Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Fridge Story

For nearly six months the supermarket down the road has been doing most of our refrigeration for us.

It's been an interesting experiment.

Not that it began as an experiment. (Do these things ever?) It began with some cussing. Okay, a lot of cussing.

When the big fridge in our kitchen died this past summer we looked at the hole in our family wallet where the money wasn't, looked at the car repair that we'd just committed to and would be another six months paying off, and didn't see how a fridge purchase was going to fit into the picture.

Fridges are expensive, people. In case you didn't know.

So we decided we'd get creative until our money picture changed. I had a small dorm cube in the garage that I'd bought when I had my gallery by the river, and I brought it inside, and for the last six months, that's what we've used.

Now I realize that not having a great big fridge in the kitchen is a First World problem.  And no, this isn't a post about our "sacrifice" and our "making do" and "going without."  It's about something else.  But I'll just tell the story, and leave it to you to glean any meaning from it.


Anyone who's ever used a dorm cube knows there's not a lot of room in there. Once you add a six-pack and some leftover Chinese takeout, it's full.  Also, my cube had no freezer compartment, so at first we wondered what we would do for ice (nothing -- we did without ice) and how we'd manage without a supply of ice cream and those handy frozen insta-meals (somehow we got by).  It just took a bit of adjustment. Was it a hassle?  Sometimes, but less often than one might think.

And as time went on, some unexpected benefits emerged.  I realized that not having a big fridge meant not having a big fridge to fill.  Or clean.  That it was easier and took a lot less time to think about our food a day or two at a time instead of planning for a week of meals.  That it was a lot quicker and simpler to shop for a few items than a whole cart-full.

I know this is not what they tell you when they tell you how to shop, and no, I couldn't make big pots of soup or pasta sauce for use over several meals. But honestly, small pots of soup and sauce -- enough for a single meal, maybe with a small portion left over for someone's lunch -- taste just as good. And go together quicker.  I'm just saying.

So we created few leftovers, because there was no room to store them. And when we did have a six-pack in the house -- which is infrequent, but it happens -- only a couple bottles went into that cube at a time.  We learned to anticipate our needs.  And to simplify our options.  Imagine that.

For a few weeks I missed my convenient frozen vegetables. And my convenient frozen pizzas. But within a couple months I'd reconfigured my cooking and storage to take advantage of all the stuff that doesn't need refrigeration. Fresh vegetables would sit on my counter instead of in the crisper drawer, and we'd use them that day or the next. Overripe bananas didn't accumulate in the freezer, waiting for the day I would get around to baking a loaf of banana bread. When they were sitting on the counter, getting blacker by the moment, it was clear that today was banana bread day.

I was concerned that it would be more expensive to shop this way. Guess what.  It was not.

This came as somewhat of a surprise, given all we're told about food budgeting and once-a-week shopping. But over the six months of this experiment I've concluded that keeping our fridges crammed full of food benefits the food marketers more than it does us. The truth is, the kind of things most of us put in our freezers -- the frozen pizzas and insta-meals -- are expensive.  And a full fridge means that all kinds of things -- leftovers, for example, and vegetables (which are also kind of pricey) -- get lost or forgotten.  When everything is more or less visible all the time, very little gets overlooked, and almost nothing goes to waste.

Anyway, the experiment was supposed to end this morning, when the delivery truck was scheduled to bring our new, smallish-but-still-more-standard-size fridge. (It's very hard to find a small fridge of any quality on this side of the Atlantic. Or the Pacific. The Europeans and Japanese have it all over us in this regard.)  But alas, the one they brought arrived with a big scratch along its very visible exterior side. They'll return with another one in a few days.

Somehow I think we'll survive.


  1. Genious! I hate to shop, so we bought one of those huge deals with the double doors and all. Only to find that as you said, things get lost and forgotten about. It doesn't do alot of good to have a bunch of food if it doesn't get used. I like your way much better.

  2. Debi, our fridge that died was one of those huge side-by-side ones, too. I loathed it. Today our little 14 c.f. arrived and it feels enormous compared to that little cube. I went to the store and bought some frozen vegetables, just because I could. ;-)

  3. This is interesting to me because when we go on the road (we are selling our house and taking an extended vacation) we will not have a refrigerator. We're trying to keep things as simple as possible, for cost reasons, and we'll have solar panels but won't get enough out of that for appliances!


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