Published on September 18, 2020

Once food gets banished—on purpose or by accident—to the back of the refrigerator, there’s no going back. By the next time you see it, it will likely have gone bad, and there’s no feeling like discovering that forgotten tub of hummus is now past its expiration date just as you’re craving a snack. Most people don’t have a fully fleshed-out strategy for arranging their perishables, but fridge organization is key to making the most of your grocery hauls. 

Just like when it comes to other parts of your kitchen—like the cabinets or under the sink—a thought-out approach comes down to common sense. You don’t have to go off with a label maker to master the art of fridge organization, but a little planning does go a long way. So we tapped a few experts to share their best advice.

Don’t Overbuy

Pretty much every professional organizer agrees that the path to a tidy fridge starts with your grocery list. “Think of your fridge as a supermarket,” says Gilat Tunit, founder of Project Neat. You wouldn’t overstock the shelves at a store, and you shouldn’t in your home. 

“Overpurchasing tends to not only take up needed space but also increases the chance of food expiring prior to consumption,” says Alexia Ford, founder of Passion Organizing. Be realistic and limit your purchases to what you’ll actually eat (which can, of course, include treats). 

Purge and Clean Regularly

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Courtesy of Maison Haven

Just as you’d do with your cabinets, start your fridge organizing with a good deep clean, throwing out all the expired condiments on the door and clearing out the mystery Tupperware at the back. “Don’t just ditch the out-of-date items,” says Corrie Jackson, founder of Maison Haven. “Be ruthless and think through how often you’re using each product.” If you didn’t like that salad dressing the first time you tried it, lesson learned—don’t hold onto it out of guilt. Empty the container and recycle responsibly.

Create Zones

Categorizing the different sections of your fridge won’t just help you find what you’re looking for faster. “We recommend using bins to make the organization last,” says Jen Robin, founder of Life in Jeneral. “It works wonders.” Ese Crossett, founder of Tidylosophy, echos this sentiment, stressing the importance of returning items to their appropriate zones after cooking. 

Consider organizing by food group for a simple approach. “Resist the urge to overcategorize—it only complicates the system and increases its chances of failing,” says Nialya Suarez, founder of Organized Simplicity.

Use Your Fridge as Intended

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Courtesy of Organized Simplicity

When you’re designating those zones, the layout of your fridge will also play a role. If you have a small drawer, appoint it for your cheeses or meats. Keep butter in the pocket on the door. And make the most of the crisper drawers. “Those drawers and shelves are there for a reason,” explain Brandie Larsen and Ryan Eiesland of The Home Sort. “Using them in conjunction with a good organization system will help you maximize space.” 

Add Organizing Tools

On top of bins, Michelle Miller, founder of Ritual Living Co., also brings in extra drawers for smaller items. “It’s much easier than pulling out every item you own to see what’s in the back of the fridge,” she says. 

Divided turntables are also a huge help, says Robin. She uses them for individually packaged products like yogurt, baby food, condiments, and more. Suarez adds beverage dispensers, which are especially helpful if you have a seltzer habit, and acrylic containers for when she needs to defrost meat. And Ford goes  vertical, opting for stacking storage, where she put anything from cheese to lunch meat to juices. 

Remove Items From Their Packaging

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Courtesy of Life in Jeneral

“The most common mistake people make is not spending the extra time unpacking their groceries properly,” says Jackson. She suggests decanting food into transparent containers so it’s easy to tell how much you have on hand. Taking the time to store your produce correctly won’t just help you stay tidy—it will also keep your food fresh. As Crossett points out, not everything goes in the fridge anyway. Don’t let onions and tomatoes take up that valuable real estate. 

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