Organized chest freezer. Credit: Courtesy of Kim Corey

Chest freezers are a great tool for storing and preserving food in bulk. However, the deep and often large freezers are prone to disorganization, making it difficult to find what you need when you need it.

Fortunately, a few simple steps can help you keep your chest freezer in ship shape with easy access to your frozen goods.

The first step is to create categories for the contents of your freezer that make sense for you: meats, vegetables, prepared meals and the like, according to Dawna Hall at Organize ME!, a professional organizing service based in Portland. Divide your existing contents to get a sense of the volume that you normally have in your freezer.

Then, consider containers to hold food by category.

“Some freezers come with a wire basket that sits toward the top,” Hall said. “To minimize food getting lost at the bottom, I would purchase stackable containers to line the bottom. Measure the length and width and find containers that will line the bottom of the freezer. Some prefer wire, some prefer plastic. It’s a personal choice.”

Organized chest freezer. Credit: Courtesy of Kim Corey

Before you buy any containers, though, Kim Corey, of Finely Sorted Organizing in Bangor, said to think of your budget.

“There are many organizing accoutrements that can be bought, but it is not necessary to do so if you have things you can repurpose in the home,” Corey said. “If you are on a tight budget, simply repurpose bins, cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates you have in the house. If you are into DIY, you could make wood dividers for the bottom layer of the freezer if you like that idea. Knowing how much you have of what will help guide you in container shopping [and] selection.”

When shopping, Corey said to see if the freezer manufacturer sells wire baskets or any other organizing accessory for your particular freezer.

“Just be sure to look closely at the product description as it’s easy to order the wrong thing entirely without being able to see it in person,” Corey said.

In each container, Hall said to “file instead of pile,” especially if things are in boxes.

“File so that you can see the name of each item,” Hall said. “Any boxes will be easier to access if it’s filed. Because pizza boxes are so thin, they may be able to fit down the sides of the containers on the bottom of the freezer and they’re big enough that they won’t get lost.“

You can also repackage certain things to make them easier to file.

“If you’re freezing leftovers, soups, vegetables from the garden, I recommend the large freezer Ziploc bags,” Hall said. “Once the items are cooled, fill the bags and freeze them flat. Then label the bag and file in a container in the chest freezer.”

Once you have your containers filled with their contents, you may need to keep them in layers to get them to all fit in your chest freezer. Keep what you most often use on the top.

“The most accessed items should be put near the top for ease of retrieval,” Corey said. “Some say put the oldest food near the top to promote use, but once you get your system in place old food should not be a problem any more if you don’t overbuy.”

You can also organize things in a way that will make your chest freezer more energy-efficient.

“Leaving enough room for unexpected food items must balance having too much room which makes the freezer have to run more to keep cold,” Corey said. “If you have almost nothing in your freezer, put some jugs of water in the bottom to hold the cold better.”

A chest freezer before and after organization. Courtesy of Kim Corey

Additional labeling will also help you keep track of when to use things.

“Labeling items as to what they are and the date it was purchased will help identify food easier and help keep track of how quickly you consume particular foods,” Hall said.

Corey said that she is “not a fan” of adhesiveness labels because they often lose their stickiness in the cold and come off when the food item is moved around the freezer. She suggested using a permanent marker to label containers directly.

Keep a Sharpie tied to the white board or locate a pen next to the piece of paper you have your inventory listed on. Don’t forget to mark the date frozen.

Finally, make sure you have a way to keep track of what is in the chest freezer. You can do so by keeping a list of the contents on the outside.

Organized chest freezer. Credit: Courtesy of Kim Corey

“You can attach a large, magnetized, dry erase board and marker to the side of your freezer to keep track of it’s contents,” Hall said. “You can also use the board as a grocery list as you run out of things. Take a picture of it before your next shopping trip.”

Corey said that some people will use applications like No Waste or KitchenPal to keep track of the contents of their chest freezers. She also suggested keeping a “food map” on the outside door of the freezer, noting the types of containers and where they are located.

“It is useful to remember where things are or for family and friends who are asked to fetch something to help out or help themselves.”