Organize Your Fridge and Freezer in 6 Easy Steps

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If you’re like me, with a large family and a small fridge, I’m sure you don’t need to imagine how crowded and disorganized it can become…

You’re living it!

Vertical image of an open refrigerator full of full, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

Luckily, we do have a small chest freezer, but even that is filled to the brim.

If you currently suffer from the same issue of a disorderly fridge and freezer, with dozens of mystery containers sitting on the shelves for weeks on end that you are too afraid to open, let’s not allow these appliances to get any worse!

With the following advice, we can set out together to effectively reorganize the refrigerator and freezer.

They do so much for us on a daily basis – so let’s return the favor by making them as neat and clean as possible.

And you can learn how to keep them that way for the future.

You may become a bit discouraged when you open your own appliance’s door, but just remind yourself:

This will be a big job, but not an impossible one!

And if you combine this with the rest of your kitchen spring cleaning, you can work even more efficiently.

In just 6 easy steps, your refrigerator and freezer will both be in their best condition to continue storing all of your food and drinks.

Step 1 – Declutter and Clean the Outside

Start off by heading straight to the fridge with a stack of garbage bags, towels, and your favorite kitchen cleaning supplies and solutions.

Horizontal image of a woman searching for food in the kitchen.

Right now, briefly forget about what’s inside in order to tackle the first task: decluttering and cleaning the outside of the appliance!

As cute as they are – the kids and the drawings – they should be removed – okay, just the drawings… – prior to cleaning and reorganizing.

Magnets secure an endless amount of artwork, A+ tests, and photographs to the door. Review what should be prioritized to display on the fridge, and set aside those items that you want to frame or store elsewhere in the house.

After removing everything, you can move on to cleaning.

Other than dust and cobwebs, you may find containers filled with miscellaneous tools, cans, and cardboard boxes on top of the fridge – this is the perfect area to set and forget any number of household items!

I’m not sure who has arms that are long enough to reach up there, so you can promptly blame your husband, or anyone else in your household with long limbs.

Grab a step stool, and start to declutter. Everything will soon be returned to where it belongs.

Next, move on to the front and sides of the fridge. And don’t forget to slightly open the doors and clean the tops of those, an often-forgotten area that can gather debris.

Fridge Magnet Clips, set of 12, available on Amazon

You will feel such a sense of accomplishment when the handles glint back at you, when all the photos are in neat rows, and when you have replaced all of your mismatched magnets with a new matching set, like this 12-pack heavy-duty set of black magnetic clips from Amazon.

Now, let’s go inside.

Step 2 – Remove All Food and Clean the Inside

Tackle and remove items on each shelf inside your refrigerator and freezer, moving from top to bottom. If you focus on one section at a time, the entire process will not seem as overwhelming.

Vertical image of a woman cleaning her kitchen wearing yellow gloves.

Check the expiration dates, and discard anything that has passed those dates. Throw away any food items that look – or smell – questionable, or anything with no label or date that you can’t identify with certainty.

The foods that are still safe to consume should be set aside together, in a group.

Because cleaning the refrigerator shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, you don’t have to worry about the temperature of your perishables while you clean.

However, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you do have the option to grab a large cooler, fill it with ice, and place anything sensitive in the cooler that you want to keep.

Next up, cleaning.

Kids – at least my kids – are not always the neatest when they help themselves to a snack or a cup of milk.

Spills are inevitable.

My fridge can tell you the story of leftovers past. Open the door and look in, and you’ll see a vast supply of jarred items, bowls covered in plastic wrap, and half-drunk bottles of juice or water.

NOT mine, but you get the picture.

Sound familiar?

Once you have removed everything from a particular shelf, now you can thoroughly clean that empty shelf or drawer – review our advice for cleaning large appliances for this step! Or if you prefer, clean out that whole compartment, and do all of our cleaning in one go. Don’t forget the racks inside the doors as well.

My freezer is on the bottom, so I clean out the fridge first before I move on to the frozen foods. Discard anything that looks like it was shoved in the back, ignored and obviously freezer burnt. Wipe out any crumbs, clean the ice cube trays or bin, and you’re good to go.

Step 3 – Take Inventory

Once the shelves and drawers are clean and perfectly sparkly, it is now time to analyze and take inventory of the items you own.

Horizontal image of an open fridge full of food in the kitchen.

Which foods were we eating regularly and which sat untouched?

