When it comes to keeping a clean and tidy kitchen, the most basic tasks usually come to mind first—things like wiping down the counters, cleaning as you cook and decluttering cabinets. All of these are important, of course, but two of the most crucial parts often get left out: the refrigerator and freezer. Fridge organization may be easy to put off, but an organized fridge makes everything go so much more smoothly in the kitchen.
See, an organized fridge isn’t just nice to look at. It also makes for a more pleasant cooking experience and helps to waste less food. With your produce smartly arranged, you’ll be able to quickly reach in and grab some basil without having to hunt around. With your leftovers organized, you’ll see what needs to be eaten up before anything can go bad. And with batch-cooked meals neatly stacked in the freezer, you’ll be sure to remember (and use!) what’s in there. Pretty important, huh?
Now, let’s take a minute to go through the most crucial refrigerator organization tips that will help you optimize your fridge and freezer—and keep them that way.
How to Organize Your Fridge
Your fridge will work best when it’s about two-thirds full. (Over-stuff it and air vents could get blocked. Keep it too empty and the appliance might have to work overtime to keep its cool.) The best way to organize any type of refrigerator is to think about it in terms of zones: the shelves, the door and the drawers.
Organizing Refrigerator Shelves
No matter what kind of fridge you have, you should always organize the shelves in the following way, to keep your food and drinks as fresh as possible and the fridge surfaces clean:
Organizing Refrigerator Doors
The refrigerator door is the warmest part of every fridge, which means it’s not a great place for dairy. Instead, use these shelves for condiments, salad dressing, pickles and similar items. If you have a condiment collection that could rival your local sandwich shop, group things by shelf. Maybe one shelf is dedicated to your spicy options and another one gets the sweeter stuff. Or all your burger fixings live on one shelf. You get the idea.
Organizing Refrigerator Drawers
Your refrigerator’s drawers have toggles that control a small vent. Open the vent to create a drawer that has low humidity. Close it and you’ll have a higher humidity. Where to store fruits and vegetables in the fridge? The general rule is that the things that rot go in low humidity and things that wilt go in high humidity. Fruits and vegetables that emit an ethylene gas (think apples and pears) go in the low humidity drawer, which allows for the gasses to escape and prevents premature rotting. The other drawer gets leafy greens like arugula and spinach because the water vapor will keep things crisp. Produce that’s sensitive to ethylene gas (like strawberries and asparagus) can share space with your leafy greens.
How to Organize a French Door Refrigerator
To organize a French door refrigerator, follow the same advice from above, and also these tips:
- Adjust your shelves: Just because your fridge came with shelves in certain spots, that doesn’t mean you have to keep them that way. If you’re constantly having to lay bottles on their sides, consider changing up the arrangement of your shelves.
- Keep healthy snacks front and center: French doors put everything on display at once, so it helps to put healthy snacks right in the middle, at eye level.
- Line things up from back to front: File things like yogurts and cans of seltzer so that they’re single file from back to front.
How to Organize a Small Fridge
Maybe you have a tiny apartment fridge or even just a dorm-like mini fridge. Here are three smart tips to help you keep it organized:
- Take out anything that doesn’t need to be in there: Don’t waste space on things like hot sauce, bread and avocados. Unnecessary packaging should get recycled or tossed too, so it doesn’t take up valuable space.
- Add bins: Use bins to create makeshift drawers to group like things together. All your sandwich ingredients go in one, salad components in another, and so on.
- Use cutting boards for extra shelving: Lay a cutting board on top of a row of yogurts or drinks and you have an instant bonus shelf.
How to Organize Your Freezer
Too often, the freezer is where leftovers and things purchased with good intentions go to die. There are lots of ways to think more sustainably in the kitchen, and the freezer is a big part of that. These are some helpful freezer organizer tips to make sure you use everything you stash in there:
- File things vertically: Do not stack things. Stand everything up and file packages vertically, so that you can pull out a tray of ground beef without causing an avalanche.
- Streamline your food storage containers: Matching glass containers make for neater stacking in the freezer (and the fridge, too), and they can go from the freezer to the oven without needing the food to thaw first.
