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No more cold wars with your fridge

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WHEN MY daughter said “Mom, the refrigerator is gross,” I realized it is another space that needs organization. A refrigerator-freezer is similar to any other cabinet or closet in your house. Equipped with shelves, drawers and compartments, the fridge has built-in organization.

Before we begin, form a vision. Consider that everything you do or have either supports your life or detracts from it. Thus, take inventory of where you are with food. Doing so will help you make decisions about how to organize the food in your refrigerator and freezer. Questions to ask include:

  • Do you consider your diet healthful?
  • Are you struggling with health issues such as high blood pressure, weight, high cholesterol or allergies?
  • What things about your eating or cooking habits would you like to change?
  • Do others depend on you to stock the kitchen and/or prepare food?
  • Will others in your household be affected by changes you make?

Get started

With those questions in mind, let’s head to the fridge. Start at the top and work down.

  • Remove all food. To avoid spoilage, store crucial items in a cooler with ice packs and work fast.
  • Focus. Don’t plan to answer the phone or door. Turn on music or talk radio if it helps you focus.
  • Remove shelves and drawers for cleaning with soap and warm water; pay attention to the location and attachment for reassembling later. Wipe down the inside walls. Replace any appliance lights that have gone out.
  • Toss any food that has passed the expiration date. Separate food that needs to be used up very soon, to be placed in a visible spot later. Give away: food that doesn’t help your health issues; impulse purchases that no one in the family likes; and bulk purchases that won’t be used up before they go bad. A neighbor or friend might like them. If the food item is in large quantity and unopened, check with a food bank or soup kitchen before donating it. Consolidate any duplicates, such as two ketchup bottles.

Refilling tips

You’ve weeded out surplus food, now it’s time to reload your clean fridge. Keep in mind basic storage principles:

  1. Used often — Make these items easily accessible (milk, for example) and at eye level.
  2. Used less often — Store these items toward the back (parmesan cheese, etc.).
  • Group like items together. Condiments go in the refrigerator door shelves or in a lazy Susan. Clear containers or resealable plastic bags are best for leftovers because you can see the contents. (Don’t be afraid to remove a shelf to gain better visibility. Being able to see the contents of your fridge means less waste.)
  • Encourage good habits. We started eating more apples when they were stored in the fridge, where they get cold and crisp. Like cold water without ice cubes? Keep bottled water or a water pitcher on an easy-to-reach shelf.

Meet Mr. Freezer

In the freezer, use a permanent marker to label items with date and contents. Freeze extras in gallon zip-lock bags, which store flat and can be stacked easily.

If your freezer doesn’t have much divided space, purchase storage baskets made of coated steel. (Tight budget? Cardboard boxes also work.) Group similar items together in the baskets: frozen vegetables in one, meat in another.

Keep a running inventory of freezer contents. Depending on your inclination, you can keep this on your computer or on a handwritten list posted on the inside of a cupboard door. Remember to add and delete items as they are used.

Final touch

Check out the front of your fridge. Does it look like a magnet for paper? Remove flyers, schedules and other reminders, tossing any expired events. Magnets seem to multiply on a fridge. Pare them down to a reasonable amount, one per family member.

Wipe down the front of the refrigerator, using Goof-Off for scuffs that don’t come off easily.
Enjoy the difference an organized refrigerator-freezer makes in supporting your life.