This “Divide and Conquer” Habit Leaves My Fridge Sparkling Clean

published Aug 2, 2023
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I love getting groceries. While my friends and coworkers sing the praises of a convenient grocery delivery or quick pickup order, my husband and I revel in the opportunity to choose our own produce, wander the aisles with our grocery list, and allow cooking inspiration to strike as it may. 

There are some guards in place with this plan — we create a very specific menu for our dinners each week, we take inventory of what we have before we do a grocery run, and we stick to a pretty strict budget, even with some wiggle room built in for spontaneous purchases. It’s great, for the most part. But the thing that neither of us has historically looked forward to is the unloading it all.

Unloading and organizing groceries is a daunting task in our super-small kitchen, and doubly so when the fridge’s cramped shelves are packed with leftovers and unused ingredients that need to be sorted out before they can make way for new purchases. But in recent years, we have worked out a system that is so simple, yet vastly improves the quality of life in our home and considerably cuts down on how much we each dread this task. We take turns. 

Groundbreaking, I know, but there’s more to it than that. Each week, one of us goes to the grocery store with the list we both helped create. The other one stays home and uses that same hour or so to toss any old leftovers, ensure the dishwasher is loaded and any large dishes are washed, and give the fridge a true — if quick — cleaning. That mysterious sticky substance in the corner gets wiped up, drawers are inspected for hidden messes, Tupperware contents are evaluated, and anything we aren’t thrilled about keeping gets tossed or set aside for potential repurposing. 

This division of labor started in early 2020 when we were trying to avoid needlessly crowding our grocery store due to the pandemic, and it’s stuck. The joy of coming home, arms filled with grocery bags, to a clean fridge that requires no Tetris-ing of its contents is truly unrivaled. And as for the person who stays home, they get to take a break from zooming through Aldi and Kroger, content with the fact that it will be their turn next week.

Not only is this a time-saver, but it also helps us more easily split the workload of the whole ordeal. Getting groceries together from time to time is still fun, but we used to try and clean out and organize the fridge as a team, and it’s simply not a two-person job. We’d get in each other’s way more than anything, particularly in our shoebox of an apartment. And worse, we’d try to tackle the fridge cleanout after groceries were already done, creating further cramped conditions in the kitchen with tons of bags sitting on our lone tiny countertop. 

With this setup, we each clearly have our domain to handle free from distraction, and we each rest easy knowing that we are pulling our weight. And in addition to the convenience of this system, the fact that someone is regularly scanning the often-forgotten depths of the fridge has totally cut down on the number of times we’ve needed to give it a true, time-consuming deep clean (which is never fun).

I highly recommend implementing something similar in your own home — I imagine this would work great for most roommates, families, and partners who want to ensure grocery prep is efficient and fair but don’t enjoy too many cooks in the kitchen while they do it. 

Maybe older children tackle the fridge cleanout while parents hit the store, or college roommates keep track of whose turn it is to do what via a dry-erase board on the fridge. With more people in the house, it’ll save folks even more time. No matter what your situation is, if you share a home with someone, it’s time to divide and conquer — your fridge will thank you.