The Fridge Organizing Tool You're Not Using (But Should)

The Fridge Organizing Tool You're Not Using (But Should)

Welcome to Storage Wars, a new series about the best ways to store, well, everything. From how to keep produce orderly in the fridge (or not), to ways to get your oddball nooks and crannies shipshape; and yes, how to organize all those unwieldy containers once and for all—we’ve got you covered.

These past two years, my fridge has been through tumultuous times, swinging between desert island-empty and world-is-ending-full. I’ve used the lean times to clean it out: wiping down shelves, removing expired foods, and airing it out (an open packet of baking soda really does wonders for odors!). But then, in the blink of a blizzard, it’d be full again.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from having a very full fridge, it’s that it quickly descends into chaos. And food waste.

Some of the best tips I’ve learned from working at Food52 are around how to extend the life of food in my fridge (lower shelves for dairy and eggs! Separate ethylene-producing fruits and veggies from ethylene-sensitive ones!). But there’s a separate problem that has long plagued my fridge—a complete lack of order. The biggest culprits (and victims)? My condiments, chutneys, and spreads, teeny containers of takeaway sauces, mason jars of pickled veggies, and that bottle of mold from who-knows-when stuck in the back.

My freezer reported similar scenes of chaos: packs of samosa, waffles, and black bean burgers collapsing on each other.

On the verge of giving up, I turned to the corners of the internet (Instagram and Pinterest, of course) that order-seekers go to for a shot of hope, and there staring at me was the solution to my sorting woes: BINS. Yes, bins. The kind that go in your pantry, below the sink, and on your bathroom ledge. But also belong in your fridge.

I emailed organizing pro Rachel Rosenthal: “Was I missing a trick,” I asked? Short answer, yes—and she’s been on it all along: “It’s actually one of my number one go-to organizing hacks.” Zoning, she says, is the outcome I was looking for. “As with all organizing,” she continued, “it’s important to create categories in your fridge: snacks for the kids, dinner ingredients, leftovers, produce—and bins help you do that.”

Rosenthal especially recommends bins for their stackability to utilize the height in your fridge. “This allows you to maximize the space by going vertical but still allows for easy access for the items stored underneath.” As she said that, I had a feeling of déjà vu. Wait a minute—I was already doing that… but in my pantry.

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That got me thinking: If it’s good for your pantry, it’s probably good for the fridge. After all, the same principles apply: zone, label, stack, elevate. So, why stop at bins? Why not employ all pantry organizers—trays, baskets, lazy Susans, even tiered shelf organizers? Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

As it turns out, buying bins was way more exciting than I thought it’d be: there were bins to contain condiments and yogurts, for berries, even divided bins for freezer contents. And if you’re not keen on accumulating more plastic, which I totally get, I have two words for you: wicker baskets! I came across the inspiration the other day (I’m on a roll) and it pried my organizing brain wide open. “Farm-stand vibes for your city fridge,” Caroline Mullen, former associate editor, called it. Try saying no to that.

Before you go, I’m going to leave you with one last thought: Once you’ve sorted your fridge into bins, you’ll be left with less drips and dribbles on your shelves. All you need to do is clean out the bins each month (or wash/replace their liners) and your fridge will need to be deep-cleaned that much less. The wins never stop coming!

My (new) favorite pantry fridge organizing tools

Photo by The Container Store

1. The Home Edit Fridge Storage Solution, $15.99+

The Home Edit ladies are at it again, telling us what we need before we even realize we need it. This collection of bins is great as a combined buy, but if you’re like me, you’ll pick individual items to suit your needs (Pssst: I went with this, this, and this.)

Photo by Julia Gartland

2. Neat Method Grid Storage Basket, $32+

Wire mesh bowls and baskets are incredibly useful to have around—just ask your fruit and eggs. You can also use these instead of plastic bins to corral bottles together—they have a removable wooden plank so things don’t drip onto your shelves (the very thing you want to avoid!). They’re also quite versatile so you can repurpose them around your pantry, kitchen shelves, and more.

Photo by Julia Gartland

3. Nested Mixing Bowls, $75+

Instead of buying bins for berries and citrus, maybe let your mixing bowls do double-duty in the fridge. And when they’re not needed (my fridge in lean times), stack ’em away neatly—they nest together!

This post was updated August 2022 with more of our favorite bins to organize our fridges.
Got a secret hack for organizing and sorting the contents of your fridge? Spill the beans!
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