The Great Fridge Cleanout!

July 22, 2012


You can always tell how busy/lazy I’ve been if you look in my fridge. I had company over a few weeks ago and when I opened the fridge while we were all hanging out in the kitchen, a few things fell out while I was in mid conversation. Woops! Sign I need to get a grip and handle my fridge business? YES.

On Sunday Joy & I unplugged from the internet/computer/phone. It was tough and what really helped through the unplugging process was cleaning my fridge out. I had no idea how emotional I would get during this project. I spent half the time sorting and cleaning and the other half evaluating my habits & behavior. Why do I fall behind on cleaning out the fridge when food is so important to me? Why don’t I look at what I have in my fridge before I add more items in there? I had a bunch of deep thoughts and we’ll get to that soon. But first!


It’s kinda like a big game of JENGA. I haven’t had a good system in place for awhile. There are a general AREAS where I keep food, but the past few months I’ve been using the JAM IT WHERE IT FITS system. It’s totally not sustainable. Nope.

First item of business. Take everything out! I started one row at a time, cuz you know…things still need to be kept cold. Everything that was on top got pulled out and sorted.

Kinda like this. Wait. Exactly like this.

If it had mold or expired obviously it was GONE. If it was almost finished, I evaluated if it was worth wasting space in my fridge.

I emptied stuff out and recycled. My recycling bin filled up FAST.

And while I was sorting, I cleaned out all of the shelves with hot soapy water.

I dried each shelf and put them back. Before I put ANYTHING back in the clean fridge, I made sure each item was clean and clear of any gunk. My jam jars were a disaster and my hot sauce containers were pretty cruddy.

I also cleaned the inside of the fridge with warm soapy water and took out all the bins and washed those too.

It’s amazing what cruds up your bins!

So let’s talk about bins for a second…this one was a nightmare. This is a very large pullout drawer we have. I keep Cooper’s stuff in it but because I didn’t have an organized shelving system in place, things that didn’t fit in the upper half of the fridge ended up in this drawer.

Here’s the before:

This is what it looks like now. Now I know EXACTLY where to find what I’m looking for. It’s easier for me to look at this drawer when I do my grocery shopping for his foods because I know what’s missing.

This is the deli drawer before.

This is it afterward. I can see everything I have and there’s a system! Meats on the left, cheese on the right and anything that’s in a tub gets stacked in the bottom right hand corner.

My unruly produce drawer got a makeover too. Things that need to be used right away go on top.

Pro tip: It’s much easier organizing a drawer when it’s not in the fridge.

Another Pro tip: Exploit containers.

I had some rogue bags that took up too much wasted space in my fridge.

I put them all in a container and now I know where to access them.

Also- I have a very deep fridge and it’s really hard to know what’s hiding out in there. It’s also a pain in the butt to have to move 5 things to get to the item I want. Now I have all of the stuff that gets in the way in one place. If I want maple syrup all I have to do is pull out the bin, grab it and put it back when I’m done. It’s such a simple trick and it makes a big impact.

Playing around with the shelves…before I put everything back…


I have designated shelves now AND I decided to take out a shelf and make more room for my leftover area.

I realized that it’s important for me to have room for bigger dishes & storage containers of leftovers. That’s usually what throws off my organization because I don’t want to take the time to pull everything out so my containers will fit in there.

Here’s another thing I thought of. I thought that I HAD to use all of the shelves. Like…maybe I wasn’t going to maximize the potential of this fridge. What I realized is that you have to find how YOU use your fridge and make it work for you. Having one less shelf and moving the rest of the shelves around to suit my needs has made a HUGE difference. Don’t assume that the factory placement is the right way to exploit your fridge’s space.

I also made a system for my shelves on the right.

Most used items are at eye level.

Here are the shelves to the left. We have to keep honey in my fridge. Ants…sigh…

Now that that’s done, let’s get to my emotional experience.

It was really hard to throw away all of the rotten food. I felt ashamed for letting my fridge get so messy that I couldn’t see what I had in there. I realize that I’ve been living like this for awhile because I don’t MEAL PLAN. I don’t shop smart and I don’t always use up what I have before I go out and buy more food.

So the day after I cleaned out my fridge I was anxious to go grocery shopping and I decided that I was going to use everything that was in my fridge to make a meal. Let me tell you that it felt great. So not only did I finish this project with a clean slate, I realized some of my bad habits that I want to correct and I challenged myself to start meal planning (I’ll talk about that more next week). Having a clean fridge feels like I’ve hit a really good RESET button in my life. I’m really ready to make some good changes.

