The Best Way to Organize a Small Refrigerator
Use these simple tips and storage solutions to organize your small refrigerator and maximize the space at the same time!
Is it weird that I am nervous to show you guys inside my refrigerator? You all are an intimidating bunch. 😉
I almost scrapped this post altogether because I was thinking, “What if they think we eat all of the wrong foods? What if they think I have everything in the wrong place? What if they just think I’m strange?” (Which I am, but that’s a story for another day… 🙂 )
But in the end, it’s just food. And it’s somewhat organized food, so I thought maybe if my ideas could help some other people, sharing would be worth it.
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After living in a tiny townhouse for many years, I learned tons of helpful tips and tricks for getting organized when space is at a premium, and I share my favorites in this quick guide!
Before I jump into the method behind my madness, though, I thought I’d start out with a few caveats:
- There is not one “perfect” method for organizing a refrigerator. People have different food preferences and space needs and so no two refrigerators will be exactly alike, and that’s perfectly okay.
- Our family has a lot of weird food issues. Donnie has a sensitivity to grains so he eats primarily meat and veggies. Connor doesn’t love meat and prefers to eat mostly bread and cheese, though we do manage to get him to eat some meat for protein’s sake. Caleb is allergic to peanuts, so we don’t keep peanut products in the house. I am a somewhat picky eater. How’s that for a difficult combination? 🙂
- Because of the aforementioned food issues plus the fact that I don’t love to cook, meals at our house are super duper simple, so we may have less ingredients in our fridge than many people.
- We don’t stockpile food. Our house is small and neither Donnie nor I like clutter, so for this phase of our lives, we are primarily buying food for two weeks’ worth of meals and that’s it.
Organizing a Small Refrigerator Step by Step
Because we are already working in a small space, we need to declutter as much as possible. Here are a few things we do before we actually start organizing.
Clean Out the Refrigerator and Toss Expired Items
I like to take everything out of the fridge and throw away the expired groceries. Then I take each drawer and shelf out one by one, clean them, let them dry, then place them back where they belong.
Sort Food into Categories
While the drawers are drying, I begin dividing the food by category so I can see exactly what I have. I sort out the cooked (and prepackaged) food, fruits and veggies, dairy (eggs and milk), condiments, meats, and cheese.
Consolidate Items If Necessary
There are times where I’ll end up with duplicates of items like sauces, shredded cheese, condiments, etc. While I’m cleaning out the fridge, I’ll take the time to combine the items if I have two of the same thing opened.
Restock the Refrigerator
I load items back into the fridge, starting with the meat. I always wrap it up and keep it near the bottom of the fridge so it doesn’t leak and contaminate other foods.
Then I place the fruits and veggies back into the drawers. After that, I fill the remaining shelves with leftovers, snacks, drinks, etc. And I finish off by placing the condiments in the door of the refrigerator.
I purposefully I took these photos on a day that I went grocery shopping, so this really is what our fridge looks like when I get back from the store.
Small Refrigerator Organization Quick Tip
When we’re dealing with a small space, we obviously have to be very choosy about how we fill it. Because of this, I typically only buy food for a week or two at a time. This will not only keep the refrigerator from becoming overstuffed, but will also cut down on food waste.
If you are a deal shopper and like to stock up when prices are low, be sure to only purchase the amount that can fit comfortably in the refrigerator without causing it to become overstuffed.
How We Organize a Small Refrigerator
Whew! Okay, now that you’ve seen the cleaning out process, let’s dig into how we organized our small refrigerator!
Before we renovated our kitchen last year, we had a monstrosity of a refrigerator.
It was so massive that it was interfering with the layout of the new kitchen, so we donated it to a non-profit and downgraded to a smaller refrigerator:
While the smaller fridge allowed for our desired kitchen layout, it has definitely been a learning process to try to figure out the best way to organize it.
