Decluttering the Refrigerator

Conquer unused leftovers and overstocked food items to start tackling your refrigrator cluttter.
Organized Refrigerator With Shelves and Drawers

Organized Refrigerator With Shelves and Drawers

This well-organized refrigerator makes searching for items and preparation for meals easier. Utilize shelving space and storage containers keeps the refrigerator from looking cluttered.

Photo by: DK - House Works ©2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A refrigerator is not just an appliance: it's a central artifact of life. As you declutter it, you'll find evidence of your values (hospitality), aspirations (weight loss), resolutions (financial prudence) and self-indulgence (chocolate raspberry mousse cheesecake).

Before you begin, turn your refrigerator off and unplug it, too, for good measure. The only shocks you want to receive are those from the expired use-by dates of some of the discarded food.

The Moment of Truth

You are standing in your kitchen, face-to-face with a clean and empty refrigerator, a garbage can brimming with discarded food, a dishwasher full of plastic food containers, and the few hardy survivors of your harpooning session. What can we learn from all this?

Lean back against the kitchen counter and take a hard look at what the Whale has been hiding in its dark little innards. The implications will hit you in the face. Has your family changed but your shopping habits haven't? The day I tossed out four jars of dried-out jelly and a jar of peanut butter manufactured in the last decade, it was clear that my children had turned a culinary corner, and the days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were no more.

You'll wring a few unpleasant admissions from yourself, too. Look carefully at what foods have been wasted, especially from the vegetable crisper. Are you doing what I've been doing? I'm Miss Nutritional Virtue herself at the grocery store, but the baby carrots and low-fat margarine languish uneaten in Moby's dark corners.

Use pen and notepad to jot down your discoveries and track your new resolves. Is lower-fat eating on your wish list? Then you'll want to toss the remnants of the butter and margarine and replace them with low-fat spreads and all-fruit jellies.

Do you want to tighten the budget? Focus on the waste you've discovered. Do you buy grapefruit only to toss the shriveled husks, months later? Are you overbuying milk, cheese or meat? If you've tossed it out today, make a note to yourself to buy less on your next shopping trip. Have family members come to expect weekly cases of soda as a staple, not a treat? Cut back, and substitute fruit juices and iced tea for those high-priced soft drinks.

Staying Organized

Now that you've sorted, tossed, cleaned and replaced, you'll want your fridge to stay organized. These tips will help:

Create meal centers. Make it easy to build a sandwich by tucking mayonnaise, mustard, cheese slices, and cold cuts into a flat-bottomed plastic basket and storing them together. Ditto a "morning toast" grouping of butter, jelly and honey; pull it out to top your toast.

Keep leftovers in the clear. Don't bury leftovers in sealed containers; place them in clear food storage bags. If you can see them, they'll remind you of their existence and be more likely to be eaten.

Stay on top of it. A weekly refrigerator cleanout, done just before making menu plans, will keep Moby under control for good. Toss expired foods, wipe up smears and spills, and rearrange fridge contents before you shop.

Stop Clutter in the Fridge

Gather your tools: a lined garbage can, a sink-full of hot, soapy water, degreaser and window sprays, and cleaning cloths. Clear the kitchen counters so you can spread out, and empty the dishwasher.

Sort and Toss
Start at the top. Remove everything from the top shelf. Set aside what still has some life in it, but send all leftovers to the garbage. Working your way to the bottom, you'll build up enough steam to tackle the vegetable crisper. Amazing, isn't it, how innocent little tomatoes and shy stalks of celery undergo such a malign transformation in that place? Unless you bought the vegetable desperado in question within the last week, throw it out. Then turn to the door shelves.

Rinse emptied plastic food containers and consign them to the dishwasher. Shelves go directly to the sink's soapy water. While it soaks off the grime, use degreaser spray to clean the refrigerator's ceiling, walls, and door. Rinse, dry and replace the shelves. Use spray window cleaner to remove greasy fingerprints from chrome and see-through plastic. Wipe down the door gasket and front, then clean the top of the Whale.

Put Away
Time to replace the few food items that survived your scrutiny at the Sort and Toss stage. Done correctly, the Spearing of the Great White should all but empty the refrigerator. Don't be afraid of that stark look! A fridge is most energy-efficient when it has adequate airflow.

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