How I learned to live without a refrigerator

I lived in New York City for ten years. I had a 500 square foot rent-stablized apartment in Park Slope. Every week I lived there someone asked me to tell them if I’m planning to move.

To squeeze into 500 square feet with my husband, we put our winter clothes in storage. Then our books. When our son was born, all our belongings went into storage to make room for his. And when we had a second kid, we got rid of the beds. The kids slept on a counter that turned into a bed and a dining room table that turned into a bed.

I had phenomenal window boxes in the summer. Not so much because I liked gardening but because it seemed like free space and no one gives up free space in New York.

But eventually my baby rolled off his countertop bed, and a kid at school asked my four-year-old why he didn’t have a bedroom. And I had began to dream every night that I had more space.

I was making $200K a year as a writer and it was getting me nothing bigger in New York. So we moved to Madison WI, because I read how it was a top city to raise kids. After moving there I discovered it’s the most overrated city in the US.

I got a house in Madison with five bedrooms. Because I could. They stayed empty for a year except for a few mattresses on the floor. In hindsight I think I had post-traumatic stress from small spaces and could not recuperate fast enough to enjoy the benefits of cheap real estate.

I married a farmer and moved into his farmhouse and woke up every day nearly in tears at the idea that I had my own 125 acres. I felt like I just got a huge house on Fifth Avenue butting up against Central Park.

I became a decorating maven. I tried turn-of-the-century decor because that’s what I was used to in my four-story walk-up. But you can’t force Victorian style on a depression-era farmhouse.

I got to work creating a style that could bond me and the house and farmers who had lived there.

I made a music room with a spoon chandelier.

I told my kids their Garfield beanbag chair does not meet my decorating goals and I forced on them furniture with grown-up pre-war shapes. (I need to enjoy the photos now because my kids will probably spend years in therapy talking about how I wouldn’t let them decorate their own bedroom.)

My favorite room in the house is the kitchen. I cook three meals a day, something I never in a million years thought I’d be doing, but there is nowhere to go out to eat when you live on a farm. So I made sure to love every little thing in my kitchen.

And, like all people who love a room, there’s always one more thing they need. Mine was the refrigerator. I looked at refrigerators for a year and everything looked too modern, and even the 1950s replicas did not fit my 1850s atmosphere.

So I found refrigerators refurbished in France. The company would ship me a shell of an 1850s ice chest and I’d turn it into a refrigerator in the US. But when I saved up the $20K, I realized it would be another $20K to get the refrigeration part done.

Then my husband told me we had to get rid of our current refrigerator which was twenty-five years old. It was leaking each morning and ruining the floors along with all the food it wasn’t refrigerating.

“We are living like slum lords,” he said. “No one has a refrigerator like this.”

“I’m not spending money on a fridge I hate. I’m saving for the one I love.”

“How much is it?”

“Forty thousand.”

He walked out of the room.

Then he came back. “This is crazy. We can’t keep living with that fridge. I had a better fridge under my desk in my college dorm than we have in our house.”

“Dorm room fridge? Okay. I hear you.”

Kiss. Hug.

Three days later six dorm room fridges arrive from Amazon. I paint them with chalkboard paint and stack them horizontally because I have decided that in 1850 there were not cupboards and the vertical look in a kitchen is modern. I won’t have it.

My husband says, “Where’s the milk?”

I point. “In the drink fridge, can’t you see the picture of the straw?”

No one can find anything in my new fridge system. Not even me. The kids open a new ketchup every time they can’t find the old one. So before long we have a ketchup in every fridge.

Soon I realize we are not using refrigeration because we can’t find anything if we put it there. I channel my days in New York City where I could learn to live without almost anything, and I throw out some of the fridges. I tell myself I’m saving money because I’m coming up with a solution that does not involve buying a fridge for $40K.

I realize vertical is fine, if it’s right.

I have three refrigerators. We use one for medicine for the baby kittens that come every spring and have eye infections that must be endemic to our farm. We use one for sauces that I always forget to use. And we use one for sushi that I bring home as a treat from Chicago.

We eat what I cook meal after meal until it’s gone. No refrigeration. We have a cow, cut up in a huge freezer in the cellar. I thaw a section out in the sink and cook it that day. We eat out of the garden in the summer.

