Freezer Week

The 5 Reasons Your Freezer Is Always a Hot Mess — And What to Do About It

updated Aug 11, 2020
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Frozen food in the refrigerator. Vegetables on the freezer shelves.
Credit: Ahanov Michael | Shutterstock

Ideally, our freezers wouldn’t be where food goes to die a slow death before being tossed. Rather, our freezers should be where food goes to wait patiently and neatly for us to pluck it out just in time to save a weeknight’s meal plan. Sadly, all too often our freezers just end up being a jumbled mess that not only makes things hard to find, but also practically ensures that we lose track of what we have versus what we need.

Let’s end the freezer shuffle for good by examining the specific reasons our freezers tend to get so out of order in the first place. Whether you have a side-by-side unit, a top freezer that’s little more than a cubby, or a bottom drawer freezer, here are some universal causes for freezer chaos. By addressing these issues, you’ll end up with an organized, waste-free, far more functional freezer. 

1. You don’t store things vertically.

Stacking things in the freezer is a sure-fire way to lose food you’re storing for later. This is especially true in a drawer unit where items that are placed on the bottom are completely hidden from sight.

What to do: Rather than pile things and hope you remember there’s frozen tomato paste buried somewhere in the freezer, “file” items in your freezer whenever you can. This means you store them vertically so that you maximize the number of items you can see at a glance. Even if you do need to stack some items, try to stack like on top of like. For instance, stack small bags of frozen veggies, but do it in a vertical zone of your fridge. Place a larger item next to them, again, vertically, to differentiate the vertical slot of frozen veggies. If you regularly freeze soups and sauces in zip-top bags, freeze them flat, so they take up the least amount of space, but then stand them up vertically once they’re solid so you don’t have to unstack bricks of food to get to what you need. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman
(Don't worry, this photo is old. The beef has since been eaten.)

2. You don’t label and date your items.

A mystery item in the freezer is far less usable than a bag labeled “marinated chicken legs” with the date you stuck them in the freezer. Because most of us (rightfully) aren’t adventurous enough or don’t have to investigate, those mystery packages usually stay in the freezer indefinitely and take up space.

What to do: Promise yourself to never, ever put anything that isn’t pre-packaged in the freezer without labeling it first. Keep a marker and tape in your kitchen (we like the options that are linked because they’re specially designed for freezer use!) so that you’ll have no excuse to skip this step.

3. You don’t use uniform containers.

Simply put: The more you can store in uniform containers, the more organized your freezer will be. You will be able to maximize space and also create somewhat of a modular system that both looks tidy and allows you to access your items with ease.

What to do: While you might not be able to put everything in exactly the same container or size, narrow your choices down to a few types, such as, for example, gallon-sized freezer zip-top bags, which you store vertically, 9×13 glass casserole dishes with airtight lids, and deli containers

4. You don’t have zones.

Zones help you and the rest of the members in your household know where to look for things and where to put them away. Without a clearly marked space, people may put things back super randomly or tear things apart while hunting for something.

What to do: Keep frozen fruits and veggies in one area, raw meat in another (far away) space, and already-cooked food in its own space. Things like nuts and flours can have their own spots on freezer doors, and small miscellaneous items can be kept together so they don’t get lost in the nooks and crannies of the freezer cavern. You may be able to create zones just by grouping things together, but it may also help to use organizer baskets or wire shelves. Labeling can help you and everyone else remember every freezer item’s proper place. (Steal this binder clip trick to label the shelves!)

5. You’re too much of an optimistic freezer.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever frozen a random half-slice of pizza or square of a breakfast casserole because you think you might want to eat it later? And then … you don’t eat it and it sits for months?

What to do: Be realistic. If Today You isn’t likely to eat random leftovers, Future You won’t either. While we don’t love the idea of wasting food, it’s also not worth wrapping something up just to toss it later. Only freeze what you know you’ll actually eat or use.

How many of these are you guilty of? Be honest!