Refrigerator organizing mistakes to avoid, according to experts

Keeping your refrigerator organized can seem like an impossible task. Despite your best efforts, it often ends up a jumbled mess of leftovers, condiments and mystery food items. However, with some simple tips and strategies, you can avoid common refrigerator organizing mistakes and keep your fridge clean, efficient and stress-free.

According to organization experts, there are several key mistakes many people make when trying to organize their refrigerator. Avoiding these pitfalls can make a huge difference in maintaining order in your fridge.

Not Categorizing and Grouping Similar Items

One of the biggest mistakes is simply placing items randomly without any categorization. This leads to a disorganized fridge where things get lost in the shuffle.

Experts recommend grouping similar items together on shelves or in bins. For example, store all your yogurts together, group salad dressings and sauces, keep all your vegetables in one area and so on.

“Categorizing like items is the golden rule of refrigerator organization,” says professional organizer Susan Lang. “Having an organized system cuts down on confusion and saves time when you are searching for ingredients or leftovers.”

Lang suggests using shelves, bins or dividers to create dedicated spaces for major food groups like drinks, produce, dairy, meats and leftovers. This makes your fridge contents easy to see at a glance.

Not Purging Leftovers Frequently

Failing to regularly purge old leftovers is another common mistake.

“People let leftovers accumulate and get pushed to the back of the fridge, out of sight and out of mind,” notes organizational expert Marie Kondo. “Then you end up with containers of moldy, rotten mystery food that must be thrown away.”

To avoid this, Kondo recommends designating one shelf for leftovers and purging it out weekly. “Clear out anything older than 3-4 days to keep your fridge clean and free of decaying, outdated foods,” she says.

Lang suggests always putting leftovers in clear, dated containers so you can easily identify the contents and age. “Regularly clearing out old containers keeps your fridge clean and eliminates food waste,” she says.

Inefficient Storage of Produce

Improperly storing fruits and vegetables shortens their shelf life, leading to more spoilage.

Organization guru Peter Walsh cautions against just tossing produce in the main refrigerator compartment.

“Keeping fruits and veggies loose in the fridge exposes them to fluctuating temperatures and ethylene gas that accelerate spoilage,” he explains. “For maximum freshness, use produce drawers or containers to separate them.”

Walsh also notes that certain produce like bananas, tomatoes and avocados shouldn’t be refrigerated at all.

Expert refrigerator organizers recommend washing, drying and storing berries in airtight containers, and keeping leafy greens in high-moisture drawers. With the right storage methods, you can make your produce last longer.

Forgetting What’s Lurking in the Back

When your refrigerator shelves are stuffed to capacity, it gets hard to see what’s lurking in the back. Before you know it, some foods or ingredients get completely buried and you buy duplicates because you forgot you already had some.

To prevent this, Lang suggests periodically removing everything from the fridge, getting rid of old items and reorganizing so you have a clear picture of your current inventory.

“I recommend doing a total purge once a quarter so you can take stock of what you actually have and organize more efficiently,” she says.

Also, be mindful when adding new items. Place them towards the front where you can see them. Rotating stock with newer items to the front keeps things visible.

Not Making the Most of Door Storage

The refrigerator door offers prime real estate for storing condiments, jars, drinks and other items you use frequently. But many people waste this space by cramming it full without much thought.

“The door should be used for things you access regularly, like milk, juices, jars of salsa, ketchup and other condiments,” says Walsh. “Use door bins or hanging racks to neatly organize these grab-and-go items.”

He notes that heavier items like bottles and jars should go towards the bottom, while lighter items can go up top. Also, make sure to adjust door bins and shelves to fit various item sizes.

Expert organizers recommend keeping water bottles and tall drinks on the top shelf and smaller condiment jars towards the bottom for easy access.

Disorganized Freezer Chaos

It’s tempting to just toss items in the freezer haphazardly. But this leads to disorganization and makes it impossible to find foods when you need them.

“The freezer should have a system, just like your fridge,” notes Lang. “Categorize types of items, use baskets to group similar foods, and label containers clearly so you know exactly what’s what.”

