Cluttered Fridge, Cluttered Home?

Is A Cluttered Fridge A Sign Of A Cluttered Home?

I finally got my hands on an interesting book and have been pouring over it the last week, seeing what insight I can glean from the pages.

Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century, studies 32 families and their stuff. From an anthropologist, social scientist, and archaeological perspective, which is really fascinating. 

One thing that I found particularly interesting is the correlation of a cluttered fridge front and a cluttered home.

I can relate. Before we embraced minimalism I stuck all sorts of things on the fridge- including a magnet that said “A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen and this kitchen is delirious!” Ok- that one wasn’t the best for boosting morale, of course, it had been a gift… But I digress.

Expired coupons, school lunch menus, pictures the kids drew that I felt guilty about throwing away, but I never looked at. Receipts, phone numbers- magnets from anyone and everyone that we got in the mail. Photographs of friends and family that I didn’t know what to do with…

Yes, my fridge matched my home. It was all messy.

In Life at Home, they said the refrigerator displays a link to household consumption:

As the sample of L.A. households expanded during our several years of fieldwork, we noticed an interesting pattern: the numbers of objects families place on their refrigerators appear to signal something about the possessions they have in the rest of the housel. Specifically, the look of the refrigerator door hints at the sheer quantities of possessions a family has and how they are organized or arranged in the home. By organization we mean the visual impact, which is a function of both the density and the neatness of the distribution of objects. A simple analysis using our coded material culture inventories reveals that a family’s tolerance for a crowded, artifact-laden refrigerator surface often corresponds to the densities of possessions in the main rooms of the house.

The difference was staggering:

Houses with the highest amount of items on the refrigerator (averaging 80 items on display) had 1,448 visible objects in the main rooms of the home (living/family room, dining room, office and kitchen). Whereas the group of people with a tidy and minimally decorated fridge had approximately 322 visible objects.

Though the authors of the book conclude that their two sets of counts alone do not reveal a statistically significant correlation, they say:

This iconic place in the American home-the refrigerator panel- may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household goods they retain over their lifetimes.


Want to clean that fridge front? Let’s do this!

Remove it all. Take every. single. little. thing. off the front and sides of the refrigerator. Give it a good scrubbing and then start sorting the pile. It’s easy to throw away things you know you don’t like, want or need- so do those first. Then decide what you really want there. For us, I have a simple print out of the children’s chore list and a timer. On one side of the fridge I kept 4 pictures of family and on the other side I keep the school calendar and my 2015 in 2015 decluttering chart. If I had upper cabinet doors in my kitchen, I would put my chart & calendar there instead, but I have open shelves, so it stays on the fridge.

When we create one clean and clear space in our home, it gives us a encouragement and incentive to keep going.

Removing some of the clutter and chaos in your home will also make a difference in your mental and emotional health.

Do you need more help in decluttering? Check out the Practical Simplicity decluttering site.


Photo credit goes to Phil Hawksworth

About the author, Rachel

Hi there! I’m the Joyful Space Specialist. it’s my desire help others create a joyful space of their own and enjoy their time spent at home.


  1. Maureen on 06/04/2015 at 12:31 AM

    I just checked this book out from the library and it is fascinating! Thank you for recommending it in an earlier post. I hadn’t read the fridge part yet–yikes! I’m feeling good that I downsized on fridge objects a couple of weeks ago as part of my 2015 in 2015 chart. I’m not a bare fridge person yet, but maybe someday I will be!

  2. Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents on 06/04/2015 at 5:01 PM

    This is fascinating! I had never thought about this concept but it makes total sense.

  3. Kat R. on 06/04/2015 at 5:18 PM

    There is also a video series to accompany the book. It’s on youTube under the user UCTVPrime and the videos are called A Cluttered Life: Middle Class Abundance. It’s a good short series for those that don’t have the book…and those that do!

  4. Kara on 06/04/2015 at 8:00 PM

    My beautiful mil and sister in law both have fridges covered – yet their homes are meticulously organised and not I’ve thing is out of place- me however- I have a tidy fridge front but the rest of my house is a mash of things to find a home for- thanks for the book recommendation! Great article

  5. Gira on 06/07/2015 at 11:53 AM

    I watched the videos the other night, and I checked out the book from the library yesterday. This subject is fascinating. I find myself looking at other people’s clutter and easily dismissing it as junk because I do not have any emotional ties to it, unlike my own clutter which I acquired myself and have hung on to for years. Looking at the photos of the other people’s houses is making me look at my own clutter with new eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this insightful study!

  6. Jo on 08/25/2015 at 1:22 AM

    I borrowed this book from my library, liked it so much I purchased my own copy. I have four things stuck on the side of my fridge- a weekly to-to running sheet and three images I like. Here I can have easy access to them, but they aren’t particularly overwhelming.

    One afternoon as I was reading “Life at Home in the 21st Century”, in my armchair in the corner of my kitchen/dining/lounge (open plan home), I decided to count the number of visible things. I counted 108, and this included furniture, white goods, books, indoor plants, everything on my bench. Was a great exercise- I plan of getting visible objects down to 80!

    I loved everything about the book (I am also an anthropology student). It tickled my consumerism/clutter/minimalism/simple living bone- I find it fascinating.

    Thanks for a great post!

  7. Laura on 12/31/2015 at 8:13 PM

    I had small refrigerator magnets of B&W photography on my fridge: Mapplethorpe, Avedon, Ritts, Man Ray. I took them down during my kitchen uncluttering project this past year and they went out in the Donate box. They just didn’t hold the same importance to me as they did when my house was in full hyper-clutter mode. The findings on the connection between external fridge items and clutter is interesting. I put the book on my list for my next library trip.

    Perhaps just as important is the internal fridge/pantry landscape. I have to be hypervigilant about cluttered food. When I uncluttered my pantry, I found enormous amounts of rice, grains, and beans of different varieties, many used 1-2 times and then shoved in the back of the pantry. Rather than composting these foods (not sure I can donate bags of product from bulk bins), I decided to work my way through what was already here with a moratorium on buying ANY new product until I’m out completely or near low levels, or not refreshing it at all if it’s a more unusual item I won’t use daily. I no longer want 5 different kinds of rice or 7 different dried beans in my pantry. I tend to use the same few items over and over, and having more variety leads to waste and indecision, much like having an overabundance of clothing. I am preferring a capsule pantry and capsule fridge. 🙂

    I’ve drastically decreased my time in the markets now since all I need to buy are fruits and veggies to supplement the pantry stuff. (I’m plant based so no oils or animals, hence no worries about those areas of the store.) No more trolling the bulk food aisles admiring the latest and greatest black rice or wondering if I should buy the newest heirloom bean. And I’ve put limits on amounts of produce I can buy so my fridge remains fairly bare and I can see what I have and use it up quickly.

    What a learning process it’s been. The inspiration on this blog is wonderful. 🙂 Happy Uncluttered New Year to all of us. 🙂

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