There are plenty of challenges that come along with having roommates.
Different schedules, managing chores, and different priorities can all cause conflicts in your home.
Your refrigerator doesn’t have to be one of those conflicts.
If it’s your first time living with roommates, managing your fridge can seem overwhelming.
That’s not to mention how small some apartment refrigerators can be. These tips will help you prevent your fridge from causing arguments. Plus, it’ll stay cleaner and better organized at the same time!
In this guide you’ll learn:
- Strategies to manage food sharing with roommates
- How to keep food to yourself, without causing arguments
- Tips to keep your refrigerator clean and organized with roommates
- And Much More!
To Share (Food) or Not to Share?
Sharing food is one of the biggest questions of any roommate arrangement. Every group of roommates I’ve lived with has handled this differently. One roommate and I ate a lot of shared meals because we had similar tastes and I enjoyed cooking while she didn’t. With another group, we didn’t share much food and rarely ate together since our diets were very different.
Most roommates will fall between those two extremes, but you’ll need some rules and strategies for managing your refrigerator no matter what sharing style you use.
Even if your roommates are your best friends you probably won’t want to share everything with them. Sharing some of your food requires clear communication and guidelines if you want to do it right.
Don’t be surprised if your roommates occasionally eat leftovers you were looking forward to. One way to avoid that is to designate some things off-limits (and respect those boundaries when your roommates designate what’s off-limits for them too).
If that doesn’t sound like a good arrangement you may want to consider sharing less or not sharing food at all. I’ll give you some tips for keeping your food separate a little further on. For now, let’s look at some strategies for sharing your food, and avoiding refrigerator conflicts.
Do: Still Label Anything You Aren’t Sharing
Labelling all of your food is a good idea when you’re living with roommates, but it’s especially important to label food you don’t want to share.
Because it’s easy to forget what food is off-limits when most things are shared. A special jar of jam, leftovers you want for lunch at work, and even food that’s ear-marked for a celebration dinner should all be labelled.
That way your roommates know what’s off limits and what’s not. Plus, if they’re doing the same thing you’re a lot less likely to get into an argument over food.
Do: Keep a List of Shared Condiments
Condiments are one of the most commonly shared foods, but also one of the hardest to keep track of.
Especially if you and your roommates keep more than ketchup and sandwich condiments around, it’s important to have a list of the condiments you keep on hand.
If you buy a new salad dressing, put it on the list. Keep a lot of Asian sauces for flavoring your meals? Put them on the list.
I also recommend marking when any of your condiments run low so that they can be replaced before you run out. You never know when your roommates might have been counting on having some garlic chili sauce available for their next meal.
The easiest way to keep track of those condiments is actually a tip from my refrigerator hacks article (which I also recommend reading if you have roommates, it’ll make life much easier). Just write your condiment list in dry-erase marker on the outside of your refrigerator.
That way it’s visible, easy to reference, and really obvious when something needs to be replaced. You can even mark whose turn it is to purchase each condiment if you keep it on a rotating schedule.
Do: Keep a List of ‘Always-Keep’ Foods
Almost every household has a few foods that should never be missing. Eggs and milk are common, but maybe avocados are a must-have in your home, or your favorite lunch meat.
Your Must-Haves list can also be written directly on your refrigerator. Like condiments, I recommend rotating who buys these foods unless one roommate uses more of them than everyone else.
With these always-keep foods it’s also super important to be accountable for your own use. If you keep eggs around regularly, but decide to have quiche for dinner in addition to your normal breakfast eggs, that extra egg use is on you.
Make sure you’re being honest and replacing always-keep foods a little more often if you’re using them more than your roommates.
Another way to manage always-keep foods is to designate who buys what. If you use a lot more eggs, but one of your roommates drinks a ton of milk and you only need milk occasionally, split them up. Your roommate will buy the milk and you’ll buy the eggs.
Just make sure you stay on top of these foods and don’t let your roommates down by constantly running out of the always-keep foods on your list.
Don’t: Assume Everything is Shared
One of the biggest downfalls of shared food is assuming that all the food in your refrigerator is (or should be) shared.
Even if most of your food is shared with your roommates, it’s still important to be able to claim some of your food for yourself, and let your roommates do the same.
If you aren’t sure whether or not something is shared, ask. If you accidentally eat something your roommates already claimed, make sure you replace it as soon as possible.
Don’t: Try to Eat Together for Every Meal
Eating together for every single meal is impractical for most roommates. There are some exceptions, but for the most part you should plan on eating separately at least some of the time.
Making a schedule can really help if you’re trying to eat some meals together. 1-2x a week is a good balance for a lot of roommates, though some people do eat together more often, and other roommates not at all.
Not Sharing At All
Sharing isn’t always a great option. If you aren’t very close to your roommates, have radically different eating habits, or are worried about uneven costs, you might be better off keeping your food to yourself.
Here are some tips to make not sharing easier and more effective, without turning your refrigerator into an organization nightmare!
