Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frozen archaeology: a hoarder's freezer

Everyone wants to reduce the amount that they spend on food. We spent over $400 on groceries last month and I feel like there's some room (pun intended) for us to lower that number a bit. But we already buy very little processed food. We shop the edge of the store, buy house-brand everything, and shop at the cheapest store in town. We buy in bulk. The freezer is full. So what are we doing wrong?

Maybe what we're doing wrong is being too much like my hoarder family. In the name of food allergies, finicky palates and frugality, their freezers (plural!) look like this:

click to enlarge the horror!
There is stuff in those freezers that has been there for YEARS. My parents never clean out the freezers and never defrost them. It may be frozen, but is it still edible? Is it even still safe?

But my life shouldn't be about them, it should be about me. Only last month did I start to look at my freezer with an eye for hoarding habits. Sure enough, I felt a need for the freezer to be FULL:

Why do I think I need to have a full freezer?

1. My frugal brain tells me it's cheaper to buy stuff on sale. But for me that's a myth because stuff gets freezer burn and spoils in my freezer typically before I dig deep enough to remember that it's there. When it's so full that I can't see what's in there, I end up buying extra because I think I'm out of something.

2. My starved eating disorder brain worries about not having the right food around when I want it. Just because it's not in my freezer doesn't mean I'm going to starve or be painfully deprived. I can always go out and get what I want.

3. My first world brain wants choices. Maybe today I'll want raisin bread and tomorrow I'll want wheat, and Monday I'll want white. But why should I worry about keeping a smorgasbord in my freezer when I live a few blocks from a grocery store?

4. My eco-friendly brain says that it's more energy efficient to keep a full freezer than an empty one. That only works if I don't end up throwing out spoiled food.

These beliefs are all myths for me. Maybe they're truths for you and that's okay, but for me they spell out one thing. It's time to use up what's in the freezer and not completely fill it up again! My freezer today:
better than last month! sorta
My sister-in-law keeps a list of the freezer's contents on the door. I'm not sure I'm diligent enough to keep up with the list. But making it this once might give me a better idea of what I have, and what I can use in our meals this week.

1.   6 qts frozen peaches (will go into jam tomorrow)
2.   1 pre-made lasagna (can keep this at work for emergencies)
3.   1 qt frozen grapes
4.   1 container fudge
5.   1 bag of coffee
6.   4 pounds of butter
7.   1 pt raspberries
8.   2 slices pizza
9.   frozen banana slices
10.  bag of green beans
11.  bag of carrots
12.  bag of stir fry veggies
13.  bag of mixed veggies
14.  bag of blueberries
15.  1 pound sliced cheese (freezer-burned, tossed out)
16.  ginger root
17.  parsley
18.  bag of pre-made raviolis
19.  oatmeal cookies
20.  25 cadbury eggs (they're seasonal!)
21.  a tray of yogurt starter
22.  flank steak
23.  hot dogs
24.  2 pork loins
25.  5 pounds hamburger
26.  raspberry ice cream
27.  3 pts of sofrito
28.  2 jars of strawberry jam
29.  1 jar of pear jam
30.  2 soy burgers
31.  1 chicken patty
32.  2 pounds of margerine

If that's what I can stuff into my freezer, then it's a crying shame how much food is going to waste in my family's freezers. My goal this month is to reduce the freezer contents by about half. Hopefully that will also help reduce our food bills. My ultimate goal is to be able to look at the freezer and not have to move things to know what is stored.

How do you keep your freezer organized? Does buying in bulk work for you or do you prefer an empty or half-full freezer?


  1. daughter & granddaughter of hoarder checking in

    I taught myself to meal plan. That eliminated my clutter in the freezer (+ deep freezer). I have a simple dollar store (chore) chart on the side of my refrigerator. It has the categories Protein, Green Vegetables, Vegetables, Fruit and Whole Grains. I don't eat all 5 for dinner but just have them there for options.

    I scan my refrigerator and pantry (inventory) then create my list. I only buy food that will complete my dinner plan for the week. Well, I also include standard breakfast foods. (I eat leftover dinner for lunch).