It is important to take note of this when planning out a grocery budget for the month too. And taking steps to prevent waste, in the form of forgotten and abandoned items, can help to keep your appliances clean and tidy.

For example, I can tell you that my family goes through ketchup – or “check-up” as my little one calls it – like water, but we somehow had two opened and nearly full bottles of relish left over from last summer!

This summer, I know that if we buy relish, I only need a small container, but I should probably buy ketchup in bulk. Or just make a big batch of homemade ketchup right at home!

It is also especially convenient to keep a written inventory of your foods now and after each future purchase. You do not want to be digging through the freezer or fridge aimlessly!

Step 4 – Map Out Your Space

To make your lives a little easier, designate different uses for different areas of the fridge.

Horizontal image of a woman figuring out what food to eat in the kitchen.

I like to keep milk and dairy products together on the top shelf, any leftovers or other ready-to-eat food items in the middle shelf, fruits and vegetables in the lower drawers, condiments in the door, and meats or other raw items on the very bottom shelf.

I also have a little drawer where I like to store cut cheese and other snacks, so the kids can easily grab what they need without disrupting things too much.

You can also map out your space in the freezer, employing the same strategy of designating different areas for certain food items.

The freezer can be particularly difficult for storing items, since you usually have a smaller space to work with – all the more reason to be extra organized!

Wire Storage Baskets, set of 6, available on Amazon

With the help of assorted storage baskets, you can stay on top of sectioning off foods in a neat manner. Use a set or two of these basket organizers from Amazon, and you’ll soon see a major difference.

In some cases, you might be surprised by all the new kitchen space you’re able to free up!

Step 5 – Label Everything

I have tried labeling foods in order to stay organized, but sometimes when I’m in a rush, I don’t always stick to the plan.

Horizontal image of assorted food in containers with blank tape.

It is my ultimate goal – and it should be yours, as well – to never let the contents of the fridge go unlabeled!

Leftovers should always be transferred to a container or bag and labeled with the contents and the date before placing them in the fridge or freezer.

It is also helpful to label the drawers and shelves, so you can be sure that family members can easily put things back where they belong.

With a few pre-readers in my house, I like to include a picture – at least on the snack drawer – so my preschoolers can help with our efforts to stay organized.

Step 6 – Stay the Course

Now that everything is finally organized, you need to make sure you stay on track.

This might be the best time to consider buying a new set of matching food storage containers for the most organized system of storage.

Image of a glass storage container set from Sur La Table, 20 pieces.

20-Piece Glass Storage Container Set, available on Sur La Table

My cabinet is stocked with this 20-piece glass storage container set I just bought from Sur La Table.

And you will also need to continually replenish your supply of airtight bags in different sizes, both for the freezer and refrigerator.

Leftovers should only be saved if they will be eaten at a later date, and all surplus food needs to be stored in a designated area.

Horizontal image of a woman and child holding a glass bottle of milk.

In general, remember to place any older foods in front of the newer items so that the older yogurts get eaten first and the older vegetables are cooked before using the newer ones. Leftovers should also be stored towards the front, where they’re visible and readily accessible.

In the food industry, this is an important organizational method called FIFO, which stands for “First In, First Out!”

It’s easy to incorporate the remnants of past lunches and dinners into the weekly meal plan. With just a little work, you can turn last night’s chicken breast into chicken salad or chicken fajitas for lunch the next day.

The Whole Household Is Responsible

By following these tips and tricks, you’re bound to help keep the kitchen cleaner and more organized.

Horizontal image of stacked food in clear containers and bags.

But don’t let this important task fall just upon you, and you alone!

Make sure you get everyone involved in following your new organization rules – and you’ll be rewarded with appliances that stay clean and organized.

Do you have your own special tips and tricks for maintaining order with these specific appliances? How do you deal with the messier members of the family? Leave a comment below!

Alright – your fridge and freezer are spic and span. Now, onto the rest! If you need more advice to clean your entire kitchen area, we have other articles for you to read next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published June 22, 2015. Last updated on March 28, 2023. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Amazon and Sur La Table. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone.

About Jennifer Swartvagher

Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.

37 thoughts on “Organize Your Fridge and Freezer in 6 Easy Steps”

  1. One thing that I am really appreciative of since leaving college is now that I’m living with my husband, the two of us can keep the fridge and freezer just the way we like it. However, it does still get cluttered every once in awhile and between our busy schedules we barely have the time to do any organizing!

