Life is really funny.
For most of my time, I haven’t thought much about refrigerators, or had any choice in which refrigerator I had.
Growing up, there was The Fridge. It was yellow. It had food in it. It made stuff cold.
I went to college, I had a tiny dorm refrigerator that, I guess, worked OK. I never had any problems with it that I’m aware of.
I rented apartments, they came with appliances, they worked, I neer had any problems.
They were never anything fancy. Just an insulated box with a compressor and a light inside that goes off when you close the door. No ice maker, no water dispenser. No fancy finish, just some boring neutral color.
I bought a house, and it came with appliances, and the worked. I didn’t have extra money to drop on something better if what I had was fine. The refrigerator that came with the house was made in the 1980s, and was about 30 years old this year. It worked very well. I never did anything to maintain it, it never broke. It just worked non-stop for 30 years, the way an American made major appliance should be expected to. I’ve enjoyed about half of that time, if enjoyed is a word you can use with owning a boring kitchen appliance that does nothing except for work for three decades without complaint.
The only problem with it was that the light socket didn’t make good contact with the bulb, so when the door opened, it would flicker, and for the last however many years, most of the time the light wouldn’t come on at all. I fiddled with it, but it didn’t help.
Then one day my mom sells her house and is giving away stuff, and I claimed the baesment refrigerator. It was nice, slightly bigger, and only twelve years old. A Maytag. They’re dependable. I rented a truck, and my cousins helped me move it to my place, and then I gave my old, still working refrigerator to one of them.
Only, the Maytag had its door hinge on the wrong side. But that wasn’t a problem, that’s reversible. Easy to do with a screwdriver and the manual, which my mom kept in a ziplock bag in a manila folder, along with the warranty info, long since expired, and the original receipt.
So we switched the door, so it opens to the side that is convenient for accessing food when I’m cooking, which happens sometimes. And the light works. And it’s slightly bigger. And a decade newer. I figured I was set for another 20 years at least. Who knows?
I noticed in the first couple of days that the “new” refrigerator was taking a long time to get down to temperature. I think it took about 2 days, maybe it was 3. But it did eventually get cold.
Then it got really cold. The refrigerator was down around 33F, and then the next day I opened it and found that a bottle of water had frozen, shattering fragments of glass all over the place. I cleaned it up and adjusted the temperature setting, and it warmed up a degree or two, still staying around freezing. The thermometer I kept in there said 31F, but that’s below freezing, and nothing else in there was frozen, so I think it’s not quite accurate. I love drinking ice cold water, so I was happy.
One thing the new refrigerator didn’t have was a tray for storing ice cube trays. This was annoying, since having a place to put the trays so they could work without spilling was a big convenience, and meant that you could use the rest of the space in the freezer more efficiently. I searched online for parts, and found out that pretty much everything for the Maytag wasn’t available any more — discontinued, out of stock. What’s more, I couldn’t even find a rack or shelf or tray for storing the ice cube tray. I tried eBay, there wasn’t much, and it was confusing to confirm that a part was for my model. It was annoying. I found a bin for finished ice cubes, but nothing to hold the trays while they were working.
I don’t use the freezer nearly as much, so it wasn’t until maybe a week or more that I noticed the frost problem. I went to get an ice cube and noticed that frost had accumulate along the top edge of the door. I surmised that the door seal wasn’t sealing completely, allowing some air in, bringing with it moisture that would condense and freeze, turning into frost. The ice built up and made the seal worse. I’d open the door, knock off all the ice, wipe down with a towel, and close the door again, pressing firmly.
It didn’t work. I kept the ice at bay, but it kept returning. From 12 years of being on the left hinge, the door seal had compressed, and now that the hinge was on the right side, that left a gap that closing it firmly just couldn’t close.
I also noticed that the refrigerator made a high pitched whine, loud enough to be annoying. In reading the manual, I found out that this was normal. I didn’t like it. I thought about buying a new refrigerator at that point. But I didn’t want to spend the money right now, so I figured maybe next year. I’d take my time and do research and wait for a good sale.
