The Refrigerator Experiment - Tiny House Magazine

The Refrigerator Experiment

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The joy of living in a tiny house has given me the freedom to experiment with voluntary simplicity. Ironically, voluntary simplicity isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The challenge of reducing possessions and becoming more aware of how your everyday choices align with your values is fun, but it’s also a lot of work.  

My partner and I first discovered the idea of voluntary simplicity by watching a YouTube video featuring Dee Williams and her tiny house, in January 2008.

We instantly fell in love with Dee as a person and it was more than her cute house and tiny square footage that inspired us.

Dee’s philosophy on life seemed to challenge common traditions and technology in a way that made us more aware of our consumption and what we took for granted.  

One great example of this was Dee’s choice to live without a refrigerator. This idea seemed mad yet engaging at the same time. How could anyone live without an appliance that was more common than a television?  

However, when we looked in our refrigerator we found only alcohol, condiments of uncertain freshness, and milk for coffee. Did we really require a refrigerator for these things?  

In addition, we always seemed to be frustrated with our refrigerator. These refrigeration frustrations included:

  • Too much noise for quiet loving writers
  • Too much cost for holding forgotten food ($10/month in electricity)
  • Too much mess with accumulated weird odors and mystery stains shortly after cleaning

Before designing our tiny house we wanted to be sure we could live safely without a refrigerator, like Dee, so we unplugged our giant appliance and practiced in our apartment in Portland, Oregon.

Since we lived in a city, we could outsource our refrigeration to grocers and pick up fresh food several times per week. During this period we realized that most of our diet did not require refrigeration. Living without a refrigerator also reminded us to not waste food.

After we moved to California, however, the new climate extremes made living without a refrigerator difficult. In Portland, Oregon the temperatures were rarely extreme.

We used an ice box during warm summer days and the rest of the year we stored our perishable foods in the cooler outdoor temperatures.

During our time in Northern California the winter temps were commonly freezing and the summer temps were greater than 90 degrees F. Further, living in a rural area in California, with trips to the grocer less frequent, we had greater need of refrigeration.

We resisted adapting to our new climate for a while but recently realized that our life quality would be greatly improved with a refrigerator.  

Danby compact refrigerator

I did some research and purchased a small Danby refrigerator that would fit into our cupboard.

The Danby has been wonderful. It is quiet, energy efficient, and it seems to be just the right size for holding cold beer, some milk, a few leftovers, and perishable summer vegetables.

The joy of this experiment has been that I take fewer luxuries for granted and I have greater gratitude for simple pleasures. Now when I drink a cold beer on a hot summer day, I savor the experience and feel happier for what I have in my life.

Written by Logan Smith for the Tiny House Magazine

Photography by Tammy Strobel

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Lisa Huard - November 7, 2023 Reply

I have been planning my sm home for a long while I will have a small refrigerator with a small freezer only because I do use them quite often ,but I don’t count on it 100%

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