Lang recommends organizing meat, prepared foods, frozen vegetables, ice cream and other categories in designated areas. Regularly purge and consolidate items to avoid overcrowding.

Experts also suggest keeping an inventory list on the freezer door detailing all contents and locations so you can quickly find what you need when cooking.

Ignoring Airflow Needs

For your refrigerator to run efficiently, air must be able to circulate freely. But cramming in items tightly restricts airflow, causing the compressor to work harder.

“Make sure to leave some open space between items, don’t pack shelves too densely, and keep a gap between the back wall and contents,” advises Walsh.

Also, avoid placing tall items flush against the rear wall or cramming shelves so full that refrigerator doors struggle to close completely. This blocks vents and reduces efficiency.

Experts recommend leaving approximately 20-30% free space in your refrigerator. This allows air to flow properly so the fridge doesn’t have to labor excessively hard.

Using Shelves Inefficiently

Refrigerator shelves are often poorly utilized, leading to cramped, impractical storage. But with some simple adjustments, you can maximize shelf space.

Organizational expert Cas Aarssen recommends adjusting shelves to fit the heights of items stored on them. “For example, move egg shelves higher to accommodate tall bottles below. And raise shelves holding short jars higher to create more usable space below,” he explains.

Also consider adding extra shelves or expanding storage with drawer inserts or additional bins optimized for dairy, produce, deli items and more.

“Take the time to configure your shelves in the most practical way for your fridge contents,” says Aarssen. “Customizing your shelves’ positioning allows much more efficient use of the available space.”

Not Labeling Food

Mystery leftovers or unmarked food containers are a common refrigerator organizing problem. Labels solve this issue and make contents easily identifiable at a glance.

“Always label food you store in containers with name and date,” advises Kondo. “Masking tape and permanent markers let you flag leftovers, meal prep and other fridge items so anyone can see what they are and when they expired.”

Freezer items especially benefit from clear labeling with name and date. Kondo suggests placing labels along the top or side of containers where they can be easily read when stacked.

“Proper labeling eliminates guessing games, reduces food waste from mystery spoilage, and makes your fridge contents easy to identify,” says Kondo. Just this simple step makes your space drastically more organized.

Cluttering Up with Non-Food Items

Using your fridge to store items that don’t need refrigeration only adds clutter. This leads to congestion and wasted space.

Organizational experts recommend keeping only true refrigerated foods and beverages in your fridge.

“Things like soda, jars of nuts, unopened sauces and other non-perishables don’t need to occupy valuable fridge space,” advises Walsh. Store these cupboard-friendly items elsewhere.

Also, minimize other refrigerator clutter like photos, papers and magnets. Only keep essential items like schedules and important notes on the outside using magnetic clips. This clears space for maximum food storage.

“Limit fridge contents to stuff that truly requires refrigeration,” says Walsh. “This instantly declutters and creates more room for proper food storage.”

Disorganized Door Storage

The refrigerator door offers prime storage space that is often poorly utilized. Avoid simply cramming in items without thought.

“Use the door for frequently-used grab-and-go items like drinks, condiments and jars,” advises Lang.

She recommends placing heavier jars and bottles on lower bins, lighter items up top. “Also, adjust bins and shelves to fit the items being stored.”

Lang says efficient door storage means keeping water bottles and tall drinks on the top shelf, smaller jars and condiments towards the bottom where they are easily accessible.

Failing to Regularly Clean

Infrequent cleaning leads to messy build-up and odors that make your refrigerator unpleasant. Experts recommend quick weekly wipe-downs plus deep cleanings every three months.

“Quick weekly cleaning keeps spills and drips from accumulating into a sticky mess,” says Walsh. “Tri-monthly deep cleaning with disinfecting prevents bacteria growth and keeps the fridge fresh.”

To clean efficiently, experts suggest completely emptying the fridge and removing shelves and drawers. Wash all surfaces and compartments with hot water and baking soda. Rinse and dry completely before returning items in an organized manner.

