The Absolute Best Way to Organize Any Freezer (and Keep It That Way, Once and for All)

updated Aug 23, 2021
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An organized freezer means a few things. It means no more boxes of frozen spinach falling on your sensitive little toes. It means your roommates will know better than to move your favorite $12 pint of ice cream to the door where it will likely melt. It means you’ll never waste money buying loaves of bread when you already have plenty on hand. And it means you won’t have to spend time wiping down packages, should a package of meat leak before it freezes. The point? An organized freezer is incredibly important for any home cook.

So we all want it; why is it so hard to get it? Maybe it’s because freezers come in a lot of different sizes and shapes (and so do groceries, obviously). There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for organizing a freezer, but we do have plenty of rules and tips that you can keep in mind. Certain items should go in certain zones of your freezer, and there are plenty of things you can do to add order. Find your freezer type (or types, if you have a bonus freezer in the basement!) below and get to organizing. Our first tip: Have a cooler and/or insulated bags on hand to hold your groceries while you work.

Note: These guidelines are based on a very basic grocery list. Obviously, you might have things in your freezer that are not on these lists. In those cases, use your best judgement. Or ask for our thoughts in the comments below!

First, the 8 Organizing Rules for Any Kind of Freezer

Let’s start with some general tips to keep in mind — no matter which type of freezer you have.Line things up from back to front. Always put stuff new towards the back and pull the older stuff (the stuff that needs to be eaten first) to the front.

Label and date anything homemade. The most important tool for an organized freezer is a Sharpie marker (and masking tape, should you need it). Everything homemade in there needs to be clearly labeled and dated the day it’s frozen.

Freeze things in usable portions. It might be tempting to just throw the whole value-pack of chicken pieces straight into the freezer, but you’ll regret this shortcut later when you only need a few pieces and the whole thing is one frozen mass.

Freeze things flat. As much as possible, freeze things flat. Put that leftover chili in a freezer bag, seal, and lay the bag flat in the freezer until frozen. Flat things of an even thickness are easier to stack or organize upright in a container.

File things vertically. With your stuff nice and flat, you can file it vertically in an organizer and grab what you need, rather than dealing with stacks.

Take things out of boxes when possible. Anything that comes in a box (waffles, ice pops, and chicken nuggets, for example) can likely be taken out of said box to save room. If you need the cooking instructions, cut them out and tape them to the bag.

Pick the right containers. Air circulating around frozen foods can lead to freezer burn, so your best bet is to find a container as close to the size of what you want to freeze as possible. If you’re using plastic bags, make sure you use thicker freezer ones, and press out as much air as possible before freezing. If you’re using foil, make sure foods are tightly double-wrapped. Doing these things mean you maximize freezer space and keep air out.

Keep a freezer inventory. This will help you keep your freezer organized moving forward. You’ll know what you have on hand and what you’ve used up. Starting (and maintaining) one is easy.

A diagram for your top freezer. The classic!

The Best Way to Organize a Top Freezer (aka the Rental Basic)

When the freezer is just a cubby on the top of the fridge (a setup that’s super-common in rentals), the organizational bells and whistles usually cap out with a single shelf and some bonus shelves on the door. Don’t just shove stuff in all willy nilly.

The Best Places for Each Type of Food

  • Door: Just like with the inside of a fridge, the door is always going to be the warmest spot in your freezer. That means it’s basically the worst spot for, say, ice cream which can run the risk of melting and refreezing if you keep it there. Instead, save the door for things like nuts, flour, bread, butter, ice packs, booze, and cubes of frozen herbs and tomato paste.
  • Top shelf: This is where you’ll want to store things that, should they leak, won’t pose a safety issue. Store your ice cube trays (if you don’t have an ice maker), fruits and veggies, breads, waffles, baked goods, and ice pops here. This is also where your ice cream goes.
  • Bottom shelf: Meat and fish can safely go on the bottom. Line up soups, sauces, chili, and random prepared meals/leftovers on the other side and then stack frozen pizzas on top. (You’ll be able to grab a quart of chicken soup without sending all your pizzas toppling.)

Smart Tips for Organizing a Top Freezer

  • Use bins to create drawers. It’s no secret that we think drawers are always going to be better than shelves. When there are no drawers, you can make them by leaning on bins. Use them to group like with like and then you can just pull one out to see what’s in there (rather than having to dig around).
  • Label the bins. This way, you know what’s in every bin before you even pull it out. And it will help the rest of the people in your house get on board with your organizing system.
A diagram for your side freezer. Skinny but spacious, if you do it right!

The Best Way to Organize a Side Freezer (aka the Skinny Freezer)

When the freezer’s on the left side and the refrigerator’s on the right, there are more shelves but they’re narrower (read: you might have to take out some shelves to make room for a giant family-style frozen pizza or a big turkey). Because there are more shelves, though, your organizing zones are basically created for you.

The Best Places for Each Type of Food

  • Door: Again, the door is going to be the warmest spot in your freezer. Use it to store your nuts, flour, bread, butter, ice packs, booze, and cubes of frozen herbs and tomato paste.
  • Top shelf: This is where your bread, breakfast stuff, and baked goods should live. They’ll be safe and out of the way and they won’t be staring you in the face every time you open the freezer
  • Next shelf: Put your soups, sauces, chili, prepared meals, and leftovers here. Not only is this shelf perfectly cold, but it’s also the closest to eye-level so you’ll see this stuff first when you open the door and you won’t forget to use something. Stack frozen pizzas on top of the containers; if you’re buying extra-large pizzas and they don’t fit on the shelf, you may need to pull out a shelf and store the pizzas vertically.
  • Middle shelf: If your freezer only has four shelves, move this stuff up to the very top; otherwise, this is a good spot for ice cream, frozen treats, and ice packs.
  • Next shelf: Fruit and veggies go here. Line them up.
  • Bottom shelf: Store meat and fish at the very bottom. This way, if something were to leak, the mess won’t be dripping down through your entire freezer.

