Everyone knows that the heart of the home is the kitchen. But if we drill down even further to pinpoint its exact center of gravity, there’s no doubt it would be the refrigerator. The appliance is hard at work from sunup to sundown, offering its full support for on-the-go breakfasts, late-night snacks, and everything in between. So it’s important to nail down how to organize a fridge (and keep it that way) if we want these unsung heroes to do the heavy lifting to the best of their ability.

The start of a brand-new year—or just a new month—is the perfect opportunity to revamp, revitalize, and set things right. Ahead, we checked in with our favorite organizing and food-focused creatives to get the skinny on the task.

Before You Begin, a Few Fridge Organizing Tips From the Pros

Take Stock of What You Have

Quite a few of our experts agreed that a regular inventory and a cleaning are crucial first steps. “I try to declutter before I get the groceries,” says Ali Cayne, founder of Haven’s Kitchen. “I consolidate lettuces, roast off wilting carrots, shake the milk to see what I have left, and look into the egg cartons.” Nutritionist Amy Shapiro also surveys her fridge and discards anything she’ll probably never use to save space, while pro organizer Shira Gill takes time to wipe down sticky surfaces.

Use the FIFO Strategy

For those who don’t know, FIFO stands for first in, first out. In other words, organize your fridge based on the shelf life of your ingredients, placing the newest items in the back and the soonest-to-expire in the front. Noting that FIFO is a standard strategy in restaurants, Insta-famous chef Molly Baz says, “It should also be common practice in your home kitchen.” You’ll end up wasting less and spending less.

Label Everything

All of the experts we spoke to noted the importance of labeling items with masking tape and a wineglass marker or erasable chalk pen, especially leftovers (add the date so you’ll know when it has spoiled) and less easily distinguishable ingredients. “I make sure all the cheeses are labeled so they don’t overtake my entire fridge,” notes Sierra Tishgart, cofounder and CEO of Great Jones.

4 Common Fridge Organization Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Not Unpacking Properly

“The most common mistake people make is not spending the extra time unpacking their groceries properly,” says Corrie Jackson, founder of Maison Haven. 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 keep your food fresh.

Overbuying

The secret to a tidy fridge forever is a carefully crafted grocery list. Each week, before you hit the supermarket, be sure to take a few minutes to peruse your own shelves—refrigerator shelves, that is. Be realistic and limit your purchases to what you’ll actually eat. “Overpurchasing tends to not only take up needed space but increases the chance of food expiring prior to consumption,” says Alexia Ford, founder of Passion Organizing.

Not Using the Fridge as Intended

Food safety is top of mind for most of us—no one wants to accidentally serve up salmonella on a cracker—so we err on the side of caution and chuck everything into the fridge. Better safe than sorry is a good motto, but it doesn’t do your fridge (or your wallet) any favors. Fruits and vegetables should be housed in their designated bins to keep them fresh as long as possible, but onions, potatoes, and tomatoes should stay on the counter.

Improper Placement

Knowing how your fridge works is key to making smart organizational decisions. The door is the warmest spot, the back of the fridge is the coldest, and the middle shelf is where the temperature is most consistent. So what does that mean? Store condiments, soft cheeses, and butter in the door; keep highly perishable items in the back; and reserve the middle shelf for eggs.

How to Organize a Fridge

Photography by Sara Tramp; Design by Emily Henderson Design

The (Optional) Supplies

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Rags
  • Clear, stackable bins to create zones
  • Erasable marker
  • A turntable for corralling small goods

Step 1: A Good Deep-Clean

Throw out all the expired condiments on the door and clear out the mystery Tupperware at the back. Wipe down all surfaces with an all-purpose cleaner and a rag—don’t forget the door and the crisper drawer.

Step 2: Take Stock of What You Have

Once your fridge is clean, do a quick inventory of what you already own, then make your grocery list accordingly. Remember that overbuying will quickly stymie any hopes you had of keeping your fridge organized in the long term.

Step 3: Remove Produce From Bulky Packaging

Your fridge comes equipped with shelves and bins for storage, but you can always invest in more. Cayne washes and wraps salad greens in damp paper towels to keep them fresher longer, for example, and  stores her herbs in water-filled jars. Place eggs in clear containers, too, so you can see what you’ve got on hand at a glance.

Step 4: Group Like Items Together

Store condiments in close proximity with other condiments and keep dairy products next to dairy products—you get the idea. Starting from the bottom, “I keep any meat or animal protein in the lowest area in case it drips,” says Shapiro. “That way, it’s less likely to contaminate other foods.”

Next, store items that will spoil quickly, like hummus or yogurt, at eye level so you won’t have to go digging for them. Designate your upper shelves for leftovers, drinks, and packaged foods (since they’re not raw, so you don’t have to worry about a spill compromising the items below). Butter, nuts, and seeds, as we mentioned, can handle warmer temps, so they can go in the door. Clear, labeled bins come in handy here as a reminder to return things to their proper zones again and again.

Step 5: Go Vertical

If soda or sparkling water is a staple in your fridge, a can dispenser allows you to cool a good stash without them hogging too much real estate. Love a morning omelet? Tracy Bowers, founder of Organize Simply, claims you can store 36 eggs comfortably and take up only 4 inches of width. All you need are a few stackable acrylic containers.

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