How do you deal with refrigerator door clutter?

When Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist Willilam Cullen first demonstrated artificial refrigeration at the University of Glasgow in 1748, one has to wonder if his young son had already pasted his drawings to the door of the new device.

Two hundred and sixty-five years later, home refrigerators let us preserve food and collect lots and lots of clutter. Many refrigerator doors put the junk drawer to shame. I’m certainly guilty, and I need help.

At any give time, my refrigerator door holds any combination of the following:

  1. Elementary school art
  2. Tests
  3. Hand-outs
  4. A calendar
  5. Photos
  6. Commemorative magnets
  7. Supermarket flyers
  8. School photos
  9. Phone numbers
  10. Tickets

What started as a toddler art gallery has morphed, Kafka-style, into a horrific creature. To-do lists, permission slips and class photos fade into a single, unworkable mass. How did this happen?

Alternatives to the vertical stack

I’m looking to you, Unclutterer readers. I’ve tried several solutions, but none seem to work. My first was technological. I own an iPad, and I have dreams of it becoming the ultimate kitchen tool. I bought a great refrigerator iPad mount from Belkin with the best intentions. It holds the iPad in place brilliantly. It’s right at eye level and offers my calendar, email, Facebook, project software and even Netflix for when I want to watch junky TV while cooking.

Yet, all I do is end up pushing the paper aside to reach the Belkin holder.

Next, I bought several magnetic baskets from the local craft store. For a while, this worked well. One was for pens, one for scissors and a few others – neatly labeled – for school papers and the like. That is, until the magnets started to fail and they slowly slid down along the door. Down, down, down.

A behavioral change

I realize that no piece of equipment will help me if the core behavior remains intact. There’s a part of me that still believes if these items are in my face, every day, I’ll know where they are and act on them in an appropirate and timely manner. However, the fact is this: the larger and more unruly the refrigerator door becomes, the more I resist going near it. So here are my questions to you:

  1. Do you hang stuff on the refrigerator?
  2. Do you you actively avoid putting stuff on the refrigerator door?
  3. If you don’t use the door as a secretary, how do you keep track of those little items (like permission slips) that need action, in short order?

I’d love to hear about your experiences, good and not so good. To quote Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

39 Comments for “How do you deal with refrigerator door clutter?”

  1. posted by Michelle on

    I have a fridge with a nonmagnetic front, and it’s enclosed on the other three sides. Problem solved!

  2. posted by Leigh on

    I have a fridge like Michelle’s and don’t miss the stuff. We have the file wall pockets and a magnet strip with clips in the office for paper storage and put the kids art on the wall with painters tape

  3. posted by Arden on

    I like the refrigerator as my command center. I don’t have room for a bulletin board in my kitchen so this works well. I make sure that I pare it down often but it works for tracking school, hockey and appointments.

    If it ain’t broke…..

  4. posted by lisa on

    I have a daytimer in the kitchen, with lots of space to write, and I write the relevant info in the daytimer. Permission slips get signed and put directly back into the child’s backpack. Other paper clutter that is still needed is tucked underneath the daytimer until it is needed. I also have a filing cabinet, with envelopes for receipts, files for bills, my In Case of Emergency file. I used to have a bulletin board for kid’s art, which works much better, as it is not flapping back and forth on the fridge door, and falling off because it is too heavy for the magnets.
    The daytimer, which has the whole week visible at a time is the key, I write down dr’s phone numbers and addresses beside the appointments, then don’t have to keep the card with that info, and is is easy to find if you ever need to call them (ie- we went to the allergy doctor around Easter time 2 years ago- look up the appointment in that years daytimer)

  5. posted by Jen on

    You might consider going cold turkey and completely removing everything from the outside of your fridge. Take it all down and then wipe the fridge clean. Live with it for a bit and see how it feels.

    My fridge was not in bad shape when I tried this tactic. I kept a rotating collection of photos in magnetic picture frames on the top door. It seemed tidy, but I realized it felt like clutter because there were too many pictures in too small of a space. I wouldn’t normally decorate a wall that way (I prefer one bigger picture, which feels more restful to me), so why should the fridge be any different? It’s basically an extension of the kitchen wall, given the amount of space it takes.

    I was amazed by how much lighter, brighter, and open my kitchen felt when I took down all the fridge pictures. Wish I could give credit to the minimalism blog where I read this idea, but I can’t remember where I saw it. It’s worth a try to see if it will work for you.

  6. posted by Marrena on

    Bulletin board in the kitchen, to display elementary school art, tests and photos (clear this up periodically). School photos presumably will be up the full year so get some cheap frames and display them elsewhere.

