A few years ago, I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and could not wait to apply it to my house. Using her mantra of only keeping things that “bring me joy,” I first tackled my clothes and shoes, then my books, and on and on throughout the entire house.
And while I was a bit critical of certain things in my post The Konmari Method: Does it work for families, it really did get me to think of decluttering in a whole new way, even now, seven years later.
In case you aren’t familiar with the book or the television show, the Konmari method has you pull entire categories of “stuff” into one pile before sorting them into “keep” or “toss/donate/give away” piles. By touching each item, you can decide if it still brings joy to you (or, in other words, is something you really want to keep); if not, you can release these objects without guilt or shame.
This brings me to my refrigerator. Because while I dutifully went through everything from underwear to cookbooks, learned how to fold my clothes “her way,” and even Konmaried my tech, I’d never even thought about tackling my refrigerator in the same way (as you can see above).
I mean, doesn’t this sound silly? Hello Ketchup. Do you bring me joy? Would I be expected to touch every single egg? And what about the stuff I don’t even eat? Lunchmeat makes me gag, but my son must have his black forest ham for school lunch, so I probably shouldn’t toss it in the trash.
But after reading the official five-step post How to Konmari a Refrigerator, I think I understand more what this means and have added some additional steps that I think are helpful. Hopefully, this will help you to have a clean, organized, and, yes, joyful, refrigerator.
Note: I suggest you do this BEFORE your next big shopping trip, when your fridge is looking sadly empty. You’ll appreciate having less to clear out and will have more space in which to restock after your supermarket trip.
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Step 1: Take everything out
Can you tell I have teens? No one will ever finish these drinks. . .
Much like I did when I made a giant pile of clothes in the middle of my bedroom, do that with the food in your fridge. Clear off a counter or kitchen island and empty the fridge into one area so you can see everything at once. As you empty your refrigerator, try to put things into categories so your fruits are in one section, condiments in another, and all those half-empty drinks your teens insist they’ll drink someday in another. (Tip: Do your refrigerator and freezer separately. You may want to have a cooler available for quick-to-melt items)
Step 2: Throw away expired items
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many weird condiments can hang out waaaaay past due on the shelves when no one is watching, or eating, them. And while we know there are plenty of things you can eat past their due date (in fact, we’ve written a primer on What’s the difference between “best by,” “use by,” and “sell by” on your food), we’re talking about that expired jar of baby gherkins swimming in less-than-clear liquid or the crusty-lidded mustard that is now an unnatural (and unappetizing) shade of khaki.
Oh, and definitely open every single container of leftovers so you can decide if the contents are still okay to eat. I love my clear glass Pyrex storage containers that let us all see exactly what’s inside which isn’t something an opaque plastic bowl will let you do.
Step 3: Ask if it brings you joy
Did you buy kimchi because you know so many people love it but just don’t enjoy eating it? (guilty) What about those wrinkled apples that you promise yourself you’ll make into sauce when you have more time. Be realistic about what you are going to eat in a reasonable amount of time and then, without guilt, throw away or compost anything that you know is going to make you feel a wee bit bad when you see it again in the fridge.
If you really can’t compost those apples because, yes, you’re going to make them into sauce dammit!, move them front and center and make a definite plan to use them by a certain date. If that date comes and goes, wish them well and toss.
Step 4: Wipe down the fridge
Turn back to your gloriously empty fridge and give everything a good cleaning. Depending on how long its been, you may need to soak shelves or drawers in some soapy water, but even a quick wipe with an all-purpose cleaner and paper towel will help clean up any sticky spots and get rid of strange odors.
Step 5: Store similar items together
As you start to put things back into the fridge, try grouping things together. This makes it easier to find things and also to know when you’re running low on something.
Step 6: Tall in the back, short in the front
A key to a nicely organized fridge is being able to see what’s inside without having to move everything around. Put your tall cartons of milk or bottles of ketchup in the back to help keep smaller bottles and jars from getting lost in the back.
Step 7: Don’t buy extra (though feel free to ignore this one)
One complaint I’ve heard about the Konmari method is that it favors neatness over practicality, which I’d say is evident in this final step on this list. I understand what they mean: A jam-packed fridge will never look totally tidy.
But the idea that I’d leave up to 30% of my refrigerator empty so that there’s space for potential leftovers is simply not possible with our four milks (whole, almond, oat, soy), as well as lots of food substitutes to accommodate the vegan in the household. Our hungry family of five will fill that whole fridge.
And should we go into another (heaven help us) pandemic “lockdown”, I will be buying extras of everything so that I can limit the number of times I’m going out shopping (or making someone shop for us). And with the cost of groceries so high right now, you can bet that I’m buying extras of our favorites when they are on sale.
But, as with any part of the Konmari Method, feel free to use what works for you and your family and ignore the rest. But, that souvenir hot sauce you bought 10+ years ago on your family trip to the Grand Canyon? It’s time to say goodbye.
Top photo: my own embarrassing refrigerator; I would’ve included an “after” photo but there isn’t one. . yet.