If you're like most people in the United States and Europe, the refrigerator is part of your daily life. You store your leftovers, dairy products, fruits and vegetables to keep them safe to eat and help them last longer.
But, longevity aside, some of the things you refrigerate may do OK at room temperature. Condiments like ketchup and mustard, which lots of us are in the habit of storing in the fridge, typically don't need to be refrigerated. And while fruits, vegetables, cheese and butter may stay edible for weeks in the refrigerator, if you plan to eat them within a week, they can do just fine on the counter in a cool, dry place. After that, though, you'll probably be dealing with mushy produce and moldy dairy, and you'll have to throw them out.
This fact of refrigeration -- it preserves food so it lasts longer -- means that people who decide to go without have to alter the way they buy and store food. First, few people who have unplugged their refrigerators actually go without any cooling at all. Most of them use a cooler, a small freezer or both. Some have a system of freezing bottles of water in a mini-freezer and then using those bottles to keep a larger cooler cold. That way, they can still store things like meat and milk at home. Others find a good ice source and just live with a cooler at home, with no electric cooling source at all. And if someone lives in a cold climate, storing yogurt or cottage cheese outside on a cold day is a viable option.
No matter what the cooling source, people without a refrigerator have to change the way they buy food at the store. In other words, no more trips to the Costco meat department. Buying chicken for dinner means buying exactly how much chicken you can eat, because you don't want to have to store leftovers. Same goes for other perishables: Instead of a 3-pound (1.3-kilogram) bag of apples, you have to limit yourself to just a few; gallons of milk may have to be replaced with quarts due to space limitations in the cooler. And buying smaller amounts can mean spending more money. Throwing away food that's gone bad can cost you money, too. So finances have to factor into the decision to unplug the fridge.
There are a few other real-world issues that also have to be balanced against the electricity you save by giving up a refrigerator.