Now that we’ve had our new kitchen for several months though, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. I typically shop for two weeks’ worth of food at a time, and this is what our fridge looks like on grocery day:
The only thing that I didn’t have the day I took these photos that we might typically have in our refrigerator is leftovers, and if we had them, they would share the spot with “tonight’s dinner.” Here are some of the strategies that have worked for us to keep the fridge organized:
1. We don’t use refrigerator mats.
I debated back and forth on this and even asked a group of fellow organizing bloggers their thoughts on mats vs. no mats. They were split down the middle, and since when in doubt I like to keep it simple, I opted for no mats and have been happy with the choice.
Our shelves are easy to wipe down and can be removed fairly quickly for a deep cleaning, so mats haven’t been necessary for us.
2. I use bins to corral different items.
For cheese and bread (yes, I keep bread in the fridge because it stays longer that way), I have bins that help keep the like items together so they’re not floating around all over the place. This makes it easy to find what we need, and we can even pull out the whole tray when we’re making lunch so that everything is easily accessible.
I use the built in bins for fruit, veggies, and lunch meat, and they work like a charm– I guess those refrigerator designers really do know what they’re doing!
3. I don’t go overboard with bins.
Yes, I realize I just confessed my love for bins, but I am also super careful about where I choose to use them in our fridge since it is so small. Too many bins can actually hinder the flexibility of the space rather than help.
I tried bins for drinks at one point, but they ended up seeming too fussy for me and were getting in the way, so I now leave the Cherry Coke (my weakness–eek!) and other drinks in their original containers, and they are much easier to get to that way.
4. I clean out condiments often.
I am always amazed at how quickly condiments can accumulate. When the shelves in the door of the refrigerator are packed full, I would constantly find condiments that were way past their expiration dates. So now I keep the number of condiments to a minimum because I know there aren’t many that we actually use.
I also try to do a quick date check every time I unload the groceries and throw out anything that is past its prime.
Tips for Minimizing Condiments
Sometimes recipes may call for uncommon ingredients, and there may be a few sauces or dips that we probably won’t use much. Try to buy these in smaller bottles, so they take up less space.
If there are condiments that are on the brink of expiring, making marinades for meat can help to use many of these.
5. I put like items together.
This is a good organization rule in general, but I find that in a small refrigerator especially, it is really important to put like items together so you can find things easily.
I have a container for frozen veggies, I stack the meat all together (and put the ice cream in front because it is the most important, obviously 😉 ), and all of the boxed items go together on the bottom shelf.
(It was driving me nuts that the ribs wouldn’t fit with the other meat. I almost took them out for this photo but left them in for the sake of total transparency!)
Perks of Meal Planning
We know that making multiple trips to the grocery store is linked to impulsive spending (and a cluttered fridge). Planning out our meals on a weekly or bi-weekly basis really helps me to keep our small fridge in check. Plus, we always know exactly what we have, so there’s no double buying and the refrigerator stays neater, longer.
So that’s how we organize our small refrigerator! It took some trial and error to come up with the perfect system for us. And sometimes depending on our meal plan for the week, not everything fits in there all nice and neat.
In general though, this is what our fridge looks like and since everything has its own designated spot, it stays pretty tidy.
Store Food Safely
Food safety should always be a priority when we organize a small refrigerator. This article from the FDA has helpful tips and guidelines to help make sure all foods are stored properly.
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What are your favorite tips for keeping the refrigerator organized? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!
Cleaning out the condiment area is a MUST for me. For some reason that spot gets crowded quickly. Maybe it’s because every time I need BBQ sauce I assume I don’t have any and buy a bottle…but I really have 5 in the fridge! Thank you for the tips, Abby!
Is it bad that the first thing I noticed was Coke Cherry Zero? 🙂 Umm hello lover! I didn’t know they made this! (And great organization ideas too…definitely makes me want to add bins to our fridge!)
Great organization Abby! I only have one comment: please do not put your cherry tomatoes in the refrigerator as this makes them soft and have less taste. They should be stored on your counter top away from bananas. I use to work in a greenhouse and the tomatoes you have in your fridge could have been grown by us 🙂 Love your blogs and everything Abby!!
No way! I have never heard that about tomatoes! Thanks so much for the tip, Barbara! Hope you’re having a great week!
