Everyone has their own slightly weird preferences and habits. After all, we might not feel at home without all those posters of our favorite 80s rock bands or daily 5 AM yoga sessions. For the most part, roommates with different styles and schedules can work out agreements by doing whatever they want in their own rooms. Most apartments, however, only come with one refrigerator. What happens when your differences of opinion focus on food and fridge space? Fridge fights can get pretty heated. “Who ate my leftovers? Who finished the ketchup and didn’t replace it?”
The best way to avoid these squabbles is to know yourself and your roommates. If you have pretty similar eating habits and a looser approach to cost-sharing, then a food-sharing method might work wonderfully. On the other hand, if two people eat quite differently or are extremely concerned about fair division of costs, it might be best to have every roommate fend for themselves. Here are some potential strategies and tips to think through when approaching the issue of fridge use with your roommates:
Share and Share Alike
Say everyone in the apartment drinks orange juice. Having two or three or five bottles of OJ can seem like a waste of fridge space. If everyone can agree to drink about the same amount over time, then going in together on just one bottle at a time can be a great space saver.
My roommates and I would go on runs to bulk stores together and divide up the receipt when we got home. Individual items would be charged to just one person, and joint items would be divided evenly between the people eating them. This is a great way to score some deals, since larger packages are usually cheaper than lots of smaller ones. Another option is to rotate through grocery pick-ups. “I’ll buy the eggs this week, and you can get them when we run out.” Sure, someone may have eaten a bit more of the peanut butter, but someone else probably got more of the cheese, so it all works out in the end.
For roommates that agree to share many items, it may make sense to have a general rule that things in the fridge are available to everyone unless they’re clearly labeled with one person’s name. Whatever you decide, be sure everyone is on the same page before eating things you didn’t buy!
Share a Bit
Maybe you and your roommates don’t eat enough similar things to share food with each other, but you really don’t want to find yourselves taking up precious fridge space with four bottles of ketchup. Work with your roommates to decide which items you all can agree on sharing. Condiments make a lot of sense, but things like milk, butter, and even salad greens might make sense in your house, too. Then agree on a cost-sharing strategy that works for all of you. Everyone can assume that the default status is “if I didn’t buy it, I shouldn’t eat it,” unless the item is clearly labeled as available to everyone.
Of course, not every set of roommates is up to sharing: it can be especially tricky for larger groups or in situations where one person likes to cook or buy in bulk. Again, it’s important to talk about this early on and set expectations as a group. If you’re not going to be sharing anything, everyone should always clearly label their own items and be sure to shop for things in containers that are small enough to allow you all to fit your things in the fridge.
Dealing with Fridge Hogs
What if one roommate takes over the refrigerator? This person uses way more than his or her fair share of the space and refuses to share food. In this case, I’d recommend finding a way to visually divide the refrigerator into equal sections for each roommate. Unfortunately, different parts of the fridge are good for different things, so the split probably won’t be as simple as top and bottom or left and right. Instead, consider getting containers for each fridge section. Clear plastic bins can contain each person’s center-shelf items. Reusable mesh produce bags, clearly labeled with each roommate’s name, can divide space in the crispers. Small tupperware containers or ziplocks can limit each roommate’s allocated meat and cheese drawer space.
If you still feel pushed out, or know that you are the one taking up more than your fair share, consider buying yourself some extra space. Getting a small dorm-style fridge in your own room can allow you to keep your extras fresh without raising roommate tensions. If you like to cook in bulk or store summer produce in the freezer for winter use, think about buying a stand-alone freezer. For $100 or so, you can more than double the amount of available freezer space in your apartment and give yourself a lot more flexibility in the way of food storage.
What are your best fridge-sharing strategies? Let us know below!