It’s been a year.
Which is why I cleaned out and defrosted my chest freezer.
The chest freezer is in my basement. I originally purchased it when one of my cats had digestive issues. When all else failed, I cooked for him because that’s what you do for a beloved family member. (Also, it was preferable to the nightly Buddy butt-washes—my sweet boy was rotund, long-haired, and blind, which meant he wasn’t stellar at cleaning his back end after a trip to the litter box.)
Our supermarket routinely had sales on 5-lb. packages of store-brand boneless skinless chicken breasts. Every two weeks, I spent an evening boiling chicken while making a blend of white and brown rice. I’d run everything through the food processor and drop scoopfuls of the chicken-rice glop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. The baking sheets went to the basement freezer; a day or two later, the frozen scoops landed in large freezer bags. I’d defrost a few chicken-rice balls at a time, and those were Buddy’s meals.
Some might think that a cat—especially one who loved to eat the way Buddy did—would be enamored of chicken cooked just for him. In fact, it is well-known that the only food a cat really wants is somebody else’s.
After the first week, Buddy realized that the other cats were eating different food, and that was the end of his interest in the special chicken balls. I’d break up a chicken ball in his dish and warm it slightly so it had some scent, and then I’d set it in front of him. No reaction. I’d hold it up to his nose. Nothing. Sometimes, if he was feeling especially dramatic, he’d do his “I’m just a poor blind kitty and I can’t find my food” routine. Then, the second I stepped out of the kitchen, he darted over to somebody else’s dish like a heat-seeking missile, and I’d return to find him whiskers-deep in Olivia’s bowl of Friskies Mariners Catch as she sat to one side, looking sad.
This evening—December 31, 2021—as I cleaned out my freezer, I found three plastic bags labeled “B’s turkey 4/26/16.” (I sometimes substituted ground turkey when he was in an adamantly anti-chicken mood.) My beloved Buddy passed away on March 29, 2018. The chicken balls, at least, were long gone. I don’t know why I still had the turkey nearly four years after his passing. A moment of frugality, perhaps. Realistically, I knew I would never defrost and use a baggie of six-year-old cooked ground turkey, but it must have felt at some point like good stewardship. Or maybe it made me feel safe, some hedge against freelancers’ panic, to know I still had a protein source tucked away.
“Defrost freezer” has been on my to-do list for months. I first wrote it on the list the day I realized that the frost on the sides was reducing the available real estate in the freezer. Being my grandfather’s granddaughter, I’m a firm believer in stocking up, especially when there are sales. (The supply chain issues have quintupled my vigilance in this regard.)
For example, my morning egg sandwiches are made on Thomas’ Light Multigrain English muffins. During non-sale weeks at my local supermarket, a six-pack of said muffins costs $4.49. Every few weeks, though, there will be sales. Most often, the sales are BOGO (buy one, get one free); sometimes, they’re BOG2 (buy one, get two free). I routinely stock up during sales, stashing all but one pack in the basement freezer. Then, when I get down to the last muffin in one package, I blithely descend to the basement and pluck a package from the freezer, secure in the knowledge that it will be defrosted and delightful by the next morning.
I have also taken to storing premade meals for my aging parents in the freezer. Mom and Dad are intermittently fond of the meals available in the takeout case at a local small market; however, since the market is small, the available varieties are subject to the whim of the person overseeing that department. Just because Mom might like pulled pork with garlic mashed potatoes doesn’t mean there will be any. So I’ve taken to grabbing these meals when I see them and stashing them in my freezer until it’s time to transfer such delectables to their freezer. (Fun story: my father used to love this store’s chili. One day, he decided he didn’t like it anymore—no rational reason, just his mood that day. The amazing woman who prepares their meals several nights a week offered him the chili one night, claiming she’d made it. He ate it happily, declaring it to be quite good. So now, I buy it at this store, she passes it off as her homemade chili, and he’s content.)
In any case, routinely cleaning out and defrosting a freezer makes good sense. Recognizing the risk of long-defunct items languishing in the bottom of a chest freezer, one of my first acts upon acquiring this appliance was to attach magnets to the back of a dry-erase whiteboard and place it securely on the lid. (Without the magnets, the whiteboard would slide off every time I opened the lid. Don’t ask how I figured this out.) The whiteboard lists the items all in the freezer. At least, this was the original plan. I’d long since gotten off-track about what was contained in the frozen depths, which likely meant I was purchasing extras of items I didn’t need. The system was excellent; it was the execution that was lacking.