    Buy an actual calendar and hang it on the wall near the refrigerator. This is key. And write on it, so that the family has a social calendar.

    Supermarket flyers do zero good on the fridge. Store them in the resusable bags in your car that you use to grocery shop, and when you come home from shopping and unload, recycle them.

    If phone numbers are important phone numbers, like for the babysitter in case of emergency, those go on the freezer door in big lettering using the commemorative magnets. Tickets should also go there, where they won’t get knocked off.

    Do you get many school hand-outs? In my school district all the handouts are emailed to parents, aside from forms to fill out and sign. Forms should be filled out and signed immediately and put directly back into the child’s backpack. Any remaining hand-outs can go on the fridge door at child-eye level using the commemorative magnets.

  7. posted by rikke on

    I wrangle the papers in a magnetic file folder set up (like this one: http://www.target.com/p/magntic-file-oh-magnet-fridge-filer/-/A-14376801#prodSlot=medium_1_5) and have it labeled with Appointments/reminders, emergency and prayer requests. The Appointment and Reminders folder holds notes about next doctors or dentist appointments, slips that need to be brought or signed. The Emergency tab has all of the necessary contacts for the baby sitters and instructions on how to help our child calm down when he is in full tantrum. (Every baby sitter should have the full bag of tricks available to them.) The prayer tab has all of those pictures, magnets, photo cards, and tschotchkes to help remember those people or places in the world that are important to me. Everything on the fridge is relegated to the freezer door only. When the clutter creep happens and fills up the door, it’s time to purge. Also all kid artwork gets stored in a hanging frame on the wall of the living room and changed out when he brings a new piece home. It goes no where near the fridge. If I start doing that, it will never end.

  8. posted by Dee in BC on

    My fridge is non magnetic on the front .On the side I have the grocery list pad, a basket for pens & post it notes (for use elsewhere-NOT on the fridge). I also have a couple of special magnets & a magnetic tiny vase with ivy clippings I’m rooting & a small souvenier framed family photo. I’ts neat & tidy & works with our kitchen’s vibe. On the back of the pantry door are the bins & hooks for the homework & things needing to be followed up on.Labeled for each kid & by what it is eg: soccer & baseball schedules – Danny or homework-Suzy We have cork boards & frames in certain areas for the kids art- This is the hardest to control as the kids like to pin items on top of what is already on the cork boards- The framed art works well but we can only fit 2 or 3 of each child’s masterpieces on the gallery wall.

  9. posted by Lisa on

    Yes! And I hate it…I clean it off and love it, then slowly things creep back up there. It is the junk drawer for sure.

  10. posted by Andie on

    Our fridge is bare (now). i love it.
    We have a calendar on the wall.

    And we keep track of papers that used to be there on the inside of our linen closet.

    I have two clear plastic folders, that are open on two side (one long, one short) taped with pretty washi tape up on the inside of the door. one holds tickets for upcoming events – with a small list at the front with event and date, which i cross out when finished), and the second folder holds coupons, etc, that need easy access.

    easy to get into, secure, all in one place, and easy to see what each contains.

  11. posted by Dana on

    We only keep invitations to birthdays, weddings and the like on the fridge, and once the event passes we toss it. So far only the freezer is covered. We are still a newly wed couple though, I’m sure this would be a totally different situation with a full blown family! Though I like the idea of having some choice items on the fridge, it makes me smile!

  12. posted by Carol on

    I keep stuff on my fridge because I think it adds personality. This started after 15 years in a bad relationship where my ex didn’t want to see any signs that I lived in the house so I wasn’t allowed to display anything anywhere. I hated the sterile looking fridge. I’ve also had bulletin boards in the past but hate how they get chewed up looking.

    I try to keep everything on the fridge at eye level, mostly on the freezer door since I have a top mount freezer. Larger items, like my calendar, are on the side of the fridge. I’m a bit OCD so everything is lined up pretty neatly and I try not to overlap items so everything can be seen. That keeps important items from being overlooked or forgotten. Appointment cards and reminders get tossed after the appointment is over, same with dated bulletins and invitations. Usually that’s all I need to do to keep it organized. Occaisonally I’ll take a good look at everything on the door and reassess if I still want it there or if there’s a better place to keep the item, such as business cards that I haven’t used in a while. I’ll admit my fridge looks a bit “busy” but with everything organized neatly it hardly looks cluttered to me.

  13. posted by jessica on

    I actively avoid putting anything on the front of the fridge. I have one thermometer magnet and a school calender one hidden on the side of the fridge. I keep the front of the fridge clear. We have a freezer on the other side of the room and that is where the kid artwork goes. I only have a few magnets so that I am limited on what I can hang.

