Storage Tips

A Simple Way to Simplify Your Fridge (& Your Life)

April 22, 2016

I say decant everything that you can. Decant the mouthwash—it looks more interesting in a recycled Voss water bottle, the smaller glass one with the label removed. I would decant the toothpaste, were it possible.

Photo by James Ransom

In your fridge, decant the milk first—the over-written cartons, with their references to arcadia and nature and your health and riboflavin. Decant into a clear glass container. Decant and calm the orange juice, it will keep better and colder in glass.

Look in your fridge and consider all the labels, all the labor, all the art directors—and then consider your fridge word-free. I remember the first t-shirt I was given, in 1965, with a little symbol over my left breast, and how offended I was. And how wrong: I assumed that naming would go away.

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You will love the look of your milk in a glass container—the pure white, and the soft volume. You can see it, you know what you have. You will love the interior look of your refrigerator all in glass—the colors, the volumes, the texture. (I use a small woven basket for the eggs).

Photo by James Ransom

When I have soaked and cooked dried beans, the lovely cannellini or the Borlotti, I store them in their liquid in a tall, clear container—if I can see them, I am prone, inspired, to use them. Store a cup of fresh stock in a small clear bottle, so you can see it quickly.

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Top Comment:
“Now I will start switching out more things to glass jars in the fridge. ;-)”
— Trina

Decant the jam—or at least soak the label off. The jam will look like itself. And the pickles. You have worked hard to make your kitchen work—now make the vista within your fridge more elegant, the surfaces and the forms as clear as the kitchen itself.

You will need more containers and more glass containers. Choose with care—the lids must be easily cleaned, the surface must be of a size you can handle, the shape must relate to your task.

Photo by James Ransom

Decant and, of course, recant. You have surrendered to the names and to the advertising but they have, in truth, no entitled place in your fridge. It is best when you are able to see in there.

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Author of Lunch at the Shop and a forthcoming book from Abrams Spring 2017.


Ka R. April 3, 2021
I do this, not for everything, but for many things. I just think it adds a little elegance to each day. My best friend recycles his glass caldrea soap bottles, so I got some and did, too. Milk is a little harder because the rim gets yucky. I have searched for years for the “best” decanter for mouthwash and am still undecided. It’s a tiny, private thing but nice to not always have a billboard screaming at you from every angle.
Nicole J. April 26, 2016
Yeah, because I literally have NOTHING else to do with my time. Any suggestions for an eco-friendly use of all the discarded packaging? Because after spending hours transferring food into pristine jars and bottles. . . as well as soaking off labels. . . I'll have all sorts of energy to start a craft project with my empty milk containers.
Brooke W. April 26, 2016
"The jam will look like itself." Oh come on.
Robin G. April 25, 2016
What I find hilarious about this is that there is no picture of an ad free fridge.
Jeanette D. April 25, 2016
I do this with some things, but not with others. It really just depends. I do keep all of my granola ingredients in labeled, simple white plastic containers from IKEA, and I decant orange juice, vinegars, etc. You don't have to spend a lot for containers. Ball jars work great, and I always save pretty glass bottles or jars from things that I bought and used up.
Jeanette D. April 25, 2016
I will say that this drives my husband a little batty. But I know what everything is, and I do all the cooking anyway, so...
ginna B. April 25, 2016
Gorgeous idea. If I had a dishwasher, I would consider it. I love this way of being extra present in the small things, even putting away the groceries.
Annette April 25, 2016
If your things came from packages but you've removed them, you wouldn't have anything to look at if a food has a recall. I know it's rare but keeping things in their packages doesn't bother me and everyone that uses the fridge knows what everything is if it's in original packaging.
Also, people with dietary issues need the info on the Nutrition Facts. Having listings of carbohydrates for an insulin pump and calories for calorie counting, make our lives easier.
Too each his/her own, I guess.
Trina April 25, 2016
Thanks for the idea... I think it's great! It would be useful to have a clear, unobstructed view in the fridge, so that more food gets used and not overlooked and then wasted. A simple solution for not having labels, would be to use a wax pen or even some chalkboard stickers. It would be helpful to write the expiration or best if used by date on the bottle. When I buy organic milk at Whole Foods it comes in glass jars. When they are empty, I wash and reuse them in the pantry for beans, grains and flours. It makes everything look pretty and organized. Now I will start switching out more things to glass jars in the fridge. ;-)
cerealmom April 25, 2016
Maryam A. April 25, 2016
Would love to see photos of this in action. Reminds me of how it must have been done before packaging, plastics and advertising took over. Love it.
Rebecca P. April 25, 2016
I loved this piece. Everyone has the same amount of time in the day, but we all assign different values to what we choose to do with that time. Creating "clean" space--absent of words and pictures--is a therapeutic and relaxing pastime in my book!
Estela A. April 25, 2016
Oh, I thought I was the only one who did that -- I would decant the toothpaste too if possible. Being a graphic designer, I find the packaging of most things I buy ugly, to the verge of being offending. I use the same Bormiolli bottles in the pictures. I mark everything (prettily) with a wax pencil.
Nancy March 5, 2018
Estela & Peter - me too. Love the way things look in clear glass. For pantry staples, I decant them into plastic bins. If the item is new to me, or I need the nutrient info, I clip it from the package & lay it on top of the dry goods in the plastic bin....If there are multiple cooks, this only works if you agree, and know what's in the jars, or have a good labeling system.
Carolina A. April 25, 2016
Beautiful! I think I will label the bottles and glass containers with tags handwritten by me so my husband doesn't drink my soy milk with his cereal haha
Phoebe T. April 24, 2016
I love this article! I understand the sentiment of simplifying in the sense of getting rid of things you don't find beautiful – many would find this minimalism therapeutic.
Emily April 23, 2016
I like the spirit of this sentiment--less plastic, less advertising-- but an easier approach is to buy in bulk! Avoid plastic containers in the first place. Or if not possible to buy in bulk, buy the largest size available and then decant into glass for prolonged freshness.

