Minimalism Lessons from my Refrigerator

I have a couple of loose ends to tie up from previous posts and will be using my Fridays this month to do that.

Back in November when we were chatting about food, the Ruly Challenge that month was to eat from the fridge and pantry stores and clean out the fridge. It took me longer than a month to get my fridge cleaned out but I wanted to show you the results.

Fridge Outside - Before
Fridge Inside - Before

The refrigerator in our house doubles as an information booth. We put up photos, invitations, reminders, etc. on the outside because we know it will get noticed. Unfortunately, we sometimes take this too far and the fridge gets buried in information.

Prior to the Ruly Challenge, the inside of our fridge was full of stuff. We frequently tossed things out that we didn’t use in time. When you opened the fridge, it was hard to find things that looked delicious and we ate out quite often.

The Ruly Challenge was a good experience for us as it forced us to pick through all the “stuff” in the fridge. Most of it we ate, some of it we tossed. We eliminated about 20 bottles of old salad dressings, soy sauce, etc. in the door of the fridge, rearranged the shelving to maximize space, gave it all a good cleaning (trying out the eco-friendly cleaning method of baking soda and water which worked great!) and the new result is working much better for us.

Fridge Outside – After
Fridge Inside – After

In fact, it is working so well that I am now convinced that given the option, we would purchase a smaller fridge to save energy and space. The bottom two shelves of our fridge are practically unused.

I created a new informal system within the fridge to help us keep things organized. I used many of the tips I posted here. The major changes were to put all the leftovers and items expiring soon at eye level so they are the first things we see when we open the fridge. On the freezer side, our previous eye-level food was ice cream. We don’t need any visual reminders to eat ice cream so we moved that down to the bottom, less accessible part of the fridge. Below is my fridge organization system (which reminds me a bit of a Richard Scarry illustration).

My Fridge Organization System

We have been living with this arrangement for a little over a month now and I am pleased to say that the fridge still looks about the same as when we took these pictures! Of course, it doesn’t look like this all the time. I recently unburied it again from all the great holiday cards I posted on there. Also, when my husband was putting away groceries recently, he rearranged much of the freezer to make the frozen food boxes fit (a frequent problem in side-by-side fridges). After some initial panic over the change to my work, I realized that things would get back to “normal” as soon as we ate the frozen foods and sure enough that is what happened. It took less than five minutes to get my system back once the frozen foods were gone.

Keeping the fridge food levels to a minimum is really the key to keeping the fridge looking like this. When you keep the food levels low and have an assigned section for each food category, you quickly see what is outgrowing its space that you need to address. For us, the “leftover” and “eat now” section is the one that is constantly getting out of hand. When we start getting Tupperware containers on the bread shelf in the fridge, I know it is time to stop cooking (or stop grocery shopping) and start eating what we already have.

When I was cooking over the holidays, it was also a lesson to me to just purchase the ingredients for the 2 or 3 special meals I was going to prepare. With the meals and leftovers, we could eat for several days or even a week. I didn’t need to stock up on frozen foods, meats, etc. at the same time. This is something that we have grown so accustomed to doing that it feels strange to check out with a lighter cart. In fact, when I was doing my grocery shopping, I overheard the following conversation:

“Look, honey, the beef is on sale! Should we stock up?”

“No, I am trying to use the stuff we already have in the deep freezer downstairs.”

“But it’s a really good buy!”

“No….well, OK, maybe just one.”

Sure enough, they added another roast to their cart. We have never had a deep freezer and don’t plan to get one. I have enough trouble staying on top of the things in the small freezer we currently have! Also, while some people insist a second freezer is a great way to lock in bargains and save money, I am not sure this is necessarily true. To reap the benefits of a deep freezer system, you would have to really know the cost of all the meals you prepare and know that you would definitely eat whatever it is that you are purchasing in bulk. You would also have to be saving at least as much money as it costs you to run the deep freezer in electricity costs. In our experience, there is always something on sale that we find appetizing every time we go to the grocery store. Also, I know that I get tired of eating the same things again and again and that I tend to forget about things that I purchased in the past. I have never felt that I was wasting money by not having a deep freezer.

Of course, in full disclosure (although what can be more “full disclosure” than displaying the contents of your refrigerator on the Internet for all to see!), I have little expertise as a cook and make complicated dishes with multiple ingredients probably once a decade. However, I have learned from the many good cooks in my family that often times a few good simple ingredients can be just as flavorful. My new fridge system works well for my style of cooking. There certainly could be many other options that work well in other situations.

It was a serendipitous choice to start my minimalist efforts with my fridge. The fridge has been a good teacher for several reasons. First, we don’t mourn the loss of items like wilted salad greens or old bottles of condiments. It is a relief and a joy to throw those out! Second, if you start getting too much in the fridge, you just start eating. There is no complicated process to list the items for sale, bag them up for Goodwill, etc. Learning what the minimum in food consumption is will be helpful to our waistlines in the long term as well. If we are not stocking up on it, we are less likely to impulse eat it.  The fridge challenge is one that you can start at any time. You may be surprised at what your refrigerator is waiting to teach you.

What are your fridge organization secrets? Please share in the comments. (As a reminder, anyone posting a comment this month can receive a Ruly thank you note if you send me your address at Thanks to all for the great comments on the last post as well as the great comments I am getting behind the scenes!

Have a great weekend!