    My freezer only contains the meat and sometimes frozen vegetables used for that week.

    Essentially, I clean out my refrigerator and freezer every week.

    It took tons of practice. Also, saying to myself, "it will be at the store next week, I don't need it taking up space in my freezer now."

    Hoarders tend to be invested in survival strategies. Always preparing for the worst. I started having faith for the best and it relieves my (inherited?) need to stockpile.

    1. Totally feeling you on that inherited need to stockpile. There is nothing wrong with keeping just food for the week in the fridge. They do it in Europe all the time because fridges and freezers are so much smaller there. So funny how we have so much here in the states and yet we feel like we have to stockpile it with huge houses, deep freezers, storage units!

  2. I kept failing at the list thing, and I do stock the freezer - I put up corn, zucchini, and some roasted veg, plus I get given some meat and buy direct from the farm this time of year.

    So every year, starting in December, each week before I go to the grocery store I pull 3-4 things out of the chest freezer and plan meals around them. The goal is to have the thing empty by the end of February so it can be defrosted and sit empty (open! No mold!) and unplugged until July when I start putting up veggies again. That's more energy efficient even than running it full, right? And then I don't have anything in there more than a year old, ever.

    The little freezer in the fridge is never empty, though. I'm always finding bad things in it - my kid likes to put half-eaten popsicles back in, and they fall to the bottom & get squished. Plus chopped herbs I forgot to label. But we rummage through there pretty regularly so it's never a horrorshow like the bottom of a chest freezer can be.

  3. Daughter of not really horder, organised freezer people here :)

    I have a fairly small freezer- one that is the bottom part of one of those big fridge freezer things. I tend to have quite good turn over of food in the freezer...although I did recently recently get my bf to eat up a Mystery Frozen Thing (left over curry, it turned out!)
    I buy milk from the farmer's market that I can't get to every week, so I have some of the milk frozen...although a bit too much, as I went into panic buy mode! (The stockpile is now getting down to sensible levels...!) Also large amounts of beef from a place that I won't be visiting often and is quite far away- so I had to buy quite a bit whilst I was there if I wanted to eat it more than once. Also tend to keep frozen peas in there for quick veggies.
    Need to learn to meal plan, as my intention is to bulk cook things like chilli and have interesting meals each night of the week, rather than getting bored and hungry and snacking on random stuff. Might try doing what my parents do/did and have a rotating four week menu (some things were repeats!) as although that is 'boring' it might work for me...hmmm...

  4. We have never had more than three drawer freezer. Now here we have a large freezer in the storage room as well. It is mostly used to store berries we pick and this summer the apple juice we made, also my dad bought reindeer meat in bulk last year. There is one piece left that I need to remember!!!In the small freezer I keep some berries, frozen veggies (always chopped spinach for making spinach crepes), garlic, some gluten free treat and pie dough for emergencies, and ice cream.. I tried freezing left-overs but found that they get better used up if they stay in the fridge and are eaten within a couple of days. They get forgotten in the freezer.

    I wish I was more organized about cooking too, and had more variety in the dishes I make. Need to learn some new recipes I guess.

    1. we could trade recipes, or a bunch of people I'm sure would be willing to share. Maybe I'll post a recipe trade next week. Your scandinavian cooking must be very yummmy!

  5. Oy! Daughter of a "compulsive eater with hoarding tendencies" here - and fellow survivor of an eating disorder - and this is absolutely something I struggle with. A few years ago I bought a chest freezer to store garden produce and it's been a very mixed blessing.

    First of all I discovered that my enthusiasm for frozen zucchini waned pretty much as soon as it was frozen! I've taken to making actual food from the garden surplus and freezing that, because when I pull out a loaf of zucchini bread or a zucchini quiche my reaction is "Psych! I've got food!" whereas if I pull out a bag of shredded zucchini I tend to think "Ug... I've got work to do."