Consistency is key. “Regular cleaning is easier than tackling one giant mess,” advises Walsh. “It also extends your appliance’s life.”

Using a Cluttered, Outdated Fridge

If your refrigerator is an older, crowded model, lack of usable space can make organizing a challenge.

“Improving airflow, storage options and organization gets extremely difficult with an outdated or undersized appliance,” notes Lang.

She says investing in a new, better-configured refrigerator can make maintaining order and efficiency much easier.

“Look for spacious models with adjustable shelving, specialty drawers and compartments, and smart organization features,” suggests Lang. This ensures you have adequate, flexible space to keep your fridgeorganized.

Forgetting FIFO Food Storage

FIFO stands for “first in, first out” and it’s an important concept for refrigerator organization.

“Always rotate newer food items to the back and move older items forward to be used first,” advises Kondo. “This avoids new ingredients expiring before you get to enjoy them.”

Refrigerator experts recommend practicing FIFO shelf rotation for all fridge and freezer items including produce, leftovers and prepared ingredients.

Kondo says designating “newest” and “use next” zones in your fridge helps encourage proper FIFO habits. Just place new purchases furthest back and move older items forward.

Failing to Group Meal Components

Are you guilty of letting various meal ingredients get scattered haphazardly around your fridge? This common mistake makes assembling meals more complicated.

“Group ingredients for upcoming meals together on a dedicated shelf,” suggests Walsh. “For example, store lunch veggies, cheese slices and deli meat together.”

Lang recommends designating an “ingredient prep” zone in your fridge. “Assemble meal components here so you have an easy one-stop-shop when meal prepping.”

Organizing ingredients for upcoming breakfasts, lunches and dinners in a dedicated prep space cuts down on meal assembly time later. You don’t have to hunt around for components.

Not Designating Zones

Beyond simply grouping like items, creating color-coded or labeled zones takes your refrigerator organization up a notch.

Walsh recommends designating different fridge zones like:

  • Produce Zone (fruits, veggies, greens)
  • Dairy Zone (yogurt, cheese, butter)
  • Drink Zone (waters, juices, milk)
  • Leftover Zone
  • Condiment Zone

Using signs or colored tags for each zone makes finding specific food groups super easy. Lang suggests also labeling freezer zones for categories like frozen proteins, veggies, prepared meals and more.

“Zoning streamlines the entire fridge and makes meal prep, snacks and ingredient storage so much simpler,” says Walsh.

Ignoring Wasted Vertical Space

In many refrigerators, the top shelf collects random items and becomes wasted space. Maximize this area by storing vertically-oriented items.

“Use vertical space for tall bottles, drinks and condiments,” suggests Lang. “Door shelves and specialty racks also allow you to store items upward for more space.”

Lang recommends placing water bottles, soda cans and other tall items on the top shelf rather than the door. Then use door storage for short condiment jars.

Free up additional vertical real estate by storing short items in caddies and bins on lower shelves. Utilizing vertical space gets more mileage out of your refrigerator’s existing footprint.

Disorganized Deli and Produce Drawers

The deli and produce drawers tend to become a jumbled mess of random fruits, vegetables and deli meats. But a bit of organization in these compartments goes a long way.

Lang advises grouping similar produce types in deli drawers and using small bins for categories like berries or herbs.

For deli drawers, she recommends using tubs, dividers or trays to separate types of meat, cheese slices and other items. Custom inserts and mini drawers provide even more compartmentalization.

“Taking the time to properly organize these areas keeps fruits, veggies and deli items neatly separated and easy to access,” says Lang.

Too Much Glass Shelving

The glass refrigerator shelves that come standard in most models usually aren’t the most efficient use of space. Replacing some with solid shelves can really help organization.

“Too many glass shelves lets small items fall through and get jumbled below,” notes Walsh. “Plus they crack easily if you accidentally overload them.”

He recommends replacing at least two glass shelves with sturdy, solid shelves. “Small items can be corralled more easily and you get more usable surface area.”

Also, consider adding specialty organizational inserts like deli, produce and condiment drawers. These customize your fridge’s layout for optimized storage.

