I consider myself an organized gal. My house is fairly tidy, I know just where everything is, and I’ve interviewed dozens of organizing pros over the years and almost always think, yeah, I do that. And when Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out, I dutifully purged my closet, thanked a few college sweatshirts for their service, and let them go.
But lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about food waste. Since our kids have gotten older, my husband and I have been cooking a lot more — we even swore off takeout last year (and have pretty much stuck to it!). But it’s tricky getting the right amount of food for a family of four: The leftovers never seem to get eaten, food I think will be a hit ends up rotting over time, and I have a tendency to over-shop because heaven forbid there’s “nothing to eat” in the fridge. And when the CSA boxes start coming … well, can anyone really eat that many greens?
So on a recent weeknight, after putting the kids to bed, while cleaning up dinner, and before unpacking the four enormous FreshDirect boxes that landed on my doorstep, I decided to KonMari the fridge.
For food safety and logistical reasons, I tackled it shelf by shelf. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the condensed version goes something like the following:
- Take everything out.
- Lift up every single object and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”
- If it does, back in it goes; if not, toss or donate.
- If you’re letting go, thank the item — with actual words, out loud! — for its service and say goodbye.
Got it? Here’s how it went.
The Top Shelf
This is where I typically keep food for the kids. I hauled everything out and picked up each item, one by one. What sparked joy? The leftovers, actually — that’s my kids’ healthy dinner for tomorrow night! Also, baby carrots, yogurt, apples, and avocados. I was feeling fairly virtuous. So when I got to the soggy week-old kale chips, a hard-boiled egg of unknown origin, some slimy-looking celery slices, and one very decomposed lemon wedge (not stored properly, I’ll note), it was clear that they did not spark joy.
The Middle Shelf
This one was empty-ish. It was easy to let go of tonic water from three holiday parties ago, marinara sauce we opened in March (I never went back to it, but at least I dated the top — good job, self!), and the pickled peppers we made last summer (although I did thank them for being delicious, crunchy additions to many a sandwich — we’ll make them again!). What sparked joy: Milk the kids drink every morning, half-and-half for weekend coffee, and the tap water I store in a carafe and keep in the fridge, because it looks classy when guests come over. Those things all truly spark joy when I put them on my dining table.
The Cheese Drawer
This was not as bad as expected. I (thanked and) chucked some very old-looking tortillas and a pack of pepperoni past its sell-by date. Kept a bunch of cold cuts and many kinds of cheese, which were all less than two weeks old. I also kept one only slightly moldy wedge of Gruyère — it didn’t exactly spark joy, but I thought of using the good parts for omelets this weekend and that made me happy.
The Bottom Shelf
White wine, pink wine, and bubbly — all keepers! Eggs were also keepers (my youngest requests them every morning). The bottle organizer I bought a few years back did not spark joy, but without it all those wines would roll around, so it stayed.
The Crisper Drawers
Three random beers and some green beans? Keepers! But I relocated the beans so they wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. Two kinds of potatoes, lemons, limes, and chocolate chips. Some of the limes were brown — toss. The chocolate chips were relocated.
The Fridge Door
The top shelf had the most random mix (fancy chocolate, tomato concentrate, under-eye cream, many soy sauce packets, a dried lime wedge) and everything but the eye cream went into the garbage. On the middle and bottom shelves, I did not pull every condiment out, but I did make an effort to at least touch each one — quickly. Found another lime wedge to toss, out went the almost-finished salad dressing I never liked, some congealed ketchup, weird-looking baking soda, honey dated March 2016. Out went salsa of unknown provenance and some equally mysterious homemade salad dressing. I wavered on a splash of Worcestershire sauce (kept it — meatloaf makes my family happy!), and got excited about cooking with all my Asian sauces (ponzu, teriyaki, soy). A half bottle of wine made the cut, although surprisingly I didn’t pour myself a glass.
I know that the “spark joy” catchphrase is the one most often associated with the KonMari method, but what her practice really does is force you to confront what you have and become truly aware of what you need. A bottle of ketchup might not spark joy, but it certainly makes me happy when I picture my kids eating chicken dunked in the stuff. A jar of old marinara sauce? Not so much.
As I loaded my new groceries into the fridge — and realized that I’d doubled up on mozzarella sticks and avocados — I realized that if I want to cut down on food waste, I have to be more conscious of what we really eat, and what’s still in the fridge when that “nothing to eat” panic sets in. So, yes, her method does work on the fridge. But I was too tired to try it on the freezer.