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(Photo credit: Nadia Gorbachova)

As the president and founder of Organizing the Hamptons, Olha Loza brings strategies and serenity to homes on the South Fork and Manhattan—something we could all use right around the Holiday season. But there’s one particular space in your home that she says you should pay special attention to right now, before the turkey and all its accoutrements arrive: Your over-stuffed refrigerator.

“It takes up unnecessary time searching for ingredients that haven’t gone bad,” Loza says, 

Case and point: Once she was working in a client’s home that had two gigantic Sub-Zero refrigerators, each filled to the brim with food. Though she was there on a different organizing mission, Loza went through both behemoths and got rid of every expired item. When the client returned, she was a bit perplexed as to why Loza had decided to do that.

“I said, ‘Tell me what I threw out,’” Loza recalls. “She couldn’t figure a single thing I threw out because she didn’t know what she had.” Sound familiar?

With the big bird, stuffing, sides, and all other manner of holiday meal accoutrements, it’s a good time to take some tips from Loza and whip your Whirlpool into shape. And if that’s not enough inspiration to clean and organize your ‘fridge, how’s this: November 15th is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Yup, it’s a thing. 

Save Space, Save Your Appliance

Loza didn’t just do her Sub-Zero-loving client a favor; she did the appliances a favor, too.

“We don’t want to overflow the refrigerator or freezer because you are restricting airflow,” says Charlie Cornell of Flying Point Appliance Repair in Southampton. “The fans are working harder and harder to maintain temperature, so you are [also] burning more energy.”

Not only does this restriction shorten the life of food like fruits and veggies, it also takes a toll on the appliance itself. And good luck finding a repairperson to show up at your home on Thanksgiving morning.

Cool Commitments

It sounds corny, but setting an intention to get organized will help you persevere to dig out that month-old Citarella produce in the back of the crisper.

“I always say getting organized is an investment,” says Loza, who founded her company in 2019.  “You invest yourself into making the system a habit.”

But along with committing to get organized, promise yourself you won’t make it harder than it needs to be. Social media is full of organizational tips with gorgeous photos of color-coded refrigerators that feel straight out of a magazine. Spoiler alert: It’s not real.

“A lot of my clients get stressed out and want to make their space look like Pinterest,” Loza says. “[Most] of those pictures are staged. If it is too hard, you need a better system. Strive to make a space that works and is easy to keep up.”

Think Outside the Fridge

Not everything needs to go in your refrigerator. In fact, many items don’t benefit much at all from chilling out. Keeping certain items elsewhere that have a low-perishable threshold won’t reduce freshness. In fact, it’ll leave room for the food that needs to be stored in cooler temperatures to remain fresh.

“If you can keep fruits in a bowl, keep fruits in a bowl,” Loza says. ”Put bread in the pantry or another cool, dark space.”

Bonus: Fresh fruits like oranges and apples can double as seasonal décor (and encourage better snacking habits in a season full of less-than-healthy temptations).

Make a Pre-Holiday Playbook

Loza says that people often buy too much for the holidays because they’re unsure how much they have or will need. Leftovers are great, but buying enough to feed two neighborhoods isn’t necessary if you’re hosting a holiday gathering for five.

“How many times do you forget you have that can of pumpkin puree for four years?” Loza laughs. 

(Photo credit: Nadia Gorbachova)

To help avoid buying too much, she crafts her menu two to three weeks before the meal based on her RSVP acceptance list.

“I look in my fridge and pantry and see what I have and put it to the side,” Loza said. “That way, I know where it is.”

Loza then gets rid of expired items and uses any frozen foods like meat for meals for the next couple of weeks prior to the holiday. It’s a win-win, clearing food that’s taking up precious space i and giving her one less meal to plan and purchase.

“A few days before the actual shopping trip, I wipe it down and change the filters,” Loza says. “How satisfying is it putting new groceries in a clean, empty refrigerator?”

Optimize Space

This is where Loza suggests tapping out of Pinterest, where color-coded fridges are all the rage.

“What, are you going to have tomato sauce next to jam because they are red?” Loza said. “Most of us are not those people.” 

Instead of color, Loza suggests focusing on height and items that are alike.

“In refrigerators and pantries, where you have such a tight space, you want to use the height as much as possible,” she said. 

The top shelf is often the most cramped, so she puts smaller items like open jars and cans.

“Below that, I’ll have the drinks like milk and juice bottles,” she said. “I try to keep things that are alike closer together, like drinks with drinks.”

On the other side of the shelf with beverages, she stacks leftovers in clear storage items.

And on the bottom shelf: Highly perishable items like milk and dairy, as it tends to be the coolest spot in the appliance. 

Tools of the Trade

A few smart tools can help you optimize space and develop a system you can keep.

Tupperware is commonly used, but Loza prefers reusable, space-saving bags that she snags at Target and HomeGoods. Regardless of what you use, make sure it’s clear so you can see everything inside, she says.

Shelf risers allow you to stack items and optimize space, and Loza also recommends getting bins to stash items and keep them organized. She loves clear ones with wheels on them. “Pull it out and you’ll see everything you have,” she says. 

It beats rummaging around the fridge for a jar of jelly—or, worse, forgetting it’s there for an entire year.