    My best advice is only have as many magnets as you want to have papers on your fridge. I have a 3 pocket magazine rack mounted in the dinning/kitchen area from IKEA. It has a pocket for kids artwork and a pocket for school information I want to reference and a folder for other documents to scan.

    The artwork pocket has a folder in it for the artwork good enough to scan. When the pocket gets full, I scan the stuff in the folder and when my daughter isn’t looking, I trash all of it.

  14. posted by Tabitha on

    Easy. Have a non-magnetic fridge (stainless). I use a small corkboard for things that need to stick around for awhile (invites, etc). Things that need my attention right now go on my landing strip for immediate action. Phone numbers, schedules, etc. go in my phone. And my calendar appts are shared with other family members electronically. The flow of paper is pretty contained. Now forcing my boyfriend to manage his mail is a whole other story….lol

  15. posted by Mackenzie on

    I do have stuff on the fridge door but not much. Wedding invitations go there til they follow me into the car on the way to the wedding. There’s a white board, but I haven’t used it in…I should get rid of it. Some gift certificates are held in a magnetic clip. Other than that, the fridge stores magnetic things– magnets with phone numbers on them or chip bag clips with magnets on the back, ready to grab when a bag needs to close.

  16. posted by CM on

    Our system has evolved over time. What we have now is a large homemade calendar with our next two months on it. (My son likes to help me make this, and we all write on it as we go along.) That takes up most of the fridge door, and we have a few photos and magnets along the side. I leave a space for a bunch of papers clipped together which include school flyers, party invitations, and other details — basically a cross-reference for the calendar. I go through the papers once a month and discard any that are out of date.

  17. posted by pat on

    We put all the kids schedules inside the kitchen cabinet doors. We tape them inside by type-one cabinet always has school schedules, one has sports schedules etc. Other papers go on a clipboard that has a pad of paper with a weekly to do list on the counter.The weekly activity scedule is on a white board on the wall. I spend 5 minutes every morning reviewing what I’m doing and who’s going where.

    On the fridge we have the shopping list pad where anything that we need to buy is written down-”If it’s not on the list, it won’t get bought”. Next to the list is a magnetic holder for a couple of pens and some business cards. A homemade calendar in a sheet protector hangs on a magnetic hook.

    When the kids were little, we used painters tape to hang their artwork on their bedroom doors. They decided when to put up new favorites.

  18. posted by Marie on

    Our fridge has zones (command, display, play, catch-all) with varying levels of clutter and organization.

    The side facing the door has several tracking systems held on by big magnetics – 1. The big calendar, 2. two little white boards for menu planning and shopping lists. 3. A kitchen timer 4. Other big magnet clips for holding paper in transition. Most paper that needs an “action” gets put on the calendar, then thrown out.

    On the front, the freezer door is covered semi-permanently with favorite pictures of family. The front door of the fridge is given over to my toddler, so it has random messy pieces of art and bits of magnets she rearranges.

    On the side, hiding near the counter, I have a wasteland of recipe clippings and small notes. Every so often, I throw it all out and start over.

    I also have a magnet collection both sentimental and artsy that I enjoy seeing regularly, so those live in various configurations out of reach of the kid.

  19. posted by Melissa on

    A couple of years ago I completely cleaned off the fridge. although as I’m writing this I see that the kids have found some magnets and stuck a photo from camp and a little reminder to think before posting to social media.

    We have a computer on a desk at the side of the kitchen and I have an IKEA wall mounted magazine holder to store current files that I need to do something with, although permission slips I usually sign straight away and they take them back the next day. Flyers and invites for things that are on the calendar have their own slot in the magazine holder. We use an internet calendar for the family.

    I think I will move the social media reminder to the computer (which makes more sense anyway) and would like to set up a little place for photos on the wall near there as well (just haven’t quite got around to that yet.) If I leave the things on the fridge more pieces are inevitably added until it’s a mess.

  20. posted by Ella on

    Among the first things I ever decluttered was ALL the stuff on the refrigerator door. Tabula rasa, and it stays that way.

  21. posted by Sue B on

    I don’t get the agitia over the fridge door art and stuff. Yes mine is a mess. There are photos, and 15 year old Christmas Photo card (taken at our wedding) coupons, postcards, doctor appointment cards, stock dividend checks (to the tune of $1.50) and most importantly the school calendar and lunch calendars. Breakfast and lunch packing happens in the kitchen. I need to know if it is a minimum day (release at noon, no lunch needed but they need picked up at noon) or a regular day (which kid did I buy lunch for.)We have 30 minutes from wake up to leaving. Important info is on that fridge. And I’ll clean it up next week once school is out. But I know when the dentist and doctor’s appointments are.

