One of my husband’s favorite stories to tell comes from when we moved from our first apartment to our first house. Not thinking about it’s implications, I assigned him the task of packing the contents of our deep freezer in coolers. Only once it was his job to pull everything out of the freezer, did it became clear to him how much stuff we had in there.
Having a lot of food in the deep freezer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s what they’re there for. The problem was how long much of the stuff had been in there. In my frugality, I have a reputation for not throwing things away. Every time I cleaned the freezer, I would find things that I forgot were in there or that I’d probably never use. But there was nothing wrong with them, so I’d think “Well, I’ll use it sometime” and pack it back in there. In an organized fashion, of course….
The more food Josh pulled out of the freezer, the more he made his case that if I hadn’t used much of this food in the last two or three years – yes, YEARS – I wasn’t ever going to use it. I insisted that I would and he asked why I hadn’t used it yet. I tried defending myself, but honestly, when I put food in the deep freezer, I forgot about it.
Then my husband had one of his best husband-moments of our marriage. He helped me problem solve. Knowing me as well as he does, he came up with a solution that catered to multiple facets of my craziness. He suggested that we inventory the freezer and make a list of all the food in there. He actually said, “It’s like that list it is one of your to-do lists, and your job is to erase things off of it by using that food.” BRILLIANT.
Josh was successful in convincing me to throw out much of the old food before we moved to the house, so I started fresh. This made a huge difference in making this system work. I started by making a list of all the food in our freezer, along with the quantities of each item and broke it up into categories (Meat, Bread, Meals, Vegetables, Fruit & Misc). We adhered a whiteboard to the deep freezer door and I wrote all of the contents on it.
The whiteboard works perfectly, because it’s easy to keep the list updated. When we take something out, we adjust the list and when we put food in, we write it in. It’s a quick at-a-glance way to know what we have in our freezer. Having this system for a couple of years now, we’ve found that it is beneficial for even more reasons than we originally intended.
- It’s a lot harder to completely forget about those items that inevitably get pushed to the back of the freezer that you never reach to unless you’re getting ready to defrost it. Whether you see something when you look in the freezer isn’t the determining factor in whether that item gets used. Looking at the list allows me to see everything in the freezer, even if I can’t easily see it when I open the door.
- It helps if you do bulk purchasing. We buy a number of items from Sam’s Club or Trader Joe’s – both of which are at least an hour away, so we don’t get there often. When we do go, we buy multiples of things. Before the whiteboard, we’d stand in the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s and try to recall what we needed more of. We had about a 50% success rate. We would predictably get back from one of those trips and put our three bags of frozen mangoes away only to find that we already had three, but were completely out of mixed berries. Now, before we leave for Fargo or Minneapolis (where I joke that there are “real” stores and I can do “real” shopping), we take a picture of the whiteboard. No more guess work in the frozen food aisle; we just pull out our phones and we know exactly what we need.
- It helps tremendously with menu planning. I start my weekly menu planning at our deep freezer. Looking at the list of everything that we have helps me get started for ideas of what to make. As much as possible, I try to use what we already have to minimize the amount that we need to buy.
- It’s a great motivator. I don’t write dates on the whiteboard, but because we’re constantly updating it, I have a fairly good idea what’s in there that’s getting old. So, like a to-do list where items should be crossed off, the items on the whiteboard should be consumed. This probably isn’t true for everyone, but it totally works with my competitive nature. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had to throw something away because it got old in our freezer.
I have found that using the whiteboard is an integral piece in the success of this system. Having something that is right there and is easily edit-able makes all of the difference for us. Also, the whiteboard markers that have the magnet on them are necessary.
As is true with most organization tools, their success is dependent the pieces being easily and quickly accessible.