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Organizing tips for the refrigerator--please chime in!

After reading all the inventive and thoughtful kitchen organizing tips, I am hoping we can move to my nemisis: The Refrigerator.

I am the Imelda Marcos of condiments and my refrigerator shows it.

Condiments--they are all indispensible (;-p), but they leave precious little room for anything more . Like meats, breads, nuts, leftovers. (we do have a three-day rule on leftovers, and DH and I are good about using them for lunches, so they don't become science experiments. Very often.

I have adjustable glass shelves, so condiments are organized by type and bottle height. Very small or short jars go into the door shelves and all have permanent homes. It's the larger bottles and jars that are my nemisis. I purge about every three months or so if something bought at the spur of the moment has not been used more than once.

I have a meat drawer that's used for lunch meats and cheeses and two crisper drawers, usually full.

There are just DH and I in the household and it is a fairly large single door fridge with a bottom freezer.

What strategies do you use to manage your fridge? DH is pretty exasperated at the stacking that goes on....any help would be appreciated.

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  1. Lately I have been ruthless about the stuff in my refrigerator. It's like a knife in my husband's heart when I throw out leftovers; he has this belief that the refrigerator is like Oz, when nothing ever gets any older.

    I've been grouping stuff by frequency of use and rapidity of deterioration. The most important thing is moving through the leftovers and keeping them at eye level so I don't forget them. I try to make sure I check those little containers every day, otherwise they just become part of the scenery.

    1. The Mrs. is always on my case with all the condiments I have in the door shelves, and all the other items I "stuff" on the shelves. (That does have its advantages though, she got so aggravated with all the stuff I had in the fridge, that the other night she cleaned out all the old food and cleaned and organized the fridge. The only downside was that she insisted on throwing out all my cheese that might have had a little mold on it.)

      My basic problem is that although the fridge has all of the appropriate shelves and drawers to store the various items, I just buy too much food and condiments. I have come to the conclusion that the only acceptable solution is going to result in acquiring about two more refrigerators, and a seperate full height freezer. I am just waiting to win the lottery.

      1. I have a condiment addiction. I'm slowly learning to curb the urge to buy something & just using it once & than having it sit in my fridge for 6 months. What I do to keep my fridge clean is I'll go through everything & plan a weeks worth of meals using any & all condiments & leftovers.
        Have a lot of salad dressing? pasta salad. Use it as a marinade. Use it for your sandwiches. Add some to some already cooked rice.
        I bought some of those veggie crisper bags..they keep veggies fresher longer so there's no longer that pressure to eat all of it within a certain timeframe before they get funky.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sugarbuzz

          great idea--use them to mealplan. I guess that means getting less extemporaneous, though. eek.

        2. We have a similar problem with too many sauces and condiments, which is only partly controlled. One thing that helps a little is that we put a plastic shoe box (without lid) in the fridge to hold all the different mustards, because they kept getting lost in the back (especially short jars getting stuck way back under that cheese/lunch meat drawer) and we wouldn't remember that there was already a jar of whole-grain or dijon mustard so we'd end up with two or three "active" jars. We also use another storage bin (I think it was designed as soft-drink storage) for salad dressings.

          I find that keeping like condiments in the same bin keeps them from getting separated as I'm trying to squeeze in something else, so they're less likely to get lost, and DH and I both know where to find those particular condiments. Doesn't help with the seemingly dozens of bottles of oyster sauce, sambal, chutneys and Indian sauce pastes, and so on, though...

          5 Replies
          1. re: Allstonian

            I do use a like box for my nuts, which are often in ziplock bags which defy organization. Works well.

            1. re: Allstonian

              I like the idea of storage bins -- my European family and friends all keep a large flattish tupperware just for cheese that wont fit in the deli drawer (that space is full of cold-cuts, bacon, sliced cheeses, etc. and sometimes cut limes and lemons because it's right at eye level and otherwise they'd be forgotten.) The cheese-box is easy to pull out when friends stop by.

              1. re: Allstonian

                I do this too - one whole door shelf of my side-by-side is reserved for mustard. For the "seemingly dozens," (*sigh*) - the best I've managed is a shelf for savoury (e.g., mayonnaise, tomato paste, pesto), shelf for spicy (hot sauces, chile paste, wasabi, horseradish), and shelf for sweet (jam, honey, maple syrup). It works, sort of.

                1. re: spigot

                  spigot, i don't understand. you do NOT have to refrig : mustard, jam, honey, maple syrup, hot sauce. they all have either vinegar or sugar that preserves them fine at rooom temp. i have had all these at room temp for the 40 yrs i have been cooking, and NEVER had a problem. you could be freeing up so much of your refrig space this way.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    I have always left the honey and the hot sauce out, and it may be useful knowledge that mustard can be left out as well - I'll have to try that. But I have had LOTS of jams spoil if not kept in the fridge, and had problems with maple syrup as well.

