The fridge that loved the great outdoors

Over the summer, we were the happy recipients of a cast-off fridge from Mindy’s aunt and uncle. They had bought a new one and were just looking to offload the old one, and we were building a kitchen from the ground up and had no appliances, so it seemed like a great fit at the time.

Unfortunately, the kitchen was nowhere near ready, and the fridge sat on our front porch for several months. It savored the seasons as summer faded into fall. I brushed leaves off it before winter’s fog and storms and snow came. Finally, we moved in and brought the fridge with us, but I think its heart was set on being outside, because it decided to stop working. Now it’s back on the porch where it started, until I can find another use for it or get it hauled away.

I don’t know if you’ve gone fridge shopping lately, but new refrigerators are expensive. Like, stupid expensive. Like, if I’m going to spend that much money on an appliance, it better make my food for me and compliment my good looks. Also, they take up a lot of room. We have a little kitchen in a little house and the more we shopped, the more we realized we were reluctant to commit that much space to a giant freaking hulking appliance.

So we decided to do something different, because that’s kind of what we do. We got a mini-fridge instead. And so far, we’ve loved it.

Advantages of a small fridge

Man, is it hard to get a good picture of a fridge!

Man, is it hard to get a good picture of a fridge!

It’s tiny! It’s 4.4 cubic feet and only 20 inches wide. We still have space to put a 30 inch kitchen cabinet next to it, and now we can put a 50 inch butcher block on top of both of those — that gives us so much more counter than we ever thought we’d have!

It’s efficient. When we broke down what we kept in the fridge, the bulk of what we needed fits in 4.4 cubic feet. We keep eggs, milk, fresh veggies that we plan on using in the next few days, cheese, miso, a few small bottles of condiments, and not much else on hand. With a larger fridge, we kept all that stuff, plus about two shelves of leftovers in various states of decay. It’s impossible to hoard leftovers when space is at a premium.

It’s taught us a lot more about what needs refrigerated and what doesn’t. We were already pretty good about that, but sometimes it’s good to have a reminder.

It’s energy efficient, too. Our new fridge does the same job as our old fridge, but costs half as much to run each year.

Looking ahead

I do worry that as spring and summer roll around and we have abundant fresh fruits and veggies on hand again, we’ll have no place to put them. But then I remembered that refrigerators for home use were only invented in 1913, and people got by without them just fine for generations before that.

One thing I plan on doing when spring comes around is construct a root cellar (I haven’t decided what type yet.) This is one simple way to store more stuff if you have a small fridge.

Another is just to change habits. My Mum is British and has always commented on the stark differences between the European kitchen and the American kitchen. The size of the fridge that we have now is closer to what she grew up with in the U.K., and that served her, her two siblings, her two parents, and usually a few members of her extended family just fine. The difference? They’d stop by a green grocer daily if necessary, or make do with what had been stored in root cellars. I pass at least three major grocery stores on my daily travels, and I can stop at any of them and get whatever we need on an ad hoc basis. I can’t quantify my suspicions because I don’t have the data, but I suspect that we’re actually saving money despite going to the store more often; the average purchase is $5 or less a day on veggies, and we use all of it. In the past when we did more traditional grocery runs of once a week or less, we would always have plenty that got thrown away.

Americans have a unique relationship with refrigerators, and maybe it’s because my roots don’t run deep in this country that that relationship has never sat right with me. So far, this switch has worked out well for us!

Though I don’t know how I’m going to keep my beer cold once the snow melts.

AKA the Stevens County Beer Fridge.

AKA the Stevens County Beer Fridge.

The Amazing Shrinking Fridge

7 thoughts on “The Amazing Shrinking Fridge

  • January 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Awesome! I have a huge double door refrigerator that matches the cabinets in my condo. I live alone and eat out at least one meal a day so I actually need and use only 25% of the space. I hesitate to think how much the refrigerator cost.

    The refrigerator came newly installed with my condo – I would never have chosen it. I certainly don’t recommend it. Evidently ice makers in this huge expensive refrigerator was installed with the cheapest plastic pipe available. After 3 or 4 condos were flooded when the owners were away and the flooring and the ceilings of the condo below ruined, we all had to pay to have new plastic piping installed in our ice makers – an ice maker I never use.

