Kitchen

Our Most Brilliant Organizing Ideas for 5 Common Messy Refrigerator Types

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The thing about refrigerator organizing is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. A lot depends on the type of fridge you have, the sorts of groceries you buy, the people in your house, etc. We want to help, though. So we picked out five super-common scenarios that could be causing your fridge to be very messy — and then we rounded up our best tips, tricks, and hacks to help you get things under control.

Pick your scenario (you may pick more than one!) and then keep reading to get some smart ideas.

1. Messy Fridge Problem: You Have Too Many Condiments

Raise your hand if you’ve managed to amass quite the collection of hot sauce bottles, jams, barbecue sauces, and whatnot? We get it. It’s easy to do. A home cook’s gotta have options — and at least five different types of mustards. The problem is that these little containers add up and manage to take up a lot of space. Plus, they can leak or get lost. Here are some of our best tips for organizing all those condiments.

1.Use an egg carton to organize the door.We stole this tip from Alton Brown and can’t possibly recommend it enough. (We especially like that it doesn’t call for buying anything special and makes use of something that would otherwise be headed for the recycling.) The next time you have an empty egg carton, cut off the bottom, and drop it onto a shelf on the fridge door. Then, you can use the carton to hold upside-down bottles of condiments. The bottles will stay in place this way, and it’ll be easier to pour out every last drop.

2. Label your shelves. Dedicate three shelf sections on your door for your condiment collection. Label each one with the following categories: sweet, savory, and spicy. Savory is for things like teriyaki sauce, A.1., Worcestershire, and balsamic glaze; spicy is for hot sauces and pepper jelly; and sweet is for jams, jellies, maraschino cherries, and syrup. Everything will have a home this way, and you’ll know where to find things — and where to put them back.

3. Use a lazy Susan. Stash your most-used condiments on a lazy Susan on a top shelf. The turntable will allow you to reach each and every bottle without knocking things over. And it’s got a little lip, so if something happens to leak, it won’t soil the entire shelf.

4. Put takeout packets in a bowl or container.We totally support saving those ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce packets that come with takeout orders — as long as they’re saved in a neat and tidy way. Take a small bowl out of your cabinets and stand up the packets in the bowl and then store that on a shelf on the fridge door. You can also keep them in a suction-cup caddy (which you can stick to the inside wall of your fridge), but we like this bowl trick because you likely already have one you can use.

2. Messy Fridge Problem: Your Fridge Is Where Leftovers Go to Die

Some of us save leftovers with the best of intentions … but fail to see them through. If you’re the type to box up extra casserole portions or save half of a takeout sandwich and then promptly forget about it once you put it in the fridge, we can help. These are some of our best tips for organizing all those leftovers.

1. Set up an “eat first” bin. Get a basket, put a note on it that says “eat me first,” and then load it up with, well, everything that needs to be eaten up first. Then, here’s the tricky part, check the bin when you need a snack or need to grab a quick lunch between Zoom calls.

2. Use clear, uniform containers. Try to streamline your food storage containers to matching sets. This way, when it comes time to pack up leftovers from homemade meals, you have the perfect options at the ready. Matching containers will stack better, which will help you save space in the fridge. And go for clear containers so that you can see what’s inside.

3. Label everything. Even with clear containers, you still need to label every thing that goes in your fridge. (Leftovers from restaurants, too.) Be sure to include the name of what’s in the container and, most importantly, the date you’re putting it in the fridge.

4. Keep a sticky note on the door. Because there’s no such thing as too many reminders, we like to also write down everything that’s in the “eat first” bin. Stick the note on your fridge door and then you’ll not only be reminded as to what’s in the bin, but you will also be reminded to check said bin.

3. Messy Fridge Problem: Stuff Gets Thrown in All Willy-Nilly

Maybe your fridge just isn’t big enough? Or maybe you have a big family of big eaters? A fridge that’s jam-packed isn’t doing anyone any favors. Too much on a shelf and you’re bound to lose something that’s destined to go bad before you can find it. And don’t even get us started on the potential spills! Or all that wasted time you’ll spend looking for the sour cream! Here are some of our best tips for organizing a very full, very random refrigerator.