In the winter we have potatoes and squash and things that don’t need to be refrigerated. It’s boring, yes, but it’s not far from how people have been eating for centuries. And it makes the coming of spring feel like a feast.

There’s a lot written about minimalism. About small budgets and tiny homes. So much is possible that we haven’t thought of. At first the idea of no refrigeration seemed crazy to me, but now it feels fine.

For years I’ve told people to do what they want to do and stop worrying about money. I tell them to quit the job they hate and get a job they like. I tell them to homeschool their kids, I tell people to relocate to a place they can afford with the money they can earn.

But people obsess over what we give up. Dan Ariely’s research shows that we obsess over what we might lose and downplay what we might gain. Which means we are loathe to give up anything.

Dan Gilbert’s research shows that we have a steady state of happiness. Even if we lose our right arm, we will not change our happiness in the long run.

What I learned from living in NYC, and then from giving up refrigeration, is that we can give up a lot. We are way more flexible than we give ourselves credit for. Be brave enough to give up a lot to get what you want.

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  1. jenn
    jenn says:

    I actually loved this one, so thank you.

    Also, if what you say about Dan Gilbert’s research is true, I find it a little heartbreaking. Doesn’t that mean that if your baseline is sad, it always will be? So much for self-help. (But yay for vodka?!)

  2. Iris Eben
    Iris Eben says:

    Best refrigeration set up I’ve ever seen Penelope. Makes perfect sense to me. I may steal this idea. As a style lover, adore you decor aesthetic. More pictures and posts about your home decorating please!

    P.S. I’m killing it in my interviews due to your career advice. Complete revamped my website, LinkededIn, resume and cover letter. But what’s even more effective… creating my own projects and professional experiences.

  3. Satya
    Satya says:

    This is one of the most fascinating and inspiring things I’ve read in a long time. I want to ask about dairy products (butter? milk? cheese?) but the very impulse to do so is just the tendency to disparage and disbelieve (that would never work for me!) instead of seeing this for what it is: a crack in my assumptions about the world all around me.

    And if I could be so wrong about refrigeration, what other possibilities am I missing?

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Butter is so much better when it’s not refrigerated! You can freeze chunks, and then just leave some in a covered container as you need. So much easier to spread!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Once some preconceived notion of how things should be fell apart more and more followed. It was pretty liberating but so terrifying at the time.

      I have lived without a fridge. It was not as fancy and cool as Penelope’s set up. We dug a hole in the ground (sand) and threw water in it so it wouldn’t collapse. Then placed an old towel around it and used ice. We’d use that for meat and milk.

      Everything else were vegetables that could survive the desert heat or we’d just have to buy stuff daily.

      When we got a fridge we felt rich. Then we got used to it and our new privilege became invisible and we became slaves to comfort.

      I try to not be extremist but at the same time I try to be very aware of the fancy stuff we have. It helps me realize that I have lived with MUCH less (and MUCH MORE as my health).

      From time to time I start to feel trapped by my possessions. I want to purge and throw everything away. But if you came to my house you’d think I am so poor. Nothing makes sense or matches. From our hand made table (by my husband – it’s pretty and sturdy), to our hand me down couch (which I love even though it doesn’t flow with the decor. Not that there’s one.)

  4. Katie
    Katie says:

    This post was fantastic, and was so timely for me. I’m currently pregnant with my first child and working in a job I despise (plus living through a kitchen remodel). Over the past several weeks, I’ve been really revving up my job search. Sometimes, I feel crazy for looking for a new career while already halfway through my pregnancy. But really I’m just afraid of the security I’d be walking away from. Time to take a risk. I’d rather be a happy mother in a career I love than come home miserable and burnt out every day.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Congrats on your pregnancy!!

      I hear ya on the remodel!

      One thing that has surprised me is how wild and crazy pregnancy can be. It has made me brave to take steps that surprised even myself. Probably the fear of losing perceived safety was not as bad as the fear of setting a bad example for my children. I didn’t want them to have a mother (and father) who are ruled by fear. Caution is something else. But plain fear of losing perceived safety? I don’t want that.

      You’ll surprise yourself!

  5. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    I love this post, and a peek inside your beautiful space is a treat. I have found our new smaller space to be liberating in that now I am removing everything I don’t love to make space for something I do.
    Your move and your willingness to share is such a great way for us to learn!

