The challenge this week is organizing refrigerator and freezer food areas in your home.
These appliances are generally some of the most often and constantly used in your kitchen, and can easily get disorganized and out of control if you don’t keep the organization you’ve set up in place.
Therefore, we’re going to focus this week not only on getting things organized, but also on building some simple habits we can begin (or keep doing) to keep our freezers andrefrigerators organized from now on.
Step 1: Equipment To Gather Before Beginning The Challenge
Before beginning the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge I suggest gathering some basic equipment, including:
- Big trash bag for throwing away old or expired food
- Sink full of hot soapy water
- Empty dishwasher ready to receive newly emptied plastic food storage containers, and empty jars you want to save
- Permanent marker and food storage labels
- Cleaning supplies for cleaning up fridge and freezer
- Ice chest or cooler to hold any food that cannot temporarily sit out while you’re working on the organization of your refrigerator or freezer
In addition, you can do the Organizing Refrigerator And Freezer Challenge whenever you want during the week, but it may be easiest to do it right before going on your next grocery run. That way you’re fridge is already on the emptier side and hasn’t yet been refilled for the week.
Are you new here? The Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge is part of the 52 Week Home Organization Challenge. (Click the link to learn how to join us for free for future and past challenges if you aren’t already a regular reader).
Step 2: Declutter The Front & Top Of Your Refrigerator
Most of this Organizing Refrigerator And Freezer Challenge deals with the food storage areas of these appliances, but before we begin with the main part it is worth taking a couple of minutes to declutter the outside of your refrigerator.
Make sure you put excess art from your kids away after a certain period of time.
In addition, you need to have a better system in place for all those papers from school. Place most of the dates on your family calendar and then toss the forms. Anything that needs to be saved should be somewhere else, such as in a file. The front of your refrigerator should not be used as a file cabinet.
Finally, you may need to winnow down your magnet collection, especially of multiple cheap magnets you received from the pizza place, or wherever. Winnow it down where you have a cute and usable collection, but it is not overpowering.
Having less clutter on the outside of your refrigerator will really complement the rest of your kitchen, especially now that you’ve got all that clear kitchen counter space for the first part of the kitchen organization challenge.
Step 3: Declutter The Contents Of The Refrigerator (And Then Freezer) Of Old Or Expired Items
The Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge is about organizing refrigerator and freezer areas in your home. While I’ve written these steps to discuss both appliances at the same time, it most likely will work better for you to deal with the refrigerator completely first, and then circle around and do all the steps again, this time dealing with the freezer (or freezers) in your home.
In addition, when referring to your freezer I am referring to the small freezer attached to your refrigerator, along with any chest or upright freezers you also own.
So, like I said, this step in the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge is to get rid of all the stuff in these appliancesthat is past its prime, you’re never going to eat, or is just a plain disgusting science experiment now.
To do this part of the challenge you’ll need to take everything out of your refrigerator (and then freezer), and evaluate each item to decide if you’ll keep it or not. Don’t forget about all those condiments on the door of the refrigerator. Really look at the dates on these jars and bottles, and think about how long they’ve been sitting in there (perhaps years, or even decades?)
Step 4: Clean Your Refrigerator And Freezer Quickly While Everything Is Emptied From Them
The fourth step in the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge is to clean the inside of these appliances up, quickly, while everything is already out of them. You should quickly clean up any spills, sticky messes and other dirt and odors.
I suggest using a paste of baking soda and water to clean your fridge and freezer, since it both cleans and remove odors. If you have any meat juice spills, you will need to use a disinfectant. In addition, you can wash drawers and shelves in the hot soapy water you’ve got in your sink.
Here are two safety items to note while doing this step. First, unplug your refrigerator before cleaning it, since it is, after all an electrical appliance. Second, if you’ve got glass shelves or drawers be careful of sudden temperature changes while you clean, such as plunging the cold glass item into hot water which could cause breakage.
In addition, if you don’t have a freezer which automatically defrosts this may also be a good opportunity to defrost your freezer.
Step 5: Put Everything Back In Your Refrigerator And Freezer According To Zones
The next step in the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge is where you actually begin organizing the items you’ve got left, and thinking about how to best use the space in these appliances.
Categorize the items you’ll place in your refrigerator and freezer, and then try to organize and designate areas, or zones, to place the categorized items in.