  22. posted by Marjoryt on

    I’m in house 7 right now. Somehow, I’ve never really used a fridge as any type of organizing tool. That’s probably because mail automatically goes to the office area, and because we’ve pretty much stopped using the phone in the kitchen. Perhaps that’s the secret to all this – where do these things on the door really belong?

    When all 4 of my kids were doing art in school, I hung their art in the hallway. Each child got space for 10 pieces. When 11 came in, the child chose what piece came down. Since the child decided, they had control over the space, and they could judge the quality. I often thought about getting some inexpensive frames, but never got around too that – 4 x 10 = 40 pieces – even I’m not that obsessive!

  23. posted by Tiffany on

    We embrace using our fridge as a place to display all those Christmas card photos that we don’t feel right about throwing away but aren’t really going to end up in photo albums. We buy fun magnets and make a collage, and then as next year’s Christmas card comes in, the old one goes out. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something that makes us very happy.

  24. posted by Andrea on

    One thing I find that has worked for me for the past few months (after I too got tired of all the stuff on the fridge!) is to set a regular date to just go through what’s there, clear out anything old, and reorganize what is there. It helps me keep it fresh and generally organized, while keeping the things I need (like invites to things) where I need them.

    We also have a big magnetic white board that is in our kitchen, that gets cluttered too. I’ve learned to clean that off regularly too. My kids keep sports schedules on a clip (one for each of them) so we always know exactly where to find what we need hanging there. My daughter also puts her monthly reading chart for school on there so she can see it daily and remember to do her reading and write down how long she read for.

    I will also admit to having several things taped up to my pantry door, including schedules and the school lunch menu – things we need to see often. But I intentionally take down the old when it’s time to put up one for the new month, or at the end of the school year.

  25. posted by Kim on

    Get a magnetic board or use a cookie sheet and hang it on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. You can keep all your stuff you need to deal with in a timely manner that you don’t want to file away out of sight yet right at your finger tips. You can even cover the cookie sheet in cute fabric and the magnets will still work.

  26. posted by April on

    No magnets, no way to stick stuff on the fridge… which forces you to make a decision/deal with whatever you feel like posting on the fridge door.

    So, take it all off and get rid of the magnets. Take a few minutes to sort through what you took down.

    Done. No more can go up, and you’ll have to use the GTD’s two minute rule next time you find yourself wishing to post something on your fridge (but can’t, because there are no magnets).

  27. posted by alfora on

    Lets go through your list, ask why you put the items on the fridge in the first place, and think of a more appropriate place:

    Elementary school art: any non moving vertical space like a wall
    Tests: Why do you look at tests more than once? Put them in a folder to the other tests.
    Hand-outs: ok, if it is short-term; throw it away if not
    A calendar: put it on a wall; it will stay there for a year
    Photos: frame them and put them on your walls if they are really good; if they are “just photos” put them on your smartphone
    Commemorative magnets: clutter; don’t use them
    Supermarket flyers: ok, if you really use and recycle them afterwards; you might need them when you plan your shopping trip
    School photos: see photos
    Phone numbers: why are they even there in the first place? enter them in your phone and be done with it
    Tickets: seriously? on the fridge?

  28. posted by Anna on

    Alfora gets it right.

    Here’s my refrigerator door census:

    A tiny image of a cat sitting in a teacup; its tail forms the handle of the cup.

    One set of miniature wind chimes, which make lovely music every time I open the freezer.

    Four magnets, all holding the essential papers named below, each with a special meaning for me, and one of which is from the public library…

    …and holds my current list of library books with due dates; otherwise I would soon be a poor little old lady as a result of overdue fines.

    Two poems I love and cannot live without unless I see them every day.

    All the organizational stuff (except for the library book list) is elsewhere on my desk, in my day planner, and in the appropriate file folders. (For some reason, library due dates in my day planner don’t work for me; OK, so I’m inconsistent.)

  29. posted by LM on

    David, I wonder if your best solution might be to reinforce your existing magnetic baskets with stronger and/or additional magnets. You said that method worked well until they started sliding.

    I would love to see a picture of the type of baskets you mentioned. I need an intervention, myself, and that might be a method I’d use. My refrigerator is just awful (photos, kids’ drawings, random magnets, tickets, coupons, recipes, beginnings of a grocery list, addresses torn from envelopes that I’ve not had time to enter and don’t want to lose, phone numbers, party invitations, cards, small things that make me smile, things for work I don’t want to lose, and probably other ridiculous stuff I put up there that I’ve stopped “seeing”.)

