Thursday, June 21, 2018

25 Quick & Easy Tips to Organize Your Refrigerator!

The refrigerator is meant to keep things cold, but it is one of the "hottest" spots in the home! This is where much of the food is stored that nourishes our families, and it is accessed multiple times a day. Knowing that, I always recommend that folks invest a small amount of time creating a few easy systems that aid in streamlining the meal planning and food preparing process. And I am not talking anything fancy, just really obtainable and sanity-saving ideas that save time with fewer trips to the grocery store and provide quicker meal making over the course of a busy week.

GE Appliances recently invited me to Louisville, KY, to help a family of five organize their new high-capacity fridge. Just like us, this family has three growing boys in a variety of activities, and needed a larger fridge and some organizational tips to simplify their food storage just in time for the hectic summer months.

Now, we have all seen those organized fridges that go viral because they are perfectly styled with rows of bins filled with flowers, colorful fruits and pretty cans of fizzy water. I could look at pictures of fridges like that all day long, and I always appreciate a good bin, but I do have to wonder, where is all of the food? The meals for a large family, the leftovers, the snacks, the breakfasts and lunches that last for the entire week? I really wanted to offer up some of my favorite usable and practical tips to help this family, and you, take control of the fridge.

When I arrived at the family's home, I was welcomed with a new, large capacity fridge and a week's worth of groceries straight from the grocery store.

I showed up with a few of my tried and true organizers and got right to work assessing what a typical week's worth of groceries looks like for this family, and how I can best set up their fridge to accommodate both the food and their lifestyle. My number one goal was to put a fridge together that is easy to maintain, offers future versatility, and remains functional week after week.

The fantastic team at GE Appliances was there to see how it all went down, and they put together a quick video of my ten go-to, no fail refrigerator organizing tips. Check it out below!

Here is a quick recap of the video's talking points:

Although I generally encourage folks to empty a space first, when it comes to the fridge, I actually recommend the opposite. Fill your fridge just as you would on a typical week, or maybe even shop and plan for those times when you have more food than usual (think extra kids visiting or a party or eating home every night of the week, etc...). This is really helpful in setting up your fridge to work for you week after week and to consistently accommodate your routine and lifestyle. This is also the best way to plan for any organizational bins and storage you may wish to add.

Whether you are organizing an entire room, a cabinet, or the fridge, I always recommend keeping like items with like, and sorting things into general categories. By placing items back in specific locations, you create a bit of muscle memory and can quickly find things time after time. Keeping the fridge categorized is also quite helpful before heading to the grocery store. Just open the fridge and do a quick visual scan to see what foods and condiments need replenishing.

In this specific fridge, I did condiments in the door (even divided out spreads, juices/beverages, toppings & dressings, and garnishes), salsas and sauces on the top shelf, kits on the next couple of shelves, main dishes and leftovers alongside milk & eggs in the large middle area, followed by veggies, fruits and deli items in the drawers below.

These days refrigerators help you easily store the majority of your items in specific temperature controlled areas. That said, it is good to know the ideals temps and locations for storing your food, to be sure to get the most out of that food. Take advantage of the specific drawers for keeping your veggies crispier, your fruits fresher and your deli meats and cheeses ready for lunch making.

Beyond that, I have read a few different articles that also recommend keeping your milk, dairy, and meats at the center of the fridge where it is coldest. The door is not recommended for eggs or milk because that is generally the warmest location and can cause early spoiling, but this location works great for juices and dressings. Also, there are a lot of fruits and veggies that actually do better stored outside of the fridge, and knowing which ones with help to free up even more space for the items intended to stay nice and cold inside.

I have been a long time kit maker and kit cheerleader! And for this fridge, I spent no more than ten minutes putting together five fuss-free kits.

Kit number one was a breakfast bin to hold yogurts and rolls. It can also be a place to store some berries, spreads, toppings, etc... whatever you relate to breakfast specific meals. Kits 2 - 4 were snack kits; one filled with finger veggies portioned into snack bags (snap peas, carrots, sliced peppers, celery, etc...), one filled with finger fruits portioned into snack bags (berries, melon, orange slices, etc...), and the last with some grab-no-go snack cups. Finally, a tray to hold deli meats and cheeses that can quickly transfer to the counter for sandwich making (I also like to add some other sandwich toppings to the tray such as sliced tomato, onion, and avocado).

Investing a few minutes after grocery shopping to put together these really quick solutions saves so much time for the entire crew over the course of a week.

You may have noticed, but the majority of the bins used throughout the fridge are clear! That's because clear storage gives you that quick visual and reduces time spent looking through and for things. Before heading to the grocery store, just open the fridge and you can see which bins are running low without pulling everything out.

Another bonus for using bins for corralling the majority of the fridge contents is that they can be individually removed and cleaned at the sink, which is much quicker and easier than trying to scrub down the entire interior of your fridge when things spill and leak.

Not only do bins help to categorize your fridge contents, they also act as additional drawers!