Smart Tips for Organizing a Side Freezer

  • Stand things up. Look at that beautiful shelf of fruits and veggies (above) and look at this. Notice how the bags are standing up and in line all neatly? Doing the same in your own freezer will ensure that you never have to worry about an avalanche of bags. Instead of pulling something from the bottom of a stack, you’ll just reach in and grab what you need.
  • Use magazine holders and bins. Bins create makeshift drawers that allow you to group like with like. And magazine holders will help you file the flat packages of meat at the bottom.
  • Label the shelves. There are a lot of shelves in this sort of freezer, which means there’s a large margin for error (either on your part or your roommates’). To help everyone put things back where they belong and find stuff in the first place, label the shelves. Not sure how to get a label on, say, a skinny wire shelf? We love this binder clip trick.
A diagram for your freezer drawer. Stand things up straight!

The Best Way to Organize a Bottom Freezer (aka The Black Hole of Doom)

This type of freezer is probably the hardest to organize (and keep organized!) because it’s just one main, extra-deep drawer that’s surprisingly hard to access. Do it well, though, and the payoffs are extremely rewarding. You’ll want to spend hours just admiring your system, but don’t because that freezer drawer needs to stay closed as much as possible!

The Best Places for Each Type of Food

  • Shallow upper drawer: These freezers usually have a shallow drawer at the very top. You won’t be able to store much here, but you can line up your ice packs and ice trays, ice pops, butter, cubes of frozen herbs and tomato paste, nuts, and open packages that have been clipped closed.
  • Main drawer: Obviously, this is where the bulk of your stuff will go. The key is to create zones and to work from left to right. Ice cream goes on the left, then fruits and veggies, then bread and other baked goods. Your soups, chilis, sauces, and premade meals can be your midway divider and then meat and fish can get stacked up with frozen pizzas bookending the drawer.

Smart Tips for Organizing a Freezer Drawer

  • Use organizers to help sort and stand things up. Our general tip to freeze things flat and file them vertically is especially useful for a freezer drawer, as things take up less space and become easier to find this way. Magazine holders, file sorters, and baskets are key to standing things up.
  • Only stack like with like. These drawers generally allow for more than one “layer” of food once you start filing things. That’s a great way to maximize space, but just make sure you only stack like with like (i.e., packs of chicken thighs on top of more packs of chicken thighs). Keep these sorts of things in baskets and it will be easy to pull out the old stuff and put new groceries underneath.
A diagram for your standing freezer. Look at all that space!

The Best Way to Organize a Standing Freezer (aka the Garage Freezer)

A bonus standing freezer in the basement or garage is a great tool for big or hungry families. It’s where you can store lots of extra meat, produce, prepared meals, and freezer aisle goodies (all those bags of Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken have to go somewhere!). It’s imperative that these freezers are kept organized, or else you’ll likely end up wasting a lot of money on stuff that goes uneaten.

The Best Places for Each Type of Food

  • Top shelf: Stack frozen pizzas on the left, then extra bread, and then line up your soups, chilis, and sauces.
  • Next shelf: This is where frozen meals and all your homemade dishes go.
  • Next shelf: Line up all your bags of fruits and veggies on this shelf. If you still have space on this shelf, you can file fish on the side here.
  • Bottom shelf: Once again, your red meat and chicken should go on the bottom to minimize the mess, should something leak.

Smart Tips for Organizing a Standing Freezer

  • Use matching containers as much as possible. Matching containers are easier to stack and waste less space between them compared to mismatched pieces. We especially love these glass containers.
  • Add bins. Again, we suggest adding bins or baskets to create drawers that can be pulled out as needed.
A diagram for your chest freezer. Bins are your friend!

The Best Way to Organize a Chest Freezer (aka the Most Serious Freezer)

Another bonus freezer option for the garage or basement, freezer chests (or chest freezers) are best for families that buy large quantities of food at once. The vast openness that makes a freezer chest so great for storing big things is also what makes it so hard to organize. We have some ideas, though.

The Best Places for Each Type of Food

  • Baskets: In general, we recommend freezer chests that have baskets hanging from the top. Depending on how deep those are, you can store frozen pizzas and/or other prepared meals. (You’ll see in our illustration above, we used the basket on the left to create an Italian section! That may be helpful for your family, based on how you meal plan.)
  • Bottom: Use baskets to group meat, fish, soups and sauces, prepared meals, fruits and veggies, and anything else.

Smart Tips for Organizing a Freezer Chest

  • Add lots of dollar-store bins. You’re going to want to load up on baskets, so the dollar store is your best bet. Use these bins/baskets to group things together. And then label the baskets — because, ideally, you’ll be storing groceries vertically and the labels will make it so you can see what’s what at glance.
  • Only stack like with like: Freezer chests are deep, so you’ll have room for more than one “layer” of food. Just make sure you only stack like with like and that you put the newer stuff on the bottom so that you use the older stuff first.

What kind of freezer do you have? Do you have any other smart organizing ideas to share? Leave them in the comments below.