    Nowadays what I like doing is to mentally make a note what goes on what shelf; I prefer my leftovers in the middle, and while I do not label my tupperware like you do I still use glass containers of all shapes and sizes so I can see what I have 🙂

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions!

    • I am reminded of refrigerators from my college days too. Memorable moments included four open bottles of ketchup at the same time, stinking, uncovered bowls of tuna and one guy who took up three quarters of our fridge space with cans of beer!

      There;’s only two people at home now and now I have gotten better at managing my fresh foods, I often think that my fridge (just a standard under-counter model) is actually too big.

  2. Great suggestions! As hard as I try, I never seem to be able to keep my fridge organized for more then a few days. I get it all cleaned out with the determination that it will stay neat this time, and it never does. (Can I blame my husband for this? lol) I’ve never thought about labeling the food, but can see how it could be beneficial to reduce wasting meals. We live on a very tight budget and are always trying to reuse leftovers. When I have to throw something out, it makes me cringe.

    • Haha, i have the exact same problem! Make the whole fridge nice and tidy, only to have it messed up within a few days! I end up blaming my partner too, but i contribute to the mess xD

  3. My refrigerator sits in the corner, wedged in between a wall with a door on it, and the counter, so that it’s very difficult to get it out to clean and/or wipe up spills. What I did a few years back is bought trays and bins that would fit in the fridge on the various shelves, and everything either goes on a tray or in a bin, that way if there’s a spill, it’s localized on that tray or in that bin, and I can simply pull that out and clean it, rather than having to mess with the entire fridge. I definitely need to get on board with your marker and label system, though, because I have containers with mystery contents in both the fridge and freezer.

  4. I’m sure your organization habits are definitely thrown off by your little ones. This came as a great help to me, however, as I tend to be OCD about my refrigerator (every bin has its own purpose), and I need to get around to reorganizing it again. Labeling containers has not worked for me in the past as I tend to get lazy and just throw leftovers in my refrigerator when I’m in a rush, but it’s definitely helpful to know when leftovers were made to avoid eating spoiled food. I think I might resume labeling soon. Thank you for the tips!

  5. Excellent article! I always have a problem with my fridge getting cluttered with half-eaten leftovers and long forgotten packages of food we didn’t particularly like.

    I have never done the labeling thing before (using my oh-so perfect memory haha), and I am curious. Would masking tape work just as well? Or does the cold tend to make the label peel, adding more work to organizing?


  6. I am absolutely loving all the tips I’ve found while browsing through this site, but this one has got to be the most useful of them all. My refrigerator is a complete mess if I’m being entirely honest, with everything sort of shoved in where I can find a place for it to fit. I’ve recently moved into a new house though and had to downsize to a smaller fridge, which means less space for all that random shoving. These tips will definitely come in handy for getting things back in order. When life allows me some spare motivated minutes I’ll have to check back to this article and use it as a guideline. Thanks!

  7. Well, this is something I need to do post-haste. It can get pretty messy in there, and it’s staggeringly easy to forget you have certain things when that happens. Which often leads to waste. You’d think having a larger fridge would help with this, but it doesn’t, at least not for me. Thanks for all the tips!

  8. Since it is my job to keep the kitchen clean, it really helps to be organized. There is nothing more I can’t stand than a bunch of half drunk water bottles in the fridge. It’s only when I reorganize the fridge do I find the rest of the missing dishes. They are always reserved for left overs but then never eaten. I also like how you end up saving money when you organize the kitchen because you get to see what gets eaten the most in the house. Any other food that still sits around is less likely to be bought.

  9. Very nice tips! I will promptly forward this article to my girlfriend!
    Wait..! Calm down, that was a joke!

    Seriously though, very nice tips. Some that I already employ, others that never really occurred to me (Ice to keep food fresh while cleaning for instance).
    I must say though that my fridge nightmare mostly takes place in the freezer — It’s always so ‘packed’ that sometimes, when needed, I can’t fit something in. I am also honestly scared to go and organize it. Like I said. A nightmare. I have bookmarked this page so whenever I’m ready to face that particular fear, I will have some guidance 🙂

  10. I can’t thank you enough for this post! Unfortunately, I don’t have any little ones yet (baby boy due in August), but my husband is notorious for leaving things in the refrigerator. It’s absolutely annoying. I get really overwhelmed by the idea of having to clean and place everything, but now you have given me a great formula to simplify it. I look forward to more of your helpful tips. This was great!

