Do You Really Need That Big Fridge?


Grocery delivery has come to Vancouver. Talk about good timing for me.

Save-On-Foods, our kinda middle of the road price wise, big selection, grocery chain started offering grocery delivery recently. They offer some nice incentives to get people started, free delivery on first order, $10 off second order, and while I took the freebies I didn’t need to be convinced that grocery delivery is worth the price. I was really happy with our grocery delivery in the Isle of Man with Tesco and I was gutted to be returning to a city that only offered grocery delivery from some smaller – read very expensive – boutique grocers (they are great but not my ‘get it all done’ store).

Gutted no more. And thumbs up Save-On-Foods, your drivers are very helpful and nice and I love that I can get a next day delivery.

Now that we are using delivery service, and back in the land of Costco, I thought our regular old standard North American 18 cubic foot refrigerator would start to feel crammed. I remember lamenting years ago that there wasn’t much room in it. This was before our first child was even eating solids. I was always frustrated by the lack of space and felt regret that we hadn’t purchased a bigger refrigerator.

What was I thinking? There was only two adults in the house. What were we eating?

After four years with European fridges this standard size fridge feels HUGE. It is never full unless I bake three dozen cupcakes for a party. Even after a substantial grocery delivery there’s room. In fact, there’s so much room that I think I’ll have to start filling bottles of water to store in there to keep the power use down (thanks for the tip from this post).

So, you learn to live smaller. Our first flat in the Isle of Man had a small under counter fridge and no freezer and we made it work. The rest of our homes while overseas had small by North American standards but regular by European standards refrigerators. We adjusted. And now we’re back and I’m trying not to adjust back. I’m trying to keep the ‘living smaller’ skills sharp.

A smaller fridge is helpful for energy consumption and very helpful for reducing food waste. You can see things easily in a small fridge. You can’t forget about those leftovers in the wayyyy back or ignore those brussel sprouts that need to be eaten today. It keeps you from over-buying at the store. A small fridge can be a good thing.

Now, talk to me about a small fridge in ten years when I have three teenage boys. I’m already thinking we’ll have to do grocery delivery twice a week by then.

Do you have a big fridge? If so do you use all the space and how do you keep food waste down? I think one of the reasons our fridge works for us is that we don’t keep a lot of drinks in the fridge. We only have 2 litres of milk at a time and then 2 litres of a milk alternative. I know families that consume a few gallon/4 litre jugs of milk each week would struggle with our size of fridge. We’re also right in the city so it’s easy to grab something at a grocery store a few blocks away. If you live far from a grocery store I can see that a large fridge could be a necessity.


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  • I love the things you think about! I never even considered how my fridge effects anything. Never gave it any thought – now I have.
    We rent, so we had no choice with our fridge. It’s not a giant one (like almost all new fridges in the US are) but it might be a little bigger than a standard European one. But either way, it is just fine for 3 adults. We grocery shop once a week, and even when it’s ‘full’ I can always Tetris everything to fit it all in. And without it being a danger when the door opens haha!
    I’m getting better at truly emptying the fridge of food more before buying more….and boy has that been difficult! It makes me anxious seeing a bearly-empty fridge, even if that means there’s still milk, eggs, a few apples, and a container of leftovers, and condiments. That isbt actually empty, but my brain thinks it is. I’m getting better. I’m starting to see that we save money if we really try to eat *all* the food in there!

  • I could work with a smaller fridge, but it’s the freezer that I struggle with. We bought 1/8 of a cow this year. I buy big packs of chicken breasts or pork chops when they are on sale to last 6-8 weeks until they are on sale again. I like having frozen vegetables on hand. Right now I am making room in the freezer for the Thanksgiving turkey I’ll be buying soon. I do not want a stand-alone freezer.

    • Could you fit 1/8 of a cow in your freezer? I’m curious. I’d be willing to empty mine out if we could do that. I would miss my frozen veggies and fruit but I could work around that.

  • we recently added a 2nd fridge in the garage. We had too. This is the USA and we don’t have nice places to buy fresh food daily within walking distance like my European friends report having. And every time I enter the grocery store I buy more than I planned, so the more I stay out of it, the more money I save. The extra fridge space is lovely because now i can see what i have, everything is not piled on top of each other anymore. And the extra freezer is particularly invaluable because I’m a big believer in buying bulk when prices are low, and I also do a lot of prep-ahead meals.