44 comments on “The Great Fridge Cleanout!

  1. Well done! I used to be a food waster. I reformed by a) meal planning, 2) shopping weekly (not daily), and 3) cleaning out my fridge every week before shopping, which is a great way to keep on top of it and know what should be used up.

    My neatfreak self is very much enjoying your high straightenance series.

  2. Love this! I really try to use everything in my fridge before going grocery shopping. ALL the vegetables and fruits have to be used, all dairy must be gone. The last meals before shopping mostly consist of canned veggies/pasta/rice/beans but that’s fine because it clears out the pantry as well.

    This sometimes stretches out grocery shopping by a WEEK! Imagine the savings right there…

    I try to keep all my condiments in the doors. If it doesn’t fit in the doors, I don’t buy any others.

    Added bonus, the empty fridge is easier to clean!

    • Tracy Feb 22, 2012


    • I was just going to type THIS EXACT POST as I do the SAME THING! I just did the fridge clean up yesterday before hitting the produce market. My kids are also grown, so it’s only me and the hubs going in and out of the fridge daily. WE eat most EVERY-SINGLE-MEAL at home as I have a nice kitchy and I do love to cook. Also my husband is a Type 1 diabetic who eats so well to keep his blood sugar #’s in check.

      • Tracy Feb 27, 2012

        It makes such a big difference, doesn’t it?

  3. Looks great! I have to tidy our fridge every week or two due to having an organic produce box delivered once a week. We have vegetables up to our ears sometimes and other things get misplaced or hidden or even go bad. I still feel like we don’t have specific fridge locations for specific items as newlyweds, maybe that should be a chore this week-discuss the best places to put the right stuff!

  4. Everything looks so tidy! It’s easy for things to get out of hand with so many interesting recipes floating around. You’re right, meal planning is key. Way to unplug and organize, double high-five! I’m so jealous of your deep kitchen sink.

  5. How long ago did you buy that Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce because I swear mine hasn’t had any since New Years and I am about to go bonkers!
    Fridge looks great, and I like the idea of the extra bins/containers!

  6. you rule! i cant wait for the meal planning!

  7. Christina Feb 22, 2012

    The best part is the bottles of wine and beer in the waaaaay back of Cooper’s drawer. I mean, just in case he has a rough day. Just kidding, of course.

    • Tracy Feb 22, 2012

      I was waiting for someone to mention that. And that person is YOU! :) Totally for rough days…(for us parents)

  8. Oh man, I need to do this so bad. I probably have like a dozen or more bottles/jars of jam and simple syrup and weird pickled things that are taking up a ton of room. I totally love containers to hold stuff. I do that in my pantry, but I never thought to put the same technique to use in the fridge. Perfect.

  9. You’re doing a great job with all your cleanouts! Do you feel like it’s making a difference, are you less stressed?

    We use a printed grocery checklist each week and check off the things we need for the week for meals or household-y things. In the bottom corner we have an area to write down the meals we are having for the week. While we do our grocery list we meal plan then we can get what we need for that week or check to see what we already have. After we go grocery shopping we stick the list up on the fridge so we can reference the meals each morning or night before to prep anything. When I get home from work and picking up my daughter from daycare I’ll know what we’re having and and how long it will take me to prepare it and if she should be encouraged to help me or if it’s better (ie faster, easier) if I just do it myself. It reduces the stress and it’s nice to know that at the end of the work day the “what’s for dinner” decision has already been made. Good luck with meal planning!

  10. I love a clean fridge! It’s just a bit harder than it looks!

    Do flax seeds need to be refridgerated????

    • Tracy Feb 22, 2012

      flax seeds don’t need to be stored in the fridge but ground flax meal does! I just keep it all in the fridge just in case :)

  11. dana828 Feb 22, 2012

    I have totally been putting this chore off since the beginning of the year. I’ve tackled the pantry & the freezer, but haven’t been able to bring myself to deal with the fridge. I need to get on that! Yours looks great!

  12. thank you for this!! i was just telling my wife that we desperately need to clean out our fridge because our little boy almost got knocked in the head by a random tupperware of unknown leftovers when he tried to get his milk out for breakfast yesterday morning. OOPS! but it’s a chore that always frustrates me so i put it off … your post just helped me reach an “aha!” moment … frustration because of the waste that i see and if i got my sh*t together, it wouldn’t weigh me down as much as it does. well … it’s worth a shot … thank you!!