              2. We buy and make our own condiments and yes! they are the bomb!
                Two tricks we use: a)we break down condiments into portions and freeze for future use and b) we keep a rubbermaid box with lid inside the refrig JUST for condiments.

                Hope this helps :)

                1. I label everything! I keep some of those stick on labels + a pen in a drawer next to the fridge...it's become a habit & it makes a huge difference in knowing exactly what's lurking in those plastic containers!

                  I use straw/wicker baskets for fruit, vegs & to organize condiments that don't fit on the door. Looks elegant & keeps stuff logically coralled.

                  I find that clear glass French or Italian canning jars (the ones with rubber gaskets) keep herbs & left-overs fresh for quite a while & the contents are easy to identify.

                  1. I love these topics, by the way. I'm very organized in the kitchen but learning of others' little tips and techniques is great. I'm always comforted by the thought there are so many folks out there who share my same obsessions ... "oh, I'm in a chinese supermarket, that must mean I need to get 7 new jars of condiments to try."

                    1. Two pointers I can give you: 1) It's very easy to forget how long that fermented bean curd has been in the fridge. Now I write the date (with a permanent marker) on each new bottle I open and shove in the fridge. 2) I organise with baskets. For example, all of my Asian stuff, salad dressings etc.

                      1. Wow - I feel so validated that there are so many others with this predicament. Like ChinoWayne, I fantasize about having a seperate fridge as a condiment locker!

                        I don't think I'll ever be able to maintain a fridge with only a jar of dills, a bottle of French's and a jar with three olives. Still, I have (out of desperation) started to manage it my using some of my not-so-food-oreiented friends as, well, condiment dumping grounds. I know plenty of folks who may want to try a recipe, but might not want to commit to a whole jar of tamarind paste, say, or a large quantity of chipotles in adobo. Or my sis, who could probably keep the same jar of mustard for 5 years without using it all. Most of these friends are quite happy to taking a condiment jar with enough for a couple of recipe outings. No cash outlay for them, it's out of my fridge, and it goes aways toward sharing some good recipes and food finds.

                        Might be worth a try - food is fun to share; why not condiments?

                        1. I need a condiment fridge too but I could also use some cooperation. I like to keep like items together. I know it is anal but all of the mustards on one shelf, dressings together, dairy etc. But the other half of my household is the open the door and just put it in there, and usually on the top shelf, type.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Candy

                            He doesn't group things by food species? I have lost respect for the man!

                            1. re: Candy

                              I feel your pain. It's not anal, it's easier and especially if you're the one doing the cooking. Need mustard? Choices are in this area, etc. I feel a new year's resolution coming on....
                              And by the way, how long DO those condiments last? Hot sauces in particular.

                            2. Hello, my name is missclaudy and I am a condiment addict.I have a dorm fridge in my basement (can't remember who left it here) and I have decided to turn it into a condiment locker after reading this thread. My preserved lemons, the mango pickle, dried shrimp, the 47 bottles of international hot sauces,the misos, the 26 bottles of mustards, olive pastes, pickeled okra, jams and chutney's of every description,the date, fig AND pomegranate molaseses,will fit nicely inside and because I now have a separate condiment containment system, I am going to the Vietnamese,the Mexican and the Russian markets RIGHT NOW so I can buy some more to fill it up. Thanks friends for enabling me, I truly adore this adiction.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: missclaudy

                                And don't forget, you can store some stuff in your CAR! Like apples..take them out of the fridge to make room for more mustard. I am only half kidding. I have decided to use the back seat for onion and potato storage, as I have no room in cabinets...just have to make sure no freeze is in the forecast.

                                1. re: erica

                                  I LOVE storing food in the car (if my clothes aren't in the way.) I always say that a car is simply a closet on wheels!

                                  1. re: erica

                                    I am laughing audibly -- with tears! This is just so silly!

                                    What we 'Hounds will do -- and admit to doing!!!

                                    1. re: liu

                                      Um - as long as we're confessing: I have a bunch of yummy free-range chickens siting beside my back door, since there's no room left in the freezer. My Hub and I do daily diligence to make sure squirrels don't get at them.

                                      Car? That's a rolling fridge in Minnesota (global warming aside, of course). You just have to make sure you're driving often enough the keep the ambient temp up at a fridge (not freezer) temp for certain things!

                                      Yikes - as liu said, what we will do.

                                2. That's going pretty far ... but why not? Here in Boston we could keep the car trunk/root cellar going for 6 months a year. Your post cracked me up. Thanks.