I don’t know why I decided that today was the day. As I said, defrosting the freezer has been on my list for months. There was no special urgency. And yet today, when I returned from mailing bills that will now be postmarked by the year’s end, I decided that the time had come.
In the end, the job was quicker and easier than I expected. Decades earlier, I had a small freestanding freezer in my kitchen in a Stamford apartment—the freezer inside the apartment’s refrigerator barely fit two ice cube trays, so I’d had little choice if I wanted to have an actual half-gallon of ice cream. I routinely sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor with a blowdryer, defrosting the freezer and rejoicing at all the extra room I’d have (which really wasn’t all that much, but it was a city apartment and you took what you could get).
This time, I was in my own basement. I unloaded the keepable contents of the freezer into a cooler and two bins. I stacked nonkeepable items in reusable containers onto the stairs so I could empty said containers and toss them into the dishwasher. The nonkeepable items in ziploc bags—including B’s turkey—went into trash bags. As an encore episode of NPR’s “Ask Me Another” played, I used my blowdryer to melt some of the edges, and then I used a chisel to gently break thick chunks of ice off the freezer’s sides. I retrieved a plastic shovel from my car (it’s supposed to help me dig out if I get stranded somewhere), and I scooped up the ice chunks from the bottom of the freezer. Finally, I wiped the insides down with paper towels, plugged the freezer back in, and reloaded it, making a new list on the whiteboard.
There are people who would think that cleaning out a basement freezer is officially the Most Pathetic Way to Spend New Year’s Eve. To those people I say: “You totally don’t get it.”
Getting rid of something you don’t need or want is a fantastic way to wrap up a year, especially one as challenging as 2021. It’s as bold a statement as you could ask for:
I, AND I ALONE, WILL DECIDE WHAT ACCOMPANIES ME INTO THE NEW YEAR. IF I DON’T WANT _____ HERE, IT WILL NOT BE HERE. THE DECISION IS COMPLETELY, TOTALLY MINE. IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, GO SCREW YOURSELF.
In the waning hours of 2021, I encourage you to find something to get rid of. It doesn’t have to be big or impressive or expensive. All it has to be is something you look at and say, “I don’t need to continue to own this anymore.” An ugly vase that makes you cringe. A piece of costume jewelry you never liked, or maybe you used to like but it doesn’t fit your taste anymore. A container of beef stew in the back of the freezer. A tool in the basement that came with the house and you never knew what it was supposed to do anyway. A pair of pants that were fine in 2013, but they don’t fit now and even if your body miraculously changed, you wouldn’t wear them in public anyway because that’s not how you dress now. A relationship that makes you uncomfortable, however you describe this. A bottle of liquor you used to enjoy, but now there’s something in you that wants to step back from it. A pen that doesn’t work. A pair of socks where one has a hole and you keep telling yourself you’ll darn it even though you know you never will.
Go ahead. Ditch whatever it is. Don’t worry about being wasteful. Pour out the liquor, donate the pants, sell the jewelry, post the vase on your local Buy Nothing page. Throw out both socks, the one with the hole and the one without. Just get whatever it is out of your world. You have enough to worry about. You don’t need extra crap that’s there for no better reason than you never got around to getting rid of it.
I didn’t calculate the cost of the freezer items I ended up tossing. It doesn’t matter. They were already gone before I threw them in the trash. I was never going to use Buddy’s 2016 ground turkey. It had no value anymore, to him or to me. It wasn’t even a sentimental memory. I have things in my home that conjure Buddy’s presence, and a baggie of frozen turkey wasn’t one of them.
So now, as we close out a year most people have found challenging, I encourage you to consider tossing one thing into the trash in celebration of the end of this year and the start of the new one. One thing, big or small, that’s weighing on you, worrying you, occupying space in your mind, making you feel as if you’re falling short. Get rid of it. Pitch it into the trash. Call it done.
And then, get ready to move forward in a world without it.
Happy new year, everybody.