Previous Next
Feature Photo: Listener42 / Photo above: xJasonnRogersx
Two months ago we came up with an idea that had our friends and family questioning our sanity. An idea that intrigues, confuses, and sparks wild conversations in the break room.  We figured No Impact Man had done it, as well as The Dervaes Family, Rachel Munston, and countless others.

AND SO, ON January 9, 2010 we unplugged our fridge.

According to The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, refrigerators suck up an average of 1,383 kilowatt hours of energy each year.  This is a very wasteful use of energy, especially considering that many foods don’t require the level of refrigeration we’re led to believe they need.

Eggs are a classic example. Travel to most countries outside of North America and eggs are sold and stored at room temperature. Same goes for cheese. We now keep cheeses wrapped in waxed paper on the counter, and have been surprised at how much more flavorful they are when not kept cold.

Many fruits will keep for a week or more at room temperature, and vegetables will last for at least a few days if kept moist with water.

Milk however, will only keep for about 6 hours.  Seeing that the two of us manage to consume at least one gallon of milk every week, I think the footpath to the grocery store is about to get a lot more action.

European couchsurfers who come to stay with us never fail to comment on the Y2K stockpile mentality of our refrigerators. The “apartment-size” fridge (9-12 cubic feet) is the norm in Europe, compared to the 19-22 cubic foot norm in the US and Canada.

Cleaning out our fridge and moving its contents to the mudroom made me realize how much crap really was in there. Half-empty bottles of crusty sauces, soggy fruit, and hairy cheese confirmed my weakness for sales and subsequent habit of buying more than necessary. Just by downgrading to a smaller fridge could cut your energy use in half and if you’ are anything like me, probably slice a nice chunk off of your grocery bill too.

Most refrigerators are set to about 36 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 degrees Celcius), but don’ t actually need to be so cold. By cranking the temperature up to 43 degrees your food will stay cool without over-expending your already very hard working refrigerator.

We’re managing to get by just fine without a refrigerator and while I’m slowly accepting that chilled white wine won’t be waiting for me after work this summer, I love the challenge of it. It is estimated that the average US home uses just shy of 1,000 kilowatts of electricity every month, and since we’ve ditched our fridge, we have watched our monthly consumption drop from 170 kWh to 90 kWh.

The challenge of living without refrigeration excites me, and a photo essay chronicling our “ditching the fridge” adventure can be found on Wandering Dona.

Community Connection:

To learn more about everyday ways to conserve energy and save money, be sure to read about Abbie Mood’s experience with the No Impact Week Challenge. Also, check out Matador’s focus page on Green Products for environmentally conscious product ideas!



About The Author

Dona Francis

Dona Francis is a 20-something freelance writer and photographer who dreams of a year-round flip flop tan, a never ending supply of mangoes, and long bus rides down dusty roads. Riding bikes, climbing stuff, and getting lost are a few of the things that make her giddy. Join in her adventure at Wandering Dona or @wanderingdona.

  • Heather Carreiro

    At the in-laws house there are THREE fridges. Two full size and one apartment size, and my mother-in-law wants to buy a full size freezer too. Portuguese houses traditionally have two fully-equipped kitchens. It’s been quite the shock for Duarte and I to see so much food stocked up after running our own kitchen (with a small fridge and unreliable electricity supply – meaning don’t buy more food than you will use in a week). The first couple months we lived here there was a LOT of arguing about food and a lot of expired things thrown into the trash….

  • Xander

    Something my father used to do to cool his beers when we lived in Botswana was to pop them into a sock, dip them in a stream, and then leave them somewhere both in the shade and where wind can get to it (i.e., not inside a box or bag…) The evaporation that takes place soon takes the heat out of the can, and as long as you can keep the sock wet, the beer will stay cold. Not icey, as some like it, but for African bush standards, cold enough. Perhaps you could do similar with your bottle of white wine, leave it outside on a windowsill in the evening, wrapped in a soaking wet teatowel?

    My girlfriend’s parents put all their cheese and cured meat on the windowsill during winter too (they live in Northern Italy) but then again they live on the second floor, so no animals can get to it!

  • Andrew

    Note that 36 F is 2.2º CelSius

  • Robyn

    I got rid of my fridge last August and have not missed it at all. The adjustments I made were very easy. I’ll be getting a small one for the person who’s renting my condo while I’m gone for the next 15 months. There is a great freedom in having one less appliance to rely on.

  • Hal Amen

    I noticed that about the eggs and cheese outside the U.S. too. Makes you think. You make a good case for going fridge-less.