                                  1. There are a lot of items, especially ones that are used often, that don't require refrigeration. I don't refrigerate some of our hot sauces but rather keep them on the lazy susan in the center of our table and I also keep all the jams and jellys either on the table or in the pantry. And please if you have your PB in the fridge, take it out! Its so much better when its not cold.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bolivianita

                                      ALL of my possible places outside the fridge are overloaded too. I am condiment incorrigible.

                                    2. in boston, we have a great restaurant reviewer named robert nadeau (his moniker, not his real name) and i still remember his article, of maybe 22 years ago, talking about his condiment-stuffed refrig and the plum sauce that was left over from the crimean war !!

                                      i too use a clear plastic shoe box to organize some frig elements. i would also urge youall to make sure everyth that is IN your frig HAS TO be in the frig, because oyster sauce and mustards and ketchup certainly do NOT. so you might free up alot of space for yourself...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        I remember that article, it was hilarious.I have some pre-historic
                                        condiments in my fridge that I really NEED to hang on to.

                                      2. I bought two lazy susans for my fridge - one single, one double and they have revolutionized (pun not intended) my ability to find the condiments in my fridge.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          that's brilliant...now I have to dig that lazy susan (that had no use til now) out of the garage!

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            Here's a link to my original post - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33810...

                                            Have to credit my father - recently retired and on an organizing binge.

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              MMR..the chrome vers. is on sale for 8.99-might buy two!
                                              Thanks.

                                        2. Here's some general storage advice..look at your refridgerator as cubic storage space..not a series of shelves. Just like your cupboards, shelves are wasteful storage compare to pull out drawers.
                                          I have thrown out almost all of my round plastic storage containers and replaced them with translucent square and rectangular ones that can be easily stacked. I doubled my capacity doing this and things are easier to find.
                                          LIke other posters, I have two square plastic bins that I throw stuff odd shaped stuff in like cheese and bacon and stuff in zip locked bags. It functions as a clear drawer. As you know with your cabinents, drawers hold a lot more than shelves because stuff can be piles in to fill up the cubic space yet easily retrieved.
                                          For the door shelves, I have adjusted the shelf height so that short bottles go in a short space, and tall stuff goes in a tall space so no space is wasted. I even pile small stuff on top of the bottles if I need a space. I try not to have anything half full because that wastes space too.

                                          Also I am always amazed at what people put in their refridgerator. There's a whole belief system out there about what needs refridgeration. I have a friend who puts her SOY SAUCE in the fridge. She said "well it says to on the bottle". I had a whole email exchange with the Kikoman company as a result of that. "Refridgerator after opening" should be evaluated with the same skepticism as "Dry clean only" in my opinion.

                                          Several years ago I got a freezer on the bottom style unit which I like much better than the previous side by side. It has a lot more usable and convenient refridgerator space AND you can put a pizza box in the freezer. One upside is that you are forced to bend over to get the ice cream out!!

                                          1. I hate my fridge - I had to buy it to fit in a particular space, and it is so deep that I was always losing items towards the back. I solved this problem by buying some plastic coated open wire baskets in various sizes from The Container Store. Some are long and narrow that I can place along the walls and line up condiments, olices, capers, anchovy jars etc or pots of yoghurt, some are square that I fill with cheeses, some are large that I put towards the botttom and fill with bagged greens and herbs. I have one at the top for butter, sour cream, cream cheese and eggs. It has made a real difference in accessing what I want quickly - I just slide out the approriate basket.

                                            1. two things have helped my fridge
                                              (we went smaller and more stylish so I needed to do better. I gained freezer space in the upgrade btw.)

                                              1. a set of containers. god help me, from IKEA. but the uniformity and variety of all these little squares and rectangles is a major organization aid. Previously, lots of takeout containers recycled . . . many many science projects bloomed, unstudied.
                                              I try to be more ruthless and fastidious in the disposal, which in my case only means getting rid of old rice within a week. I also hand my partner lunch to go, instead of waiting for her to remember to enjoy the leftovers.

                                              2. a roll of masking tape and a sharpie. I label everything, fridge or freezer, that is not a commercial product.

                                              the condiment addiction . . . a second under-counter fridge perhaps?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: pitu

                                                I hope not! I started a thread for condiment-holics & the condiment police who help rescue them...LOL

                                              2. One thing that absolutely amazes me is all the people who store food/drink in it's purchased container. I'm not talking about stuff like chicken or milk, I'm talking about beer, yogurt, soft drinks, etc. People buy these "fridge packs" and drop 'em on the shelf like the world might end if they are ever stored outside the box. Folks, #1 it's a marketing ploy. Nobody needs a fridge pack. They only take up space. #2 (along the same line) these packages are meant to carry the item, not store it. When you get home, take the beer out of the cardboard 6 pack/12 pack holder. Unwrap your yogurt from its little jail cell and arrange them accordingly. This way you're not storing 3 bottles of beer and 3 empty spaces for bottles of beer or worse. ...Ya know?!?! It's just common sense.

