Chest freezers are incredibly useful. They hold the extra frozen items from when you buy in bulk or that one awful flavor of ice cream your Mother-In-Law *insists* on having anytime she drops by unannounced. The top-open design of a chest freezer is economical so that all of the cold air doesn't fall out every time you open the door (hot air rises, cool air sinks). This way you can keep your vegetables and bulk meats cooler longer, which means they'll stay better longer. And you'll need this feature when you spend 10 minutes searching around for that one bag of frozen chicken you were *certain* was in there.
|The "before" shot of my chest freezer. It looks fine, but I couldn't find a single blasted thing in there.|
Let's be honest: It's incredibly difficult to keep a chest freezer organized as-is. Yours probably came with one small basket, maybe two. And everything else gets shuffled around every time you look for something. We organized our deep freezer really well about once a year, each time swearing that this time would be the one that we would keep it organized and always put everything back where it belongs. Not to mention all the damage that happens to your food when it gets shuffled around. I mean, look at this:
|And now your painstakingly-created crockpot freezer meal tastes like a freezer.|
I was always jealous of the effortless organization in my parents' chest freezer. That is, until I realized that they have about the same amount of food as I do but they keep it in a much larger chest freezer with lots of empty space. If you're reading this, you probably know that it's impossible to keep your overly-full freezer organized without any bins or containers. Things tend to settle and shift onto each other so that they all tumble out of place when you grab one bag of broccoli. And of course your child is screaming that the dog won't stop eating the cheese she keeps giving him. And you have company coming over, because why else would you need to have something other than lukewarm spaghettios for dinner? So the items tumble and they get left where they are, and thus begins another year of tragic trips to the deep freeze that get longer and longer and end with disappointment and half-defrosted items more and more frequently.
I got so sick of this. So I started researching options. At first I wanted to figure out how to maximize our space, so I wanted options that were perfectly square with handles. Those don't really exist in my price range, it turns out. Then I found some metal grids that I figured I could fashion into cubes. However, even with the grids only costing less than a dollar per piece, we were looking at spending almost as much on organization as we had on the freezer itself! I couldn't do that, so I buckled my daughter into the car and drove to Dollar Tree.
I first went to a Dollar Tree when I was about 11 years old, back in West Virginia. It was a magical place filled with cheap trinkets and candy that I could actually afford! As I grew older, I became disillusioned with the trinkets and expired candy. Then I moved to Utah for college and soon rediscovered the Dollar Tree. Much to my surprise, the Dollar Tree near my apartment was nothing like the one I grew up with! It had cookware, picture frames, decorative bottles, clothing, and all sorts of useful things, not just overpriced trinkets and such. So began my love affair with Dollar Tree.
I have often wandered Dollar Tree looking for inspiration for my home projects, but this time I was on a mission. I needed to organize my chest freezer, and I wasn't leaving until I had a plan for meeting that goal.
Here's what I came up with.
My first piece of advice is to measure your chest freezer! Not the outside, obviously, but the inside. How big can your containers be? Will you need to put some pieces north/south and others east/west to make it all fit? You need to know what sort of space you're dealing with before you hit the store.
If your freezer is the same size as mine, you will need:
6 Large Reusable Shopping Bags
5 Tall Locker Bins
2 Small Dry Erase Boards
My entire system is based upon two main layers. On your bottom layer, you have the items you have the most of or don't need to access particularly often. For me, this layer is mostly meat. The top layer is all of the items you either need frequently or that have the potential for being squished or broken (like box-less ice cream sandwiches).
|Yes, that is a LOT of cooked hamburger.|
That's why it's on the bottom layer.
We get it from Zaycon.
To organize the bottom layer, I bought 6 of the largest, durable reusable shopping bags I could find at Dollar Tree. They worked great to hold my different meats, most of which are cooked and placed into quart size freezer baggies, which had laid flat to freeze and are now able to stand up almost like papers in a filing system. Make a note of where, what, and how many go into each bag.
|The bottom layer, mostly meats.|
The second layer is comprised of the locker bins, which are easier to remove and get back into their spots, since they're rigid and have good handles. Again, make a note of where, what, and how many went into each bag.
|The top layer. Someday I'll be less lazy and actually crop my finger out.|
At this point, your chest freezer should be looking pretty good! I had some extra space at the front of my freezer that was perfect for some pre-assembled crockpot meals in gallon freezer bags.
|Note the gallon-sized crockpot freezer meals.|
Now we reach the part of the system that will take your freezer organization from good to amazing: The whiteboards. We have one for each layer.
It's particularly important that you note how many of each item you have on the whiteboards so that you can easily see what is inside without even opening your freezer. Just make sure that you erase a tick mark every time you take one item out, so you have an accurate count. It's up to you how you organize these and where you display them, but this layout works best for us, and these whiteboards from Dollar Tree have magnets on the back, so they go really well on the side of our freezer.
|Not the front, where you would brush against them to get food from the freezer.|