Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Decluttering the Refrigerator and Freezer

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

Pantries, refrigerators, and freezers can be chocked full of clutter. I know, I know, it’s food, so how can it be clutter? Well, if we define clutter as things we don’t need, don’t want, don’t value, and won’t use, then I bet your food storage areas are harboring at least a few bits of clutter.

Let’s Start with the Refrigerator

My top shelf holds condiment, sauces, and jellies. Talk about a potential treasure trove of clutter! The next three shelves are food we’re eating, left overs, and ingredients for use this week. Next is the cheese drawer, then produce, and the bottom of the refrigerator is used for storing large items – trays, my big stock pot, etc. (I removed my bottom drawer, so common in refrigerators, and put it in the garage. I find this area is much more useful not being a drawer.)

Where’s the clutter? Let’s start at the top by taking all the condiments out. Three BBQ sauces that are all still good? Combine them. Some oddball ingredient that you know deep in your heart you’ll never use again? Either toss it or pass it to a friend with different culinary tastes. Maybe you have a little dab of something that would be with another condiment, but you don’t want to combine them (say hoisin sauce and bottled ginger). I sometimes rubber band them together, so I can’t forget to use up when next time I use the other.

Remember to wipe the shelf before you reload. A hot washcloth makes cleaning sticky refrigerator spills easier.

Move down to the next shelf. Are your leftovers and unused ingredients still good? If not, eliminate them. They won’t get yummier sitting in your fridge! If your refrigerator is full of tidbits that you haven’t eaten but feel you should save, think about another system for them. Perhaps you should pack your lunch, or once a week you should have a leftover meal: nothing really goes together, but it all gets eaten. In my house, if there’s enough leftover to feed all four of us, I usually put it away still in the container in which I cooked it. If there’s less than that, I put it away directly into single-serving containers, so Dan or I can grab one when we’re packing up our lunches; if there are leftover sides, too, I’ll package everything and put it directly into a lunch sack before putting it into the refrigerator. The next person who needs a lunch can just grab the prepared sack and head out the door.

Move to the crisper section and the cheese and meat. Get rid of what’s of dubious quality and make a plan – written if necessary – to use what remains before it spoils.

Do you see any trends in your refrigerator? Maybe four or five cheeses you “had to” try that are now moldy, or yogurt that’s been neglected for way too long. Maybe you should admit that you think you like fancy cheese more than you do, or that yogurt may be good for you, but you really don’t like it. Adjust your shopping accordingly. I had to learn the hard way that even though we eat a lot of vegetables, the size that they sell at Costco is way too much for us. Some people think it’s OK to waste food that wasn’t very expensive, but that doesn’t sit right with me; I don’t want the guilt of throwing away what was once perfectly good. I’d rather buy the right size, rather than the cheapest-but-will-be-wasted size.  After all, it would be easier to throw your money straight into the trash can than it is to go to the store, select, buy, and store food that you’re not going to eat.

Now onto the freezer

I’ve discussed freezer organization before. (You can read the specific organization technique I use here.) The most important thing is to make sure you know what’s in there and how to find it. My parents keep a list on the outside of their freezer, defining everything that’s inside. I’m not that organized, but by keeping like with like, I can always see and find what I need.

While you’re doing a clean up, now is the time to unearth those UFOs (unidentified frozen objects). What are they? If you really can’t figure it out, defrost them one at a time with a commitment to use or get rid of each items as it defrosts.

Sometimes in the freezer you’ll find something that you felt you should keep, but in truth, you really don’t like. Now’s the time to be honest with yourself. If you get it out and defrost it, will you eat it this week? If not, shouldn’t you let it go?

Get into the habit of labeling everything you put into the freezer with the name and date. In order for this to be more convenient for you, perhaps you need to put tape and a marker near or on top of the freezer, so you can find it easily when you need it. And don’t bother freezing food that you made but didn’t like. It won’t be better tasting in three months.

Again, evaluate any trends you see: Are you overpurchasing frozen vegetables or single-serving lunches? If you have a free-standing freezer, it is really being utilized? Perhaps you could store everything in the house freezer compartment instead. Afraid to try? Well, you can shift everything over to the house unit and unplug the extra freezer. Live with it for a month and reevaluate whether the extra freezer is worth it. And if you have an extra refrigerator in your garage, what’s it keeping cold? Just drinks? Is this really the best use of electricity? I strongly encourage anyone who doesn’t have at least five family members to eliminate their second refrigerator.