  6. rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel
    rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel says:

    YAY! A decorating and house post with an emphasis on simplification. I love it! It is true, the only reason we have a BIG GIANT refrigerator is we are lazy… your approach requires a little more thought. But I like it. I am working on a kitchen remodel and keep thinking I need a massive wall of refrigeration with sub zero, wine storage, blah blah. Why???? Thanks for smacking some sense into me plus saving $20k… as you well know. I am over it. We live in a smallish home where we have had to be very efficient. But efficiency requires diligence. Too easy to fall back into evil ways.

  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I really needed this today. Giving up….6 weeks ago I walked into my boss and tendered my resignation because I just couldn’t keep working for a place that didn’t meet my goals. We are a non-profit and there are things I want to achieve. So after 16 years and being a vice president I needed to give that up. It was hard and there were many tears. However, now I have a new dream and it isn’t glamorous and I won’t have a big title or a big salary but I am learning how to live with out all of the headaches, other peoples urgent needs, lowering of my blood pressure, and 10 staff that need me all of the time. I was wavering again but this made me realize I can live with out it.
    Thank you!

  8. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Nice–I like your clever refrigerator system. Maybe color coded would work better–but it still seems doable as is.
    We knocked off 25K from our kitchen remodel by not purchasing the recommended high-end appliances or a gas range. We don’t have gas lines into the kitchen so we have an electric burner cooktop. My friends ask me how I cook on an electric cooktop. I remind them that Julia Childs used electric burners on her show in the 60s and 70s. Maybe not ideal, but it saved us the expense of digging up the floor and installing a gas line. The food we cook still tastes great.

  9. Kathy McKinstry
    Kathy McKinstry says:

    How relevant this post was for me. I was just laid off from my job of 33 years (something I desparately wanted). We moved to a small town in Iowa from the ‘burbs of Chicago. My husband is a hoarder, having inherited his tendencies from his farmer father. We went from 3600 sq.ft. to 1000 sq.ft., and I’ve been trying to use every square inch I can. Unfortunately, we have four fridges/freezers, one of which is a dorm fridge. We fill them all and it’s just the two of us. It feels decadent, but the grocery store is miles away. At least I don’t have to work anymore, but I’m still dealing with the loss of routine. I appreciate your statement about being flexible–that’s what I need to learn and why this is all happening now. Hearing that others have dealt with similar issues helps!

    P.S. I love your decorating, and after I find a place for things, I hope to do something similar. I love the spoon chandelier!

  10. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I lived in 300 sf for a year and a half while I waited for my divorce to be final, as it was all I could afford. My kids were 5 and 7 then and they lived with me part time. I could clean it stem to stern in an hour. I miss that. But I don’t miss how tight it was when my kids were home.

    I had a ton of stuff when I got married. To make a long story short I came away from my divorce with very little in terms of possessions. It really upended my previously deeply held notions of what I had to have to live. Anticipating giving up my stuff was terrible – very anxiety-provoking. Not having the stuff was a revelation — hey, I’m here, and I don’t feel all that different. And pretty shortly I realized I missed very, very little of it.

    Also, life really did go on in 300 sf with the Murphy bed that folded out of the wall (and sleeping bags on the floor for the kids) and a dorm fridge and a stove not quite wide enough for a frozen pizza. I adapted, and so did my kids, and we were fine.

    Now I deliberately live below my means, be more deliberate about the things I do buy, and hold on emotionally loosely to my possessions. It eases money worries and general stuff anxiety. I live a lot more peacefully.

    But I’m totally with you on the kitchen: choose stuff you love, as much as you possibly can.

  11. SuperD
    SuperD says:

    Good post. I too am a fan of Dan Gilbert, though his views are a bit more nuanced than you may think. Subsequent to publishing “Stumbling”, in 2011 Gilbert co-authored a paper called “If Money Doesn’T Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right”

    It’s a good read and freely available at

  12. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I made it to London. I stopped in NYC on the way to stay with a singer/songwriter friend who grew up with a lot and seems to have everything. “How are you going to manage with the things in only two suitcases?” she asked me.

    It’s not been difficult, except I’ve still not found a job so I’m now trying to sell my eggs to tide me over. I seem to be quite good at interviewing, and really it is just like dating, so maybe if I can’t find a job right away I’ll find a sugar daddy.

