Here's how to live with one without losing your sanity.
The best decisions are obviously made after a couple drinks. Case in point: my husband and I had seen no fewer than 23 New York City apartments in a seven-day period and our last showing—a 304-square-footer without a single closet or an oven, perched on the fifth floor of a walkup building in the West Village—had left us desperately in need of a drink. We hunkered down at a bar and as he sipped on bourbon and I gulped red wine, discussed our options. Ultimately, we called our broker and jubilantly slurred: we'll take the tiny one!
The next morning, I woke with a slight headache and a huge fear. I could easily go without a closet—that's what IKEA storage solutions are for—and walking five flights every day could be just the trick to getting the toned tush I'd always coveted. With the exception of Thanksgiving, I rarely opened my oven. But I'd overlooked one flaw in that apartment: its mini refrigerator and its shoe box-sized freezer. And suddenly, I needed another drink.
I hit every home goods store I could find and bought a half dozen organizers, stackable bins meant to double or triple the storage capacity of your fridge. They didn't fit. Neither did my Brita pitcher. Or, you know, a head a broccoli when you already had a bag of spinach in the crisper. In a moment of panic, I convinced myself we didn't need to use it at all. At one time, I'd lived in Paris, where a mini fridge sat in the corner of my rented studio. I kept Orangina cold in the door, and otherwise didn't use it; instead, I subsisted on freshly baked baguettes and gooey cheese and wine. It was a lifestyle, I reasoned, we could easily replicate in New York. But my husband—ever a smart and practical man—swiftly (and healthfully) said no.
We've lived with that tiny fridge for two-and-a-half years. Now, even the holidays—during which we might be forced to stuff a whole turkey breast, two vegetable dishes, a container of mashed potatoes, bread, and a pie on those comically small shelves—no longer scare me. I'm even cool with sitting on the kitchen floor every time I need to put away our groceries.
Admittedly, with about eight months left on our lease and the promise of a full-size fridge in our near future, my mind has turned to how luxurious our life will seem when a pitcher can perch on a shelf. Think about the possibilities: I can make Sangria again. I can bring home doggie bags. I can buy Perrier, not because I actually enjoy sparkling water, but because then when guests come over and they ask for a glass of water, I can reply, "still or sparkling?" I'll be fancy, with a capital F.
But just because I'm envisioning bigger and better things—quite literally—doesn't mean I don't have advice to give when it comes to living with a mini fridge. So here are my top tips for keeping your sanity when you live with a teeny, tiny fridge and freezer.
Meal plan like you mean it. Meal planning isn't always fun. (Isn't it much more satisfying to have a craving for stir-fry, then head to the store for vegetables and sriracha?) But with a mini fridge, you don't have the luxury of not knowing exactly what will be on your shelves. We sit down each week to plan out all our meals, including breakfasts, and deduce whether the ingredients—and any leftovers—can sit on the shelves or in our single crisper drawer.
Meal prep, too. You may not be planning to cook that vegetable casserole for three more days, but you'll be happy you cut up its squash or broccoli because those smaller chunks—placed in a bag or piece of Tupperware—will take up so much less of your precious space. In fact, anything you can cut rather than keep whole will help. For example, chicken breasts destined for a pasta dish can be pre-trimmed of their fat, cut and placed in plastic bags.
Don't be a hoarder. My husband and I truly hate to waste money. But if it comes down to a jar of mustard we rarely use or space for the pint of milk we just purchased, then mustard's got to go. That is to say, don't be afraid to throw out what doesn't fit to make room for what you really need. It may cost you some money in losses, but it will save you on frustration.
Don't refrigerate what you don't have to. Love La Croix? Me too. But unpacking an entire box of the sparkling water or even a six-pack of beer isn't always a smart move when you have a mini fridge. Yes, you can just as easily remove those cans or bottles from the shelves when you need to make space—but isn't it just easier to not have to do a shuffle every time you open the fridge door? So store those cans, bottles, and items such as onions and bread in your cupboards—or, in our case, on our countertops—to free up that extra fridge space.
Go to the grocery store often. This sounds like an obvious tip, and in many ways it is. But trust me, one day, you will be sick and tired of schlepping to and from the store and you’ll say, I’m only going one time this week. And that week, you will be miserable. Chances are good you will have to toss out some of that food you just bought—and if you don’t, it’ll probably go bad before you get to it. Funny thing about small fridges: it’s very tough to regulate their temperatures when they’re stuffed to the brim with food. With too much packed in, you’ll find your bell peppers freeze in patches and thaw soggy and spoiled, your milk has gone chunky, and any free space in your freezer is soon overgrown with ice. Going to the store more often may be a pain, but we promise it’s less of one than sitting on the floor, hacking at your shoe-box size freezer with a butter knife, trying to break up those hunks of ice so you can store the casserole you just made because it won’t fit in the fridge.