Next week: Tackling the Pantry

Today’s Declutter Item

This was another of those not-so-successful eBay auctions. I decided I would experiment with selling a few handmade craft items on eBay using their fee free 99c starting price option. I figured I had nothing to loose as these cards are one of those aspiration items that I am sick of having cluttering up my craft area. I keep telling myself I am going to open an etsy shop but it never happens. Needless to say each set only sold for the 99c that they started at. The materials probably didn’t actually cost me that much so I suppose I broke even. This result hasn’t deterred me as I am going to put some earrings on there next week and see what happens. In for a penny in for a pound as they say.

Handmade Cards

Something I Am Grateful For Today

For making the most of my time when hubby is away. I had a friend over for a pizza dinner, a bottle of wine and chocolate. I am not so sure my waist is grateful but I had a good time.


It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. I love this because reading it makes me feel “normal”. I know friends and family members who have spotless and organized refrigerators where mine looks quite lived in …. So many great tips here. I way over purchase and need to work on that for sure. I just sadly threw two bags of different types of lettuce away that were never opened. I now must USE it or not PURCHASE it!!!!
    http://www.blogtalkradio host donna ryan

    • Hi Donna, I don’t think you’ve commented here before, so welcome. I’m surprised at your comment. Most people I know have pretty untidy refrigerators. If yours is looking a little “lived in” you should feel right at home with the majority of folks. Unfortunately, I think you’re also with the majority in overbuying. I, too, had to dispose of some extra lettuce yesterday. I think my family will eat more salad than we actually will. What a waste, and the worse part is, this is certainly a mistake I’ve made before. Live, and I hope, learn.

    • Hi Donna,
      thank you for dropping in to leave a comment and welcome to 365 Less Things. I am listening to your radio piece about clutter as I answer my comments. Cindy will be glad her post has been a help to you. It certainly is a waste to throw good food away but if you plan ahead for meals and buy ingredients that cross over from one recipe on your plan to another there is a good chance that you will waste very little. The money you save in the end will be worth the extra effort to set up such a plan. Good luck with the change you are making in your life.

      I like the blogtalkradio thing I might have to look into that.

  2. A timley reminder for me to clear out my condiments!! Thank you Cindy!!

    We are a family of six, and we only have the freezer that’s in the kitchen (part of a fridge freezer) I got rid of the one in the garage (wish i could bulldoze that garage) beacause we were too lazy to retrieve the food that was in there, espiceally in winter. Then when i thought about our habits, it dawned on me that we only need to store a weeks worth of food and stash leftovers as i shop every week. I actually labelled my drawers in the freezer so a quick look on shopping day will show me any ‘gaps’.
    It goes like this: Bottom drawer, bread usually use 5 loaves a week, one out on shopping day 4 in freezer, sometimes we use less.
    Second middle drawer is Vegetables, I like to have frozen peas, broccoli, carrots and sweetcorn.
    First middle drawer is Meat and fish, usually i have pork chops, minced beef, a chicken, bag of salmon, sometimes a leg of lamb (not all used in one week)
    Top Drawer is takeaway drawer, when i make a bolognaise i always make more and freeze it into tubs, same with chilli, or soup. I usually have a frozen pizza, bag of oven chips, garlic bread and easy stuff for when time is tight.

    This is more than enough space for us, although i have to say it took years for me to get out of the stock up mentalitly, which ultimately ended in spoiled food going to landfill, i shudder at the thought of my wastefull ways 🙁
    With a little thought we can simplfy and save money, win-win i say !!

    Sharron x

    • Just wanted to add, my condiments and fridge now look beautiful 🙂
      There is another blog (can’t do links :() call Jo@simplybeing mum, she has a ‘no waste tastes great’ thing going where she emptys her fridge and makes a meal every friday. She menu plans for 6 days then uses up on the 7th, i love her attitude!
      Sharron x

      • I would like to second Sharron’s suggestion to check the blog she mentioned. Here is the link:

        Jo (the OTHER Jo, the one who writes the blog!) keeps pantry items for emergency meals. Her refrigerator items are the ones that she plans 6 meals around. As she points out, usually there is at least one day a week where things don’t go as planned, so there is enough food there for the extra day. She has the cleanest fridge I’ve ever seen 🙂 and very, very little waste each week. She is an inspiration!

        • Sharron and Jo.H – Thanks for this Guys! it was lovely to read your comments, particularly to hear how you translate what I blog about…that was really great – makes it all worthwhile – Thanks again! Jo xx

        • Hi Jo,
          this is a pattern that I have also been following for years. I remember one day seeing an thing about it on TV and my husband making a comment about our food supplies dwindling to practically nothing every week and I thought he was having a go a me. I reacted in defence until he said, “don’t get your knickers in a knot it was meant to be a compliment”. I was very pleased with myself and with him after that comment. 😆

  3. Great job Sharron. I admire that your large family only has an refrigerator freezer. That’s impressive. You’re right, if you go shopping weekly, you only need 7 days worth of food.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Extreme Couponing; I watched it recently at the urging of my cousin. The woman who was featured, Amber, certainly saved a lot of money at the store, but she had SIX freezers to store all the bounty she’d purchased for her family of five. It was the craziest thing I ever saw and a form of hoarding, for sure.