    • I’m not sure if we could go smaller, but a smaller fridge is something that sounds so nice! The only problem is that we have 8 in our family (six children ranging from 8-18) and we go through nearly a gallon of milk a day *sigh* maybe someday ☺️

    • Yes, I can see that the smaller fridge doesn’t work for a lot of people. If we are someday farther from a grocery store I could see wanting something bigger.
      Freezers: I’ve thought a lot about getting a small chest freezer. I like batch cooking soups and stews but we just don’t have room for more than a few extra meals in our freezer.
      Great to get another perspective on fridge size.

      • We have a chest freezer and I ADORE it. I cook in bulk all the time and freeze leftovers. Then on busy or tired days, I only have to thaw and maybe add a vegetable. I agree, however, that too much fridge room just results in having a lot of waste. The freezer is more valuable.

  • It’s funny how no matter how big the space you always seem to fill it. I can see the value in deliberately keeping a fridge on the smaller size.

  • I frequently feel like I play Tetris with our “small” fridge (probably 20cu ft) with 2 adults and 3 kids (10, 7 and 5). I KNOW we’ll need something bigger as time goes on. One of the biggest reasons is that we only get our meat every other week, and a freezer full of 2 weeks of meat makes for some interesting juggling. I’d love a French door refrigerator just so that no more beef roasts or whole chickens try to tumble out of my top-freezer door! Other than that, we eat LOTS of vegetables and fruit, and keep other “normal” pantry items in our fridge (like almond flour and olive oil) to slow the spoiling process. Some people suggest a chest freezer in the garage, but it’s actually cheaper for electricity purposes to have 1 larger fridge than 2 fridges/freezers. PLUS, in Texas, a chest freezer in the garage in August? Not gonna’ work.

  • We upsized our fridge last year from 18 to 24 Cft and it has made my life easier, but we have a family of 7. We opted for the bottom freezer style and I love it because I can see things so much better. I resisted keeping the old one as a second fridge because my mom and MIL have second fridges where things go to be forgotten. We do have a small chest freezer for bulk buys and freezer cooking, but do a pantry & freezer challenge twice a year to empty things out and defrost. At this point the space we have helps me avoid food waste. We live in town, but nothing is walkable and I’ve learned it is not good for my mental state to pop into a store for an ingredient or two with 5 kids in tow. Costco is my main grocery store and I can do a big shop alone in 30 minutes that lasts 10 days to 2 weeks. I’d like to try out the European lifestyle of frequent smaller shops, but I’m trying to make what we have here as simple as possible. Loved Save On when we lived in BC. Delivery sounds wonderful.

  • We do have a large fridge, but we also have nine children still living at home. When we bought a new fridge last winter, we even opted for one with no freezer to maximize our space. I am a bit of a fanatic about keeping it clean and organized so we minimize waste.

  • It’s so interesting to see the different perspectives on fridge/freezer size! I would tend to think of a small fridge preventing food waste and overbuying, but Jennifer mentioned that the more frequently she shops, the more she buys unintended items (hence, a larger fridge saves money by allowing her to space out shopping trips). We just bought a home with brand new appliances, and I must admit that I am loving my enormous French door fridge — so far I don’t feel that it has encouraged me to buy more food than necessary. If anything, having the fridge on top keeps things at eye level, where they are less likely to be forgotten. Also, I tend to forget things at the back, so having a bit more space eliminates the need for creative stacking. I was skeptical about the freezer drawer, but it’s been lovely so far!

    I love the idea of shopping daily for fresh ingredients, but with my primary stores about ten minutes away (and three children in tow), a weekly trip is better for us right now.

    Good food for thought! I love that every time I come to your blog, I leave encouraged or challenged (or both! :-)


  • Gosh… I have no earthly idea how big my fridge is! But here’s what I wonder about people who have tiny fridges or no fridges – how do you store all of those condiments? Do you just not refrigerate them? Do you just buy really small bottles and use them up all at once? Do you just not keep 20 zillion different kinds of sauces on hand? Plus, I keep all of my dry goods like flour, nuts, seeds etc. in the fridge because it takes me forever to use up even a small container of that stuff, and refrigerating it makes it last much longer. At the moment I’ve got a dozen jars of refrigerator pickles in there and I STILL have a few dozen garden cucumbers to use up immediately if not sooner!

