A182: Appliance Purge

A great deal of what's in your fridge absolutely does NOT need to be there. If you're interested in trying this, just start by taking all these things out of your fridge, and putting them in a pantry type situation:

butter/margarine - shelf life about 2 weeks
eggs -shelf life at least a week
cheese - keep covered, shelf life variable- taste when unrefrigerated hugely better
ketchup/mustard - shelf life - forever
honey - shelf life - forever
onions/garlic - shelf life - 2 weeks
tomatoes - shelf life - 4 days
cabbage - shelf life - 1 week
cooking oil - shelf life - months
peanut butter - shelf life - months

Ok, long enough list for now, though of course there's more. Some of you are saying "he's crazy, I never keep cooking oil in the fridge!" True, I'm sure; but I know plenty of people who do; just to "be safe". And every time they take it out to cook dinner- the bottle warms up, the door is opened twice, and somewhere, some coal is burned to re-cool it when it goes back in.
I read that last year at Little Blog in the Big Woods and decided I would make giving up my refrigerator a part of my sustainable living challenge. I was attracted to this because living without a refrigerator represents a startling concept. I’d first read about unplugging the refrigerator from Colin, No Impact Man almost exactly a year ago. Later Vanessa at Green as a Thistle unplugged her refrigerator. Mostly though, any person I might meet would say this is an impossible way to live. I believe it is as foreign a concept to American lifestyles as no toilet paper. If I had to live off the grid or in primitive surroundings, I can rest assured I know how to survive. This self-awareness of my own patterns of behavior, my adaptability is an indication of my growing flexibility. This alone empowers me and makes a sustainability challenge worthwhile.

In January I took my first step at the beginning of this challenge by taking appliances out of my home and putting them in my shed. I began by saying I wouldn’t actually get rid of my hand held hair dryer because of needing it to remove decals on my truck. I have since decided I needn’t hold on to it. Here was the list from the first of the year: waffle iron, iron, toaster, hand mixer, curling iron and a popcorn popper. All but the first of these were given to me or I found for free or at a thrift store. If you are counting, there are now half a dozen small appliances I won’t be living with this year.

Now, at this halfway point of the year I have decided to get rid of all of these appliances. In fact I have written about this appliance purge in my neighborhood newsletter and invited all of the tenants of this mobile home park to join me in the giant appliance purge.

Next is the list in that original appliance purge make-a-(green) plan post where I had qualifiers. I have noted the changes I have made since January.

This leaves the following appliances in my home, and I may re-think my use of these as well.
  1. Microwave – I believe this is non-negotiable as I use it frequently and I’d argue for its effectiveness.
  2. Induction Cook Plate – I love, love, love this technology that cooks with magnetic waves. This is my primary cooking method and I’ve found that it cooks faster than any other method I’ve used before. (Note, sadly this great appliance died in February and I replaced it with a cheap electric hot plate. I don’t have the money to replace it now).
  3. Toaster Oven – This isn’t used much when I eat healthy. When I am eating crap I use it a lot. (Update: I’m not going to use it anymore because it uses so much electricity. Out to the shed!)
  4. Coffee Maker – I found my coffee maker at the Community Thrift for $2. I brew and put in a carafe to be conscientious. So, this is no real biggie.
  5. Food Processor – As I mentioned yesterday with my Arugula Pesto recipe, I make hummus most weeks. I am not ready to mash, chop and blend by hand. It could happen.
  6. Space Heater – From December to March I use this about an hour or two a day to keep my daytime air temperature 62 degrees and nighttime 50 degrees.
  7. Fan – I usually have a fan going non-stop all summer. Sometimes I am not sure if it is the air movement or the white noise I am addicted to here.
Note: I failed to mention my crock pot and I will keep this as a viable alternative to solar oven (on grey days), hot plate (if it craps out) or microwave (not a great way to cook much). I also didn’t include my countertop ice machine in this small appliance category where it belongs. I am keeping this as a kind of substitute for the refrigerator running 24/7. I can make some ice in a half hour to throw in a cooler if I must keep something cold.

Whoops. I think I buried the lede. Good thing I am not a paid journalist. (On second thought, that wouldn’t even be noticed in the corporate press these days. It is done all the time.) Aaaanyway . . . I DID IT! I freed myself from my television set and my refrigerator, my two major appliances. For me, this is HUGE!

I am excited to see what kind of energy savings comes from this big step. One commenter in that original post from Greenpa made this point about energy use.

Well, I did some digging and calculations (maybe I'll post those links here later), and determined that the fridge costs us about $3/month to run.

Pretty cheap, yeah? Especially out of a $30 bill. Not going to subsidize a whole lot of fresh vegetable purchases. But the generation and transmission related components of the bill (those are the ones actually having to do with the amount of electricity used) add up to only $9. Yup, on average about 1/3 of the electricity in that apartment goes to the fridge. The electricity is artificially cheap, but the energy consumption is really substantial.

I am not following this logic at all, but will pay close attention to next month’s electrical bill.

Besides the simple elimination of unnecessary ‘stuff’ and the reduction in electricity consumption, why do I want to purge my appliances? For myself and for others, I want to experience life without these things. I absolutely agree with Sharon of Casaubon's Book in the passage below. The hysterical myth that loss of electricity means certain chaos and deprivation needs to be debunked.

electricity is not the defining characteristic of our beings, merely of our economy
[ . . .]
The part of this that I find most troubling is the offensive notion that living without all the above-listed goodies makes life completely untenable. Because that implies that the lives of our great-grandparents, and the billions of lives that don’t have electricity are an unmitigated hell, a place we wouldn’t even be willing to visit, that all that is “civilized” about our lives began in 19-freakin’-30. If our past, and the lives of the world’s ordinary poor are utter doom, we are doomed. But what if they aren’t? Let us acknowledge a vast and difficult transition, and a great deal of potential and probably real trouble and misery a’coming. But let us not start with the assumption that “modern industrial civilization” is equivalent to “civilization” itself. And let us not separate ourselves from everything that came before us and everyone now who lacks what we have as though some barrier keeps us from reaching out to them.

