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Raise your hand if your holiday refrigerator is more overstuffed than the turkey itself. Two professional organizers give us valuable tips for creating ample space for the entire feast.

I love hosting holiday dinners. It never fails though -- I forget to bring out something that I'd planned on serving. It might be as simple as some special olives I bought and forgot about in the back of the fridge, or as significant as an entire side dish I made from scratch. Either way, something always gets swallowed up by my bottomless, overstuffed holiday fridge.

This year, though, I decided to make a change. With the help of Laura McHolm and Julia Rivard -- two professional organizers (who are members of the National Assocation of Professional Organizers, or NAPO ) -- I'm making ample space in the fridge and planning for a stress-free holiday meal. Laura and Julia gave me tips for staying streamlined from start to finish. Here's some of what they shared.

- Stop grocery shopping a few days before the big event. Over the next few days, use up as much as you can and don't replace it. Make a mystery meatloaf if you have to by tossing in those containers of leftovers, half a jar of sauce and vegetables that are nearing their end of life.

- Empty the entire fridge before you shop for the holiday meal. Take everything out. Yes, everything. Hopefully you've emptied it pretty well over the past few days of creative meal making, but now it's time to deal with what's left. Laura, who's an organizational expert and co-founder of NorthStar Moving, suggests you organize by categories: "Keep", "Give Away", and "Throw Away." Check expiration dates and toss all expired food. And that salad dressing you bought, used once and didn't like? That goes too. If it's taking up room and you don't use it, trash it or give it away.

- Clean your fridge by wiping down the shelves and drawers while it's empty.

- When it comes time to put things back in the fridge be judicious about what makes the cut. If you have a spare fridge, relocate large items there. You can free up even more space by letting your butter go au natural and leaving it out on the counter. Your cheese will survive out of the fridge too! Here's a helpful list of other items we commonly put in the refrigerator that don't necessarily need to be there (or can at least manage a few days on the outside):

- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Peanut butter (unless it's natural peanut butter)
- Ketchup
- Syrup (unless it's 100% maple syrup)
- Steak sauce and hot sauce
- Coffee
- Bread
- Potatoes
- Pickles
- Filtered water
- Unopened salad dressings or other doubles you might have waiting in the fridge
- Baking soda (unless, of course, you're using it to absorb fridge odor)
- Canned and bottled beverages (relocate these to an ice chest so guests can access them easily and they don't take up space in the fridge)

- Combine like items. If you have two half open sauces, mix them together. Make sure you mark it with the earliest expiration date to avoid confusion later. Downsize big containers into smaller ones wherever possible. You may even be able to reduce some items to a ziplock bag, freeing up all kinds of space. I remember my own mom used to put extra bottles of pop on the back porch. The running joke was that we regularly forgot they were there!

- Adjust the shelves when putting items back in the fridge.
We often work around the shelving that's there instead of making it fit our needs. Professional organizer Julia reminds us that those shelves are adjustable for a reason, so go ahead and make the space work for you.

- After your shop put items away in the fridge with purpose, mindful of when and how they'll be used. Laura tells us it's all about "l ocation, location, location! Take the items that you use least and put those in first to leave room at the front for your most used items." You don't want to be pulling everything out to reach the cranberry sauce you need right away. Instead, locate things according to your needs. Laura also suggests separating meats, cheeses and vegetables into different drawers depending on how you plan to prepare them (for platters or main dishes). Julia recommends using a Lazy Susan on a shelf to hold jars and smaller items, as this makes it much easier to access those items that might otherwise disappear in the back of the refrigerator.

- As you prepare food for the big meal, use stackable storage that maximizes your fridge space. Avoid the temptation to prep food in serving dishes, instead use standard size containers.

- After the meal, the same goes for leftovers. Scoop them out of those fancy dishes and put them in stackable containers. Better yet, send your guests home with leftovers. Plan ahead and have some take-out containers on hand and send your guests home with full stomachs and full hands.

What are your tricks for making sure the refrigerator door stays closed on the holidays?? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

  • Laure

    It didn't occur to me until this year to really plan how to use my 'fridge. I planned to brine and roast two birds this year and then air-dry them for 24 hours before roasting them...and then, when I went to put the pots of brining birds into the garage fridge, I found (to my horror) that the garage was feeling a little bit warm to me. Yikes! Was it going to fizzle out?

    So I cleaned out the main fridge, moved less sensitive items to the garage fridge, and did the whole clean-out-rearrange shelves thing. I made sure the two giant stock pots I use for brining would easily fit onto a designated shelf.

    I liked the ease of having the turkeys right there in the kitchen so much that I googled for refrigerator organization this morning!

    None of it is rocket science, and I was already cutting down on buying and using up leftovers, but I'll definitely add some your ideas to my "Don't Stress Holiday Planning System!"

    For health reasons, I prefer to store leftovers in glass with plastic lids. Stackable is always a plus. So far, I've used both the Libbey stuff from places like Walmart, some Pyrex products and the Frigoverre stuff from The Container Store. I found that the Libbey lids disintegrate, and I've only just heard that a store about 60 miles away might carry just the lids. The Frigoverre lids have lasted well for a long time with no deterioration, but they are clear, so certain yellow and red foods can discolor them a bit. The Pyrex product has colored tops that are doing well so far.

