The Best Ways to Share a Refrigerator with Roommates

Everyone has their own slightly odd habits and preferences. In most cases, roommates with different schedules and lifestyles can find a way to maintain their sanity by setting boundaries for shared spaces and doing as they please in their own rooms. One of the things that most roommates find themselves sharing is a refrigerator. 

  1. Share refrigerator space with roommates is to designate space for each person. This ensures that everyone knows where they can store their food and how much they can buy.
  2. Using labels for your food – not only ensures that your roommates don’t accidentally eat your food but also keeps your refrigerator space looking organized. If you’re sharing food, it’s important to set boundaries so that you don’t end up having arguments over leftovers. It would help if you also had well-defined rules regarding communal foods.
  3. You’ll want to figure out is how frequently the refrigerator will be cleaned. You’ll want to give your shared refrigerator a deep clean once every couple of weeks.
  4. Make your shared refrigerator as symmetrical as possible so that each roommate has an even amount of space to store their food.

Most apartments come equipped with one refrigerator. What happens when you and your roommates have different opinions when it comes to food and fridge space? You might find yourselves embroiled in heated arguments. “Who ate my leftovers? Who finished the orange juice and didn’t replace it?” Here are some tips on how you can avoid such squabbles.

What you need to know about a shared refrigerator in an apartment

If you and your roommates live in an apartment, you know how much every square foot counts. An apartment refrigerator is designed to fit into small kitchens, and at 24 inches wide, it’s slimmer than a standard refrigerator, which is typically 30-36 inches wide. Unlike with size, there’s no standard when it comes to style – common refrigerator designs include a classic single door with freezer on top, side-by-side, and French doors.

The inside layout of refrigerators and freezers varies too. You’ll find refrigerators that have drawers where you can keep fruits and veggies, cheese drawers, spaces for butter, and so on. Some freezers come equipped with ice makers, while others simply have shelves. 

Roommate etiquette

The kitchen is a common space, but that doesn’t mean that all items in it should be shared. Before moving into your rental space, it’s a good idea to discuss how to approach sharing. For some, the most suitable strategy is to share all food, while others might not be comfortable with that. Here are some potential strategies that you may want to consider:

1. Share and share alike

Say everyone in the shared space drinks orange juice. Having three or four bottles of orange juice can seem like a waste of precious fridge space. If you can work out a way to ensure that everyone drinks about the same amount of juice over time, then going in together by buying just one bottle at a time can be a great space saver.

You can take it a step further and buy items from bulk stores together and divide up the receipt. Individual items should be charged to just one person, and joint items should be divided evenly between the people eating them. An alternative to this option is to rotate through grocery pickups. “I’ll buy the orange juice this week, and you can get them when we run out.” Sure, someone may have used a bit more of the ketchup, but someone else probably got more of the peanut butter, so it somehow works out in the end.

2. Share a bit

Maybe you and your roommates don’t enjoy enough similar things to share food items, but you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where your already limited fridge space is filled with duplicates. 

The items that you may not use daily, like condiments, milk, eggs, etc. are good items to share with your roommates so that you can save on space. Have a conversation with your roommate to make sure that everyone is in on this solution. You can then agree on a cost-sharing strategy that is suitable for everyone. 

If you have a special item you don’t want your roommates to use, put your name on it to avoid confusion. Otherwise, everyone can assume that the default status is simply “if I didn’t buy it, I shouldn’t use/eat it.”

3. No sharing

Not every set of roommates is up for sharing items: it can be especially unsuitable for larger groups of people living together, or in situations where an individual likes to buy in bulk or cook. Again, it’s important to have a conversation about this early on and set expectations as a group. If you’re not planning on sharing anything, everyone should keep items in containers that are small enough to allow everyone to fit their things in the fridge.

How to deal with fridge hogs

What if one of your roommates takes up most of the refrigerator space? A fridge hog uses up way more than his/her fair share of the space and is unwilling to share food. In such a situation, you might want to consider visually dividing the refrigerator into equal sections for each roommate. That said, different parts of a refrigerator are good for different items, so splitting the space probably won’t be as simple as left and right or top and bottom. Instead, consider buying containers for each fridge section. Clear plastic storage tins can contain each roommate’s center-shelf food items. You can divide space in the crisp drawers using reusable mesh produce bags. Ziplocks or small Tupperware containers can limit each roommate’s allocated cheese and meat drawer space.

How will you clean the refrigerator?

Refrigerators tend to get dirty quickly and easily. With all the traffic from shared use, as well as everyday dust and grime, it’s important to establish regular cleaning patterns. Try to decide how often you want to clean the fridge and how it will be cleaned. 