Disorganized Door Shelves and Bins

It’s easy to cram door storage full without much thought, but this leads to clutter and makes retrieving items chaotic. Prevent this by properly organizing bins.

“Designate specific bins for certain items like waters or yogurt containers and adjust them to fit,” advises Kondo.

Storing similar items together in a bin allows upright storage. Kondo also suggests keeping one bin free to quickly access items you use very frequently.

Edit down seldom-used items in door storage to make everyday staples readily accessible. Check that bins are adjusted for item heights so nothing gets buried.

Forgetting to Clean Door Seals

While tackling refrigerator cleaning, it’s easy to forget about the flexible seals around the doors. But these collect dirt, grime and food particles that can inhibit sealing.

Walsh recommends wiping down door seals as part of your regular cleaning regimen. Use a cleaning wipe or soapy cloth to remove residue and bits of food that may compromise the seal.

Check that seals are still pliable and sealing tightly. Replace seals that have cracks, tears or gaps to maintain efficient refrigerator function. Keeping seals clean improves lifespan and ensures cold air stays inside.

Make sure to get in crevices and under flap edges where grime hides. Consistent seal cleaning prevents bacteria and keeps your fridge hygienic.

Neglecting Air Vents

For optimal operation, refrigerators must vent warm air out while circulating cool air within. But vents often get blocked by food items, reducing efficiency.

“Take time to regularly vacuum fridge coils, vents and condensers to remove dust, dirt and debris,” advises Walsh. “Clogged vents cause the compressor to work too hard trying to maintain cool temperatures.”

Expert organizers recommend vacuuming rear vents and underneath your refrigerator every three months minimum. Also, keep a gap between contents and vent openings for proper airflow.

Unblocking vents through regular cleaning improves energy efficiency and can extend the life of your appliance. Don’t let this important maintenance task slide.

Allowing Food Spills to Accumulate

It’s frustrating but inevitable – sauces drip, milk splatters, berries tumble out of containers. Food spills happen frequently inside refrigerators but many people just ignore them.

“Even small spills should be cleaned up right away to prevent staining, stickiness and bacteria growth,” warns Kondo.

She keeps cleaning wipes and sponges handy to immediately mop up drips or splatters in the fridge. Allowing messes to linger creates an unhygienic, odor-causing film inside the fridge.

Experts recommend doing a quick 5-minute fridge wipe-down at least once a week to catch small spills before they become crusty messes. Don’t let the fridge turn into a science experiment.

Ignoring Hard-To-Reach Areas

The back of the fridge top shelf, rear corners and space under drawers tend to get ignored when cleaning. But leaving these areas grimy compromises cleanliness.

“Make an effort to fully clean all refrigerator surfaces, even hard-to-reach nooks,” advises Kondo. Use long-handled brushes and specialty cleaning tools to scrub hidden spots.

Consider occasionally pulling the fridge out from the wall to access and clean behind and underneath the appliance. This prevents dirt and dust bunnies from collecting in neglected areas.

Getting into crevices and corners means your thorough cleans also target grease, drips and spills that may accumulate in tricky areas over time. Don’t let grime fester out of sight.

Infrequent Cleaning of Removable Parts

The shelves, drawers and bins inside your refrigerator all need periodic deep cleaning to keep your fridge sparkling. Don’t just focus on interior surfaces.

“Washing removable parts prevents stains, sticky spills and residue build-up,” says Walsh.

Experts recommend washing shelves, drawers and bins with a baking soda solution every three months as part of a deep clean. Allow parts to fully dry before replacing in your freshly cleaned fridge interior.

Don’t forget the door bins and deli drawer – wipe or wash these out fully. Keeping all removable parts clean improves longevity and makes your fridge much easier to organize.

Allowing Unpleasant Odors

Spills, old food and accumulated grime can cause unpleasant smells inside your refrigerator. But many people try masking odors instead of addressing the source.

“Eliminate odors at the root by removing spoiled foods, cleaning up spills quickly and washing all interior surfaces,” advises Lang.