Impose order on your leftovers
You’ll find it easier to maintain order with a good set of food-storage containers. The best ones are clear and stackable, making it easy to see what you have at a glance. I prefer shallow containers to tall, deli-style quart containers, which can obscure the stuff behind them. For several great options in either plastic or glass, check out Wirecutter’s guide to the best food storage containers.
Even with the best containers, it helps to have a system for managing leftovers. One of the cardinal rules of any restaurant fridge is FIFO: first in, first out. This means that new items always go to the back, pushing older food to the front of the line, where it’s guaranteed to get used up first. To do the same thing at home, you’ll need to spend a little extra time putting away groceries or leftovers, but it will save time later on: Rather than rummaging around for the open jar of tomato sauce, you’ll have the food that needs to be finished right at your fingertips. Using trays or bins makes it easier to follow the FIFO rule, since you can pull everything out.
Write it all down
In restaurants, absolutely everything gets labeled with its name and the date. At home, that can help prevent the beef stew that you freeze from becoming a murky mystery container in three months. I (and most restaurants I know) like to use a Sharpie and painter’s tape (We recommend green FrogTape) for labeling because the label stays on securely but comes off cleanly.
For our tiny, dark freezer, which is usually packed to the brim, my husband went one step beyond labeling and stuck a white board to the wall, so we can keep track of what we have without opening the door. We list everything in the freezer that needs to get eaten, from frozen waffles to salmon fillets, and consult the list when we’re planning dinner or writing our grocery list (which lives on the other half of the white board).
If you have trouble using up all the vegetables in your fridge or remembering to finish off leftovers, the same system might help there, too. You can also look for a magnetic white board that will stick right to your fridge, if you’d rather not hang anything.
If, even after your best efforts, clutter starts to return (it happens to me!), just try to nip it in the bud before you have another leaning tower of Tupperware situation. Cook a clean-out-the-fridge meal, and use your condiments for a fancy toast-toppings bar. And when you really need to, pull it all out and start over.
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.