    • Never seen the show but i can well imagine, now what i see when i see people stockpile is not ‘bargains’ but money sat there in a ‘stockpile’ i’d rather have it in my bank!!

      Six freezers ekkkk!! I would have to move house to accomodiate that amount of freezers, have you a link to the show??

      • You’re completely right. Amber says that she can feed her family on $50 a week, but she has $30,000 in her “inventory.” By my calculations, she now has enough food for 600 weeks, or more than 11 years.

        • Hi Cindy,
          I hope this person has their own generator because if she ever has a power outage she stands to loose a lot of dollars worth of frozen food. And would her insurance company pay out if her tried to claim for thousands of dollars worth of food stuffs. Surely she would have to list it as a special item on her insurance policy. Too much responsibility and worry there for my liking.

          That other guy in those clips that calls his stock pile of groceries his pride and joy, that really is distasteful in my opinion.

    • I wonder how much money she is wasting running all those freezers. Her carbon footprint must be huge, so much for her care for the environment. 🙁

      • Okay completely freaked by anyone having 600 weeks worth of food. I’m on a ‘use it up or make do’ week, whereby my fridge is pretty much empty by now (Tues) and I have enough staple ingredients in the cupboard to make do till Thursday night. I didn’t do a weekly shop this week, just a few items purchased, so that I can really get creative and run down dry and tinned items out of the cupboard. There’s not a lot in there, but enough to survive on for a week (plus) without anyone going without. I love looking inside my fridge, seriously sometimes I just take a look for no reason at all – makes me feel good when I can see every item and know what it’s going to be used for and when – I photograph it most Friday’s for ‘No Waste Tastes Great’. The freezer’s almost completely empty also, this should be barren by Thursday also. We won’t be using it for a couple of weeks so it’s getting turned off….just a few cubes of frozen ginger off for a holiday in my parents freezer…nice vacation for them!

  4. I still need to declutter my fridge, freezer and cupboard from time to time and my goal of eating mainly healthy and not ever wasting food anymore is anything but reached … but I am really bothered by the mentality many people seem to have towards food in stores as well as in their own fridge and pantry: It all has to be there when we reach out. I call it buffet-mentality – and (needless to say …) I hate it. As much as I love to find a freshly baked baguette when I come to the store in the evening close to closing time, I know the ten others on the rack will likely not be sold anymore and go to waste. That’s just not worth it!
    There are some pretty scary facts out there about how much food is wasted. I won’t try to sum it up here but who is interested to learn more: The British project for example is a good starting point. It has all the scary numbers but also good tipps on reducing your own food waste by smarter cooking and storing.

  5. I know there’s a lot of waste. I once volunteered to help maesure the food wasted at Jester Dorm, the largest – by far – dorm at the University of Texas. It was nasty business, as you can imagine, but I no longer remember the specific results.

    We waste very little food because we feed any entree and bread/cereal type foods that might have been tossed to the dogs (and cut back on their portion of food accordingly) and veggie trimmings or wilted veggies go to the guinea pig. (The lettuce I mentioned wasting earlier was more even than a very willing guinea pig could chomp through.)

  6. Great topic, Cindy.

    Food waste is an area where I’ve come a long way but still have room for improvement. My solutions have included simply buying less at one time, trying to use fresh rather than put things in the freezer because I know I’m not good at remembering to thaw things, and accepting that I’m a basic cook who makes certain meals over and over and so I avoid buying unusual ingredients “thinking” I will use them (Ha! aspirational clutter avoided!!)

    I’m also doing better with identifying items as they age and PLANNING to use them up. On the other hand, if something does get old or left behind, you are so right that if it’s questionable/disliked/old when I look at it today, it’s not going to improve by leaving it in the fridge. Might as well admit the problem, deal with it, and keep the shelves cleaner and other things more visible so they don’t meet the same end.

    • You’re right Jo, certainly ingredients – strange cuts of meat or fish, exotic spices, condiments you grab because they sound “fun” – are all aspirational clutter!

  7. Good post Cindy! We’re going on 2 weeks’ holidays tomorrow, so my job today is to clean out the fridge. I’m nowhere near as organised as you, but I’m working on it. I’ll just use up whatever’s in there for dinner tonight, and I’ll do the same for my lunch today.