Design observation. The aesthetics of my place have really changed since January 3rd. Now I have ‘visual’ space freed up with no refrigerator, no television and no toaster oven. The footprint for the refrigerator and the television on a cart is exactly the same, but removing the television and opening up the kitchen corner appears to removed much more. The cart now holds what appliances remain (on a power strip). I have made food rather than machines the primary aesthetic by removed appliances from the eye level shelves. The photo makes it still look jammed up. This is because I have a full pantry of fresh food, so it is overflowing.

The unplugged refrigerator now serves as the bar height base to my marble table top in my living room. Not shown is how wide open the center of my space is now that the table has been moved to this corner. That will be an image for another day. I plan to make a table cloth out of my ubiquitous beige fabric ($15 bolt bought a decade ago), but for now it has a length of that fabric and another cloth to cover it. This table by my front window offers a place to read, to dine – away from my computer. Imagine that.

Another huge advantage to the refrigerator being gone is how quiet it is. This restaurant style under counter refrigerator had a commercial motor and was noisy. Hey, I live adjacent to railroad tracks with 50 trains a day and I'm next to a frontage road and state highway. Noisy is relative. But, it is amazingly still in the night without the refrigerator. I first noticed this quieter world when I stopped listening to talk radio during the day and with breaking my all night television habit this spring. Silence is scary at first, but adaptation and flexibility are my criteria for moving out of the comfort zone.

Check me the fuck out. I am living lightly.


Rosa said...

That is awesome!

I am in no way ready to give up the fridge, but having so much family around these last few weekends really makes me see how many things we don't keep in the fridge that our folks think we ought to - i'm going to have to de-crystallize the honey, I barely saved my great local tomatos from the fridge, and I bought more butter because I thought we were out - nope, it was in the fridge.

(I think my bf is starting to see why having his mom or my mom in our kitchen "helping" stresses me out so bad.)

katecontinued said...

Ha! I loved this Rosa. I will confess that there is no damn way I am going to tell my 84 year old mother about this big step of mine. She has grown ridiculously afraid of germs, disease in her last years.

It amazes me when I realize her youth was filled with an entirely different way of living. Food was left out all the time.

Beany said...

I think for me my big step will be getting rid of the fridge, but I realize that either me or my husband will need to reduce our work hours in order to cook fresh meals every day.

I didn't know that butter's shelf life was 2 weeks. I need to file that info away.

Crissa said...

I think some things need to be noted, though, about shelf life... If your house or kitchen doesn't stay at a moderate temperature, there's some things - like butter, cheese, some fruits, vegetables like cabbage - which won't survive a day outside the fridge. You should see the pools of molten skin care products we've had, even. And our house stays several degrees below outside.

Or things - like cabbage and cheese - that if you buy a head and use it over two, four weeks you're actually saving money by having it in the fridge.

The microwave and induction heater are awesome, but require space and steel cookware. So we don't have either in our kitchen. I miss having a gas range, because it's much more energy efficient than electric, but some things are out of my reach.

We have a toaster and a waffle iron - but only because I love toasted breads, and they remain unplugged when not in use. We did get rid of the toaster oven, which used far more energy to make the same things as the little toaster we have now.

katecontinued said...

Crissa, you make valid points throughout your comment. Sounds like you also have experimented and compared like I have been trying to do.

The point about the cabbage is a good one. I described my top of the counter ice maker. I haven't measured kilowatts, but common sense tells me that if I make some ice a couple times a day (on for 1/2-1 hr) and put ice in a cooler - it uses less energy than the refrigerator running 24/7. I have to have butter for cooking and eating flavor.

Oh do I miss my induction cook plate. I need to replace this when I can. The toast thing is tough - but I really wanted to get off bread again. Aaargh. I love toast (and sandwiches), but I thought about the whole wheat supply issue and the pretty empty carbs. It is an ongoing experiment in living and we all have our own notions of what is easy and what is hard.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this post (linked from your collection of purging-related links), and I love that second picture of your kitchen, post-refrigerator. The jars full of foodstuffs look so cheerful out in the open! It seems like the amount of stuff on the shelves is the same as in the picture with the appliances, but somehow the food photo is more cheerful and vibrant.

katecontinued said...

I agree. But, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the photos were different seasons and the sunlight shining in the second one helped.

Pizzadiavola, I can say all these months later that I just love the simplicity. I have only had to toss a very little bit of food to spoilage.

Food is beautiful to me and has been for years. I like feeding the eyes more than the stomach. Honestly.

Katie said...

(jumping in from your shakesville comment) I really like the idea, but Australian summers make the fridge indispensible. I like my butter at room temperature, but it just liquefies out of the fridge here. Hell, at my old place I was keeping it in the fridge and it was spongy (more of a comment on the fridge than climate maybe).

It's not just butter. Many of the more delicate vegetables are overpowered by the season. So it's awesome, but not really practical year-round for all.

katecontinued said...

It's true that this doesn't work for all people in all climates in all seasons. I am so happy you stopped by Katie, I read Australian blogs every day myself.