Since most apartments don’t have the space or appropriate hookups for freestanding freezers, renters are usually forced to make the most of the space available to them in a refrigerator/freezer combo.
If you regularly cook at home and like to shop once a week for food and beverages, space is probably always tight for you. Organization is important, of course, but there are actually a few other ways to maximize your storage options and keep food at the optimum temperatures to prevent spoilage.
Before you can organize to save space, you have to get rid of obsolete items. If you haven’t used a product in six months or more, trash it. The point is to make space for food you eat, not provide storage for a jar of olives you had when you first moved in. And when you shop for a specialty item you won’t likely use on a regular basis, always choose the size that comes closest to exactly how much you need. After all, storage space for the food and beverages you consume on a regular basis should be your top priority.
Not all refrigerator shelves are created equal. For that reason, you’ll probably have to adjust yours to meet your personal needs before doing anything else. For example, if you eat a lot of yogurt, adjust the second highest shelf to perfectly hold individual containers without leaving wasted space between theirs tops and the bottom of the shelf above. If you don’t store tall bottles of wine or tall cartons of other beverages in here, lower the shelf that hangs above the vegetable bin to create more headspace on the shelf above.
Heat rises, even within the confines of a refrigerator. That’s why vegetable bins are located on the bottom of the unit, where it’s coldest. The higher the shelf, the warmer the temperature.
The top shelf is ideal for ready-to-eat foods you eat most like leftovers and deli meats and cheeses. In other words, this shelf is for items that have short shelf lives and don’t require maximum chilling. The bottom shelf above the vegetable bins is coldest. Store raw meats, chicken, and fish there to maximize shelf life. This area is also ideal for storing beverages best when served ice cold, including milk, soda, juice, and water.
The middle shelves are moderately cold, so use them for anything that doesn’t merit the top or bottom ones.
The Refrigerator Door
With temperatures similar to those of the middle shelves, the refrigerator door is perfect for condiments and brined products including pickles, olives, and jarred peppers. This space is also designed to comfortably store butter, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings, hot sauce, relish, tartar sauce, jams, jellies, mayonnaise, syrups, and specialty items used in ethnic cooking like chili paste and salsa. Highly perishable items like milk, cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese should never be stored in the refrigerator door.
Hang It Up
Specialty baskets that attach to the inside walls of your refrigerator save space and keep things organized. They hold small items like individual servings of sauces and condiments, hummus, and string cheese without using precious shelf space. Another clever way to free up shelf space is to hang bags of salad mixes, shredded cheese, and other commonly bagged groceries by curtain ring clips from the edges of shelves, leaving the shelf surfaces themselves open for other items.
Since freezers have so little space, it’s often trickier to use them wisely than it is your refrigerator. First of all, if your freezer has shelves for ice cube tray storage and you rarely use ice, either remove those shelves altogether or use them to hold flat cartons of prepackaged frozen side dishes, ice cream novelties, or packaged frozen waffles or pancakes.
Frozen leftovers take up much less space if they are frozen flat in bags instead of using plastic or glass containers. Place flattened bags of food on the floor of the freezer compartment. When they’re totally frozen, stand them on end like books or files along the back wall, remembering to clearly label and date each item for convenience. This method works well for soups, sauces, hot dogs, premade ground beef patties, and anything else that’s no more than two inches thick.
Freezers with door storage are also ideal for ice cream. And since the door space is slightly warmer than the interior of the freezer, your ice cream will be a little more scoopable when you go to pull it out.
If you prefer storing your frozen goods in actual containers, use sets that comfortably stack on top of each other to maximize your available freezer space. To maximize the rest of your freezer space, invest in some freezer baskets to keep items organized and larger areas open for freezing large packages of meat or whole chickens.
The best way to maximize the space in your refrigerator/freezer combo is good maintenance. Every few weeks, take a minute to inspect its contents and discard items you haven’t already used and likely never will again. It’s easier to just buy a new jar of capers when you need them next year than keep that old half-gone container that’s taking up space.
Last but certainly not least, duplicate items are the worst space wasters. Before you replenish popular items like mustard or relish, check your cupboard to make sure there’s not a new jar of those items already hiding in the shadows.