To make the most of a fridge, it is best to adjust the shelves throughout, but that may limit your ease of accessing the items near the back. Extra long bins help to bring those foods to the front in one quick motion. I also recommend selecting bins that have handles or are lightweight for portability.

Why label? Because it keeps everyone on the same page and allows the entire family to quickly identify and locate where things are. Even if you put a variety of breakfast items into a clear bin, your little one may not know what everything in that particular bin has in common without the help of a simple label. Labeling also helps everyone put things back in the right "zones" and to keep general order.

As much as I love a good label, try not to over-label. The goal is to keep the fridge flexible yet simple from week to week, so general categories are best.

Just like deep bins, turntables are another really wonderful solution for preventing items from getting lost near the back. They are especially great for heavier jars or bulkier containers.

We have used a turntable in our fridge for quite some time now, and I absolutely love it. But this larger version with a lip really stole my heart and I will be upgrading immediately. It makes better use of an entire shelf and also reduces the risk of items falling off and breaking or spilling. So many wins.

I divide my utensil drawers, my junk drawer, my dresser drawer, so why wouldn't I divide the drawers inside of the fridge?

Smaller open-top bins and baskets are a great way to prevent fruits and veggies from rolling around. They also work well for separating out the contents of the deli drawer.

Did you know that you can write on most glass and plastic storage containers with a chalk or dry erase marker, and then just erase it away when it is time for a change? I love this so much, it is so easy to label our food storage containers with the meal contents, prep instructions and the dates that they were prepared or purchased. (Be sure to test your marker/bin combo in an inconspicuous spot a few times just to be sure they are compatible.)

No more questioning if the food in the container is yesterday's dinner leftovers or last week's science project.  #beenthere

So there you have it! I was so thrilled that GE Appliances asked me to help this family setup and organize their new fridge. As you may have noticed, this specific fridge had more space than I was even able to fill, which was a first for me with the many different refrigerators I have organized over the years (this particular model has almost an entire cubic foot more space than most refrigerators in this class). I am obsessed with how many main dishes, leftovers, and sides were stored throughout, and the flexibility there is for adding additional items for cookouts, birthday parties, entertaining, etc... But what tickled me most about this whole experience was watching the homeowner open her fridge and point out all of the details, and getting excited about the solutions I whipped up for their clan. There was a bit of relief, and she also expressed how easy it was to find things and transfer items to the nearby counters. That is the best feeling ever.

There are a few products that continue to be superstar workhorses for me each and every time I organize a fridge, and I have sourced them for you below.

** This post was created in collaboration with GE Appliances to share my favorite fridge organizing tips. All of the ideas and opinions shared are my own. I sincerely appreciate brands supporting my content and work! **

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

30 An Organized Teen Boy Closet

Our son's closet came together even better than I could have imagined! I love every last detail, and the best part is that all it took was some simple DIY and a few off-the-shelf organizers to create a whole lot of storage.

Our almost 14-year-old son currently has the smallest room in the house. But we don't want it to feel that way so we have been making a lot of changes to open it up and add smart storage.

I think two different actions accomplished that feeling of openness we were after; painting the walls a solid light blue-gray (almost white color - Sherwin William's Nebulous White) and widening the closet opening to create more storage that will ultimately live behind a closed door (see that post here).

And a quick reminder of the closet the day before we cleared it out for a makeover:

And here it is today!

Although the last make-shift closet system served us well for quite some time, the biggest problem we all had is that our son had outgrown the bins and they were literally bursting at the seams. He needed some actual drawers and to keep his bedroom floor area nice and open, we wanted to add those drawers inside of the closet. I also wanted to be sure he had a place for his shoes off of the floor and that we made the most of the 8 feet of vertical space, so after looking at a variety of options, I decided on the IKEA PAX wardrobe frame (measuring in at 29 1/2" wide x 22 7/8" deep x 79 1/4" tall). This unit offers more than enough space and I appreciate that there is plenty of room for him as he continues to grow.

This kiddo is the beneficiary of a lot of hand-me-down items. Not only does he have an older brother that has always taken pretty good care of his belongings, but we have a few friends with older boys that like to pass on their clothes as well. We try to limit the number of clothing items we keep in general, but it is also nice to have some options. The updated closet not only provides adequate storage for his current wardrobe, but also for the plethora of hand-me-downs waiting for when he goes through another growth spurt.

So let's talk about the hand-me-downs for a minute. We have three boys so we do our best to preserve and reuse clothes as much as possible. They grow at different rates and are always different sizes, so there are times we need to store those extra clothes that they just haven't grown into yet. Twice a year we do a quick closet purge and inventory and rotate out their closets (spring and fall). I prefer to keep their hand-me-downs stored on the top shelf of their closets, and in this room, these medium Elfa drawers were the perfect solution. Did you know that although they are meant to be used with the Elfa drawer system, they can also be used as stackable bins? Mind. Blown. I love that they are frosted and sturdy and come with slim lids that clip in. They are a really great size and by using two, we were able to easily fit them on top of the IKEA tower in our son's closet.

