The Best Way To Make The Most Of A Small Fridge

From the smallest dorm-room minifridge to the most mammoth restaurant walk-ins, fridge real estate has a habit of disappearing as long-term tenants move in. In many ways, this is by design, right? Refrigerators are just boxes designed to help you keep stuff for a long time, extending the lifetime of perishable items you might otherwise have thrown away.

Unfortunately, for all but the most organized and frugal of us, just because something's kept in the fridge doesn't mean it's guaranteed not to get wasted. According to Stop Wasting Food, each person in the US and Europe wastes around 200 pounds of food per year, and reducing that by just 25% could feed almost 900 million hungry people around the world. On top of that, as the old restaurant wisdom goes — wasted food is wasted money. In other words, reducing your food waste will reduce your grocery bills.

Small fridges are particularly susceptible to this — it's easier to lose sight of something behind larger containers, especially if you're having to really pack everything in there. Plus, if you're having to play Tetris with your condiment bottles every time you get a carrot out, you're less likely to want to delve deep and find that lost Tupperware of pasta salad before it goes bad. On top of all that, with space at a premium, small fridges don't have the room to add a Lazy Susan, an extra shelf, or drawers as many 'hacks' suggest. So what can be done?

Knowledge is power

It's one of life's great tragic ironies that while we in the developed world are wasting tons of food, we're all also completely stumped, daily, by the question "What's for dinner?" Per Bon Appetit, the answer to both conundrums can be found in three simple words: Dry. Erase. Lists.

Notice that I didn't say 'board'. That's because plenty of chefs and home cooks follow the principle laid out by The Kitchn of just using dry erase markers to make lists ... wherever — inside the fridge, on the door of the fridge, on a dedicated board or three — whichever surface works best for you. Obviously, this is going to depend on your kitchen, aesthetic, and fridge materials, so adjust accordingly, but there's a chance you won't even need to buy a whiteboard.

A dry erase solution to small fridge clutter is perfect because it doesn't take up any precious fridge space at all, it works for any kind of fridge, and even if you've got kids or housemates who don't respect organization systems, all it takes to get back on track is a quick wipe and two minutes of inventory after you get groceries.

How to use dry-erase to maximize your small fridge and minimize food waste

First, you're going to need to make an inventory of everything that's in your fridge, according to Alpha Foodie. A solid system for organizing your small fridge and groceries would be keeping this inventory list, erasing an item when you finish it, and adding that item to your grocery list.

Secondly, you're going to want to make a 'hot list' of items that need to be used up sooner than the rest of the fridge. These might be soft perishables like herbs, super ripe fruits, and cheeses, or just something that's quite expensive and you want to make sure you don't waste a single drop of. The hot list is the genius part of the dry-erase system. Not only can you keep on top of food waste, but you have a built-in 'Mystery Box Challenge' front and center of your food storage area for every time you can't think of what to eat for your next meal.

An inventory list, grocery list, and hot list is a solid system for a small fridge, but if you also have a small freezer, consider adding a fourth list to your rotation, as advocated by Epicurious. It might seem like a lot to keep up with, but after the initial inventory, it's just about making the board part of your routine, and the impact can make even the tiniest fridge feel a whole lot bigger.