  • eileen

    I suppose you could keep a cooler with purchased ice in it for milk or special occasion wine. I pretty much use the supermarket as a fridge, but since we don’t really use canned beans where I live (Chile), and I cook a large amount and refrigerate them to have them on hand, I prefer to have a fridge. Ditto paneer, which doesn’t keep long, and yogurt, which I also make from time to time. But hey, this isn’t about me…

    I like the idea of turning all assumptions on their heads, and critically asking ourselves what we really need vs. what we believe we need. Congrats on minimizing your footprint and your electricity bill!

  • Keane

    Farehnheit? What is that? If this is truly a global travel blog, why wouldn’t you use Celcius, of which 95% of the world understands?

    Same with the cubic foot conversation. You are trying to reach out to the world, and you use American-only conversions.

    K, your Northern cousin.

    • Julie Schwietert

      Hi, Keane-

      Thanks for pointing that out. We ask that our writers write according to what they know, so if that’s Farenheit, Farenheit it is. If that’s Celsius, Celsius it is.

    • Dona

      I’m glad to see that this has sparked a healthy discussion!

      @Xander: I love the sock idea! I’m totally trying it this weekend. Liquor store here I come!
      @Eva, yes we are vegetarian for the most part. I occasionally cook fish, but in that case, would buy it the day of.
      @Keane, I grew up in the states and so Farenheit is just what my brain thinks in. But now that I’m living in Canada, I am getting more comfortable with celcius, but still the whole conversion thing scews me up. It would make a whole lot of sense if the US and the other 3 countries that use farenheit would just join the rest of the world in the metric system!

  • Nancy

    Dona-what an interesting article. I’ve never thought about unplugging the fridge. This has made me think. I’d miss the cold beer though…:)

  • Sarah

    I think the only thing that would really bother me would be the lack of ICE.

    While I’m a foodie who loves nothing more than a fully-stocked fridge, I could live with just making more frequent trips to the store & purchasing things as I need them.

  • Eva

    Hmm. This has me thinking about what’s in my fridge right now. I don’t keep a ton in there (only have one shelf – it’s shared with 4) but I’m not sure how I’d handle removing my mayo, milk, yogurt and cheese (eating cheese at room temperature generally kills the pleasure for me – same goes for apples). I also keep some frozen vegetables on hand, and usually freeze my bread before it goes bad.

    One catch for me, not living within walking distance of even a corner store, is that without a fridge I’d be driving to the supermarket far, far more often than I do now. (As is I try to plan ahead and only go about once a week.)

    Also, I’m curious if you fridge-less folks are vegetarians? What do you do about meat, seafood, etc? Buy it fresh and eat it that day?

  • Pingback: Recapitulation: A Gnomette in March » nancy.the.gnomette

  • Rosie

    I live in a rural farming community in northern Spain & have learnt that no one actually needs a fridge. Milk was mentioned in the above – we have ours straight from the cow each morning. Sometimes we have cartined milk too & that lasts several days without being refrigerated. Now the chilled white wine in summer…. We have a village fountain where the water comes straight off the mountains & is ice cold even in the heigh of summer. Ideal for that bottle of white wine…..

  • Gwen

    Great idea! I will definitely keep this in mind when I move into my own place. Most food can be stored in a dark cupboard or the cellar anyways.
    I think it’s not wrong to have a tiny back-up fridge though, I wouldn’t want to eat eggs that have been in the summer heat…

  • Che

    I have gotten rid of alot of material things. Fridge being one of them. I eat fresh all the time. Mostly fruit and veggies. Anything else I buy same day and consume.
    Dont drink milk so I dont have to worry about milk spoiling.
    I love it. Its simple and I am never going to go back to using a fridge.

  • Pingback: Living without a Fridge, Month 5

A proposed car-free development for cyclists in South Carolina could change the green...
A new electricity-generating soccer ball could use the world's most popular sport to...
"I’ve gutted, restored, and rebuilt, but what good is that if those rebuilt...
How some surfers are exploring history to create a greener board.
Matador interviews Paul Sanchez-Navarro Russell, director of Centro Ecologico Akumal in...
How and why to join your Community-Supported Agriculture association.
BP probably doesn't want you to try these.
In 2008, the world consumed a whole lotta water wrapped in plastic.
These three sun-powered voyages could give us a peek into how we'll be motoring in the...
Monitor nesting sea turtles with the Centro Ecologico Akumal.
Dr. Adolfo Murillo is an agave farmer making one of only four USDA certified organic...
Conservacion Patagonica is putting together a protest at the Chilean embassy in in San...
Demands on UK and European fisheries are making them less productive and putting both the...