These two bins hold 10+ pairs of jeans in a variety of sizes, as well as dress shirts/pants, shorts, sweats, t-shirts, etc... I found that I had plenty of room to roll and stack the items inside.

To keep track of the contents, I created and printed out a quick inventory tracker that I filled out and tucked under the lid. I am able to see through the lid just enough that this worked out perfectly, but the sheet could also slide into a clear plastic sleeve on top of a solid bin as well.

You can also download the trackers for free if you would like!



Now, back to his current clothing...

Remember how we DIY'd the easiest custom drawer dividers ever? I can't rave about them enough! They worked out so well in these drawers and offered us a lot of flexibility.

I divided the top drawer into three slots; one for pajamas, one for socks, and another for underwear.

Quick Tip: I typically purchase a different type of sock for each boy, one to two packages of white and one package of black. This makes it easy to identify which socks belong to which boy, and also allows them to just toss their socks into their drawer with no matching necessary. In the past, I have also used colored Sharpies to mark the bottoms which helped in identifying and quickly sorting all of their socks after washes (or when they are laying all over the house).

The next drawer down divides his bulky hooded sweatshirts and shorts.

Then his short sleeved t-shirts, sweatpants and sweatshirts, and long sleeve t-shirts are divided into three narrower sections.

The following drawer is all of his athletic wear, swim and extra space for future sports uniforms.

The bottom drawer has plenty of room for sheets and seasonal bedding.

And the smaller pull-out at the bottom holds his shoes.

You may have also noticed that I added some labels to the top of each drawer, which can be seen when the drawer is both closed and open. I used this label maker with clear tape.

Our son prefers to fold his clothes vs. hanging them, and this folding method was so quick and easy for him to learn. He basically files his clothes so that everything is visible and compact.

Four easy steps, the shirts can be folded in just a few seconds each.

1. Shirt face down

2. Fold in both sleeves

3. Fold bottom up to the top (in half)

4. Repeat and fold the bottom up again (in half)

Everything else is just rolled or folded to best fit in each divided section.

For the clothes that he does hang (essentially anything a little dressier with a collar or buttons), we installed a solid oak closet rod which I stained a warm wood tone. And as always, I recommend doubling up on the rods whenever possible.

And used black closet rod sockets to compliment the other black hardware in the closet.

We also added two solid white shelves above each rod to offer a little extra storage if needed. We recessed them back a bit so that we could place the hand-me-down bins up top without any issue.

And these slim, no-slip hangers have been really great for the price.

Both the drawers and the shelves in the tower are quite deep, almost two feet in fact. This is great for the drawers, he has plenty of spare space to continue to grow. The shelves, of course, prove to be a little more difficult to utilize. But, the top shelf holds some heavier throw blankets that we use for sleepovers/guests, the next shelf holds a couple of light-weight woven baskets to conceal his everyday clutter (nerf guns, tech gadgets, etc...), and the lower shelf has a few document boxes for memorabilia and arts & crafts.

I also added a small "valet" type tray to hold his daily items and act as a drop zone.

It's funny that this was one of his favorite details, I guess it made him feel a bit more "adult" to have a place for his wallet, change, watch, sunglasses, and deodorant.

And that completes the closet tour!

With our boy entering high-school this coming fall, this closet project came at the perfect time! The previous closet functioned so well for so long when the boys were much smaller, but this is definitely an upgrade fit for a teenager.

A few more notes:

  • I love that the IKEA tower is versatile and customizable. We added the pull-out shoe tray, five large clothing drawers, and three shelves to put together this configuration.
  • I added this hardware to the drawers, which I sprayed in a flat black finish.
  • All of the drawers are soft close! So nice!
  • This is the paper I used to line the back of the tower (I just adhered it to the back panel with double-sided carpet tape before tacking it to the back of the frame).
  • Although we designed this closet for a teen boy, it is versatile enough to work for anyone of any age! Always a bonus.
  • We plan to add a sliding door next to conceal everything, which almost makes me sad because I love how it turned out so much! But also, teenage boy.
  • I considered adding a small step stool under his pants, but the boy is officially as tall as me and has no problem reaching his everyday items. Sigh....

This install has also sold us on updating our own closet with the PAX system down the road. It was so easy and versatile and the quality is really great. Not to mention, I love that there are so many ways to customize it to make it look unique, even though it is off-the-shelf at IKEA (they are not sponsoring me by the way, just my honest thoughts).

Let's end the post with a fun before and after to see how much was gained by removing the wing wall and installing a fully functional closet system.

For reference, I rounded up all of the closet sources below.

You can also catch up on all of the other room posts here:

Teen Boy Closet Planning

Patching the Walls and Carpet

Bedroom Progress: A Blank Slate

Quick & Easy DIY Drawer Organizers

Teen Workspace with DIY Wall Shelf