  30. posted by Anne Stockwell on

    The rest of the house may be a mess (I am on here to get some advice; I love your blog!) but I have the refrigerator door nailed. I have two things on it permanently: A magnetic, good-looking stainless steel plaque with all the measurement conversions for cooking, which I use constantly, and a magnet-backed tablet of paper for grocery lists- I got a pretty one at a stationary store, and whenever someone notices something we need, the list is right there. If I have something that I just can’t lose in the general mess – tickets to a concert, or most recently a jury summons – I let myself keep that ONE THING tucked under the cooking measurements magnet until I need it.

    BTW, I don’t know about current tech, but it seems to me you might want to keep your iPad far from any magnets. Any techies want to weigh in on this?

  31. posted by Lise on

    I am a proponent of the fridge as a photo gallery. We bought a bunch of magnetic frames, and every year when we take down the holiday cards, I cut the photos out and put them up on the fridge.

    To come into our house you walk through the galley kitchen and past the fridge. Folks are always stopping to see if their photos are there. While it isn’t pristine, it is a daily reminder of who loves us and who we love.

    Otherwise we have:
    *a single sheet of paper with the daily chores list (who does dishwasher today, etc). Critical for sanity.

    *a clip that holds the grocery list (if you take the last of something from the pantry, write it on the list. If it isn’t on the list, it doesn’t get purchased) Critical for smooth household functioning.

    * and right now, a holiday card that makes all of us giggle. Critical for joy.

  32. posted by Anita Fite on

    I have one of those organizers meant for bill paying. It has 31 numbered slots. Any paper that is date-specific goes into the appropriate slot. (Library books due on the 10th? Drop it in slot 10.) I use it to keep track of tickets, invitations, meeting information, recipes for that day’s dinner, and more.

    I have had to develop the habit of looking ahead to see what’s coming, but this works really well for me.

  33. posted by Deborah on

    We have a wood paneled fridge, so it’s perfectly clean- which I love! I use the inside of a cabinet door to hang invites, slips for upcoming trips at school, etc. They get tossed in the recycling pile as soon as the event passes. No visual clutter is very relaxing.

  34. posted by Paula on

    I keep one thing I love (decorative pot holder) on the front of our fridge at my eye level, then place 2 pieces of kids’ artwork on the bottom (at their eye level). My magnets are visually small, but strong. Everything else (reminders, invitations, etc.) gets clipped to my calendar or pinned to the corkboard next to my calendar in the mudroom. Essentially, I treat my fridge like a frame for artwork.

  35. posted by Natalie on

    Nothing is on my fridge. I have tickler file that I refer to daily. It took a while to develop the habit of checking it daily but I couldn’t live without it! Everything that needs to be actioned in the appropriate folders so that things are always done on time.

    I use this system…

    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/back-to-basics-the-tickler-file.html

  36. posted by TV James on

    I have a regular monthly recurring task in Remember the Milk to clean off the refrigerator and the bulletin board in the kitchen. I just take a quick look, remove items that are out of date or that have been there too long but serve no overall purpose. The stuff that’s removed is recycled or stored. I’ve had no complaints from my less OCD family and it keeps both from becoming useless/overwhelming.

  37. posted by Laurie on

    We went cold turkey when we redid the kitchen and got a stainless steel refrigerator. I haven’t missed a thing that was on there.
    And now my kids are grown so there is no artwork, no tests that they’re willing to share, no school schedules, etc. Every once in a while there is something that needs to be addressed, and it goes in a red folder that we put out on the kitchen counter overnight. Otherwise, it’s in a drawer in the kitchen. We also have a letter-sized “family calendar” that tucks in the drawer and that we pull out all the time. The kitchen is so much more peaceful now.

  38. posted by Kate on

    We don’t have kids yet, but for a long time the front (and sides) of my fridge were my pinboard for everything – uni, shopping, invites, calendar, photos, other random stuff. That old faithful died a few years ago, and we went and bought a super-attractive stainless steel one… only for me to get it home and realise that MAGNETS DON’T STICK TO THE STAINLESS BITS!!! They only stick to the side. So I had to majorly cut down what I put on my fridge! Now, it’s just a couple of photos in magnetic frames (multi use! I can use them to stick stuff up with) and cards/flyers for takeaway and tradies we use regularly. Everything else is now contained in my iPad/iPhone (via evernote & ical). Much easier to keep track of!

  39. posted by Just Me on

    I keep everything that I need to do in the cabinet over my washer. This is also where I store my purse immediately when I come into the house. This is the system that I have used for about a year now and I have saved many steps looking for things. They are where I need them when I leave and easy to check every time I wash another load of clothing.

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