops!). I can't stress this enough: Donate a box of baking soda to your fridge in order to keep smells at bay.
Get to it: How To Freshen a Smelly Refrigerator
4. Invest in matching storage containers.
No, this is not just a Type-A person thing: Having containers from the same set turns them into modular blocks that stack neatly on top of each other instead of tipping and sliding out of the fridge when you open the door. Opt for clear versions, ideally made of glass, so you can see exactly what you've got at all times.
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5. Consider a zone system.
Most people naturally store produce with produce and meat with meat, but if you have frequently used combos, like cold brew and milk or kid-friendly treats, group them together, so you can grab everything you need all at once. Consider storing smaller or oddly shaped items in bins to make them extra easy to find.
6. Really use your freezer.
If you're not planning to use something within a few days, freeze it! There's nothing worse than throwing out food you didn't get around to eating. (It's wasteful and does gross things to your fridge!) And you really can freeze just about anything, including pasta sauce, cooked veggies, brownies, salmon, rice, whatever. If you don't like the texture of reheated foods, think of a way to reconstitute them for the next round, like blending veggies into soup or turning salmon into burgers.
Freeze sauces flat in zip-top bags so they're easy to stack. If you're freezing larger portions, divide them into servings with parchment paper first, so you don't have to reheat the whole thing for dinner.
More on Freezer Organization
7. Decorate the outside.
All that white (or stainless steel!) space is just dying for a makeover! Whether you're showing off your souvenir magnet collection, dozens of Instagram prints, or your kids' art, turn it into a canvas that sets the tone for the rest of the room. Not a collection person? Consider covering the whole thing with adhesive wallpaper for a bold statement.
Take this quiz: What Your Fridge Decor Reveals About Who You Really Are
8. Help it work efficiently.
If your refrigerator's coils are dusty, or you're filling the fridge with hot foods that require extra power to cool down, you're overworking your fridge. Just as you depend on it to keep your food cold, it depends on you to keep it in good working order. That means vacuuming the coils, checking the seal once in a while, and keeping it full but not too full.