Hi Abbi,just found your blog.Good job on the kitchen,one thing though , why dont you change the refrigerator door so you wont have to dance around it each time you open it.
That was in our old townhouse so we no longer have that refrigerator. You can see how we organize our new one here: https://justagirlandherblog.com/how-to-organize-the-refrigerator/
Have a great week!
I have also heard you should never put tomatoes in the fridge, but never quite understood why. Does this also apply for regular sized tomatoes Barbara? One more question, why away from your bananas?
Love these tips! Thanks for sharing.
Bananas release a chemical that causes fruit to ripen. If you have a hard avocado, put it in a paper bag with a banana and it’ll ripen faster than on the counter, but ripe fruit (including tomatoes) should be stored away from bananas to avoid spoilage.
This post makes me so happy, but now I want to march out and buy a couple of bins to use. I don’t know why I NEVER thought of using them for like items in the fridge! Just curious though (since we are probably going to need a new fridge in a few years), which do you prefer? Side by side or top and bottom? Thanks for the inspiration! I better go check the dates on my condiments now! 🙂
I am not going to make this an easy answer, lol. I like the top and bottom fridge, but the side by side freezer! 🙂 I guess if I was buying one again and space wasn’t an issue, I would choose the side by side. The top and bottom really worked best for this kitchen though because we could get the perfect size and actually because of the placement of the light switch on the wall as well. You’re probably even more confused now– sorry! I think it just depends on the space. Have a great week!
Duh. Baskets/bins in the fridge. *mind.blown* 😉 Condiments make me crazy, mostly because we (really, ME) try to eat as *clean* as possible. I try to make sure we have more bottled water taking up space in the fridge than we have condiments! lol.. but my hubby is a ‘dipper’ so we’ve agreed on 50/50 ratio water to condiments.
We have a small fridge, too, so this is helpful!
Like your rational for how you do your organizing well thought out. I had to replace the single drawer at the bottom of our small fridge with 4 narrow ones as the space in my ‘galley’ is such that I can’t open the fridge door wide enough to pull out a single drawer (convoluted sentence but you get what I mean). Those bottom bins are for separating cooked and uncooked protein. I have another larger bin that has all of our salad fixings so I can just pull it out onto the counter, make our salad and put it back. Condiments in another bin as well as the door. I make as many of my condiments as I can.
What I’ve found a GREAT help in not buying multiples is an app called Keep from Google. I have it on my phone, my pc and my tablet and they sync. You can make lists with or without checklists so I’ve got a generic grocery list for the different places we shop (Costco out of town and local for in town). Before we leave to shop I check to see what I need from the generic list (my phone), also, as I use up what I have I put it on my list (my phone or tablet, whichever is handy) or if I come across a recipe that I want to try and don’t have what it calls for I put it on the list (pc or tablet). I use this app for a lot of other stuff too but it has worked great to help me not buy multiples of things ( like the 5 2L bottles of vinegar I bought every week for a month and then had for years LOL)
I’ll have to check out that app, Lyndell! Sounds super helpful!
Haha I can totally understand the anxiety of showing off you fridge….it’s like opening your underwear drawer to the world! And people can be so judgmental about what you eat. I am personally super impressed and amazed at how organized your fridge is and how little you manage to keep in it. This is always something I struggle with and it’s only two of us (no kiddos)! Do you do any meal planning to help you figure out what to buy to fill the space you have? I’m not very good with the cycling of the food in and out at a consistent rate.
Thank you, Alex. Yes, I do meal plan! If you’re interested, I have a post with the printables I use to meal plan and make my grocery list! Hope this helps!
Thanks Abby! I’ll definitely check it out. I need to get into meal planning so badly
I just added “organize my fridge/freezer” on my weekend to-do list. It is nice to see an organization post that I can relate to. Now to get my husband roped into helping…
I like your like with like bins, I do those too, but I may have gone overboard with too many. I will have to have a little down size I think ( I’m a if one is good 5 will be better kind of woman LOL).
