Rethinking Refrigeration: The Benefits of a Smaller Fridge

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy
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Downsizing is on trend. While we may not all be rushing to join the “tiny house movement,” there is a growing consciousness among today’s consumers to make the most of our resources, waste less, and eliminate clutter—it’s good for the Earth and for simplifying our lives. When downsizing your home or merely trying to cut back, one significant way to increase this impact is to get a smaller refrigerator.

If you’re a family of four or more — or you have teenagers in the house — a big French door refrigerator can be a lifesaver. But there’s room to simplify in even the most bustling households. And for smaller families, empty nesters, singletons, and retirees, opting for a smaller fridge can almost go unnoticed. These “alternative” fridges use less energy, take up less space, and encourage you to waste less food. They’re also a much better fit for small kitchens and can help you add counter space.

Here are the reasons to consider an alternative to a big refrigerator.

Take Up Less Space

Whether you’re downsizing to a condo after raising a family, living in a small apartment in the city, or just trying to make more room in your kitchen, maximizing space can be a challenge. A fridge that is smaller than its full-sized counterpart can allow you to find extra room in your kitchen for seating, cabinetry, and other appliances.

Use Less Energy

Not only are smaller refrigerators less expensive, but they’re also less expensive to run. Appliances are responsible for 13 percent of a household’s energy use, and after the heating and cooling system, the refrigerator is one of the biggest home-energy hogs. Refrigerators take up a lot of valuable space and energy in a kitchen, but they’re often working harder than they have to, cooling food that you don’t ever need or use.

Reduce Food Waste

Americans throw out 14 to 25 percent of their food and beverages. That translates into thousands of dollars a year for a family of four, not to mention a significant deposit into our landfills. Generating less food waste is one of the most significant ways we can save money and help make our homes greener.

Downsizing your refrigerator can help reduce waste, because much of the food shoved to the back of the shelves, stuffed in drawers, and tucked in the doors gets forgotten. With a smaller fridge, its contents are always front and center.

Living With a Smaller Fridge

If you’re afraid to downsize your fridge, take inventory of your current refrigerator to see if you’re just filling it up with unnecessary items that go unused. If so, you may be a good candidate for downsizing.

Here are some ways to flourish with a smaller fridge and reduce waste at the same time:

Shop more often for less food. Keep your fridge stocked with smaller amounts of fresher ingredients, and you’re more likely to use them up when you need to. (Added bonus: It’s a healthier way to eat as well!)

Plan your meals. Instead of buying several options for the week, stick to a specific list of needed ingredients and use them on designated days.

Move nonperishables to the pantry. The following items don’t need to be refrigerated as long as you have a cool place to keep them: fresh eggs, hard cheese, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, peanut butter, cooking oil, honey, and unopened condiments.

Refrigerator Alternatives

The Minifridge

Minifridges are fully competent, compact versions of the refrigerator you know and love. A simple, counter-height minifridge is the most straightforward and inexpensive solution for downsizing your refrigeration space. Standard models don’t have a lot of freezer room—there’s just enough space for one or two ice cube trays. However, you can opt for a model with a larger freezer compartment or purchase a minifreezer to stand alongside your minifridge. They’ll still take up less space than a standard fridge.

Refrigerator drawers are a relatively new innovation. Like minifridges, they’re small enough to fit under the counter, but you don’t have to crouch down to see what’s inside—just pull them open and reach in. They’re more convenient than minifridges but have a little less cubic space.

You can choose refrigerator drawers that blend in with your kitchen decor and look just like regular drawers. Their size does limit the height of the containers you can put in them, but decanting goods into square, stackable boxes will make it easier to fit more in and find things quickly.

These refrigeration alternatives are a particularly good fit for a single person or small kitchen because they don’t take up counter space. For added convenience, opt for two drawers on top of each other, using one as a fridge and one as a freezer.

Whether you need to fit your belongings into a smaller space, or you’re just looking to reduce waste, you can simplify your kitchen while making your home (and your diet) more sustainable, with a smaller refrigerator.

Jennifer Tuohy is a technophile who is also passionate about sustainability. Jennifer writes for The Home Depot on a variety of topics, from reducing your energy usage to choosing the greenest appliances. Click here to see some of the Energy Star–certified refrigerator options Jennifer talks about in this article.

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