How I Keep My Tiny Apartment Freezer Neat and Organized

updated May 11, 2022
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(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

For the first time in several decades I’ve found myself living without a chest freezer. After the shock that I couldn’t store enough ground beef to feed a small army in case of a zombie apocalypse, I adjusted and started to store only the essentials. The hard part? My freezer is the size of a postage stamp.

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Although many of you have probably always had a traditional size freezer, I grew up with a father who barbecued professionally. I didn’t know life without a chest freezer full of meat until I moved out on my own. Living in the Midwest, there are always amazing sales and then the bounty of the summer harvest, so I quickly purchased a deep freezer and have had one in almost every home since — until I moved to Chicago.

My apartment here is just too small for the luxury of a deep freezer. In addition, my refrigerator/freezer is apartment sized. It’s larger than many, but smaller than most, and it’s given me fits over the last several years. Here are the basic rules I’ve lived by to keep things in check.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

1. Not edible? It doesn’t belong in there!

The biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome is the lack of division and depth in my freezer. It’s super shallow and only as deep as a single bag of frozen fruit. Because of this, there’s no middle shelf or rack to help keep things separate. At first I tried to add bins with cute little labels in like we’ve talked about previously, but they just kept getting in the way. After all, if there’s a container there, then I can’t put food there. Sure they help keep things sorted and if you have the space, that’s great. But I just didn’t have that luxury.

So I now abide by the principle that if I can’t eat it, I don’t put it in the freezer. Yes, that includes ice cube trays! The only exception is my lunchbox which keeps food cold for 10+ hours, a much needed necessity for a girl who leaves the house at 5am and isn’t home until after 9pm each night!

2. Store no more than 1 to 2 pounds of protein.

For a while I just tried to keep everything under the sun in there. It was a hot mess and if the butter fell out one more time when I opened the door I was going to lose my mind.

Instead, now I simplify my storage by only keeping one to two pounds of my favorite proteins. Sure, it’s hard to pass up a great deal at the grocery store, when in the past I would have been hauling home 10 pork loins for later, but having serenity instead of chaos has been worth its weight in gold.

(Image credit: Sarah Rae Smith)

3. Always buy the same brands.

This may sound silly, because usually when it comes to frozen products, many of us are buying what’s on sale instead of a coveted style of frozen corn (is there such a thing?).

That being said, I’ve found that if the items that I’m purchasing in bulk are all the same brand, then not only can I stack them all in the same direction and have the bag sizes match, but they usually go on sale at the same time and I can stock back up again. In my freezer you’ll find assorted frozen vegetables and fruits, all lined up like little soldiers without the help of bins and baskets.

4. A full freezer is a happy freezer.

Although it would be nice to have the space for a few extra pints of ice cream or a second bag of ice for a party, the more full I can keep my freezer, the more it contains itself (and likewise runs more efficiently). Because everything supports itself, I’m not constantly fighting a domino effect when I take one thing out. Now everything has its place in a vertical stripe. Meats, fruits, vegetables, soups and of course, desserts!

In the past I would have used my meal plans to stock my freezer for the months ahead. I loved my life of knowing that I always had something frozen to thaw and eat when time was short or money was tight. Because of my current space limitations, this is a luxury I’m no longer afforded and I shop and cook in smaller quantities. I eat out a little more often when time is short or find myself eating canned tuna a bit more frequently, but I’ll live.

It’s been a lifestyle adjustment and after a year of having things fall out when the door was opened — I’d do the “shove and rapidly close” maneuver — things are finally in check and my freezer is in harmony with the way I live. It’s a beautiful thing!