    Anyhow, I have a chest freezer in addition to a full fridge and while I love being able to stock up, and being able to freeze garden produce, I do have to say that the thing can easily become the portal to hell if you’re not careful! I really have to come up with a better system for keeping track of what’s in there! :-)

    • Re condiments – as they tend to go off a few weeks after opening them, I only have condiments that we use up. At the moment I have mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, paprika pasta, olives, pickled cucumber and pickled silverskin onions. I also have a jar or strawberry jam and marmalade. I keep my flours, pasta, porridge oats and various nuts in jars in my cupboard.
      I keep the unopened jams and pickles my mom made in our shed. (I’d love to have a pantry. )

      • Eee Gads! I have condiments in my fridge that are nearly a year old! I’m talking stuff like soy sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, bbq sauce etc. I don’t think that sort of thing goes bad quickly – anything with lots of vinegar in it will last a long time… at least I think it does! Perhaps some research is in order. :-)

  • We are on the horns of the chest freezer debate. Would love to buy organic or local meat and poultry but they are big lot purchases around here and we have no where to store it in the tiny over fridge freezer. We still do almost daily shopping like we are back in Japan where we had just a tiny bar fridge. So we could probably do less fridge. The real question is do we need more freezer space maybe.

    • I could use more freezer space.
      Interesting that you guys still shop daily. Why? Is it habit or not enough fridge space or do you guys like planning meals the day of?
      All these big fridge, big kids/big family, comments are making me think I’ll be wanting a bigger fridge down the line.

  • We’ve got a huge french door fridge. We could cut down to a much smaller fridge. Our current rental is a block and a half away from a grocery store so we walk over when ever there’s something we need. Some times it’s every few days and sometimes it’s 2-3 times a day. We eat a LOT of fresh vegetables and fruit this allows us to get the best looking produce so there’s less food waste. Once a week we do a larger shopping trip to pick up salsa, chips, hummus, pasta, pasta sauce, cheese for gallon of milk and a half gallon of non-dairy milk.When we started doing the more frequent shopping trips on foot our spending on groceries went down. It works for us for now. When our lease is up in June and we find some place else to live then we’ll change our shopping habits to meet our needs then.

  • I have a big for Europe but small for America sized fridge. This was the only size available when I bought it in 1993! Yep, it’s 22 years old and still in good condition so I wouldn’t change it until I have to. That said, we are a gamily of 2 so I will definitely get a small fridge next time. Ours is more than half empty most of the time. However, I’d like more freezer space. The way we eat is that a big batch of cooking goes half into the freezer in small portions and we take out what we need each day in the morning.

  • I’d love to have a large freezer for meats and bulk-cooked meals, and a drawer-type of fridge for fruit, veg, and milk. (The one Zero Waste Home’s Bèa has.)
    If I had that, I’only need a tiny fridge to keep the cheese, ham, jam, mustard, ketchup, majonnaise etc

    I shop once a week for the four of us. We have an average European fridge-freezer. As I plan my meals, I tend to have an empty fridge by Friday. :)

  • We live 9 miles from the nearest grocery store, so I shop weekly. We have a side by side fridge/freezer and a small upright separate freezer. We could probably get by without the freezer most of the time because the fridge freezer is so big.

  • What an interesting discussion. I’m going to throw in another perspective.

    I have a large fridge and three small chest freezers (they start full in the fall and as we empty them, we unplug them, so by spring we will be down to one running freezer).

    We eat whole local foods (purchased in bulk from local farmers) and use every inch of our fridge space. We’ve learned to eat what will go bad first (lettuce), while pushing the kale to the back because it will keep longer. But produce, especially, takes up a great deal of space.

    The other issue is that we preserve a good deal of food. We have homemade fermented things that will keep for a long time, but take up fridge space. We have frozen locally picked berries and vegetables in the freezer along with amazing grass fed meat that must be purchased in large quantities.

    We’ve contemplated getting another fridge to be able to store local in-season apples (this way we could eat them months longer, if you get a long lasting variety, in fact some apples are better over time) and other fall goodness longer.

    We don’t waste food. It all gets eaten, but it is important with a big fridge to know what you have and make meals accordingly.

    If you are in an urban area and eating from the grocery store, it makes sense to have a smaller fridge. But, if you have a family of five living in a more rural area and wanting to eat whole foods from local farmers, then having as much space as possible makes sense.

    Things will change when we aren’t feeding three hungry kiddos, but in the mean time, it’s what works. And, although it probably won’t ever be an option in the area I live, grocery delivery sounds absolutely wonderful!

