8 Fridge Organizing Mistakes You’re Definitely Making (and What It’s Costing You)

published Apr 20, 2024
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Shot of a young woman searching inside a refrigerator at home
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The fridge is arguably the most important appliance in the home. Your busy kitchen relies on it to function smoothly. As a mother of five (including two teens and three kids who play competitive sports), I know very well how big of a job it is to make sure a household is well-fed. One of the biggest factors in keeping everything running as it should — shopping, meal and lunch-prepping, and keeping food waste to a minimum — is fridge organization

The state of your fridge and its contents can make the difference between a frustrating dinner prep session and one that goes off without a hitch. It can also influence your actions, like whether you eat your produce and leftovers before they spoil, which in turn affects your food budget

To get some insider tips about fridge organization, I reached out to professional organizer Heather Aiello, founder of Boston-area home organizing firm The Organized You. Here’s what she said are the most common mistakes people make when organizing their fridges — and what it can mean for your health and home.

Credit: Design: The Kitchn

1. Overcrowding shelves

It can be stressful to dig through towers of leftovers as you’re trying to get to that one container of cherry tomatoes. But overcrowding in the fridge isn’t just a matter of seeing and reaching items easily. “Overcrowding shelves with too many items can obstruct airflow and lead to uneven cooling,” Aiello says. “It’s essential to leave space between items to allow for proper air circulation.” Otherwise, this can cause food to spoil more quickly. 

2. Neglecting to rotate items

I’ve long been a proponent of rotating kids’ toys, but I never even considered rotating items in the fridge! Aiello shares that it’s yet another simple way to minimize food waste: “Neglecting to rotate items can result in food waste, as older items get pushed to the back and forgotten. It’s important to regularly rotate items to ensure that older items are used before newer ones.”

3. Not using clear containers

The type of storage container you use when organizing your fridge matters, and not just its size and shape. Aiello points out that “using opaque containers or packaging makes it difficult to see what’s inside, leading to forgotten items and food waste.” Choosing clear containers, on the other hand, allows everyone in the household to “easily identify contents and minimize food spoilage.”

4. Storing items improperly

“Storing items in the wrong zones of the fridge can impact their shelf life and freshness,” Aiello says. This applies to where you store your produce, for instance. Other common zone-related fridge mistakes include storing dairy products in the door where temperatures fluctuate, which can lead to spoilage, or placing raw meat above ready-to-eat foods, which can lead to cross-contamination. 

5. Ignoring expiration dates

This is another major food safety issue, and just checking labels isn’t enough. In addition to regularly checking expiration dates that are printed on food items, Aiello recommends “label[ing] items with the date they were opened to ensure freshness and safety.” In addition, she highlights one fridge spot that tends to accumulate expired items: “Remember to check the dates of all the condiments that seem to live in our fridges forever!”

6. Failing to clean regularly 

Cleaning the fridge regularly might not seem like part of organizing, but it greatly affects the look and feel of your fridge, which in turn affects how organized you’re able to keep it. “Neglecting to clean the fridge regularly can lead to the buildup of spills, crumbs, and food residue, creating an unsanitary environment and potentially causing odors,” Aiello adds. “It’s important to clean spills promptly and deep-clean the fridge periodically to maintain cleanliness and freshness. Make this part of your weekly routine — for example, when it’s trash day, this will remind you to clean items out of the fridge.”

7. Not using fridge organizers

Fridge organizers are a big factor when it comes to keeping your fridge as user-friendly as possible. “Failing to use fridge organizers, such as bins, dividers, and lazy Susans, can lead to disorganization and difficulty finding items,” Aiello says. They help maximize space and make it easier to maintain a tidy fridge, ensuring nothing gets lost in the back. Here are some of the experts’ favorite refrigerator organizers for all of your storage needs.

8. Overbuying perishable items

This one seems like common sense, but it’s a tip people (myself included!) forget all too often. You have to remember what your household can reasonably consume before stuffing the fridge with items that will go bad. “Overbuying perishable items, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, can lead to food waste if they aren’t consumed before spoiling. It’s important to plan meals, shop with a list, and only buy what you can realistically consume before expiration,” Aiello explains. Here are seven more expert fridge organizing tips that can help you make the most of your space.