Do: Label Everything
When you aren’t sharing food it’s even more important to label everything. You may have duplicates, or you and your roommates might misremember who bought what.
Dry erase markers work well on glass containers. Sharpie works on store-bought plastic containers. Labeled bags work for most of everything else. it might still be worth getting a label maker, especially if you don’t have many glass containers.
Label your food with your name and date. If something is up for grabs, put that on the label too.
Do: Keep Different Areas of the Fridge
Another way to keep organized and avoid roommate conflicts over food is to maintain different areas of your fridge. These areas should be as even as possible.
If you have one roommate, and there are two crisper drawers, you should each get one crisper drawer. Divide shelves as evenly as you can. If even division isn’t possible, consider getting some painter’s tape or washi tape to divide each section.
(For those of you who don’t know what washi tape is — it’s a huge fad for home decorating and scrapbookers, but has the advantage of a relatively weak adhesive that’s easy to pull off hard surfaces without damaging them.)
Not every space can be divided easily. Your refrigerator door is one place where sharing the whole space is usually easier than creating separate areas. Just make sure to keep everything in the fridge door labelled, and note whether it’s shared or not.
Do: Have Some Shared Condiments
No one needs three bottles of the same brand of ketchup… Condiments are one thing that most roommates should share instead of keeping separate.
Keeping condiments in the door helps with sharing this kind of food. Take a look at my tips for sharing condiments above, they apply here too.
Feel free to keep some condiments special. Your favorite salad dressing doesn’t have to be a communal item. If you prefer specialty mustard or other expensive condiments, go ahead and keep those to yourself.
But if you and your roommates all eat the same brand of mayo, just keep one shared jar and rotate who buys it.
When you have roommates it’s even more important to clean your refrigerator regularly. After all, you don’t want spoiled vegetables spreading mold to your food, and your roommates don’t either.
Here are some tips to make sure your refrigerator is cleaned often enough, and how to make sure everyone does their part.
Don’t: Assume the Fridge Will Be Cleaned ‘As Needed’
A lot of roommates just assume that the fridge will be cleaned ‘as needed’ and don’t design any kind of schedule or rules for how it should be cleaned.
Cleaning out your leftovers as they go bad is one thing, but deep cleaning your fridge probably won’t happen unless you and your roommates decide how and when cleaning will happen.
Do: Make a Cleaning Schedule so the Work is Fair
Instead of assuming that the refrigerator will be cleaned as needed, you should make a schedule for how often it should be cleaned, and who is going to do the cleaning.
Usually a rotating schedule will work better than having one roommate cleaning the refrigerator regularly. I know that sometimes rotating schedules won’t work, like if someone is really sensitive about spoiled food, or one of your roommate’s leftovers constantly leak.
In those situations it might be worth asking if someone wouldn’t mind cleaning the refrigerator as part of their chores.
The other time when you might want to deviate from a schedule is if one of your roommates eats something another roommate is allergic to. It’s a good idea to clean out the fridge as soon as the allergen is gone, and I’d recommend that the roommate who brought the allergen in is the one who does the cleaning.
You should clean more often the more roommates you have. With only one roommate you can probably get away with cleaning the fridge about once a month. But if you have five roommates you’ll likely need to clean the fridge every week.
Here’s a helpful monthly cleaning schedule for assigning chores.
The good news is that even with more roommates you won’t need to clean your fridge that much more often. Since the work is shared on a rotating schedule, you’ll still only need to clean the fridge yourself about once a month.
This fridge cleaning video has some other great tips to help make refrigerator cleaning easier. Go ahead and give it a watch if you need some ideas for how to keep your refrigerator cleaner.
Don’t: Throw Out Leftovers Without Telling Your Roommates
It’s tempting just to toss any leftovers that are starting to go bad, but it’s not a good idea to toss leftovers that aren’t yours. At the very least, check with your roommates before tossing questionable looking food.
After all, some fermented foods and blue cheeses can look or smell like they’ve gone bad when they haven’t.
Always check in with your roommates before you toss any leftovers.
You can even make this a rule for your new roommates, and you’ll all appreciate knowing that your food is safe.
Do: Write Dates on Leftovers
Dating leftovers can make it a lot easier to tell bad food from good food. Your leftovers will be safer this way, and you’ll have an easier time telling if your roommate’s food might need to be tossed.
It’s also a good idea to write dates on leftovers for organization as well. You can even put some leftovers up for grabs if they’re starting to get old before you can eat them.
Living with roommates can be fantastic, or a serious challenge. Keeping your refrigerator organized and clean, and setting up some rules for your food can help make things easier.
After all, the kitchen is the center of the home.
These tips are easy to use and can make things a lot more peaceful in your home. Don’t be afraid to have honest conversations with your roommates when its time to add new rules, or if you’re thinking about changing how the refrigerator is handled.
Enjoy your cleaner fridge, and happier roommates.!