I can see it now: you come home after a long, hard day, and you’re starving. You open your refrigerator, and it’s full…but nothing you want to eat jumps out at you. You start to move the piles of containers and jars to dig around, but suddenly you can’t remember if you ever ate the leftovers from Monday’s stir fry dinner, and the thought fills you with dread. You close the fridge door, and close your eyes to the overstuffed, muddled monster that is your refrigerator for another day. The only problem? You’re still hungry…

Sound familiar?

Even though we use it every day, the sad fact is that the refrigerator is often one of the most chaotic areas in the home—and this lack of organization is definitely to our detriment. Having (and maintaining) an orderly fridge can be enormously helpful in keeping your food its freshest, reducing waste, and saving money.

If you can’t stand the waste and clutter of an unorganized fridge, here are some tips for creating a perfectly organized, refrigerator.

Cut the Chaos

First things first: clean things up and assess your situation. Even if you think you’re good about using your leftovers, you may be surprised. Out of sight means out of mind, so when you can’t see the contents of your fridge, it’s totally natural that you’ll forget about them. Start by throwing away or composting anything that is expired or no longer safe to eat. Be especially weary of condiments, which do expire.

Once you can see your empty or near empty fridge (and give it a good clean with soap and water), you can begin the reorganization process.

Where to Put What?

Believe it or not, there is a right (or at least, smartest) way to organize a refrigerator—by the ideal temperatures of your foods. Certain areas of any refrigerator, like the bottom shelf, are colder than others, so finding permanent homes for certain types of foods can improve their shelf life. Here’s a quick general guide for food-in-fridge placement best practices:

  • Upper shelves: leftovers, beverages
  • Lower shelves: packaged raw meat, milk yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese
    Meat drawer: deli meats
  • Door dairy compartment: butter and soft cheeses
  • Door shelves: condiments, pasteurized orange juice
  • Low-humidity areas: fruit
  • High-humidity areas: vegetables

You might also want to consider the convenience factor when reorganizing your fridge. Depending on what type of refrigerator you have, this might be easier or harder for you to achieve. For example, modern bottom-freezer refrigerators take care of a lot of the “put what you need most front-and-center”, allowing you to follow the recommended placement by food temperature, and still access your most-grabbed foods quickly and easily. Or, if you prefer a side-by-side refrigerator option, you can follow the same temperature guidelines, but use the full top-to-bottom vertical space to organize.

Make Sure You Can See What You’re Doing

Even an initially well-organized fridge can fall to chaos if you aren’t able to see what is inside fairly easily. Many new-model refrigerators, like those found at P.C. Richard & Son, feature helpful glass shelves and drawers, so you will always be able to assess at a glance what you have on hand. If your fridge doesn’t have this capability, you could consider investing in clear baskets or containers to sit on shelves to offer some visibility. For a real DIY solution, try installing a lazy Susan right onto a fridge shelf to help keep things visible and within your reach.