If your fridge has the option to swap which way the door opens ( some do, some don’t) you may find it so much easier to access you fridge with the way you have the counter to the right of the fridge. I got a new to us (second hand) fridge and it took us about 10mins of Googleing to get the manufactures instruction how to swap the door over and 15mins to swap it . So much better. Hope this is helpful.
Thanks for the tip, Jacqui!
Funny you posted this…my bestie was just at my house and I asked her to get something from the freezer and she literally commanded her bf to come into the kitchen and see how organized my freezer is, lol. Its always been that way but I guess she never paid attention!! I have two plastic file bins for veggies and frozen fruit as well as anything small I zip up im my foodsaver. My freezer door is flex space, top part I have 4oz mason jars that are vacuumed sealed and hold my doggie’s home made wet food, as well as a few lunch box icepacks that I grab when I do a grocery shop in the summer since we live rurally. My fridge set up looks pretty similar to yours! I have a bin to corral snacks like pudding and yogurts. I do have a bin within a bin though for our produce…i put a bin inside of the drawers because ours have this weird plastic part that is long in the back to slide it in place, and I find them super awkward to wash. I do not use fridge mats, however I do have one plastic placemat I use on the top shelf to put stuff that is defrosting, leftovers etc that maybe arent sealed super well. So again, I can take out the small mat and wash it with the dishes vs sticking my whole upper half into the fridge to clean (bad back!!!) And I am also very OCD about checking our condiments! Our fruit sits on the counter in a divided ceramic chip and dip bowl…since we don’t have a ton of cabinet space I make our “fruit” bowl a double duty item! And we do get some comments about how our fridge is not “full” but I really try hard to plan out meals on a budget, so I don’t buy tons of extra produce unless there is a sale
I’m new to reading blogs but I have to say yours have been very helpful in never knew how hard it is to be a wife in charge of the home not complaining I love it but I think I would still be mooping around if I hadn’t found your blog now my days are full so thanks and keep them coming please
It definitely isn’t easy, Stacey! I SO agree! So glad it’s been helpful for you! Have a great week!
We have a small fridge just like that (we live in an apartment) only it’s white instead of black. I have a similar organization to things as you do. Great minds thinks alike, right?
Lol! Absolutely! 🙂 Hope you’re having a great week, Katelyn!
Very nice! Some of my fridge is set up similar (although we have a side by side). I keep the “staples” in the door and on the top and the stuff that gets eaten up quickly on the middle and bottom shelf. That way, if I have to store a tall cake overnight, I can take the middle shelf out and clear off the bottom shelf easily, and put the cake in. Gotta keep the buttercream chilled to make it look extra smooth! 😉
Thank you so much for posting this, Abby! It’s very helpful to see how and why you organized the way you did. Thanks also for the link to your meal planning ideas.
P.S. I love that you keep your milk in the door too, hah! 🙂
Just came across this interesting post. I don’t use mats, either! But what I do use is a lazy susan on my top shelf to hold milk, creamer, and other tall items. I got tired of moving the milk out of the way to reach the juice, so this works extremely well for us. In our small freezer, we have meat organized by kind in bins. What a help that has been!
Love that idea! Thanks so much for sharing, Suzi! Have a wonderful weekend! <3
The links to all the photos were broken when I looked at this post 6/17/17. Too bad–I love to cook, have lots of condiments and have a small kitchen.
Hmm… maybe try using a different internet browser? All the pictures are showing up for me! Sorry you had trouble!
Thank you for taking the time to help others with your organizational skills and talents. I’m impressed by the order you have established. Just got a new, smaller fridge/freezer, so this help is definitely needed as I transition to a smaller fridge/freezer unit, and learn better ways.
So glad it will be helpful for you, Diane! Happy organizing! <3
I love this way of organizing! It’s simple yet it works. Just applied this to my fridge with of course some changes and it worked. Thank you!!!!
So glad it was helpful for you, Jane! Love to hear that. Have a wonderful week!
This is the most relatable fridge I have ever seen and I’m so grateful you shared this. Thanks for all the tips!
Aw yay– so glad! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Holly!