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If you’re like me, with a large family and a small fridge, I’m sure you don’t need to imagine how crowded and disorganized it can become…
You’re living it!
Luckily, we do have a small chest freezer, but even that is filled to the brim.
If you currently suffer from the same issue of a disorderly fridge and freezer, with dozens of mystery containers sitting on the shelves for weeks on end that you are too afraid to open, let’s not allow these appliances to get any worse!
With the following advice, we can set out together to effectively reorganize the refrigerator and freezer.
They do so much for us on a daily basis – so let’s return the favor by making them as neat and clean as possible.
And you can learn how to keep them that way for the future.
You may become a bit discouraged when you open your own appliance’s door, but just remind yourself:
This will be a big job, but not an impossible one!
And if you combine this with the rest of your kitchen spring cleaning, you can work even more efficiently.
In just 6 easy steps, your refrigerator and freezer will both be in their best condition to continue storing all of your food and drinks.
6 Easy Steps to Reorganize Your Fridge and Freezer
Step 1 – Declutter and Clean the Outside
Start off by heading straight to the fridge with a stack of garbage bags, towels, and your favorite kitchen cleaning supplies and solutions.
Right now, briefly forget about what’s inside in order to tackle the first task: decluttering and cleaning the outside of the appliance!
As cute as they are – the kids and the drawings – they should be removed – okay, just the drawings… – prior to cleaning and reorganizing.
Magnets secure an endless amount of artwork, A+ tests, and photographs to the door. Review what should be prioritized to display on the fridge, and set aside those items that you want to frame or store elsewhere in the house.
After removing everything, you can move on to cleaning.
Other than dust and cobwebs, you may find containers filled with miscellaneous tools, cans, and cardboard boxes on top of the fridge – this is the perfect area to set and forget any number of household items!
I’m not sure who has arms that are long enough to reach up there, so you can promptly blame your husband, or anyone else in your household with long limbs.
Grab a step stool, and start to declutter. Everything will soon be returned to where it belongs.
Next, move on to the front and sides of the fridge. And don’t forget to slightly open the doors and clean the tops of those, an often-forgotten area that can gather debris.
Fridge Magnet Clips, set of 12, available on Amazon
You will feel such a sense of accomplishment when the handles glint back at you, when all the photos are in neat rows, and when you have replaced all of your mismatched magnets with a new matching set, like this 12-pack heavy-duty set of black magnetic clips from Amazon.
Now, let’s go inside.
Step 2 – Remove All Food and Clean the Inside
Tackle and remove items on each shelf inside your refrigerator and freezer, moving from top to bottom. If you focus on one section at a time, the entire process will not seem as overwhelming.
Check the expiration dates, and discard anything that has passed those dates. Throw away any food items that look – or smell – questionable, or anything with no label or date that you can’t identify with certainty.
The foods that are still safe to consume should be set aside together, in a group.
Because cleaning the refrigerator shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, you don’t have to worry about the temperature of your perishables while you clean.
However, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you do have the option to grab a large cooler, fill it with ice, and place anything sensitive in the cooler that you want to keep.
Next up, cleaning.
Kids – at least my kids – are not always the neatest when they help themselves to a snack or a cup of milk.
Spills are inevitable.
My fridge can tell you the story of leftovers past. Open the door and look in, and you’ll see a vast supply of jarred items, bowls covered in plastic wrap, and half-drunk bottles of juice or water.
NOT mine, but you get the picture.
Once you have removed everything from a particular shelf, now you can thoroughly clean that empty shelf or drawer – review our advice for cleaning large appliances for this step! Or if you prefer, clean out that whole compartment, and do all of our cleaning in one go. Don’t forget the racks inside the doors as well.
My freezer is on the bottom, so I clean out the fridge first before I move on to the frozen foods. Discard anything that looks like it was shoved in the back, ignored and obviously freezer burnt. Wipe out any crumbs, clean the ice cube trays or bin, and you’re good to go.
Step 3 – Take Inventory
Once the shelves and drawers are clean and perfectly sparkly, it is now time to analyze and take inventory of the items you own.