                                                You know who you are... how many times have you reached into the fridge pack to grab a Coke and the damn thing is empty! Aha! You've been refrigerating cardboard! ;-)

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                  Amen! Rebel against ridiculous packaging! Is it Canada ( I may be wrong - correct me) that is encouraging consumers to get rid of packaging at the store as a statement?
                                                  Our Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St.Paul) paper recently ran an editorial piece about it. And it seems to me that more than a decade ago Germany had some legislation that mandated manufacturers/producers taking back packaging, at their cost, not the consumer's cost.
                                                  Will this solve our condiment dilemmas? Not likely. But it's someting to be on the watch for with other fridgeables, as HaagenDazs says.

                                                  Oh, HD? we have to point some blame at the "others" in our households that empty "something" and leave it in the fridge. Spoken as the mother of teens. RRRR. :)

                                                2. rhee, i could not agree w you more on your post about things that do NOT need refrigrtn. i responded to spigot, above, the same way. one does NOT have to refrig mustards, honey, jams, maple syrup, soy sauce(now THAT is hysterical. pure salt and someone refrigs it!); and all those pure SUGAR condiments too. i figure if they don't believe my 40 yrs plus of experience, then they can waste their refrig space and i certainly shouldn't care. but CHs on this forum seem to be a very willing-to-learn group, so i'm hoping my advice, and yours, does SOME good!!!

                                                  actually, i realize that some peo might still be confused about this issue, as i have not explained the WHY of what does not need refrigtn. SO here goes:

                                                  Condiments that DO NOT need refrigeration are those that are primarily made up of:

                                                  SUGAR(jams,jellies, honey, maple syrup, caro syrup, molasses etc)
                                                  or SALT: soysauce, oyster sauce,fish sauce etc.
                                                  or ACID: vinegars, mustard,hot sauce, steak sauce, worc sce.,ketchup
                                                  or ALCOHOL, except Wine: madeira,marsala, port, sherry, liquers,etc
                                                  all OILs( but those that are nut or seed based can more easily go rancid in hot weather, so best to keep refrigtd)

                                                  Condiments/sauces that MUST BE refrigated are those that are NOT primarily made up of the above ingredients AND that contain either:
                                                  VEGETABLES( i.e. vinaigrettes with garlic or shallots or onion or fresh herbs)
                                                  or FRUIT (Ponzu sauce, salad dressings w/ citrus juice or other fruit, bottled citrus juices etc)
                                                  or DAIRY (i.e.mayo or creamy salad dressings, tadziki sauce etc)
                                                  NUT OILS (refrig staves off rancidity)

                                                  I'm sure i've left out some things, but i hope this can be a helpful basic guide.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                    I have to disagree on at least some of the above - I too have many years of experience, and MY experience is that jam and maple syrup will go moldy if you don't use them often and you don't refrigerate. Especially the jam.

                                                    1. re: Allstonian

                                                      Afraid I'll back up the jam and maple syrup one. Those need to go in the fridge in my experience. They mold. But amen on the other stuff. (She said as she sheepishly went to the kitchen to quietly unload the six thousand jars of mustard in the door of the refrigerator.)

                                                      Sadly, I'm sure I will discover that 99% of my jars of mustard have 1 tsp. of mustard left in them too.

                                                      1. re: Andiereid

                                                        sugar is not a preservative
                                                        salt, of course

                                                        my mustard is in the fridge too, andiereid . . . oops
                                                        sounds like you have six thousand about-to-be-salad-dressings. add oil, a squirt of unrefrigerated soy sauce . . .

                                                        1. re: pitu

                                                          We will be eating salads two meals a day until 2009. Oh well. I'll just add the refrigerator to The Great Purge we're doing after the holidays. The attic, the closets, the drawers, the rooms, under the beds, the KITCHEN CUPBOARDS, and now THE FRIDGE - ALL getting purged and cleaned.

                                                          I shall refrain from trying to unload my mostly empty condiment jars at the yard sale, however. (Anything else is fair game.)

                                                    2. re: opinionatedchef

                                                      My soy sauce (among a few other condiments) says "refrigerate after opening". ???

                                                    3. I need you to come to my house and clean out and organize my fridge and my cupboards.

                                                      And my clothes closet too, while you're here. And can we burn a few of my husband's shirts and pants, please?

                                                      1. Wow, we are not the same species!