    I only miss my dog.

  13. jana miller
    jana miller says:

    “We are way more flexible than we give ourselves credit for. Be brave enough to give up a lot to get what you want.”

    I needed this today….thank you.

  14. karelys
    karelys says:

    Recently we gave up a big chunk of money for my husband to stay home. It’s been close to a month and a half and I ask him every day if he still likes being at home.

    We all love it because it’s like vacation. I love to see his face smashed against the pillow when he sleeps and I am getting ready to go to work. He’s hard to get gifts for and giving him the gift to be with our son, work on projects he loves, and for the first time in his life have reign on his own time…’s the best decision I’ve ever taken. Okay, maybe I’ve made a lot of “best decisions ever” that have gotten us here. But still. I just can’t regret this.

    It was scary to give up so much “potential” (That we couldn’t even really enjoy because everyone was so tired and stressed out and there wasn’t much sex because who has time for sex when the little time you have is wasted fighting because you both are so tired???). But we finally did. And it wasn’t scary. It was a relief. It was amazing.

    I felt nervous that we were backtracking in life.

    Not even two months into this new blissful vacation from life I get a phone call saying that I have a job offer. They have been hounding me for a week leaving messages in my personal phone (that I don’t use but still pay for because I am attached to having just one number forever).

    I don’t know if I should accept. My income would double. It would be as if my husband was still earning money. But more. A lot more.

    I want to do it but it feels selfish because I don’t care for the money at this point. It’s an interesting job but now I would be a bit busier. Is the busier but happier because things are more interesting worth it? is the seal of approval from such a company worth it?

    We won’t know until we start. I’ll commit to one project. If it works well then we’ll commit to another. If not we’ll just abandon it.

    To be honest, the idea of having so much money coming in is confusing because we don’t have a use for it. It feels like we don’t NEED anything more than what we have. So we make a plan to stash some, invest a bit more, and then throw money at quality of life, emotional and mental health (whatever that means and we’ll make it as we go along).

    It seems like every time we’ve gotten rid of fear and taken a step back we just launch forward. But every time this has happened we have had to lose the fear and get rid of what’s in hand so we can have arms open to receive something bigger and better.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Karelys, that is amazing! Congratulations! Of course it is up to you, but I would say go for the high-paying job and continue to live below your means and save, save, save.

      You’re quite entrepreneurial-curious, so you’ll probably want to start your own business one day. Having a bunch of money in the bank will certainly help.

  15. me
    me says:

    Loved this post: so timely & smart.

    But: hated the slam on Madison … if it werent for the winters, I’d move back someday. What could be better than spending a warm evening sitting along the shore of Lake Mendota ?

    (A rhetorical question, of course.)

  16. Lara
    Lara says:

    Thanks Penelope. Love this. I get so frustrated about having SO much stuff but cannot seem to change enough to clear it out. My husband is a bit of a hoarder so that does not help. I want to move just to get rid of stuff we don’t need or use. Start over. The thought of living with less is such a turn on for me. Maybe one day. A girl can dream anyway. You are so awesome.

  17. Galen
    Galen says:

    I think the part about a steady state of happiness is actually reassuring. We fuss so much over little things in life that will actually have no long-term impact on our fulfillment and we often ignore the things that will actually make us happy (like finding a job we like even if it means making less money).

    Thanks for this!

  18. Chris
    Chris says:

    Penelope! GREAT post.

    We certainly can give up a lot, but I disagree with the many so-called personal finance experts who preach cutting every expense, even the things that you deeply care about.

    I don’t take this approach – I think it’s okay if you buy the things that are important to you. If that means a $25 burger, a $40k refrigerator, or a flashy new Michael Kors handbag, go for it!

    As long as you’re reaching your financial goals and know that there’s a trade-off between your time and your money, then you should be able to spend guilt-free.

    When I wanted to change how I spent money, the biggest challenge I found was deep-rooted psychological barriers. For example, when I considered dropping cable TV:

    Fearful me: But I like to flip on the TV when I get home from work and watch reruns of Seinfeld to unwind.

    Rational me: Tough, you’re using TV as a pacifier. Find something else to help you unwind like taking a walk OUTSIDE.

    I “lost” cable TV four years ago now-and yes it was a small thing-but it was one of the first incremental steps in transforming my finances, and my life.