1. Keep all raw meat in a bin on the bottom shelf. Place any and all raw meat that you’re planning to cook for the week (this includes chicken breasts, ground beef, even that package of bacon), in a bin and put that on the very bottom shelf in your fridge. This way, should something leak, the juices will be contained and won’t drip down onto everything else.

2. Group like stuff together. Put all the beverages together on part of a shelf, breakfast supplies on another, sandwich supplies on another. You can even group things that you tend to use at the same time together, too. Organized groupings will cut down on your hunting-around time and will help you when it’s time to put stuff away, too.

3. Add some shelf risers. We like shelf risers in the fridge for the same reason we like them for a pantry — they help turn one shelf into two. If you find that you just need more shelf space, get more shelves. Also, take a look at your fridge because most of the time, the shelves are adjustable and you might want to reconfigure them into a spacing that makes more sense for how you cook.

4. And other organizers, too. We hate telling you to spend money on things, but sometimes you really do need to call in reinforcements — in the form of special organizers. You may need help wrangling all those cans of LaCroix or you could benefit from some bins to help with tip number two. Our Editor-in-Chief picked up some bins for her fridge and she says it’s some of the best money she’s ever spent.

5. Try a tension rod. Tension rods sure are handy! Even in the fridge. If you buy lots of bagged salads, cheeses, and produce, consider hanging a tension rod underneath a shelf and using clips to organize the bags.

4. Messy Fridge Problem: You Share a Fridge with Roommates

Sharing a refrigerator with friends or random roommates is so much harder than sharing it with your family. Because it often means dealing with multiples (you may have to store many different types of milk if you don’t all agree, for example) and there’s a money component where you might not want your roommate to eat something that you bought. Here’s how to organize the fridge and keep the peace.

1. Add suction-cup caddies to the inside walls.If there doesn’t seem to be enough room for all of you, make more room! Add one suction-cup caddy for each of you. Just stick them to the wall inside your fridge and use them for small bottles, packets, and other odds and ends.

2. Have one shelf for shared items. Sharing means caring! If there are certain items you can all agree to share, store them together on one shared shelf. The rule will be that anything on that shelf can be used by the group. Divide the rest of the space up as evenly as possible.

3. Leave non-passive-aggressive notes. If you really don’t want something to be eaten up, just put a note on it that says “Please don’t touch!” This will eliminate any possible confusion. Just don’t be passive-aggressive!

4. Use drawer dividers to divvy up the crispers. Most refrigerators have two crisper drawers, but maybe you have two or three roommates? Use drawer dividers to break up up the crisper drawers so that you each get space for your fruits and veggies.

5. Messy Fridge Problem: You Have Little Kids

Yogurt cups! Fruit pouches! String cheeses! Little hands that make big messes! If you have young kids in the house, chances are you need a very special kind of fridge organization. And we’re here to help.

1. Add a snack bin. Fill a bin with parent-approved snacks for kiddos. And stash it low enough in the fridge so that your shortest child can reach it. This way, when they want a snack, they can go help themselves rather than interrupt your work meeting.

2. Clearly label where things belong. If you want everyone in your household to put stuff back where it goes, the first step is to clearly have a home for everything. How? Label everything — shelves, bins, you name it! For the littlest kids who can’t yet read, try using pictures and icons instead of words.

3. Set up a drink dispenser.If your fridge doesn’t have a built-in water dispenser in the door, consider adding one to one of the shelves. Again, so that your kid can get what they need — without making a big ol’ mess of everything that’s in there.

4. Keep glass out of reach. Store all glass jars and bottles on higher shelves where little ones can’t reach. Because the sound of a pickle jar shattering is never a good one.

Which scenario(s) do you fall into? Got any other smart ideas to add? Leave them in the comments below!

Lisa Freedman

Lifestyle Director

Lisa Freedman is the Lifestyle Director at The Kitchn. She has never met a cheese or a washi tape she didn't like. She lives in New York state with her husband and their pup, Millie.

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