  11. Living the life with a fridge AND a freezer (you know, for all the meat and ice cream). We recently just got a new one and wow it is a relief. The old one would take at least an hour and a half to clean every couple of months from all the ice that would accumulate. These tips will help reorganize it though, just today I had trouble fitting an ice cream box in there, guess it’s time for clean-up! And maybe start stocking up less on meat.

  12. I used these tips when I moved into a new home last week! However, I do not have any shelves in my new freezer, which is very irritating. Any tips? I liked the idea of baskets, but I could really use a shelf or two.

  13. Reading your article reminds me of the dodgy food that nobody wants to deal with because it’s so far past it’s best before date. Typing this, I am just imagining the mustard left over from last Christmas, that bag of garlicky salami that everyone hates… I also feel a strong compulsion to recycle what I can, so I prefer to ignore moldy condiments in jars, which contributes to the problem of the cluttered refrigerator.

    I’m going to aim to get my fridge/freezer tidy this weekend, so I can fit more edible food into it. Maybe some brownies or ice-cream 🙂 Thank you very much for the guide, Lynne!

  14. My self diagnosed OCD would not let my refrigerator get to the point that the task was that overwhelming. I’d have a heart attack if it did! (smiley face) Everyone is different in the way they manage their home though and that is definitely okay. As a matter of fact, my family would rather I not be so organized. Truth be told though, I’m not as bad as I make it sound – they are just messy!

    Organizing is one of my favorite things to do to a point; however, I don’t think I’ve ever labeled foods. I don’t think I’m going to start either. That would be too much work to me, but I think it’s a great a idea if you have the time and want to put the time into it.

    The last tip in this article would be my favorite. Of course, that goes back to my self diagnosed OCD. I try to stay on top of things, because if I don’t I’ll just get frustrated and upset. And you know what they say about Mama not being happy, right? “If Mama ain’t happy…..”

    I enjoyed reading this article.

  15. Thank god for my mild OCD problems otherwise my whole house would be a mess, not only the fridge. I can’t stand something out of order so I always try to keep the things symmetrical. I have a lot of containers for food and the other ingredients, so that works out just fine.

  16. My fridge is so far from organized there isn’t quite a word to describe it. I’ve just got boxes piled on other boxes, and god forbid I accidentally cook chicken that has been sitting in there long after its expiration date. Ew! There were some great tips within this post, my favorite being to label all of my leftovers.

  17. I just organized my fridge. It is a pain to clean everything, but now I look at it looks much better, so I am happy with the result.
    One thing that works out for me is: I only bought squared glass containers. I think they fit better in the fridge. And it is easier to organize all the containers if all of them are squared.

  18. Love this! This is my fridge! From the collection of artwork on the door to the over packed shelves full of leftovers, take out containers and lunch boxes. Nothing is where it should be! This article just gave me the boost I need to go tackle the mess that my fridge is. I did just order those write on waterproof labels for the kids but I found a new use for them now on my tupperware to help me organize!

  19. Huh, now I remember that our fridge needs cleaning lol! I just cleaned it last week and now, it’s messy again. The problem here at our house is that my husband and his cousin plus other relatives are really messy. So even if you clean, clean, clean, it will end up being a mess at the end of the day. It is quite frustrating but I’m learning to live with it.

    Having that clean fridge is one scenario I cannot be in. Even after a few hours of cleaning it, they can wreak havoc in just a few seconds. So I just try to clean it up once a week and also try not to cringe whenever I see it dirty within the next day. The joys of being a mother!

  20. Lovely tips! Thanks very much for sharing.

    This is how I’ve wanted my fridge to look, however, it never does. It’s cluttered, messy and unorganized. I clean my fridge often, but junk ends up destroying whatever effort I put into cleaning it. My fridge is a shared one, so it isn’t entirely mine.

    I guess I need to make more of an effort and start buying those tupperwares. It’ll save a lot of time and finally give me the peace I need when I open my fridge door.

  21. This is a great read. Another tip is to use whatever condiments you have before buying new ones. Instead of having 5 different brands and types of salad dressings limit yourself to open 1 at a time. I recently started doing this and I was amazed how much room it saved me in my fridge. Prior to doing this if have a ton of half used bottles taking my space.

  22. Wow, I really need to try this. I tend to be very organized and like everything to have order and its designated place. The only exception to this rule is my refrigerator! My fidge is so disorganized and packed full that you have to be carful just opening it because you never know what may come crashing out. I am going to use these tips and then pray that my husband follows them also!

