How to Live Without a Refrigerator

One of the things that seem to surprise people the most when we tell them about our tiny house is that we deliberately chose not to add a refrigerator to our home.

In part this decision was made because of our simple off the grid systems. You probably already know that any time you use electricity to generate heat you decrease the efficiency of a solar power system. We had already decided that any of our heat-producing appliances needed to be fueled alternatively with propane, butane, or wood. Creating cold, in general, also uses a large amount of power.

Of course, there are very nice propane refrigerators available and we considered those but in the end decided we didn’t want to add that type of appliance inside our home. So we researched the alternative of living without refrigeration all together.

We aren’t the only tiny housers choosing to live this way. Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith also go without refrigeration and she wrote about their experience eloquently on Rowdy Kittens back in 2011. We decided to take a similar approach when we moved into our tiny home.

Laura and Matt’s outdoor cooking setup.

Tiny homes and simple living work well together. If you’re interested in living without refrigeration, here are a few simple steps you can follow to start.

  • Buy fresh food. The first thing we did after moving into our tiny house was explore the area farmer’s markets. We are lucky to live in a town where these types of markets are common. We joined a CSA (or Community Supported Agriculture) where we pay a membership fee to a farm to receive fresh produce on a weekly basis. We stock up on vegetables that don’t need to be refrigerated. It has also forced me to get out of my culinary comfort zone and try new things.
  • Buy staples. To supplement our bounty from the farmer’s markets we also keep some staples on hand. These include things like dried pasta and rice. These foods can last a long time if properly stored and can be combined with almost any ingredient to make a delicious meal. We often throw together a stir fry with rice or cook up some of the veggies and toss them with pasta, olive oil, and herbs.
  • Plan your meals. Some foods, like meats, are perishable and they need to be eaten quickly. We usually take a walk around the market to scope out our options before we buy anything. Then we make a plan for the next week of meals. We think through what days we’ll be out for dinner as well so we don’t buy too much food. If we buy meat we eat it the same day. Anything that would be okay overnight we eat the next day, and so on.
  • Shrimp salad. Meats are eaten the same day they were purchased.

  • Know what is safe at room temperature. One of the things I love to pick up at the farmer’s market is farm fresh eggs. As it turns out, fresh eggs don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated. Certainly, if you have a refrigerator they can last a couple of months when kept cool but if you don’t they’re fine for a week or two on your counter. I love eggs so we grab a dozen and use them throughout the week making egg sandwiches, fried rice, or in a recipe. Butter, if it is covered, and even hard cheeses can last for a little while without being refrigerated. There are a lot of resources online for foods that don’t need to be kept cold. Here is one pretty good list.

Do you think you would consider living without refrigeration?

*Full disclosure. We do have something called a Stirling Engine Cooler. These extremely efficient electric coolers, sold by Coleman, are unfortunately no longer available but they were meant to be used by long haul truckers or on boats. We miraculously found one while we were building our tiny house and snatched it up. We keep it under our tiny house and hooked directly to our batteries. We only turn it on when we need it. In all honesty, we only use it to keep our beer cold. 

Laura is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and she walks the walk. She lives in a 120 square foot cabin in Asheville, NC that she and her partner Matt built themselves. You can learn more about Laura and Matt at their website

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