Last week, a half a bag of grapes, a container of homemade soup and a few rogue radishes I found buried at the bottom of the produce drawer all ended up in my garbage. It pains me to see produce tied up in a garbage bag for multiple reasons:
- I’m well aware of how many people don’t have easy access to the fresh produce I conveniently pick up on my walk home from work.
- I could have used those ingredients to create healthy meals.
- I see dollar signs going right into the garbage can along with my wilting kale and mushy zucchini.
I’m not alone: In the United States, 31 percent of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. And those of us who eat a healthy eating diet are some of the biggest culprits: A study published in the journal Plos One found that the healthiest Americans are the most wasteful, because of their high consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are frequently thrown out.
While there are many factors that affect food waste, one that we have direct control over is how much we are throwing away in our own households. And I, for one, know that the organization of my fridge (or, the lack thereof) is largely to blame for my own waste. I bring home my grocery store haul and shove everything into drawers and stack them on shelves, without much rhyme or reason. And without fail on a weekly basis there is a slimy bag of greens or a half-eaten jar of tomato sauce with questionable coloring that was shoved into the back and forgotten and has to be tossed.
Certainly taking the time to put a better system in place could make a huge difference, but if my closets are any indication, my home organization skills are wanting. So I called in reinforcements.
Gilat Tunit, founder of Project Neat, a professional home organization company, says that establishing an organization system in your refrigerator is as simple as investing in a few affordable products that will make your fridge more efficient by maximizing space.
The goal is to “contain items, categorize them and separate them,” says Tunit. “It’s really important in a fridge to be able to access things. What happens to most when [storing food is] you have to move one thing out of the way to get to the other things. How many times do you open your fridge and have to pull out the entire fridge just to reach the dressing all the way in the back? We are all guilty of that process, but it’s not our fault! The options that the fridge comes with is the issue in itself. It’s basically open shelving and no real direction as to what should go where.”
“[The fridge] is the last place one imagines a possibility for organization. We assume that our fridge will just always be messy because it’s used on such a consistent basis.” says Tunit. “[People] also don’t realize how inexpensive it can be to make it organized and much more functional. A lot of times the products we can use to keep a fridge organized are the same as what we would use in a different part of our home.”
Since you’re probably spending more time at home these days, dedicate a few hours to reorganizing your refrigerator with products like mason jars, storage bins and stackable containers. Follow these expert tips from Tunit, who also shares her affordable product picks that can help optimize your fridge space — and make it easier to stock up on healthy ingredients (without any of them ending up in the trash).
What to store in it: Butter, sour cream, cream cheese, syrup, cottage cheese
Tunit calls this product a must have in every home. "The use of products such as a lazy Susan gives you the ability to actually see everything that you have,” she says. “I suggest this for everything and anything: whether it’s your fridge or your pantry or your makeup or kid’s crayons. In my fridge I use it for condiments. There’s no rummaging, no moving things out of the way, you spin it and grab whatever you need. People think if they have a lot of stuff, they can’t organize it, but that’s not true. As long as you contain it and have everything categorized, you can have as much stuff as you want and it will still be organized.”
“I love mason jars for fruit such as strawberries, blueberries and grapes," says Tunit. "First of all , they are tall and narrow which doesn’t take shelf space. They also seal tight for lasting freshness and they are glass, which is preferable to plastic.”
What to store: Produce like peppers, yellow squash, tomatoes, small cucumbers
“There are a couple of things I love about these bins: They’re clear so you can see through them; They’re wide, which is great because you can fit a lot of stuff in there; And you’re freeing up the [produce drawer],"says Tunit. "They have handles so it's super easy to take them in and out."
“This is another way to take things off of your shelves," says Tunit. "It’s super easy to install — it’s literally just two little sticky tabs, take them off, and place it wherever you want in your fridge. Then you take your Greek yogurt and slide it in and it hangs — which is genius — completely off your shelving space, which frees it up.”
“People mostly use these for dressers and random drawers in their home, but I love it for a fridge,” says Tunit, who recommends placing them inside your produce drawer. “What you’re doing is creating separation inside of an otherwise open drawer. When it's open and you start throwing things in, you’re going to have everything mixed together. I like when everything is separated and categorized; it makes your life much easier.” She suggests using this as a snack drawer, which is especially great for people with kids. “When a child goes in and wants to pack up a lunch bag in the morning, this is an awesome way to do it.”
What to store: Deli meats; cheese
“What the pullout bin does is give you extra drawer space that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” says Tunit. “They are easy to clip on and off and you can get however many you think will fit. What I love about them is that they don’t take up actual shelf space; they hang. So you’re creating extra space without taking away any space.”
Tunit suggests using stackable bins because “they’re narrow, not bulky, which is a space saver. They also have lids, so you’re able to stack them. You can go three, four, however many levels up you want to go based on the size of your fridge." While she loves to use them for snack-sized containers, they are also another great way to store deli meats and cheese.
Storage ideas using products around your house
These storage ideas don’t require buying special products. Instead re-purpose things you likely already have lying around your house:
- Egg carton: “This costs zero dollars, other than the eggs that come with it,” says Tunit. Once you've eaten all your eggs, simply cut off the lid of the carton and place it in the door of your fridge. "Take condiments that are more narrow on top and flip them upside down," says Tunit, who adds that this is also a great trick to prevent those last drops from getting stuck at the bottom of your ketchup or salad dressing bottle.
- Ziploc baggies: "I love using freezer bags in the actual fridge for lots of things," says Tunit. "For one, it’s the easiest thing to store marinated meats in. People often use a bowl, but that’s less efficient and also forces you to use a lot more sauces. I also love transferring produce, fruits, cheeses, etc. to bags because I feel they stay fresher longer as well as keeping everything separated." She recommends labeling each bag to make the storage trick even more efficient.
- Office supplies: “I love using a stacked office paper holder to add levels for storage," says Tunit. "I think using an pen/pencil holder is also awesome for things such as string cheese, yogurt sticks, etc.”
Watch these products in action here:
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- How often to clean (almost) every appliance in your home
- 7 products under $25 that will organize your pantry