  23. I did a major clean out of my fridge recently. It was sad how much food I had that I didn’t know about in the back. I must have had 6 half open bottles of salad dressing that expired months ago… Such a waste. Now I am going to try to buy 1 bottle at a time this way I know I’m using it.

  24. Thanks for the simple and clean cleaning tutorial. 😉 I definitely need to find a more organized way to keep my fridge. It always ends up such a mess in such a short time! I suppose the fact I love to cook dinner as often as I can doesn’t help with the tupperware overload! Anyway, I’ve heard that using press and seal wrap on the bottom of your shelves as a liner, then just peeling it off when you have a spill is a good way to making cleaning easier.

  25. Ah, the refrigerator is the bane of my existence. I cringe every time I open the door. It seems as though it stays clean and organized only the day I de-clutter it, then its back to sticky mystery spills, hidden Tupperware, half consumed drinks, and ALWAYS to my confusion, animal fur. I like your idea of labeling. Maybe my family will be more likely to use the contents of the bag/Tupperware if they don’t have to investigate too far as to what it is. Summer goal!

  26. This is giving me some motivation to finally clean out my fridge. I’m a bit of a neat freak and I keep my apartment clean and tidy, but food storage is a constant challenge for me. Dealing with old food really grosses me out so I’m way too prone to let it go until cleaning it all up seems like a mammoth task.

    I like the way you organized it into steps. It’s way easier to tackle a big project like this when you break it down and do a little at a time. I might even go slow and do one section per day! 🙂

  27. My fridge cleaning habits are quite rigorous, I hate when something smells and then making all the food smell like “fridge”. Also I usually use smaller baskets so the leftover cheese or piece of celery doesn’t roll away.

    The big scary thing during my childhood was the fridge, it is smelly, big and full of weird things. Of course not saying that my parents were smelly, but a child’s perspective is a weird one.

    As an adult I like to make sure that my fridge is well organised and clean and mostly smell free.

  28. I can’t remember the last time I completely cleaned out and reorganized my refridgerator. I always say I’m going to do it but I never get around to it but with these steps I’m sure it’ll be easier to. I say easier because my shelves and bins are a complete disaster. I’m actually looking forward to getting everything in order now. Thanks for these steps, brilliant!

  29. My mom is the one who usually cleans the fridge and I owe her respect after reading this post, it seems to be a really hard job! She does this once a week and we are used to not finishing food so the fridge is almost full of leftovers, and I really liked the labeling part because you don’t really know if what’s on the fridge are leftovers or just small amounts of food that my mom is going to use for today’s meal. Luckily (or not really) we are adults now and I think it’s less disorganized than it used to be.

    Thanks for sharing!

  30. I kept saying I was going to do this, but I kept putting it off until my fridge started to look like the one in the first picture. I finally did something about it. These are great tips.

    I also grabbed some containers from the dollar store and separated things like lunch meat and cheese into one, other meats in another, etc. I can just slide out the basket, go through it, wipe it out, and replace it. It’s so much better than standing there with the door open trying to go through things.

    I do need to do more labeling, so thanks for that reminder too.

  31. I just moved in to a new place. My friend and I decided to share the cost of renting the house together. It’s really idea because we each have our own entrance, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. The only thing we share is the kitchen. The roommate had lived at the location a few years before I took over the other space. When I moved it, cleaning out the fridge was one of my first tasks because it was simply awful. It looked clean, but very disorganized. Plus, the disorganization and chaos led to the roommate not using the F.I.F.O. principle (first in, first out). I ended up throwing away things that were two years old. Ick!

  32. Well I was never that big of a label person until I started doing it about a year ago or so, and I have to say that it has helped me tremendously. It just makes me ensure to myself that I am staying clean and organized, which is just something that I need. If you need that little extra push, I would recommend it for everyone.

  33. When the moment of cleaning the fridge comes, I always run away from home and let my mom do the thing. I am a total mess when trying to clean the fridge, I get frustrated and sometimes I do not even finish the cleaning process. I am really glad I found this article, seems like I will be cleaning the fridge more often now, thank you for sharing this!

  34. This has some great tips in it! For the past 6 years that I have been living on my own, I have struggled to keep the fridge organized. Now, I leave all fresh/whole food on the top shelf, essentials like butter, sour cream, salsa, stuff like this, I keep on the second shelf. The bottom shelf has milk, juice, soda, etc… I always clean the fridge out every wednesday, since im off work that day. This system has worked well for the past month, hopefully I keep up with it!


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