You may want some of the items in your categories to stay loose, or you may decide to containerize them to keep them together within the refrigerator or freezer.
Organizing Refrigerator Shelves, Drawers, And The Door
Keep in mind for your refrigerator, you don’t want it packed to the gills with items. Instead, there has to be enough free space for air to circulate freely, for it to cool efficiently and effectively.
Here are some of the possible categories or zones to consider for your refrigerator. Which ones you’ll choose depend on how you use your fridge, how much and what types of things you cook, etc.
- Leftovers (typically a designated shelf or portion of a shelf)
- Place to thaw things from freezer or marinate food (typically place to hold lipped pan or bowl)
- Milk and other beverages (typically on a designed shelf)
- Fresh produce (typically in the fruit or vegetable bins)
- Other dairy (typically on a designed shelf)
- Meats and cheeses (meats may go in their own drawer, and should be kept in the coldest part of the fridge, while lunch meats and cheeses may go in a lunch making zone container)
- Eggs (although the door of your refrigerator may have a space for them, it is best to keep eggs in their carton on a shelf, and not on the door because the door has more temperature fluctuations
- Condiments (typically on the door of the fridge)
- Lunch making zone (mentioned above, holds refrigerated ingredients for making lunches for school or home)
- Snacks (typically in a container on a shelf for easy access by kids)
Consider designating certain shelves, or portions of shelves, drawers, or door shelves for certain items so you can find what you want quickly and easily, and replace it back too, when you’re finished using it. You may also consider labeling the shelves or the containers on the shelves with certain zones to make it easy for all family members to stick things in the correct places.
Please keep in mind while doing the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge that where you place an item may be dictated, to a certain degree, by its size and shape, and where it will fit. To the extent possible try to group other like items around it, to keep like items together.
If you have adjustable shelves in your refrigerator, take the time to adjust them to fit the size of the various categories and zones you’ve created during the Organizing Refrigerator Challenge while doing this step.
Freezer Organization Tips And Ideas
While your refrigerator needs some air space for good air circulation, your freezer actually works better when it is full. However, you’ve still got to have everything organized in it, so you can find things.
Just like with your refrigerator, you should categorize the items in your freezer too, as part of the Organizing Refrigerator and Freezer Challenge.
Here are some suggested categories to consider for your freezer organization project:
- Baked goods
- Freezer meals
As you place everything back in your freezer, make a freezer inventory form, listing what you’re putting in there. It will help you keep track of the items you’ve got in your freezer at any given time, so you know what you’ve got to eat, and when you need to eat it by for it to taste its best.
The best way to keep your freezer organized is to containerize it, with uniform size containers that stack or sit close together (so typically square or rectangular in shape, not circular). Label these containers with the general category of item you’re placing in it for easy identification later.
The most common storage containers for your freezer are freezer baskets. They can work well in both chest freezers, or upright freezers. If you’ve got an upright freezer, pull out drawers can also be very useful.
Be sure to choose containers that can withstand the cold of your freezer, so they don’t crack or break on you too easily. You can read more about storage solutions I suggest for your freezer below.
Further, if you’ve got a chest freezer whatever baskets or containers you choose will have to stack on top of each other.
To then find what you are looking for later, I suggest you make a “map” of the baskets, and post it next to your freezer inventory, to remind yourself where the meat basket, or frozen vegetable basket is located in the stack to make it easier to find what you want without moving every single basket.
Step 6: Consider These Refrigerator And Freezer Storage Solutions While Organizing These Appliances
You don’t have to buy any fancy equipment or items for organizing refrigerator and freezer shelves and drawers, but some types of items can be useful, so consider these for now or in the future while doing your refrigerator and freezer organization project.
Suggested Refrigerator Storage Solutions
- Pull out drawers, trays or bins – these allow you to group certain items together, and also easily reach items in the back of the bin when you pull it out (see suggestions above)
- Refrigerator lazy susans or turntables
- Refrigerator caddy – a narrow bag that holds condiments on refrigerator door shelf, and allows you to pick up all the condiments for use at the table and then return them easily back to the shelf when done
- Food storage labels (see my suggestion below in step 7)
- Soda can dispenser (see suggestion to the right)
Suggested Freezer Storage Solutions
- Freezer labels (see my suggestion below in step 7)
- Freezer grade plastic storage bags (get them at any grocery store)
- Freezer baskets (especially useful in a chest freezer)
- Food Saver vacuum sealer
- Freezer alarm (lets you know if the temperature starts to get too warm in your freezer before there is spoilage from a power outage or freezer malfunction – these can save you lots of money and grief if you really stock up in your freezer, especially on expensive meats) (see suggested product to the right)
Step 7: Simple Habits To Maintain The Refrigerator And Freezer Organization You’ve Acheived
Finally, after you’ve gotten everything organized as part of the Organizing Refrigerator And Freezer Challenge you don’t want that organization to slip away again. However, without some simple habits in place I can guarantee your refrigerator and freezer will turn into chaos again, quickly.