    • Dale Davidson
      Dale Davidson says:

      I will (sortof) disagree with the “it’s ok to buy things you value” concept you proposed.

      Yes, buy things you value, but I think if you’re at that point where you are seriously considering purchasing a 40k fridge, it’s time to reassess what you value.

      A helpful exercise in this case would be to see what you’re giving up (which is the purpose of Penelope’s post) by spending 40k on a fridge.

      If you, say, compare buying a fridge with using that money to fund not working with an extended period of time in order to spent time with your family, and you still choose the fridge, I think your values are out of wack, and you probably have a materialist/consumerism problem.

      It gets a bit psychologically confusing though because you will perform all sorts of mental acrobatics to justify buying the fridge (e.g. oh this fridge will make me happy which will make me a better person for my kids to be around), but in the end you need to be honest about what you’re making the decision you are making, and then adjust accordingly.

      So, spend money on things you value, but make sure you’re valuing the correct things.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        Dale – we’re on the same page because I do think it’s important that you realize with every purchase you make there’s a trade-off between your TIME and your MONEY.

        I could buy first-class airfare to Europe but I fly coach because flying first-class means I might have to do things I don’t necessarily want to do with my time.

        You’re right on with the psychological tricks though, gotta watch out for that.


        • Dale Davidson
          Dale Davidson says:

          Hey Chris,

          I think it goes deeper than just the tradeoff between time and money. Those aren’t the only values in the world. For example, independence vs. relationships. If you value your independence very highly, this might exclude you from embracing certain types of relationships (like marriage) which requires you to give up some of your independence.

          Another example, Penelope brings up on her blog that to be happy, you should value living close to family rather than choosing a better or higher paying job far away from family. Or she talks about being a good parent vs. having a high powered career. You have to choose.

          So there are always tradeoffs, and I think there are certain values we should hold more highly than others. I think my main disagreement with your initial post was that it’s ok to buy a 40k fridge if you value it; I think there are some things you shouldn’t value, like a 40k fridge. It’s probably only okay to buy a 40k fridge if you’re super super rich (which may or may not be Penelope’s case, I dunno), and even then, I think there’s a case to be made that your values are out of wack.

          Thanks for replying!



  19. Carla
    Carla says:

    My husband and I moved into a brand new apartment two buildings down from where we previously were. We haven’t officially signed a lease so we have the option of a 3-5, 6-11 12 month lease and we aren’t sure what we want to do. We live in a complex that has mediocre maintenance and the location is okay. We both really want to move to the downtown area. We aren’t really sure what to do since we just moved. But I am already sad in this place. It just is too big and not cozy, I know that sounds like a stupid/ungrateful complaint but I do not like huge spaces it created the tendency to over decorate and hoard which my husband has those tendencies. If we do the 3 month lease we will have to pay an extra 233 a month if we do a 6-11 month lease we will spend an extra 188 a month. If we do a 12 month lease we will only spend 927 for a 2 br, 1 bath. If we do month to month we pay an extra 289. But it would be the most flexible for finding a new place…but when you move somewhere new you have to have a deposit, plus first months rent and admin fee. Moving costs etc. I am the one who takes gutsy decisions not my husband. I just want to make the best decision and this article struck me. I feel like the risk would be to either stay for 12 months and miss out on a great downtown apartment or leave and spend tons of money and find out the grass is not greener on the other side. I just really need advice from an outside source on what to do. If you read all of this thanks!

    • Cate
      Cate says:

      Carla, do a month to month and get yourself out of there. It’s not going to get any better. Accept that you’ll have to take a bit of financial pain to get where you want. Where you live is important, and you and your husband are on the same page, so go for it – just do it asap!

  20. Ranjeet Kapoor
    Ranjeet Kapoor says:

    Hi Penelope,
    It’s fantastic post. Loved your kitchen and other decors. I am living without ‘Refrigerator’ for past one and half years at my flat. I live single now and so felt this machine working day and night for me-and having least used. From sustainability point also there are other electronic things also which we can avoid using and live simply at ease and having adjusted with our new life style.

  21. Sandra Pawula
    Sandra Pawula says:

    I’m completely keen on giving up more. Not ready to let go of refrigeration quite yet. But, it’s true, we could easily eat more from the plants all around us. This is a great inspiration to consider how wonderful less can be!