- Take things out of boxes: Chicken nuggets, waffles, ice pops, bagel bites: They all tend to come in (very) bulky boxes. Take the bags out of the boxes to save space. If you need the cooking directions, cut them out and tape them to the bag.
- Keep the meat on the bottom: Just like in the fridge, meat should go on the bottom in case of leaks.
- Freeze things in perfect portions: If you picked up a five-pound package of chicken breasts and your family only needs one pound for most meals, portion them out into containers before you freeze them. Do the same with containers of homemade soups, stews and sauces. This way, you can defrost only what you need.
- Label and date everything: Stocking your freezer with ready-made meals is a great idea. Just know that Future You isn’t going to remember what’s what. Use masking tape and a marker to label and date everything that goes into your freezer.
How to Organize a Chest Freezer
A chest freezer is just one big open box, which makes it great for storing larger items (like a turkey or three), but hard to organize. These freezer organization ideas should help.
- Use baskets: Group things together. Fish goes in one, meat in another, fruit and veggies in another. Then, label the baskets.
- Stack the baskets: Freezer chests are deep, so you’ll have room for more than one “layer” of food. Put the newer stuff on the bottom and use the older stuff first.
- File things standing up: We recommend this for other freezers, but it’s super smart with chest freezers. When organizing the baskets, file the items inside them vertically, so you can just pull out what you need. This works with frozen pizzas too.
How to Clean Your Refrigerator and Freezer
Regular maintenance is your best line of defense: Clean up leaks and spills when they happen, wipe down jars before you put them back in the fridge, and use things up before they go bad. But know that you’ll have to give your fridge a deep clean at least twice a year. Ditto for your freezer. Here’s what to do:
- Top shelf: This is where all your drinks should live. If there’s room on the shelf, you can also use it to store yogurts, sour cream, eggs and the like.
- Middle shelves: Use the middle shelves for storing leftovers and meal-prepped items. Add bins to group things together and store small containers or extra condiments on a space-saving turntable. If you have children, set up a bin of kid-friendly snacks so that little hands can reach in and help themselves.
- Bottom shelf: Raw meat goes on the very last shelf. This way, if any juices happen to leak, they won’t drip all over everything else in your fridge. Tip: Store the meat in a bin or on a tray if you have produce drawers under this shelf.
How to Organize Vegetables in the Fridge
Keeping your veggies organized in your fridge will save you time and maximize the space you’re working with. Here are some fridge organization ideas for keeping your vegetables tidy, fresh and ready to use:
- Add mini crisper drawers: Those crisper drawers fill up quickly. Our GreenSaver containers act like crisper drawers, promoting airflow, controlling humidity and absorbing ethylene gas.
- Stash greens in a salad spinner: This bestselling salad spinner not only washes and dries lettuce; it also makes a great home for your prepped lettuce until you’re ready to use it. Stash it on a middle shelf if need be.
- Ditch the single-use baggies: Instead of storing a halved lemon in a zip-top bag, enlist the help of silicone produce-savers, like these containers designed for cut lemons, onions, tomatoes and limes.
- Keep herbs separate: One more way to cut out single-use plastic? Buy herbs in bundles (not clamshell packages) and store them in an herb keeper.
- Pull everything out: Have a cooler ready and pull everything out of your fridge, checking expiration dates as you work. Remember, you can only store leftovers for so long.
- Wipe down the interiors: Pull out the refrigerator shelves and drawers that are removable. Then, spray down anything that’s left inside with a 1:1 solution of water and white vinegar. Let things sit while you ...
- Wash the removable pieces: In the sink, use soap, water and a scrub brush to wash all of the parts that you pulled out.
- Repeat: Clean your freezer while you’re at it. Tip: Plan these cleaning sessions right before your next grocery shop, when inventory is at its lowest.
- Clean under the fridge: Grab a long, flat duster and give a few earnest swipes under the fridge. You’ll be amazed at what’s collected under there.
Ready to tackle more organizing projects? Follow these steps to get your kitchen cabinets and drawers under control or give your pantry an update.