56: Warming Up to Less

56: Warming Up to Less

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Warming Up to Less

What seems to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

~Oscar Wilde

Our nine-year-old refrigerator broke earlier this year — the second breakdown in two years — and we decided to buy a new one instead of paying to repair it again. Over the course of the next month, we ordered five different refrigerators from various companies, even an old refurbished model, and each one arrived shiny and spacious and ready to be filled.

There was only one problem. Each time the deliveryman plugged one of the refrigerators into the kitchen wall socket, my wife had to retreat to our bedroom covering her ears, and I had to ask the delivery crew to take the new refrigerator away.

Until then we had thought my wife’s hearing was as normal as any other fifty-five-year-old woman’s, just a little more sensitive to noise than most other people. As it turned out, she had developed in middle age an extreme sensitivity to high-pitched sounds — the kind made by the new, energy-efficient compressors that most new refrigerators are equipped with these days. (It’s a condition known as hyperacusis, and our attempts to replace the refrigerator were our first clue to this new stage in her life.)

After failing to find a regular sized fridge to replace our old one — and not wanting to continue filling our picnic cooler with twenty-pound bags of ice from the grocery store every other day — we thought a smaller refrigerator might make less noise. So, we bought a mini-fridge, a 3.2 cubic foot model the size you might install in a dorm room, and put it in the garage. It’s now sitting plugged into the socket as far from the living area as possible, and my wife doesn’t hear its high-pitched sound in the house.

At first we worried about how many times we’d have to go out to the garage every time we wanted something. But after installing the mini-fridge in the garage, we discovered something unexpected: we didn’t really need a large fridge, after all.

Many of the items that we thought needed to be kept cold, such as onions, potatoes, tomatoes, mustard, jelly, ketchup, and salad dressing, didn’t need to be refrigerated at all.

And now that our freezer, which is barely the size of a shoebox, can no longer hold a gallon of mint chip ice cream, we don’t keep ice cream in the house. If we want any ice cream, we go out to the local ice cream or frozen yogurt store.

But that’s okay. Not only are we eating less ice cream, we’re exercising more since each time we need to get something from the fridge, we have to walk an extra ten yards into the garage and another ten yards back to the kitchen again.

The only real challenge to keeping a refrigerator in our garage, aside from having to walk the extra yards, is that my wife has to use noise-reducing earplugs or noise-muffling earphones each time she goes out to the garage to retrieve food from the fridge or to get in her car.

It’s taken a few months, but we’ve fallen into a routine, and, much to our surprise, we’ve found that we’re eating less and fewer times a day, and what we’re eating is healthier, which means we’re making more nutritious meals. That’s because every week we buy fresh fruit and produce, and we plan our dinner menu depending on what is available at the store.

Fresh fruit and vegetables — apples, grapefruit, peaches, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and such — ripen on our kitchen counter and taste as if we had just picked the fruit off the trees or bushes, or pulled the vegetables straight out of the earth.

Even better, from an environmentalist’s point of view, our energy footprint has shrunken since installing the small fridge. Each month I check my electric bill, pleased to find that we are using significantly less electricity than we used in the past to power the larger fridge (though it’s not always true that smaller fridges use less energy than larger fridges).

Of course, there are some downsides. If I want a beer or hard cider or just a glass of tomato juice, I’ve learned to enjoy drinking it at room temperature, or else I need to plan ahead and put my beverage in the mini-fridge to chill.

Warm cider, I have to admit, is an acquired taste. But I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy its rich, bold flavor at room temperature almost as much as I enjoy it cold.

It turns out that my wife likes sipping it warm, too, especially now that she can remove her noise-cancelling earphones in the kitchen and enjoy her drink in silence.

~Bruce Black

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