  22. Dan
    Dan says:

    My wife sent me this post, and I have to say I am puzzled by it. I think its interesting that the post mentions how the kids are likely to resent not being able to decorate their rooms, but there’s no mention of how they (or even the husband) feel about the admittedly “boring” menu that results for much of the year without the refrigerator. I’d like to hear more about that, because I can’t help but be skeptical that the entire family is fully on board with this choice. If they are, then I guess I would have to say “go for it.” But even if there’s a lesson in here on minimalism and delayed gratification, its the last two sentences that get me. “We are way more flexible than we give ourselves credit for. Be brave enough to give up a lot to get what you want.” This could apply to living without refrigeration; or, it could equally apply to giving up the quixotic mission for the perfect refrigerator. (Perhaps I’m being harsh because I don’t understand why anyone would strive so hard to put an 1850’s style kitchen into a depression era house anyway.) I guess I would like to hear more about the reason for fixating on the refrigerator issue to the tune of changing lifestyle over it, particularly where there seems to be a willingness to fudge the authenticity in other areas (for example, the post is silent about what the stove looks like, and I doubt many people in 1850 had spoon chandeliers.) I don’t actually mean to question personal taste, but rather than seeing someone simplifying their lifestyle, I see someone jumping through hoops to delay gratification, not for something that will improve lifestyle long term, but for something that fits the aesthetic to perfection. Sacrificing in the short term for long term goals is a worthwhile lesson, but to me this looks more like letting the desire for a specific object interfere with day to day life, which is more akin to an obsession. Surely the intended lesson can’t be that any goal is always worth the cost. Tell us more about why the refrigerator falls on the good side of the line.

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      I agree with Dan. I don’t see the benefit in limiting one’s diet and letting food go bad (or eating everything you prepare at that meal) simply for esthetic reasons.

    • DL
      DL says:

      I agree with Dan on this. Minimalism is a trend these days so of course Penelope has to write about it (everyone is, after all). I actually agree with the whole concept and most of what Penelope’s saying. But to inflict a food lifestyle on the whole family just so one person can have the 40K refrigerator she wants seems contradictory to minimalism. This is especially true when a refrigerator is a depreciable asset.

      Re. the horizontal vs. vertical: Bending down to access the frig is a pain. You’re making everyone bend over every time they want something and they probably can’t see what’s in the back of the frig. If you’re going for 1850s kitchen in a depression-era house, get yourself another Hoosier cabinet, one with upper cupboard doors. Put your dorm frigs up there. I know they didn’t do that in 1850, but neither did they spend 20K to refrigerate an ice chest. Sometimes function overrules form.

    • jenn
      jenn says:

      Penelope has BPD. As do I. We bend reality to fit our perception and we disregard other’s personal feelings about the realty. Not on purpose just on automatic. So for her posts sake I’ll throw in my object obsession story.
      We live in ny and we were buying all new furniture for our place. As p states, she wanted only things she loved, I went this route too. But the emphasis becomes love of things not love of practicality.
      I finally found my perfect bed frame after 2 months. We slept on air mattress waiting for it to be delivered from italy. The order was delayed 4 months. After 6 months I caved and bought a random bed. But my family suffered because I did just what p did, held on for perfections sake.

      The difference I see is that Penelope is self aware to know her decisions are negatively impacting her children, yet she’s not stopping herself so that it doesn’t hurt them anymore. It’s always ‘they’ll be in therapy for this’. How about they will lead a life without therapy because mom stood up and made the big psychological changes necessary to give them a better life than she has?

      It’s not that easy I understand- the win lose mentality. But I wish she’d stop parading as queen of parents and know all because of research and just get the help, or rather help herself so she can help her kids.

      • jenn
        jenn says:

        I just want to add that deflecting the emotional responsibility to therapists is just like deflecting the supposed parenting responsibility to teachers. Same story, different narrative.

  23. HappinessSavouredHot
    HappinessSavouredHot says:

    Love this! I was reading about a woman who lives in a “tiny house” with the bare minimum yesterday, and although I would be totally up for it, I could not fathom how she lived without a fridge.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      the tiny house would be a mansion in most other countries.

      scroll down and check out the interactive figure for a comparison of average house and apartment floor space in different countries.