Fortunately, when I say simple habits, I really do mean simple ones, that don’t take up much of your time at all. Here’s a list of things I suggest you begin doing (if you’re not already) to maintain your refrigerator and freezer organization.
Be Mindful Of Your Leftovers
If you won’t actually eat the leftovers later, don’t save them! To save money, just cook less so you don’t have the leftovers to begin with if you or your family don’t like them.
If you do intend to eat the leftovers though, make sure you incorporate them into your meal plan for the week, by instituting a leftovers night, or planning to eat them for lunch the following day.
Having a designated area in your refrigerator for leftovers will also help you be mindful of what you’ve got. Once your family is trained to look in a certain spot, and only that spot for leftovers, then they’ll quickly be able to spot what they want and eat it so it doesn’t go to waste.
Further, try to place all leftovers in see through containers, so your family knows what it is, without having to open the container. Further, you may want to consider using erasable labels (such as the ones shown on the right) on the leftovers containers, to label the date or contents to help people make an informed choice about what they want to eat.
Clear Out Leftovers And Old Food Weekly
Soon before you go to the grocery store each week, perhaps while making your grocery list for the week and planning your weekly menu, you should clean out your refrigerator of all old leftovers and other food that is past its prime and will no longer be eaten.
This allows you to take a quick mental inventory of what you’ve got in your fridge, so you can hopefully use it up soon (and incorporate it into your menu for the next week) or make room for the new food that will be coming soon after your grocery trip.
Follow The Last In Last Out Rule
Last week, in the Organize Pantry Challenge, I discussed the last in, last out rule. The same principle applies here. Use up the older milk before drinking the newer milk, or the older frozen vegetables before using the newer ones. This helps ensure you don’t wait so long to eat something that it goes bad before you get to it.
When stocking your refrigerator and freezer make it easy for yourself to follow the rule by placing newer items in the back, or bottom of the freezer, with older items up front or on top so they’re easy to grab when you need them.
Periodically Have An Eat Out Of Your Freezer And Pantry Week
You’ve got to eat what’s in your freezer and pantry periodically, especially if you are a person that likes to buy in bulk or stock up when there are sales. Otherwise those bargains that just get thrown away when they expire or get too old aren’t really a bargain, are they?
One of the things my family does periodically is try to make as many meals as possible from our pantry and freezer during a couple of day to week span, and not spend too much at the grocery that week. We tend to do this right before holidays, when we’re going out of town, since it will be a short grocery shopping week anyway. We’ll just pick up a couple fresh items, and mainly eat what we’ve already got at home.
It saves money (which we then generally spend on gas for the trip) and also uses up some stuff from our food stores to keep us from wasting it later.
It is also a good idea to have a week or so of eating out of your freezer and pantry right before you need to defrost your chest freezer, for instance, since this has to be done periodically anyway to keep it running at its optimum performance.
Update Your Freezer Inventory As You Use And Add Food
I’ve already discussed the freezer inventory above. This is a tool, when actually used consistently, that helps you make the best use out of your frozen food assets.
Consistently Label Everything That Goes Into Your Freezer
For both commercial and homemade frozen food you must develop the habit of labeling everything that goes into your freezer, so you can figure out what it is later, and whether it is something you actually want to eat, without having to open up the package and guess.
Here is a list of the information you should write on your freezer labels:
- Type of food
- Approximate servings of food in the container; and
- Date you placed it in the freezer
You can just use a permanent marker to write on many containers, or you can use some freezer labels (such as the ones shown on the right) for this task.
Thank you for joining me for Week 4 of the 52 week home organization challenge! I hope you are enjoying it and seeing how easy it can be to organize your home when we break it into smaller steps. I’ll be back next week to give you more organization tips!