Is a well-organized refrigerator the secret to a happy shared household? It can certainly be a contributing factor since a fridge is the central home appliance. Every person uses it multiple times a day.
I began reflecting on refrigerator design and organization this past summer, when I joined my family (of seven adults and one toddler) at the beach for our annual two-week vacation. The beach house we rented was a modest size. Its refrigerator? Enormous.
Not that it looked particularly big, or took up half the kitchen. It just had so much capacity! No matter how much went inside this refrigerator, there remained room to spare. The eight of us all have very individual eating habits, so it was a lot of food: salad and sandwich fixings, two cartons of eggs, three different types of bread, bagels. Five different types of cheese, hummus, guacamole, leftover barbecue chicken, a large batch of potato salad, yogurt, a bag of apples. Plus milk, soy milk, kombucha, a 12-pack of Diet Coke, a 12-pack of seltzer…et cetera.
It seemed impossible, but I guess that’s just the wonder of a “large capacity” Fridgidaire with “french” doors and a bottom pull-out freezer drawer. The possibilities for organization seem endless.
I currently live with two home-mates. Our 1960’s era apartment is equipped with a compact GE fridge that is constantly stuffed full. I usually have to unload multiple items just to reach one thing; whichever Tupperware of leftovers I want is inevitably buried behind a tower of two or three others.
I used to think my home-mates and I all just purchased too many groceries. After experiencing the gigantic beach house fridge, however, I realized that we aren’t pack rats. We just have an older, smaller refrigerator of limited size.
It does have three wide shelves–one for each of us–which allow for a good organizational system. Individual items are on the right half of our designated shelves, while communal items like milk, bread and eggs take up the left side. The crisper drawers get inter-mixed, but all of us buy such different veggies and fruits that there’s never confusion on whose is whose. We label any personal bottled condiments on the door. Anything without a label can be shared.
If you are a solo person with a full fridge…
and you are thinking of having multiple home-mates move in, what’s the solution? How should you organize and make space for them?
Buy a second fridge?
Modify your shopping habits?
Should you search for home-mates with similar eating habits as you, so you can combine resources on grocery shopping and buy fewer perishable items at a time?
Dig a root cellar?
All of these are possible solutions (except perhaps for the last one. But hey, just throwing it out there! The cellar has historically been a vital form of long-term food preservation).
Short of purchasing another full-sized refrigerator, another solution might be to purchase a mini-fridge. It costs much less and has a smaller footprint but could provide the extra space necessary for whatever staples you and your home-mates like to have on hand–milk, butter, orange juice, soda, beer, etc.
The important thing is to come up with a system that works for everyone. This takes communication, and perhaps a bit of creativity.
One more refrigerator story
… from my previous home share, with Kara. When I moved in, Kara had arranged her side-by-side fridge so that there was an equal amount of space for each of us. She’d pushed all of her items to the right side of the shelves so that mine could go on the left. There were two crisper drawers–top drawer was hers, bottom drawer was mine.
The fridge shelves varied in height, so this system made sense. We could both place our juice and milk bottles on the tallest top shelf, and our other items accordingly. I knew Kara had set it up this way so that the fridge, like the entire house, would be equally shared between the two of us.
However, the side-by-side design meant that neither the fridge nor the freezer was very wide. With such narrow shelves, one or the other of our food containers was always encroaching on the other’s space. Plus it wasn’t easy to see or reach, say, the peanut butter jar since it had to be lined up single-file behind the jelly jar and three yogurt containers.
For whatever reason, this equal-space organizational system began to drive me bananas. It’s not that I wanted Kara’s and my foods to not touch (which they frequently did, on the narrow shelves). It just seemed inexact and disorderly. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. But, it did!
One day, I couldn’t take it.
I usually kept fewer items in the fridge than Kara, visiting the store frequently for small purchases while she did a big shopping trip once a week. I did some re-arranging and found that all of my foodstuffs could easily fit on one of the short shelves and in my crisper drawer. The other three shelves could be entirely Kara’s. One day I arranged it that way, showed it to Kara and asked if it suited her.
“Oh sure!” She claimed to truly have no preference or opinion on how the fridge was organized. As long as I was happy, she was happy.
Whether compact or large capacity, “french” door or side by side, with freezer on top or on the bottom–may the fridge be a source of ease, not aggravation, for you and yours this winter season.
Here’s another post you might find interesting: Living With Housemates: Tips on Keeping the Fridge Managable.