      Also, to get back to the fridge – average fridge size in a european household is about half the size of the US fridges – so the equivalent fridge space to the two or three dorm room fridges is normal. I would venture out and say that there is not much in terms of downsizing or giving up here – it is a comparison with a generally oversized country.

      P.S. … although I have to say that I really like my large fridge here.

  24. Srini
    Srini says:

    Message at the end is great but the example is nuts! How about remembering that there are people struggling for one square meal a day and work on limiting our crazy desires?

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I rather enjoy Penelope’s outlandish examples. Using her own life stories as examples for the points she is making, which is this case is let go of what you think you need in order to have the life you want, is a large part of what makes her writing interesting and the message accessible. That’s not to say that hunger isn’t an issue that should be addressed, or that the suffering of others makes a poor guide for one’s own choices. That’s not how Penelope writes.

  25. Ryan Biddulph
    Ryan Biddulph says:

    “Sacrifice is releasing something of a lower nature to make room for something of a higher nature.” ~ Leland Val Van de Wall

    Love the post Penelope. Thanks!

  26. Joslyn
    Joslyn says:

    I understand this is not the message intended behind the post, but all I could think of when I was reading it was why in the hell not employ a local or at least American based craftperson to make a replica of an 1850’s ice chest from reclaimed wood? Or from wood from your farm?

  27. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    I hate New York. I always thought I wanted to live there and then after a few visits I’ve realized it’s hell and everyone there is living a lie.

    I’m now in Sydney and it’s basically a tropical New York with happy people who spend time with their families and friends. I’m so glad Sydney residents don’t spend 90% of their time telling everyone how amazing their city is, otherwise it would end up as overpopulated, dirty and narcissistic as New York.

    Anyways, I think this post on compromise is timely as I’ve decided to give up my career tunnel vision to instead focus on finding a husband after finding out men do not give a shit about my accomplishments and they don’t seem to be making me any happier a person. Also, I need residency to stay here so it is both romantic and practical of me to set this priority.

    *feels mature and adult-like*

  28. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Many times I think about how previous generations managed. I think they were much more creative and resourceful in many ways than we are. I think I’m that way in many respects because I learned from the greatest generation who grew up in the depression. It was my Dad and his friends who seemed to fix everything themselves and cobbled together numerous things to get something done. They also salvaged numerous pieces of hardware to the screws, nuts, and bolts from equipment so they could use them later in a future project. So I ended up copying from them and still do to this day to the extent that it makes sense to do so. And I know a lot of people like that. We can do without a lot of things whether we can afford them or not. And it’s really a personal decision on how much someone wants to spend on a particular item. So, yes, I think we are predictably irrational. It’s just a good and healthy thing to know ourselves why we’re predictably irrational. So that once we can figure it out for ourselves, then we can communicate it to others. I have a few good refrigerator stories … :)

  29. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Also nice pillow photo! That’s an interesting way to start a post that’s titled with the word refrigerator. It’s necessary to start reading the text to get a sense of why a pillow photo may be chosen as the first thing to be included in the post. :)

  30. Adrianne
    Adrianne says:

    “Be brave enough to give up a lot to get what you want.” – really love this statement.

    To go with the aforementioned brilliant quote: “Be honest enough with yourself to properly choose what you want.”

    I love seeing how you have adapted to each change in circumstances and maximized the situation you were faced with at the time – really love that.

    • Tracey
      Tracey says:

      Ditto Adrianne. I really loved those two insights as well. Penelope is very adept at encouraging meaningful decision making.

  31. Jun
    Jun says:

    Great post. A simpler life with less need. Loved it, especially since just before I read this, I was reading in the New York Times about young people with debt struggling to get by in New York. Just reading it I could barely breathe. Then I read this, and my lungs opened up again.

  32. Elizabeth in VT
    Elizabeth in VT says:

    The man in my life has no refrigerator. Eating boredom in the winter is not a serious issue. In the winter, there are enough cold places to keep veggies and leftovers. Warmer temps are much more troublesome, because cheese and a lot of dairy become very difficult to keep. Yes, a porcelain butter crock helps but you could make a lot of trips buying butter and milk. (If you don’t have a fridge, you don’t have ice either, and buying ice at the convenience store, 5 miles away, seems a bit silly.) I think a cooler in a brook (close enough to the house to discourage wildlife) may do the job.

