January 25, 2008

Three cool tips for organizing your refrigerator to save time and money.

There aren't many jobs I hate quite as much as cleaning out the refrigerator. The furry remains of some dinner a month ago hiding behind the mayo. Lettuce "soup." Five bottles of barbecue sauce with about 1 teaspoon left in each. Six containers of mustard, all open, but full.

It happens, as much as we don't want to admit it. Recently I went to our fridge and realized that I needed to take drastic measures. Not just cleaning and purging, but really organizing it so we would save money by not buying duplicates of things we already had, and so we would stop wasting money on food going to waste.

I decided to look at the fridge as no different than any other organizing project I take on. Just like my closet tips, I found there were the same three steps.

1. Purge. My first step was to remove everything from the fridge to the counter, and look at every item for an expiration date. Anything over the line was gone. Anything close to the line was evaluated - would we really use it. If not, it was gone too. I was ruthless. Leftovers more than a few days old were gone.

2. Plan. Leaving everything out on the counter, I took out all the removable shelves and door bins and wiped them down. Then I took a hard look at the position of every shelf. Moving some shelves up or down would give me a better view of the contents of that shelf. If it helped, I moved it.

Just like a closet or a dresser, it is a helpful time saver to put like things together. Salad dressings. Jams and jelly. Pickles and olives. Dairy products. Snacks. Meat. Leftovers. If they're together, they're easier to find. Designate some items for drawers, and some for bins in the door.

This is where my favorite little tip comes into play. Just like my pantry, I bought a few handy little Sterilite containers (about $1.50 - $2.50 each) and filled them with like food items. Not only does this make it infinitely easier to see what you have on hand (and know what you're out of), but it makes the refrigerator look amazingly neat and organized. I purchased two different sizes of these containers. The smaller size fit two side by side on a shelf. The larger fits one to a shelf with room on one side for odd shaped or sized items. Not everything needs to go in a container. The object is to make it easier to see what you have. If you don't want to invest in the containers, consider using something like an old cake pan or dish pan, whatever you have on hand that might fit neatly in the fridge, slide easily in and out, and allow you to see what's inside.

3. Commit. You will have such a sense of relief when you get the refrigerator looking this spotless. The trick is to keep up with it. Just like you put your undies back in the undie drawer, put the dijon back in the condiment bin. Even The Bob is finding it easier to reach in and grab what he needs - and has promised that he will put the milk back in the "milk section." If he can see where things go, chances are he will stick with the program.

It's not complicated. It took me about an hour to get the fridge looking great. I think that is a minor investment, considering how this will save me time and money in the long run.

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