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
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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!