    And all was going relatively well until my parents got me a Costco membership. It is WAY too easy to fill that sucker up with enormous bags of god-knows-what! I also find that I do the same thing with meat as I do with garden veggies... Organic chicken on sale - great! I buy it and toss it in the freezer, where it sits mocking me because now it's not just the job of cooking it... but the added job of defrosting it!

    Sooooo... I'm trying REALLY hard to use up what's down there - although the progress is mighty slow. And from now on, I think I'm gonna cook the chicken as soon as I buy it and then freeze it in usable sized portions.

    Now... about those five gallons of pumpkin puree.... help....

    1. I've done the five gallons of pumpkin puree too!!! Bought an 11 pound pumpkin a few years back and didn't realize just how much that would make. I had a year's supply of pumpkin muffins. I finally got through it in time to move. But now we have a grown-up costco membership too! I'm trying to learn to buy fewer veggies at costco since the hubs doesn't eat them and then I stick them in the freezer.

      Maybe we should draw little googly eyes on our food with faces so that it can actually mock us! Then maybe we'll have incentive to get it out of the freezer!

  6. Another daughter of a food-hoarding family! It was nice having things to eat growing up, but I can guarantee that my parents waste *so* much food! When I help my mom clean out her fridge and pantry, there is often so much expired. Consequently, my sister and I are sticklers for expiration dates and tend to keep moderate-low levels of food in our houses. My MIL is also a food hoarder, and it drives me crazy! Whenever family comes to our house, we are told that we must be starving because our fridge, freezer, and pantry are so bare. Instead, I only buy what I know we'll eat rather than just buying stuff because it's on sale. UGH!

    1. Had to chuckle here... my father shops almost exclusively at the salvage store where everything is already expired before he brings it home! Then he stockpiles it for a few more years! I fear growing up poor in the depression left an indelible mark on him.

    2. I've had too many bad experiences with expired food to even attempt to try it again. I even bought a bag of mini donuts (still in date) from the outlet bakery store, only to find them inedible since as soon as I opened the bag it smelled like I had stepped in a nail salon. I guess I'm just really snooty about food lol!

    3. Ha! Well, at the very least I think it's safe to say that you obviously weren't raised by my father, whose belief is that "sell-by" dates are simply a marketing strategy! :-)

    4. I guess we're all really fighting evolution here. An empty fridge/freezer seems to trigger something in our brains that says 'we're going to starve'! Now, how to get around that feeling without having to fill the freezer. Wish I knew.

  7. My freezer is jammed full but danged if I know what is in there since there is nothing to eat in the house and by nothing to eat I mean nothing not pre-processed (so maybe nothing WORTHY to eat in the house, by my standards, not hubby's) Without being home I do know there is a frozen pizza in there, a bag of chicken strips, several boxes of various frozen mini "Mexican" foods, popsicles galore, and annoying batteries that fly out every time you open the door. I'll claim the chicken, but the rest is hubby's fault. Especially those p)#*$*#&*((@#*)* batteries. I wanted a popsicle once, emphasis on the word "a" and hubby brought home a box of 48 of them "it's the only thing they had." Because there is only one store in all of Tucson. Truly. No popsicles would have been better than 48 of them. Every once in a while I toss on in the sink and wash it away but its been awhile.

    1. oh my goodness. I guess I won't complain about my husband's meat collection anymore! good luck melting those popsickles!

  8. My freezer is barren. I remember my parents buying whole sides of cow because they had a friend in the farming/butchery business. Besides that, our eating habits were not at all healthy. Frozen bags of vegetables meant ice packs to me, not sources of nutrition. I like the exercise of counting and naming the objects in a small space though, so I'm going to play along at home:
    3 ice packs (real ones, not bags of veggies)
    1 tube of ground beef
    3 frosty mugs
    2 pints of sherbert (for the lactose-intolerant bf)
    1 half empty box of ice cream bars
    1/2 a bag of french fries ...okay obviously our diet is not what it should be...
    1 freezer bag with a few pieces of bacon
    1 box of taquitos
    1 bag of boneless chicken breasts
    3 bottles of vodka
    2 ice trays and 1 ice bin

    1. that sounds like my ideal freezer. particularly with the booze ;o)


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