    The other appliances in my condo are also “over-engineered.” The oven in the BOSCH stove didn’t work when I moved in and it took two months for that to be fixed. I have only used the oven 5 or 6 times since I have lived here. All the features are so intimidating.

    The dishwasher, the washer and the drier all have so many buttons. I only ever use one setting. I have better things to do that study the operating manuals so I can get a slightly better/cleaner/brighter look or whatever. I wonder who appliance makers talk to before installing this stuff.

    The Emerson Street House – my new home – has a main house and an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit). We need 2 kitchens. I said function not fancy. The designer insisted in pricing both. The fancy kitchen was twice as expensive as the functional kitchen.

    Anyway I like your style. Also fresh vegetables don’t need refrigeration as much as several day old vegetables. I am guessing you will have a garden soon and be picking and eating. Enjoy!

    • January 19, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      “Over-engineered” is exactly the right way to put it. When we were pricing refrigerators, the cost jumped up dramatically as more features and bells and whistles and gadgets got added. And what for? I just need something to keep my food cold! And I don’t need that much food!

      I keep thinking “structure drives behavior” and I keep thinking of the structure of a typical American household, and how that drives over-consumption. And I just want to opt out of that. Besides, I have more urgent things to spend money on than a several thousand dollar fridge that I use 35% of.

  • January 19, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Oh no! Ah well, as you say ” This too shall pass.” You do realize that if your family gets bigger, or Nicky decides to join the “Fish of the Month Club” it will have to be bigger. After all, you aren’t using the “cabbage” on an only summer basis! It will all work out, if you need it to , it will! Have you thought of putting in a small raised veggie garden? That will help a lot, as when its ripe you have to eat it or can or freeze it. Do you have a freezer in the small fridge? There are refrigerators that are all refrigerator or all freezer, great for a small family. It WILL workout. That is the important part to remember and not forget. Maybe you should think of a small freezer, as you can harvest your garden, and have nutritious foods and fruits that you can use out of season. In England, even our packaging of foods and drink were different and you will have to work with “Super” “Jumbo” and “Big,big,big” size. You CAN do it though!

    • January 19, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      We’re definitely putting veggies in this spring — even when we lived in Bellingham we grew quite a bit just on our front porch, and we have a lot more space to work with now. We already have a small chest freezer. We’re confident that we will be fine. Worst case scenario, maybe we get a 2nd small fridge to keep outside, or we invest in a tall, slim option like this: But I really don’t see us ever going back to a ginormous fridge.

  • January 19, 2016 at 10:39 am

    A+ for tiny fridges! While they don’t last as long (are only meant to be used for a few years) I think that’s ultimately better because the elements and generators in it will become more efficient over time. I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country, but a big thing that baffled me moving from MN to CA is that most places aren’t already equipped with refrigerators, and it’s on the tenant to acquire one, but for a SWF, I don’t *need* a hulking mass of stuff. I also don’t buy a lot of frozen stuff and usually pack and freeze my own fresh vegetables. I’m a weekly shopper for the most part.

    Pro-tip for quickly cooling beverages in glass bottles: keep old paper bags or newspaper on hand, then when time comes for beer, wrap the bottle in one layer of the paper. Run the whole thing under cold water so all of the paper is wet (But not completely saturated) and then stick it in the freezer. I can chill a bottle of wine in 20 minutes this way, I’m sure beer would work faster!

    • January 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Cool tip! Thanks!

      That is so weird about CA — they seriously expect you to cart around your own fridge? I have never heard of that before and never encountered that — it’s always just a given wherever I’ve lived that a fridge will come with the kitchen.

  • March 31, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    We had a root cellar when I was growing up, mostly for potatoes and apples, which came to us from our own farm and my uncle’s farm. I read a wonderful book on all sorts of ways to build one for ourselves, but couldn’t figure out where on our city lot we could find a suitable place to put one in. The title is “Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables.” The adage about one rotten apple comes from folks who had root cellars; a hated job of childhood was stooping over in the cold, dark, dank cellar sorting out bad apples.


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