Finally organizing your fridge once and for all could save you money, prevent food waste, and help you be a better cook.

By Kimberly Holland
Updated February 26, 2019
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Your refrigerator, much like your pantry, is likely in an ever-evolving state of organization. One second, it’s neatly stacked and shelved. The next, chutney and Dijon are on the same shelf with eggs and cookie dough, and the lemons are rolling aimlessly around the produce bin. You’re far from the first person to neglect your refrigerator organization, but restoring order to this space is easier than you think. By avoiding the eight common refrigerator organization mistakes below and replacing them with good habits, your fridge may just become one of the neatest places in your home.

How to Organize Your Refrigerator

You can empty out your fridge and start fresh every few months. Or you can begin today by fixing just one of the steps below. Then, tackle another. With time, you can make all of these tips part of your daily routine so maintaining an organized refrigerator becomes second nature.

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1 Mistake #1: Putting new food in the front of the refrigerator.

In the world of refrigerator organization, there’s one motto you should live by: first in, first out. As you’re unpacking your groceries, rotate everything in the fridge so that older food is at the front of the fridge; newer food stands behind. And while you're at it, check the expiration dates and toss out anything that's past its prime.

This way, you'll use up the foods that are nearest their use-by date, while fresher items can hang out a bit longer. This simple habit will reduce the amount of food your family throws away each week.

2 Mistake #2: Not creating zones.

In your rush to store everything as quickly as possible, you may make the mistake of placing food wherever there happens to be empty shelf space. That’s convenient in the moment, but it could create organization traffic jams later.

Establish zones, and make them known to everyone in your house. You might use a plastic bin ($12, to wrangle yogurts and snacks. Tall dividers can separate breakfast foods from dinner foods. You can even create a bin for lunch foods so that you (or your kids) can pull it out when packing lunches for work or school. When everything has a place, you'll be able to take stock of what you have faster and organize items more quickly. 

3 Mistake #3: Stashing condiments on the shelves.

Raise your hand if you have an overflow shelf for the condiments that don’t fit in your refrigerator door shelves. You’re not alone. Unfortunately, however, deep shelves aren’t ideal for seeing and reaching the untold number of jars you have hiding, just waiting to be rediscovered.

Invest in a rotating lazy Susan or turntable ($15, and stash those jars and bottles on it. This way, nothing will be buried in the back corner and forgotten. You will now be much more likely to use up those obscure sauces, jams, and hot sauces before they expire.

4 Mistake #4: Refrigerating things you don't need to.

It’s easy to assume every opened bottle or jar should go straight into the fridge, but check the label. If you don’t see a “refrigerate after opening” recommendation on the label, return the food to the pantry or cabinet instead.

Being selective about what goes in your fridge can help you be more organized and prevent shelves from becoming unruly. Nut butters, hot sauces, and coffee beans are some of the many foods people believe should be refrigerated when they don’t have to be. In fact, the cold temps may change their flavor or texture. Check out this list of 10 things you really don't need to refrigerate.

5 Mistake #5: Storing leftovers in huge containers.

Big containers take up a lot of precious shelf and drawer space, so make room—and make reheating leftovers easier—by storing any remaining food in individual portions. This way, you can grab a container for lunch, or reheat only what you need for dinner. You might encourage others in your family to pick from the assortment of leftovers and reheat the food themselves.

6 Mistake #6: Using opaque food storage containers.

Leftovers are great time-savers when you want a night off from cooking, but if you aren’t diligent about storing them where they'll be seen (and hopefully eaten), you could be wasting food and precious fridge space. The solution: Only use transparent food storage containers that let you see exactly what's inside. When you can easily spot that leftover pasta, soup, or casserole, you'll be more likely to eat it. Then, use a dry-erase marker to write the date the food was made on the side of the container. The marker will wash away easily, but the cold temps of the fridge will help set it so it won't get erased with the swipe of a hand.

You can also use this tip when storing leftover ingredients, like the bit of coconut milk you didn’t need in your soup or the rotisserie chicken you didn’t use for your tacos. Seeing the food in the clear container will remind you to use it up before it spoils.

7 Mistake #7: Storing all produce in the crisper drawer.

If you're in the habit of tossing all types of produce into the crisper drawer, think again. Certain types of fruit and vegetables should never be stored together. Fruits like apples, bananas, melons, and avocados release an odorless gas called ethylene, which speeds up the ripening process of nearby fruits, causing them to go bad more quickly. Instead, keep these fruits out of the fridge and in a cool, dry place in your kitchen.

Likewise, refrigeration can affect the flavor and texture of some types of produce. Tomatoes, bananas, citrus, peaches, potatoes, pears, and onions should all be stored outside the fridge.

8 Mistake #8: Standing cans and bottles upright.

If you're storing cans of seltzer or bottles of soda standing upright on the shelves of your fridge, you're wasting precious space. Instead, reserve space in a drawer for your cans of LaCroix. Lay the cans on their side and stack them to maximize vertical space. And if your drawer space is tight? Invest in a clear fridge bin designed specifically for cans ($13,