It's good for so much more than clean lines when you're redecorating.

By Melissa Kravitz
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It's an hour before dinnertime and your digging through the frost-covered tundra that is your freezer. Is that frozen block of dark red something chili or spaghetti sauce? Or tomato soup? And is it even from this year? Or this decade?

Home cooks are far too familiar with the recurring riddle of the mysterious leftovers, but there's an easy solve for this problem. It's cheap, it's efficient, and it actually works!

The fix? Painter's tape. Traditionally used to protect floors and ceilings and create sharp, leak-free lines for house painters, painter's tape and a permanent marker are essentials for your kitchen food storage, from the freezer, to the fridge, pantry and beyond.

Painter's tape is typically blue in color, is tearable with your fingers, and has enough stickiness to cling to nearly any surface — but not so much that it sticks too well and is difficult to remove. Because it's designed to go on delicate walls and housewares, it also doesn't leave sticky residue behind, so your containers will be glue-free when it's time to peel off the tape. Unlike transparent tape, the glue on painter's tape also doesn't dry in the freezer, so your strips will remain sticky as long as your leftovers are standing.

To start your new painter's tape ritual, find space in your drawer for a roll of painter's tape and a permanent marker. It's important that the marker won't rub off or fade with water or ice, which would defeat the purpose of this new system and leave smudges on the inside of your appliances.

Next, you'll want to label your container with a piece of tape describing its contents, and the date you put it in the fridge or freezer. If your leftovers move from the fridge to the freezer, just update the date. Dating your homemade food in the fridge helps you remember when Wednesday's leftovers need to be eaten — add a note to eat by a certain date if you want to jog your memory — or moved to the freezer.

Once in the freezer, the labels help you quickly sort through your containers, know what's in each one, what may have overstayed its chilly welcome, and which leftovers can be easily heated up for a quick and satisfying meal. If you want to leave a gift to your future self, feel free to include a few more details, like that a specific container of soup would make an excellent weeknight dinner or a leftover chili is last-minute guest appropriate.

Classic masking tape ($5; target.com), a close cousin of painter's tape, could work in a pinch. But like translucent tape, the adhesive may be too sticky to come off containers cleanly. That will leave a mess when you try to remove the label. If you do prefer to use masking tape, look for one that as a medium adhesive rating or lower. A high adhesive rating would probably spell a sticky disaster.

This labeling trick also works well for frozen fruit and vegetables, which can be chopped (if necessary) and stored in containers or baggies, labeled with a date or even for use in a certain recipe, like smoothie bags or ingredients to add to a stock or frittata.

That's it! You've implemented a life-changing organization system. Celebrate by eating some leftovers.

Target

Buy it: $4; target.com