9 Organizing Hacks That Work for Big Families with Small Fridges

published Mar 7, 2023
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Someone looking inside refrigerator.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

When we planned the kitchen remodel for our new house, my husband and I knew a counter-depth fridge would look best. It would sit flush with the wall, giving a streamlined look, plus the feel of a lot more space in the kitchen. 

There was only one problem: It seemed like a bad idea to cut down on our fridge space. Could our family of seven adapt to having a smaller refrigerator? In the end, we took the plunge. It’s now been six months with our new fridge, and we’ve had zero regrets. Of course, we’ve learned to be purposeful with what, how, and how much we store in our smaller fridge, but any constraints in space have been made up for by maximizing the space we do have via strategic organization.  

Here are a few of the many hacks we use to make use of every inch of our small fridge for our big family.

1. Create zones.

Keep similar items together and create an overall structure of organization inside the fridge with specified zones. Zone placement within the fridge should correspond to how often the items need to be accessed and by whom. For instance, we keep our fancy cheeses up on the top shelf, leftovers at eye-level to increase the likelihood they’ll get seen and eaten, and kids’ lunch items on the bottom shelf. Zones are great for any size fridge, but they’re especially important for small fridges where items might not be as easy to move around when you search for things.

2. Use clear plastic bins.

Clear plastic bins are a major game-changer, as they act as extra drawers. They allow you to use the entire depth of the fridge without losing anything in the back or having to shuffle items around when you’re looking for something. Instead, simply pull out the bin and grab what you need. In addition, bins help you further categorize the items within your zones. Our fridge has bins for dips, specialty cheeses, and one for items that have been prepared for dinner, to name a few. 

3. Utilize vertical space.

Using every available inch in your fridge means not forgetting about vertical space. One way we make use of the vertical space in our fridge is with egg storage containers, which allow us to pack our eggs into containers that are long, narrow, and stackable. 

4. Store food in rectangular containers.

Rectangular food storage containers are much more space-efficient than round ones, which actually “cut corners” and cause you to lose valuable space. Squares and rectangles can be tucked neatly together and stack easily. 

5. Try to use the same types of containers.

Using the same types of containers means you can stack them more reliably, saving space and also making the most of your vertical space. Even if you use more than one type of container, try keeping similar types and shapes of containers together. For instance, use plastic food storage for lunches to-go, and glass rectangle containers for leftovers. 

6. Take items out of their original packaging.

Removing the wrappers or plastic packaging from your groceries and snacks saves space and allows you to take advantage of your modular, rectangular storage system. Using produce containers to store your berries, for instance, means the containers will be stackable and won’t leave any of the wasted spaces that are caused by an assortment of various packaging.

7. Don’t over-buy.

No matter how diligent you are about practicing all of the best fridge organizing tips, your fridge will always get crowded if you over-buy. Be mindful of your refrigerator space as you’re shopping and maybe wait to buy that second gallon of milk until next week. Consider that perhaps the little bit of money you save buying in bulk might not be worth the cost of a stressful fridge situation. 

8. Label, label, label.

A significant part of making the most of a small fridge is ensuring that everything that’s inside is easily findable and usable. Nothing is more important for this than labeling, especially when you’re using bins that reach to the back of your fridge. Labeling makes certain that everyone knows exactly where to find what and, perhaps more importantly, where to put them back so that order can be maintained long-term. 

9. Clean out your fridge regularly (and check it before you shop).

Frequently making space in your fridge by getting rid of anything that’s expired makes sure you aren’t taking up valuable space. In addition to frequently scanning the fridge for items that need to be tossed or eaten ASAP, take a quick inventory before you go grocery shopping so you don’t double-buy and take up more space than necessary.