The 5Ss of Cleaning a Refrigerator

Our 5s Fridge. A Work in Progress.

Fridges get cluttered. I’m not sure how five jars of mustard, four types of pickles, three containers of leftover beans and things I can’t take a picture of or describe get misplaced in the bowels of this appliance but they do and the clutter gets out of control. And basically, what you don’t see, you don’t use.

I have been focused on better food management after clearing out my parents’ two freezers and a fridge before moving my dad to an assisted living facility several years ago. One of the freezers was frozen shut and had to thaw out for about two weeks. Even then the door would not open with a crowbar. Somehow my husband and brother in law got it open and it was worth the effort. We found a bit of money wrapped in foil entitled “bacon.” Interesting choice of words.

Back to my fridge. I personally like to use some of the Performance Improvement techniques I learned in healthcare. For this, the 5 Ss of Lean work best: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.

Sort – Combine, keep, share, or throw away. Have that deep discussion with yourself on if you are really ever going to use the Raspberry Swirl dessert topping ever again.

Straighten – This is the Mary Poppins mantra. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Reassign spaces and areas in your fridge above and beyond fruit in the fruit drawer and butter in the side shelf.  If you are really detailed, create a fridge map or just list what should be where. We tend to keep breads (in Houston bread molds if you leave it out) and leftovers on the bottom shelf. It’s the go-to shelf first for lunches at home.

Shine – Wipe out the fridge. Clean every item before you put it back in the fridge. Every time you take something out of the fridge or put something in, take a few extra seconds to tidy and clean.

Standardize – Work practices for the first three Ss should be standardized. As an SDA (Single DA), you can create your own standards. A PDA (Partnered DA) may need to “inservice” the significant other and collaborate on this fourth S and the fifth S below.

Sustain – Let’s face it. This is the hard S. The fridge gremlin comes in during the night and will start messing with your design. To Sustain, you are continuously assessing the results of your work. You are looking for improvements to sustain a clean, less-cluttered, functional fridge.

My five tips for Sustaining:

1) Schedule in a monthly-or bi-monthly cleaning day on your household management calendar (HMC). I know you have one!

2) Inventory your fridge and freezer and date when you do so. I thought I inventoried a lot but the data showed only twice a year. I’ve sinced upped it to quarterly and put it on the HMC.

3) Create a par level for foods you use regularly such as eggs, milk, cheese, bread, etc.

4) Keep an ongoing list of foods you need to use up quickly such as leftovers or fruits with short shelf lifes like strawberries. Keep the list on the front of your fridge so you can mentally review possible “ingredients” for a leftover meal. Don’t rely on a container with refried black beans to emotionally entice you to eat it up. I noticed a significant reduction in our grocery list in doing this one action.

5) Take a moment to create a sense of contentment for being efficient, cost-conscious and an excellent DA!

Happy Cleaning!