Which foods were we eating regularly and which sat untouched?
It is important to take note of this when planning out a grocery budget for the month too. And taking steps to prevent waste, in the form of forgotten and abandoned items, can help to keep your appliances clean and tidy.
For example, I can tell you that my family goes through ketchup – or “check-up” as my little one calls it – like water, but we somehow had two opened and nearly full bottles of relish left over from last summer!
This summer, I know that if we buy relish, I only need a small container, but I should probably buy ketchup in bulk. Or just make a big batch of homemade ketchup right at home!
It is also especially convenient to keep a written inventory of your foods now and after each future purchase. You do not want to be digging through the freezer or fridge aimlessly!
Step 4 – Map Out Your Space
To make your lives a little easier, designate different uses for different areas of the fridge.
I like to keep milk and dairy products together on the top shelf, any leftovers or other ready-to-eat food items in the middle shelf, fruits and vegetables in the lower drawers, condiments in the door, and meats or other raw items on the very bottom shelf.
I also have a little drawer where I like to store cut cheese and other snacks, so the kids can easily grab what they need without disrupting things too much.
You can also map out your space in the freezer, employing the same strategy of designating different areas for certain food items.
The freezer can be particularly difficult for storing items, since you usually have a smaller space to work with – all the more reason to be extra organized!
Wire Storage Baskets, set of 6, available on Amazon
With the help of assorted storage baskets, you can stay on top of sectioning off foods in a neat manner. Use a set or two of these basket organizers from Amazon, and you’ll soon see a major difference.
In some cases, you might be surprised by all the new kitchen space you’re able to free up!
Step 5 – Label Everything
I have tried labeling foods in order to stay organized, but sometimes when I’m in a rush, I don’t always stick to the plan.
It is my ultimate goal – and it should be yours, as well – to never let the contents of the fridge go unlabeled!
Leftovers should always be transferred to a container or bag and labeled with the contents and the date before placing them in the fridge or freezer.
It is also helpful to label the drawers and shelves, so you can be sure that family members can easily put things back where they belong.
With a few pre-readers in my house, I like to include a picture – at least on the snack drawer – so my preschoolers can help with our efforts to stay organized.
Step 6 – Stay the Course
Now that everything is finally organized, you need to make sure you stay on track.
This might be the best time to consider buying a new set of matching food storage containers for the most organized system of storage.
20-Piece Glass Storage Container Set, available on Sur La Table
My cabinet is stocked with this 20-piece glass storage container set I just bought from Sur La Table.
And you will also need to continually replenish your supply of airtight bags in different sizes, both for the freezer and refrigerator.
Leftovers should only be saved if they will be eaten at a later date, and all surplus food needs to be stored in a designated area.
In general, remember to place any older foods in front of the newer items so that the older yogurts get eaten first and the older vegetables are cooked before using the newer ones. Leftovers should also be stored towards the front, where they’re visible and readily accessible.
In the food industry, this is an important organizational method called FIFO, which stands for “First In, First Out!”
It’s easy to incorporate the remnants of past lunches and dinners into the weekly meal plan. With just a little work, you can turn last night’s chicken breast into chicken salad or chicken fajitas for lunch the next day.
The Whole Household Is Responsible
By following these tips and tricks, you’re bound to help keep the kitchen cleaner and more organized.
But don’t let this important task fall just upon you, and you alone!
Make sure you get everyone involved in following your new organization rules – and you’ll be rewarded with appliances that stay clean and organized.
Do you have your own special tips and tricks for maintaining order with these specific appliances? How do you deal with the messier members of the family? Leave a comment below!
Alright – your fridge and freezer are spic and span. Now, onto the rest! If you need more advice to clean your entire kitchen area, we have other articles for you to read next:
- 13 Tips to Use the Garbage Disposal Right
- Keep Your Kitchen Countertops Sparkling with These Tips
- Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets and Cupboards
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published June 22, 2015. Last updated on March 28, 2023. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Amazon and Sur La Table. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone.
About Jennifer Swartvagher
Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.