    I read on Sarah Wilson’s blog this week her tips about food wastage, so it’s obviously a hot topic. I particularly liked her tip about having a bag in the freezer to put food scraps in and when it’s full to make soup. Don’t think anyone else but I would eat it though 🙂

    • I used to save all my chicken bones, the trimmings from vegetables, and the skins from onion and garlic to make stock. I had a gallon bag and when it was bulging, it was time to make stock. Now the guinea pig eats those trimmings (except the bones, of course).

  8. I love the ‘UFO’. Never heard that before, but I have experienced it!!

    I cook every second week or so, with my parents taking the other week. I’m a fastidous shopper, only buying what’s needed, and almost always using it all up too! But it does take planning, and sometimes that planning time feels like a burden!

    I agree with like with like, sadly my mum prefers ‘where I left it’ sorting, which doesn’t really work for anyone but her. I drive her nuts rearranging pantry, fridge and freezer so there’s some logic! And I don’t list what’s in the freezer on it, but when I plan, I write up all that’s in their first, plan meals from that, then new meals (see my parents always buy too much, so I know I can use their shop to fuel my week!)

    • I cannot believe the “shove it in anywhere” hodge podge of some people’s refrigerators. How are you supposed to find anything??

      My whole life, my parents have menu planned – accommodating for left overs, of course – purchased only what’s on the list, and always stuck to their plans. They have virtutally no food waste.

  9. Cindy, how did you end up with 3 opened BBQ sauces in the first place? just kidding 🙂
    Living in an earthquake prone area, I always have enough stored food and water to survive for two weeks. Although I would love to see my fridge completely empty, naked if I could say, I realize this would actually make me feel very uncomfortable, frightened even.
    I very rarely throw food away. I cook everything from scratch, never plan meals ahead, just open my fridge, see what should be eaten first and make something out of it. 🙂 Every few days, we have what the kids call a “restaurant” meal : we finish all the left overs, with a rotation system on who gets to pick first.

    • Actually it was FIVE jars of pickles. I managed to jam them all into two jars. We took brand new jars of dill pickles twice to picnics and had a jar at home. Then we had two jars of sweet – one was th ehome jar and one was the picnic jar. We’ve already eaten back down to a reasonable two jars.

      You know what makes me feel frightened is when the grocery store seems to be severely lacking food. Of course, I’ve never lived in a time when food was scarce, and empty grocery shelves give me the shivers. I’d be OK if my own cupboards were bare.

      • After watching what happened in Haiti and then Japan, I realized that even in our time grocery shelves can become empty in record time. In case of earthquake, I might not even be able to make it to a store. I am not a native Californian, maybe that’s why I take it so seriously, but it seems to be the rule here: have everything you need to be able to survive on your own for a couple of weeks.

    • Hi NatalieinCA,
      I love the restaurant meal idea. You could call it á la carte night.

  10. Oh gosh, Cindy, this link to the couponers … CRAZY! (I might just slip into a little addiction of watching all of the teasers just to be so appalled by it I’ll never buy doubles of anything ever again)
    I always thought I am grateful for living in a country where we usually don’t pay with checks or credit cards but cash or with debit cards that directly draw from your one bank account to make things easier …
    I am going to change this thought to being major grateful for living in a country practically without coupons. I actually started going to a small shop (for various reasons, one of it is that it’s a shop where, for a fixed monthly fee, I can get organic food at considerably good prices) that never has special offers. Only food that actually ist past it’s date gets discounted. At first I thought I’d be missing something. Now I love it because I buy what I need in the amounts I need it and not vast quantities of so called good offers … That is very liberating. I wish more shops and more customers would give up these special-offer-things – because in the end somebody must pay all the “free” things. And I am so bold to say: It’s not the companies … now go figure …

  11. I like it, too, Cindy. And I realize I’m lucky to have it only a couple of (walking!) minutes away.
    But I hope the great idea behind it catches on: It is a cooperative, and you pay about 30 $ to be a member. Members get to shop at prices that are nearly wholesale prices (I think they add something like 5%). Non-members shop at the prices they would pay at any other store. With the membership fee they mainly cover their expenses (wages, rent) so they don’t need to make money on the goods themselves . But they do have to see to it that nothing get’s wasted. They say at about 90$ you are even with normal store prices and I tested it and it worked out for me and the things I buy. I guess I do spend more money now than I would if I shopped discounters (which I sometimes still do), but I do get better food and better sizes for one person. And the lack of choice helps me to save lots of time and energy. They do offer choices just not 200 different yoghurts but maybe 20, and they take the burden from me to check out which food is the most local because they are very dedicated to get the best results they can. Plus: nobody thinks I’m strange if I don’t take bags for my vegetables (I usually just toss everything in a tote). After all every bag I’m saving is one bag less for the environment and one bag less for their (and therefore every members) expenses.


  1. […] shares how she changed the way she stores food in this comment in response to Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom this […]