Do You Really Need That Refrigerator?

In 2016, 23% of American households had not one, but two refrigerators. Many people in this world have compact refrigerators, many others have no refrigeration at all. Yet here in the USA, people spend thousands of dollars on a huge appliance that runs 24 hours a day to keep their food chilled. (See Dollar Street for fascinating pictures from around the world of refrigerators based on income). This got me thinking, do we really need that refrigerator?

What is it about Americans’ needs for such large and expensive appliances? While I did recently write an answer for Quora about how people without access to a kitchen can eat healthfully, in reality it is good to have a refrigerator. But do we really need that shiny, big refrigerator?

The refrigerator has become more of a status symbol or piece of décor. Many people who have perfectly fine working appliances decided it was worth spending thousands of dollars for appliances of a different color. As room was made in the kitchen for the shiny new stainless steel appliances, their old fridge was moved to the garage for extra storage. My neighbors have a stainless steel fridge in their garage filled only with bottled water! 

Refrigerator Fail

Our wonderful electric company switched out our meter (causing a disruption in power) without letting us know. My husband was home at the time, and the technician knocked on our door. But before my husband could answer it, the technician was already on the next house. Immediately after the power returned, our refrigerator started making weird noises and stopped blowing cold air. By that evening, the ice was melting.

DIY Fail

When the fridge died, our first reaction was to look-up the likely cause and try to repair it ourselves. My husband was confident that he found the problem, which was a common one after power-outage due to the surge of power returning to the house. The part would be $11 and he would go to get it first thing the next morning.

As I am preparing to leave work that day, I get a panicked call from my husband. He bought the part, but it didn’t work. The store had a strict no-return policy (they told him before he made the purchase, and again when he called after it didn’t work). Worse, it was more than he had anticipated. “How much more? $20?” I asked. No, $60!

He knew that a week earlier I wouldn’t spend $50 to replace the water filter (we shopped around until we found a water filter for under $30). Now we just wasted another $60 on a part. And we had to buy a new refrigerator.

It turns out that stores do not have the space to keep refrigerators in stock, so you have to order it and wait a week for it to arrive. 

The good news was that there was a sale on appliances, plus my credit card was offering 5% cash back on home improvement stores. We purchased one of the  least expensive refrigerators we could find. It was the same size as our old unit: 26 cubic feet. Some fancy fridges are as large as 38 cubic feet and sell for nearly $4,000.

We did not pay the extra $150 for an energy star appliance. We did the math on cost of energy usage for both the energy star and non-energy star versions of this refrigerator. The difference was so small that it would take approximately 10 years to recoup the extra cost of the energy star appliance.

After taxes, necessary parts, and haul-away of our defunct fridge, the total came to $1,332.27.

What to Do With the Food

Our fridge died the day after we did our weekly grocery shopping. Usually, it would have been filled with chicken, yogurt, ice cream, and maybe a frozen pizza or two. Fortunately, we recently decided to go meatless and I am also trying to eat healthier, so we did not purchase any of those items. We also recently did our pantry declutter and had been “shopping” in our kitchen (like my friend Stephanie did during her no-spend month) in preceding weeks, so fortunately there was not much food in our freezer.

Our fridge contained mostly cheeses, eggs, fruits, veggies, a half-gallon of milk, hummus, our homemade products (e.g., marinara sauce, pico de gallo, guacamole), and condiments.

Our freezer contained bread (which we always keep frozen), our container for veggie scraps (to make soup broth), whole lemons and limes (from trees), and one package of tortellini that we bought BOGO but didn’t care for.

Lucky for me my bestie was in town, so I invited her over to dinner so there would be less to refrigerate. (We made quesadillas.) The food we planned to use within the next day or two was kept in a cooler. Every day my husband made a trip to the store to buy more ice. The rest of the items (e.g., butter, olive salad) I brought to keep in my mini-fridge at work.

Thanks to our newly-embraced plant-centered diets, we had very little food waste. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts largely don’t need to be refrigerated.

Our only food casualties were: lemons that had been kept in the freezer, our veggie scrap container, 1 tomato, 3 eggs, and that chicken tortellini that no one liked.


New (now useless) water filter: $27.11

Replacement part for DIY attempt: $60.75

Ice: $8.16

Refrigerator: $1,332.27

Our new fridge after weekly shopping trip

Final Thoughts

Many healthy foods (fruits, veggies, beans, nuts) don’t require refrigeration. We planned it well so that almost no food was wasted. After a week with no refrigerator, I am hoping that my electricity bill will be lower next month (I’m irritated at the electric company for not giving us notice so that we could turn off appliances).

Can you believe that with the expense of the new refrigerator and wasted money on trying to fix it ourselves, I was most upset that just a week prior we purchased a new water filter?

After going 8 days without a refrigerator, it is certainly nice to have one back! But it really opened my eyes to the fact that many of us buy larger refrigerators than we need. The size I purchased is very convenient and fits perfectly in that big hole between my counters, but I bought it realizing that it is more of a want than a need. Even with a family of 5, we could make do with a mini fridge and still eat healthy.


How much are you willing to spend on your refrigerator?

2 thoughts on “Do You Really Need That Refrigerator?”

  1. We just don’t have such large fridges in the UK. Our fridge/freezer is the same size as one half of your new fridge, with the top being a fridge and the bottom a freezer. Now I do admit that we have a second freezer. This is small as it fits under the counter in the pantry. It belonged to my great aunt and we had it when she died. It therefore cost us nothing and may otherwise have been thrown out. It enables us to freeze excess vegetables from the garden or blackberries from the hedgerows so I feel that it is worth having.

    1. Hi Sam! Your fridge is half the size?! I’m fascinated by how different fridges can be in such similar countries. Freezing fruits and veggies is a great idea. That’s so wonderful that your great aunt’s freezer is still working. And I absolutely agree in using things for as long as we can.

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