My husband and I get along well with few disagreements. That's why it was a surprise to both of us when something came between us a couple of weeks ago and, of all things, it was our freezer. And things got downright frosty for a few hours.
I had a long list of things to get done when I got home from work – and cleaning out our stand-alone chest freezer wasn't one of them. Yet, when I entered the house, I met my husband coming up from the basement.
“Hey, I just defrosted the freezer. I have all the food out, so can you help me go through it? I don't want to keep old food we aren't going to eat.”
When I looked at that mountain of food, two things happened. First, I thought of my big list of things to do that I wouldn't be doing. And two, that gigantic pile of food accused me of ineptitude. Food waste! Lack of organization! Lisa, you're the only one with an out-of-control freezer with a mind of its own!
I may have acted less than appreciative that my husband took the initiative to tackle this unappealing task. I mean, if I had wanted to do it, I would have done it years ago. But I didn't want to do it. All I could think of as I stared at that food was my freezer was supposed to save me money, but this feeling of inadequacy made me want to get rid of the freezer and fast.
Freezers do save money
Freezers can and do save money when used the right way. My freezer holds meat and cheese purchased on sale, applesauce (made from free apples from my father-in-law), corn (also free), and much (much!!!) more. These are good things that cost us less.
But the good things about my freezer didn't feel good enough, not when we ended up discarding so many pounds of food. So, because I don't want to give my husband the cold shoulder anymore and because I don't like wasting food, I resolved to find new ways of taming the freezer beast.
Why it's not working
When I analyzed my freezer use, I discovered several reasons why I wasn't doing a great job with organizing the freezer.
1. I can't reach the bottom. I'm short (with “T-Rex arms,” according to my brothers), and it's hard to reach the bottom of the freezer. And what I wanted was always on the bottom. Two wire baskets helped. I also tried cardboard boxes, but they slowly flattened under the weight of the food on top. Plus, they didn't have handles, so they were difficult to lift, and they didn't stack well.
My new idea is to use plastic crates. They have handles, can stack, and they are small enough to lift easily if I don't fill them to the brim. Bonus: I had two unused crates in storage, so this idea didn't cost me anything.
Although short people may have problems, chest freezers do have advantages over upright freezers. Not only do they have more usable space, they are cheaper to operate, because less cold air escapes. Despite the advantages of chest freezers, I think an upright freezer would help me stay more organized. I could reach everything, shelves would eliminate most of the digging through food, and I could see what was available.
2. I didn't know what was there. Sometimes we raise our own meat, but if we don't, we buy our beef, chicken, lamb, and pork in bulk. When we pick up the meat from the butcher, we also get a list of the quantity of each cut. Sometimes I remembered to keep the list, tape it inside a cabinet, and mark off a pound of hamburger as I used it. But sometimes I didn't. And I didn't know how many packages of applesauce, strawberry jam, or pumpkin puree were there, either. I needed help, but it had to be easy. A complicated system is a recipe for failure.
My easy idea is to create “zones” in the freezer. For instance, wire basket #1 will have fruit, crate #1 will have ground beef, and so on. This will require me to actually look in the freezer, but I will be able quickly see what is running low. This is really simple and may not work, but it will be better than what I have been doing.
3. I stored the wrong things. The freezer was my food purgatory. Let's say I made a so-so dish that was not popular with either of us. I knew we wouldn't eat it before it molded in the refrigerator, so I saved the food and put it in the freezer for those nights when I didn't have time to cook.
You know where this is going, right? If I didn't want to eat the food when it was hot and fresh, why would I want to eat it six months later? When we cleaned out the freezer, I discovered unrecognizable single servings in Tupperware containers I didn't even remember I had.
Fixing this issue is the most complicated, but here are some ideas to keep food out of the freezer in the first place:
- Don't make so-so dishes! With more experience, I am a better cook and a better judge of which recipes will be good ones
- Don't make so much food
- Barter the food we don't like
- Honest appraisal of what we really eat. I got a flat of fresh strawberries a couple of years ago and made strawberry jam. Since we rarely eat jam, I should have frozen the berries for smoothies, something we do eat often. Or I could have given the jam away. Either way, I need to make and store only the food we will eat.
Since our freezer does have money-saving potential, I am curious to see if these ideas will cut down on food waste and contribute to marital harmony.
If you have a freezer, how do you organize it? How do you avoid wasting food?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).