This week, the temperature in the refrigerator compartment went north of 40F. I worked at a grocery store once, so I knew that this was the threshold for safe food storage. I was concerned. I tried turning the temperature setting back down, but a day or two later, it was still 40°, maybe 41°. Then 42°. Then 43°.
I took a look inside the freezer, it was still holding steady at 0°F, a good strong temperature. I cleaned the frost off the door, and looking more closely, noticed more frost along the ceiling. I cleaned that off too. There was more frost along the back wall. I noticed that there was an air vent on the back wall, and that it was covered with ice. Oh.
I looked inside the refrigerator. There were a couple of holes in the ceiling, which I felt no air flowing through. I tried putting my finger into the holes to see if I could feel ice, but I couldn’t. I only felt the foam insulation. It felt warm.
I took my hair dryer and tried to defrost the freezer compartment. I succeeded in melting the ice I could see, but if there was ice in the duct connecting the freezer compartment to the refrigerator compartment, I don’t think I got it.
The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 47°. Nothing in there was safe to eat any more. It had turned into a botulism farm. The freezer compartment temperature went up to 11°F, but it went back down to 0° by the next morning. The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 49°.
I started shopping. After a lifetime of not caring or thinking about refrigerators, suddenly I had to make a choice, and suddenly now everything mattered.
I measured the nook in the kitchen and noted the dimensions the new unit would need to fit. I researched styles, features, manufacturers, models. I went to six stores and looked at them in person. I considered shelving. Ice makers. Water filtration. Top Freezer. Bottom Freezer. Side By Side. French Door. I compared warranties. I read reviews. I checked prices. I made a spreadsheet. I opened tabs by the dozen in my browser. I read reviews.
I questioned the reviews. What did some random refrigerator owner know? Did they have the same concerns as me? Do they understand engineering and manufacturing? Have they tried all the other models out there and therefore know that theirs is really the best? Was their specific experience representative of all examples of that model, or did they get a lemon? Were they even humans writing real reviews, or were they fake reviews written by shills trying to sway public opinion to buy the wrong refrigerator? The more I read, the less I knew. The more uncertain I became.
Within 72 hours, I’d saturated my mind with research and reached the limits of my patience for indecision. I needed to dispose of my botulism farm and put this episode behind me so that life could resume. I told myself that I didn’t need to make the perfect or even the best decision, I just needed to make an adequate decision. I reminded myself that for 43 years, any old refrigerator was just fine. Why should this purchase be such a conundrum?
Based on the in-person impression I’d gotten from store visits, my internet research, and my meticulous note keeping, I had decided that I liked one model in particular more than the others I’d looked at. I wasn’t sure that it was the best for me, it wasn’t vastly superior in every way. But I liked the size, the shelves, the price. The reviews were very positive, but one or two of them mentioned that the freezer compartment didn’t get down to 0°F like it should at the recommended setting. Some reviewers recommended turning it up to max cooling, others said it wasn’t a good model because of this deficiency, and to look for something else.
Concerned, I thought about it overnight. I shopped some more, and found a merchant that was running a sale, and it was the cheapest price I had found yet for this model, and several hundred less than most of the other models I’d considered. I added to cart and got the complete price for it, and printed it out.
I reasoned that I could go to the store in person and ask questions about returns, and if I could do a return after delivery, and if I liked the answer I got, I’d go ahead and buy it, try it out for a time, and if it didn’t get cold enough for me, I’d return it and pick some other model.
This saga is far from over. Delivery will take place on Wednesday. I’ll have to observe the temperatures over several days to see how it performs. I’ll have to decide what to do. I hope I won’t have to return it and start over. I hope I won’t have to think about it again for a decade at least, and three would be better.
It’s just weird that something that never mattered for my entire life so far should become such a dilemma when a situation arises where I have to make the decision. Even though it’s only a couple hundred bucks, it’s a decision with potentially decades of repercussions. So much responsibility!
Sometimes life is better when you don’t have so much control, and don’t have to make choices.