    The man in my life is also off the grid in a pioneering sort of way, which means indoor lighting is close to non-existent. Knitting by oil lamp is hard on the eyes. I’m still working on that.

  33. jenX
    jenX says:

    You’re such a great writer, PT. I admire your talent so much. And, I love the chalk drawings on the fridges.

  34. Álvaro
    Álvaro says:

    This article is awesome and gives a lot of perspective. But if we get used to commodities/comfort, and you managed to live without a refrigerator, will be the same if you lose the liberty of using Internet? Well, in your case, I don’t think it will be possible. For some people, giving up things are easy, depending in the circumstance. But in my case, I wouldn’t give anything from the modern life. At least for a long time. A weekend, maybe. :)

  35. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Penelope does zen habits? Hmm, not quite – far too entertaining for that. Love reading about your crazy whims and even more about your family putting up with them (great problem solving putting ketchup in each fridge…makes me wonder if they also secured one of the dorm fridges and use it hidden away from you, maybe even an alternate kitchen somewhere on the farm). So does this mean you are actually giving up on the vintage fridge? Maybe you could save 20K and just stack the dorm fridges inside the fridge shell?

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think it may sound crazy to us because we get to read snipets of her life out of context (for us). But all in all I think it’s pretty normal.

      For most people that come to our house they probably think we are poor. I can’t tell if we are poor or not to be honest. We don’t really have furniture that kind of thing. But it has taken so much discipline to keep it that way!

      I just like the openness of the living room. And yesterday my kid started kicking around a ball and having so much fun.

      That’s when I felt vindicated about sticking to my guns. It was worth so much more for me to give up nice furniture and decorations than to give up the opportunity to have fun, hear the belly laughs, and kick a ball inside the house (it doesn’t bounce off the walls the same outside).

      If I told you details of my life I’d probably come off as odd. But we look pretty normal and boring from the outside.

  36. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    How in the world did you go without a fridge? Our 6 year old fridge went out quickly and without warning yesterday and I had to go out and get one from Lowes ASAP. This was basically an all day event as I picked it up and brought it home, removed the old one and purchased and installed a new one. Note: Will NEVER buy a Fridgedair product again…ever. IMHO inferior product that is junk. 6 years for a fridge….REALLY???

  37. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    I love this because it’s so true. I gave up all kinds of things to live in the mountains; sometimes the career stuff is hard, but most of the convenience stuff is so surprisingly EASY. I don’t tell people the details anymore, because they think it’s so weird (or they want to move in), but at first it’s a fun game and then it’s how you live, and then, sometimes, you find joy and beauty in the different things. Maybe because they speak to where we are– they are our own.

  38. Sara A.
    Sara A. says:

    Tip from your friendly neighborhood health inspector (sanitarian in the american fashion)
    Never do the: ‘eat leftovers until they’re gone’ trick with rice. Once rice is cooked, if it is left for longer than 2 hours at room temp. it will begin to release a toxin of the staph. aureus kind. A notable portion of rice naturally carries this bacteria whose toxin isn’t destroyed by cooking. Many of my friends learned this lesson the hard way after rationalizing that leftover vegan rice containing tortillas didn’t need refrig.
    Similar problem with pork/beef/ and clostridium perfrigens, bacteria thrives in the inside of the meat once cooked at room temp.

  39. Ethan
    Ethan says:

    Ok I have to say this. If you own a huge azz freezer, that’s not “living without refrigeration”. I mean the biggest thing to keep cool is meat and owning a freezer and a place to thaw stuff out, you’re all set. On the other hand, I’ve known people who’ve had to make do without a fridge for a while and as it turns out, you can keep mayonnaise out on the counter for a LONG time!

  40. Financial Samurai
    Financial Samurai says:

    Hmmmm… I feel kinda stressed out now! I think I’ll just keep my one fridge :) But whatever works with everyone is good!

    Do you have a similar system with drawers for clothes etc?


  41. Almagreta
    Almagreta says:

    I actually learned a lot from your post. It was very inspiring and quite impressive. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I can live without a refrigerator. I just could not imagine myself not having one. It’s already been a part of daily life. That was really brave of you and your husband to make that decision of living without a fridge. Did you have any problems at all when you decided not to have one? Was it that easy at first or was it hard? Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your story. I had an incredible time reading it. Good luck!

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