For example, you and your roommates can pick a day at the beginning or end of the week and go through the fridge. Get rid of items you won’t eat, are expired, or are rotting. Avoid saving food that you have no intention of eating again. If you find that something has spilled, leaked, or is rotting, don’t hesitate to toss it and clean up the mess. Make sure to deep clean the fridge once every couple of weeks as well. 

Here are some additional tips for cleaning your shared refrigerator:

A. Empty the fridge entirely

Take everything out of your refrigerator so that you can easily wipe away stains, dirt, or hardened spills. If you’re worried about your food going back, you can try working in sections instead.

This is a great time to ditch old or expired food items. Not only will getting rid of veggies that have turned mushy or leftovers you didn’t eat keep your fridge from developing an unpleasant odor, but it will also ensure that there’s plenty of space for everyone’s stuff after a grocery store run.

B. Wipe down all surfaces

Take some paper towels and disinfecting spray and carefully sanitize all the surfaces of your fridge. This includes all shelf levels and inside the door compartments. Take out all the drawers and allow them to soak in some hot, soapy waters before wiping them down and putting them back in.

C. Reassemble the fridge and use a deodorizer

It’s important to have in place some food ground rules as spoiled food can lead to repulsive odors and mold. In addition to getting rid of anything that is no longer fit for consumption, you may also want to come to an agreement that food needs to be covered to prevent it from smelling. 

Having a deodorizer in your refrigerator can also help to prevent unpleasant smells from lingering. Baking soda is a great DIY deodorizer. You can also opt to buy special fridge packs that stick to the inside of the fridge.

How to organize a refrigerator

Organizing your shared refrigerator can help you minimize roommate disagreements. Here are some tips to consider:

1. Make sure that everyone has equal space

Everyone deserves to have equal space in the fridge. Inevitably, this will vary depending on how many roommates you have as well as how big the fridge is. You can agree to have each person take a shelf. If you share your space with only one other person, you could opt to split the space down the middle. If neither of these options suit you, try having designated areas for all food items to keep your fridge organized and equal.

2. Designate the fridge door as a communal space

Fridge doors should be communal. Some items simply fit better in the door – cream for your coffee, condiments, soda bottles, and so on. Avoid cluttering up the rest of your fridge with such items when you can easily stash them in the door space. 

Other fridge spaces like cheese drawers and crisper drawers should be kept as equal as possible. If there’s just two of you and you have two drawers, you should each get one. If that’s not the case, you might want to consider doubling up and making sure that only the designated items are going into the shared space.

3. Use labels for your food

Using labels to distinguish food items is one of the most effective ways to share a refrigerator when you have roommates. Label your food with a sharpie or stickers so that your roommates know to keep away from it. Labeling food also allows you to know who to blame if leftovers start to stink or develop mold, plus it keeps your fridge space looking neat.

4. Keep leftovers to a minimum

Leftovers are great – you can have them for lunch tomorrow, breakfast, and so on – but when you share a refrigerator, it’s important to keep them to a minimum so that they don’t take up unnecessary space or end up going bad.

How to deal with roommate refrigerator issues

1. Have a conversation

Refrigerator issues will occasionally pop up. If there are problems, address them by having a conversation with your roommates. You may find that your roommate might not even know that they’re doing something you don’t like, and talking to them about it can clear it up.

2. Write down the rules and regulations 

One of the most common issues, when there is a shared refrigerator, is taking food. It’s of utmost importance to have rules and regulations that spell out your chosen approach to sharing food items.

3. Consider getting a personal fridge

Sometimes it may be easier to get mini-fridges for your bedroom where you can keep your snacks and personal groceries, especially if roommate discussions and fridge organization strategies don’t work.

Beyond the shared refrigerator

The fridge isn’t the only space you’ll share in the kitchen. Areas such as cupboards and pantries can also bring about similar issues. Ideally, every roommate should have a cupboard or pantry shelf for themselves. If that solution doesn’t work for you, consider creating equal space by having certain shelves and cabinets designated to certain items.

Other items you should discuss are pots, pans, cutlery, and utensils. In most cases, these items are shared, but you may want to divide their use. Again, you’ll want to discuss with your roommates to find out what everyone is comfortable with.

Final thoughts

The best way to avoid refrigerator squabbles is to know yourself and your roommates. If you share similar eating habits and a flexible approach to cost-sharing, then a food-sharing method might suit you. Setting boundaries on how food is stored in the refrigerator is also crucial, as is coming up with a well-defined cleaning schedule. These guidelines can come in handy when approaching the issue of refrigerator use with your roommates. 

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author, and she enjoys traveling, reading, and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC.

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