    I'm about to put the turkey leftovers into some clear glass storage into the the area we dedicate to sandwich stuff. The corn-and-bean salad is an easy find, too, mixed, served and stored in a glass bowl with a plastic lid.
    Even loving glass, I will still probably look for a few pieces of flame-proof ceramic, that can go from the freezer or fridge directly into the oven, and sometimes even to the stove top. It would make prep work go faster, and reheating a lot easier both on the day of the holiday, and for leftovers, too.
    And anything that cuts down on all the dish washing deserves a second look!

  • hongkongfloristshop

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  • partha

    Keep up the good work. Best of luck.

  • jessiccarobertt

    I liked your post. It was informative. Only One word to characterize such a great post “WOW” that was a very interesting read.such a wonderful information for me..i am really impressed it. I appreciate you for your great Information.

  • Chris

    Laure, are you a professional writer? Yours is the most well-written reply I have ever read!

  • Laure

    Thank you for the compliment! No, I'm not a professional.

  • John F.C. Taylor

    Borrow neighbors refridgerator space if possible. If you buy a new refridgerator, don't throw out the old one. Keep it plugged in in the basement. The extra space will help you plan a big party without skimping on your regular grocery purchases.

  • Wayne Knupp

    We bought a small, under counter refrigerator and put it in the pantry. We keep all of our condiments, and left over jars of sauces, marinades, etc. in this small fridge. Now there is always plenty of room in the kitchen fridge and everything is easy to find. Works great if you have the space.

  • Bonbon

    To save fridge space when I brine a turkey, I put a trash bag in a cooler and put everything in there. Then top it with some large chunks of ice and put the cooler in a cool spot. I live in Florida so that's sometimes a difficult thing to do but it's only for 24 hours so if you use a good cooler, it's okay in the house.

    Anyway, that saves a lot of space.

  • Kevin Brown

    Wow great advice, clean out your fridge and don't put as much stuff back in it (oh and adjust your shelves) Thank you so much, this article has been a godsend, thank you, thank you!

  • kbrown2225

    Wow great advice, clean out your fridge and don't put as much stuff
    back in it (oh and adjust your shelves) Thank you so much, this
    article has been a godsend, thank you, thank you!

  • ross

    dont forget ---a simple cutting board also makes an excellent temporary shelf in the fridge to stabilize stacked items

  • namitha

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  • Laure

    For those without a second, standard-size refrigerator, I really like Wayne's idea of adding even a small refrigerator…even if it isn't a fancy built-in under-counter model. You can get a small "dorm style" unit for very little money and put it in any number of places. I actually have one in an armoire in my bedroom, and keep fresh water, fruit, home-made cosmetics and stuff in there.
    I could also keep on in my pantry (and might move mine to the pantry next holiday, for that reason). I would also consider finding space in a base cabinet for it, if I could find a way to run the wiring in a way that wouldn't decrease the vaue of my home.

    Ross's comment on using a cutting board as a temporary shelf has me wondering about using stacking-type organizers more, like I use for my dishes….

    Bonbon's idea about a cooler for brining is something I've done before, but I don't prefer it on two counts: aesthetics and cleanup. I don't like the looks of the cooler, inside or out (guests seem to find it, even outdoors) and I don't like cleaning it and I don't like the extra work that cleaning the cooler creates when I track dirt and leaves into the house after cleaning the cooler outside. It works, but I don't like adding that effort to my holiday to-do list.

    One great way to cope with butter during the holidays is the use of a butter bell (or more than one!) It is a cute device that allows you to keep butter at room temp (spreadable, ready to bake with, etc.) using water as a low-tech seal. Mine is all-white, and blends seamlessly with our white dishes. It has made a fun conversation piece, too.

    Vinegars already have a home outside my fridge - all my salad-dressing tools are on a couple of shelves, including the oils and vinegars and pyrex measuring cups. I can reach them all very easily, thanks to sturdy plastic turn-tables.

    I am a turn-table fiend. My spices live on them, too, as well as condiments in the refrigerator. They decrease the amount of stuff you can store, but they make sure that you can reach what you have almost instantly.

    As for the author's dilemma of forgetting to bring things out, I'm glad an organized refrigerator helped her out. I need a list! I've been known to forget to serve dessert, even if I've made it! My smoothest holiday entertaining events worked because I made a list of what I wanted to have accomplished, and by when, to the very last detail, and on a time-line. I print it out and put it on the kitchen counter to make sure I know when to put dishes in or out of the oven, pull from the fridge to set on the table, etc. It even includes what days to shop for which items, my cleaning plans, plenty of time to take a shower and get dressed for the event in a relaxed way, and time to just relax at intervals through the preparations. I usually included places to delegate little things like lighting candles, putting out appetizers, shopping for ice, sweeping the porch, etc, and made sure I had the people handy to help! I guess if I entertained like this all the time, it would be second nature to me, but since it isn't, the list is a great way to feel relaxed amidst a lot of juggling. To be honest, I end up short-changing myself on the relaxing part because (true to Murphy's laws) the unexpected always happens, and everything takes longer than you think. But having those margins built in prevented little problems from becoming frustrating.

    Now that I've realized the joys of an organized refrigerator, I think I'm going to indulge in that much more often.

  • 14 Comments / 1 Pages

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