  • I was glad you mentioned possibly needing a larger fridge when your boys are teenagers! Our 6’4″ son was house sitting for a month and our grocery bill & necessity for fridge space went WAY down. Now that he’s home the fridge fills up once a week and is empty by the end of the week. When we lived in Japan and then in the UK it was easy to have a small fridge because the grocery store was a 5-minute walk away but now that we’re back in Canada that is no longer the case.

  • We have a small fridge. The delivery men chuckled at how small it was (much bigger than a college dorm size, but one of the smallest ones you can buy at the big box stores). We bought it new this year when we moved. Our house has a water line, but we opted to not have a fridge with a cube maker or ice maker. It really is bare bones. But, we are not worried if it conks out because it did not cost a lot. It does its job and keeps the food cold or frozen. We have enough meat in the freezer for about 6 days of meals. We tend to eat everything I make in one sitting or maybe two, so I don’t need lots of storage space in the fridge. We have lost power a few times in the past year and I am so glad that I am not worried about the waste that will happen if everything thaws and we can’t eat it fast enough. Do I dream of a huge stainless steel french door fridge with water/ice on demand? Sometimes. But I am happy with our decision. It works for my family.It would not work for everyone, though :)

  • Loving the convo! 6 family members here with a large fridge plus upright freezer. We have a smallish, overpriced local grocery store nearby, but then are 1½ hr from the next grocery store, so room for storage is important! Our added energy cost is nothing compared to what we save by shopping in town.

  • How interesting! Enjoying this conversation. We are a family of 5 and have a fairly large side-by-side fridge/freezer, and a separate HUGE upright freezer. My husband hunts, and in the fall we hope to fill the freezer with meat. We also buy in bulk when proteins go on sale. Recently our grocery had chicken thighs and whole chickens for $.59 a pound. That’s a HUGE savings, so I bought as much as would fit on my ‘chicken’ shelf in my freezer. I won’t need to buy chicken again until maybe February!
    I organize my freezer by protein type. Fish, chicken, pork, and beef/vension. We do go to the grocery weekly, but never without a meal plan/grocery list. We eat very little ‘processed’ food, and since we’re a family of celiacs, we don’t use much cupboard space. In fact, since the diagnosis, our fridge space has FILLED up, and the cupboards have emptied out!
    Its interesting that most folks could definitely use smaller fridges, but larger freezers.

  • Personally, I get the strong impression that North Americans keep a stack of stuff in the fridge that we Europeans don’t, quite simply. Therefore we don’t need such huge ones (though that trend is trying to get its claws in here, sadly). Perhaps considerations affecting those who live in warmer parts where food spoils more easily have determined what “everyone” does, even though it’s unnecessary in a temperate climate.
    In my fridge, I have dairy products (except cheese, which needs to be room temperature), meats, freshly prepared or leftover foods that are there temporarily, and some vegetables (although most simply don’t require refrigeration, they are there to be used up). Sometimes I will put soft fruit in there in the summer, when it spoils faster, otherwise not. Most other things are fine being used on a regular basis in a room-temperature/well-aired kitchen. I don’t shop daily or anything, either, once a week, twice at very most (rarely). In my cool north-facing holiday home kitchen near the sea, even more can be kept out of the fridge and I would happily have a smaller one still.

    Incidentally, my grandmother didn’t have a fridge at all until 1973 – it’s still tiny – and she didn’t get a mini-freezer until 2010 (she’s 99) and always managed just fine. She never had anti-biotics until she was 96 (turned out she’s allergic) and yesterday had her first X-Ray (nothing broken, just a bruise). She has never been ill apart from the odd cold.

    Also, many Europeans dislike ice in drinks or very cold drinks. And honestly, I could not eat an apple straight out of a fridge – too cold and no taste!! Brrr.

  • We have a standard American sized fridge and it’s never full. We went grocery shopping today and it still looks mostly empty. I think it’s because we buy fresh fruits and veggies as we need them so they don’t go bad. We love in Sicily (on a military base) so we can just go to a market for things as we need them. Our fridge usually only has basic things like soy milk, cheese, condiments and leftovers. I really want a tiny fridge so bad.

  • We have a standard size fridge, but I want a new one that is energy efficient. We’re using our mother in law’s old fridge, which is probably 20 years old & costing us tons on our energy bill to run that old beast. We got rid of an energy-guzzling old freezer about 5 years ago.

  • We’re a family of 3 and have a smaller than average refrigerator. It works for us! I agree that items don’t “disappear” as easily, and I’m much better about utilizing all the perishables before they spoil.

    I’m “Team Small Fridge” all the way!

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