  13. I totally need to do this to my fridge!! It is terrible. Thanks for the inspiration!! You Rock!

  14. Gosh I so need to do this. I want you big, shiny fridge!!!

  15. WOW – I remember when you first got your fridge! Looks awfully LOVELY now! I love love love to use up my inventory. Very satisfying feeling.

  16. emilynn Feb 22, 2012

    1) good work! 2) ooh, I want a double door fridge 3) I just made a specific leftover shelf in my fridge too and it is really helping 4)I find it ridiculously difficult to go look in the fridge to see if I have something while making a grocery list!

  17. Awesome. Can’t wait to hear about the meal planning ideas! Also love the unplugging on a Sunday. I am about to start a job where I have Sundays off and am really looking forward to that.

  18. can’t wait for the meal planning/shopping efficiency post, that is certainly something i struggle with. love this blog– it is so inspiring!

  19. Can you come do my fridge please?!?

  20. Lauren Feb 22, 2012

    Great post! My (not-so-inner) neat freak is loving the high straightence series.

    I do two things that others have mentioned that really keep me on track to use the food I buy – weekly shopping (from a list) with a list of meals I plan on making that week written on it (I do not follow a set schedule with my cooking, but I try to keep track of plans for the week in a general sense) and I also only keep my condiments on the door!

    It drives me crazy to have lots of open jars in my fridge, so I try to limit what I buy and try to use it up frequently.

    …. I also get over whelmed by the thoughts of how much food I was wasting. :( I had a long period of buying food and never cooking it, I am trying kick that bad habits, but end up slipping up now and then.

  21. Aeshna Feb 22, 2012

    Tracy, I would LOVE to come home to a fridge like this. I would even feel like cooking if I came home to this :)

  22. Loved this post. The curious person in me always likes to see what’s in someone else’s fridge! In all seriousness, I need to do this!

  23. I’ve been meal planning for about three years now and let me tell you, it’s life-changing. Awesome challenge, Tracey!

    Great post!

  24. I love your fridge! What kind is it?

  25. Tracy, this is totally inspiring! I am with you on the meal planning–my mom did it for EVERY meal growing up and now my sister does, too. I wish I could hunker down and do it, already! Great job with the fridge. It looks amazing. Love this columm/blog/whatever ya-wanna-call-it.

  26. Jillian Feb 24, 2012

    Oh man, the truffle salt……..

  27. MaryBeth Feb 24, 2012

    I have fridge-envy now….but as a Leo I have to say YAY! I love organizing and do it on a weekly basis. I enjoy hearing you in the podcast because things people bug me about you do! Lady you are bold for sharing the before pictures, I applaud you! My boyfriend and friends tease me about what a freak I am for cleaning and such but they just don’t get it, happy to know you do and keep up the great work! I’m rooting for ya!

    • Tracy Feb 24, 2012

      Thank you thank you fellow Leo! I get you!

  28. Courtney @ I Am A Mess! Feb 25, 2012

    This post spoke to me today because my family is coming to visit and I’ve spent the week getting my house in order. As the title of my blog might suggest, cleaning is not a strength of mine. I managed to get everything clean but clutter is hiding behind every drawer…and in the fridge. If I can get my kid to take this nap we are about to embark on, I might try to tackle my fridge before my family arrives. (Though most likely I won’t because, well, I really AM a mess!)

  29. i’ve been pretty good about menu planning lately, but here is what’s changed my life. a few weeks ago you linked to helen jane’s menu planning posts, and she suggests first making a list of everything in the fridge BEFORE you meal plan. that way you know what needs to be used up, and what you already have. i had a very “duh” moment – like why wasn’t i doing that already?!?

  30. This may sound a bit weird but, I really like your fridge. I have major fridge envy. But you have inspired me to clean ours out! So that’s good, thanks :)

  31. Holly Mar 5, 2012

    I really like the idea of bins. I’ll have to put all my vinegars in one and syrups, jams and honey in another. It’ll definitely keep the glass shelves cleaner and I won’t have that awful accident when my precious maple syrup falls off the shelf onto the floor. I usually hate cleaning the fridge, but this time I’m looking forward to it.

  32. heather Mar 12, 2012

    gorgeous. can you come to my house?

  33. I envy your fridge, not only that it’s all clean and organized but the size! Mine is so small!
    By the way, I believe honey doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Do you know something I don’t? :)

    • Tracy Apr 6, 2012

      I keep it in there cuz I had a CRAAAAAAAAAAZY ant situation last year…they can’t find it in there 😉

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