Homemaker D. April 22, 2016
Soak the labels off the jam jars? You have got to be kidding me. Title should have been: "Over-complicate your Life by Fretting over Ridiculous Minutia."
Homemaker D. April 22, 2016
*minutiae. Oh, the tiny details.
Sarah J. April 23, 2016
Hi Zaz,

This wasn't meant to be a service piece but rather a look inside the kitchen of one of our community members (and a friend of ours!). We love the article for its strong viewpoint, its newness, and its lyricism. You're welcome to share what your refrigerator looks like, of course, but we'd ask that you bear this in mind as you comment.
Greenstuff April 23, 2016
Ouch! Count me among those that didn't get it. I've been looking at my jam jars too.
missarticulate April 24, 2016
I'm not sure that a reprimand is the appropriate response to Zaz's gentle ribbing, especially since other commenters seem to agree. The article is lovely, but it presents itself as a solution to a problem, not just a description of preferences. As a piece about how Peter Miller, purveyor of beautiful books and housewares, simplified his life, the article is fine. As "A Simple Way to Simplify Your Fridge (& Your Life)", it's pretty out of touch with how most of us live our lives for reasons outlined by other commenters.
Sarah J. April 24, 2016
I'm sorry, missarticulate—wasn't meant to be a reprimand at all, but rather an explanation of the article! The headline was an editorial decision, not Peter Miller's, so for that I take responsibility. I do see his piece as a call to action (because of the sentence construction and use of the second person)—but one rooted in personal experience.
Homemaker D. April 24, 2016
Articles shouldn't need supplementary explanation, but sometimes they *do* need a reality check. As home cooks, we're always looking for ways to streamline and simplify; as members of a community (as this is) we need to chime in when something rings a little off, or doesn't feel realistic to some of us. My comment was indeed a gentle ribbing (thank you, missarticulate), in the spirit of community. As the site is meant to be (and is!) useful to so many of us, dissent in the comments on articles that some of us might find just a little bit silly, is helpful, and part of an ongoing conversation about what works and what doesn't. In other words, I will not recant.
Jeanne H. April 25, 2016
Labels do not come off easily, and all my jam is freezer jam. Already in pretty ball jars :-)
Marty L. April 3, 2019
It sounds like a reprimand though
Greenstuff April 22, 2016
Whoops, I think you goofed. April Fool's Day was weeks ago. I just took a quick look in my refrigerator to see what things I'd mix up if they weren't labeled, and I'm laughing my head off.
Fredrik B. April 23, 2016
At any given time, I have probably 5 different types of dairy with similar viscosity. Trying to separate whole milk from 2 percent from lactose-free from cream...
Jeremy B. April 23, 2016
How is it even possible to have 5 different types of dairy at one time?
Fredrik B. April 24, 2016
Whole milk for baking, 2 percent for the cappuccino machine (whole milk doesn't froth), cream for cooking and/or baking, fermented milk (filmjölk) for breakfast, and if my sister and her boyfriend is staying over for any longer period of time, he usually brings a carton of lactose-free. (And then there's butter, cheese and yogurt, if you meant any kind of dairy)
Lizzie April 22, 2016
This is literally the opposite of simplifying. I'm supposed to purchase hundreds of dollars of jars and transfer everything in my fridge into them? I have neither the money nor the time. Labels are there for a reason - so you know what things are! Good god this is inane.
Steve K. April 22, 2016
And what do you do with all those partial bottles and jars and bags that don't fit into your lovely and sleek new containers? Do you have a separate hidden cabinet for the bags and boxes non gratis?
Emily April 23, 2016
Just what I was thinking!
cookinalong April 22, 2016
Someone's got a lot of time on their hands! And obviously no kids (or accident prone adults) in their households where glass containers=broken glass. Also, not for anyone with tile floors. Lovely though they may look, much as they appeal to the hipster fetish for Ball canning jars, this isn't practical for most people. And thanks to the rush to put everything from shampoo to beans in a Ball jar, I have a terrible time finding them to actually store preserves. Now you have a better chance of finding the jars in a craft store than at the supermarket.
OK. I got that off my chest.