Appliances You Might Be Surprised You Can Live Without

I recently wrote a post on how to downsize your life to a drastically smaller living space. I mentioned how, when I moved, I accidentally left something I thought I couldn’t live without at my old house: my microwave.

The funny thing is that it took me four days to realize I’d forgotten it. I hadn’t needed it, and my new kitchen was so much smaller I just didn’t notice itsĀ absence.

That was over a month ago. And I still don’t have a microwave.

It’s interesting these days how we define needs vs. wants. Things we think we need, like a microwave, we can actually do very well without. If we can become disciplined enough to reduce the number of appliances we need, we can open up significantly more space in our home while also saving an immense amount of money.

For example, I have a friend who’s oven broke over four years ago. She never replaced it. She cooks everything in a large toaster oven instead. Breads, cookies, chicken…she’s functioning just fine without a huge oven. It’s saved her a ton of space, time spent cooking, and money on her energy bill.

I’m sure everyone will have a different opinion on what appliances they can or can’t live without. But I wanted to write up a list of appliances that I’m very happy living without:

1. Jumbo Refrigerators

The average size of a refrigerator in the U.S. is 18-26 cubic feet. This is huge compared to what they used back in the 1950s. Want to know the average size of a refrigerator in Europe? Nine cubic feet. No, that’s not a typo. That’s 9 cubic feet.

Plus, 26% of American households have two refrigerators. Two! That’s an enormous amount of space and energy use.

The space I’m in now has a much smaller refrigerator than I used to have. And you know what? I love it. I don’t cram it full of food which would, in my old fridge, get lost and go bad. When I want to find something, I can see it easily. It’s not like looking into a cavernous hole.

Your refrigerator is one of the largest energy users in your home, accounting for 20% or more of your utility bill each month. It runs 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Think of how much you could lower your energy bill each month by downsizing this one appliance!

2. Dishwashers

Dishwashers are another appliance I think we can easily live without. There’s been a long debate over which saves more money and energy: handwashing or electric dishwashing. My opinion is that, when water use is kept to a minimum, handwashing is the cheaper, greener option. Moreover, to me, I think handwashing dishes is just easier. Most people rinse their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. And then, all those dishes have to be put away which adds another chore. So, you do double the work! Again, almost the rest of the world does not use dishwashers.

3. Microwaves

I covered this one a bit already, but I wanted to add it to the list because to me, it’s been the most surprising. I seriously never thought I could function effectively without a microwave. But I haven’t missed it. Everything I use the microwave for I can cook just as effectively on the stove or in my small toaster oven.

Not having a microwave has also freed up a ton of valuable counter space. Plus, to me microwaves are just ugly. I have yet to see a cool-looking microwave. So not having to look at that appliance has been a real delight.

4. A Dryer

I have no dryer. And this is another appliance I’m happily living without.

After the refrigerator, the dryer is another major energy hog. It also puts a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I use a drying rack for my clothing. This saves energy, and drastically extends the life of my clothes.

5. Air Conditioning

Ok, I’m sure this one is going to spark some fierce debate.

First, let me say this: I grew up in Louisiana. I know how vital air conditioning is in the South and Southwest. And, if I was living there, I’m sure that I’d depend on the A/C just as much as I depend on central heat living up here in Michigan. Additionally, those who are sick, elderly, or have very young children will depend on A/C more than others.

With that concession, I do believe that most people living in northern climates could easily do without air conditioning. Air conditioning uses a ton of energy, and drives up utility bills by a few hundred percent come summertime. Simply using a fan instead of the air conditioning can lower your energy bill by 60% or more.

In line with this advice, cccording to Pew Research, more and more people are jumping on the “no A/C train” thanks to the recession. Because it’s so expensive to use, many people are discovering that they can live without A/C just fine.

My last house didn’t have air conditioning. And my loft doesn’t have it either. Some fans and open windows will do just fine.

Last Word

What do you think of this list? Could you live without these items? Is there another appliance you could easily add here? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(Photo credit: Wonderlane)

  • Lulu

    I completely agree with you about the dishwasher. I live in an apartment that came with a dishwasher but I wash my dishes by hand and use the dishwasher to store the dishes until they dry. I also think that if you wash by hand and do it right it uses less water.

  • Kevin Vesga

    I went without a microwave oven for a while, but just warming up food (via other methods) takes significantly longer.

  • Debra

    My husband actually ruined our microwave, and we realized because of our eating habits that we COULD NOT do without one. So we bought a smaller, cheaper option and used that. We have a convection oven now, but I don’t think it would work for all things that we microwave. It does, however, work instead of using the oven quite frequently and saves us some money.

    I have heard time & time again that you use less water running a dishwasher than doing dishes by hand. Of course, you use energy too. But I’d rather have that extra time, so I just air dry the dishes instead of heating them.

    We live in the Seattle area and do just fine without an A/C. They’re not all that common around here.

    I air dry some of my clothes (delicates, mostly), but know I would really miss my dryer if it were gone. I just make sure that I do full loads of laundry and don’t over-dry things.

  • cher

    I actually could go without my stove as long as I had my toaster oven and microwave.

  • Heather Levin

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks so much for writing in! I love hearing other people’s take on what they can, and can’t, live without.

    Kevin, I hear you on the warming up food. It does take longer to heat up leftovers in my little toaster oven. But I’ve been surprised that it’s not THAT much longer. If I was heating things in a large oven, it would easily take 30 minutes to reheat something. But in my little toaster oven I’ll stick a bowl of food in there and it will be nice and toasty 5-6 minutes later. I’d probably stick in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, so this isn’t really that much longer.

  • Heather Levin

    Debra, living without a dryer has taken some getting used to for me because of timing. I really have to plan my laundry better than I used to simply because I don’t have a lot of clothes; when I do laundry I have to do it before I run out of something I need or want to wear. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of this yet (which is why I’m currently not wearing any socks…they’re all still wet). :)

  • Stella

    Can opener. I use the hand held, non-electronic version and it works just fine. Also most gadgety single purpose type gizmos like a pneumatic wine bottle opener when a corkscrew works just fine. I can’t live without a microwave or washer/dryer, however. I can do without a dishwasher and I’ve used fans to keep cool and they work just fine. But don’t touch my microwave or dryer!

  • Heather Levin

    Stella, I use a hand held can opener too. And you’re so right about all those gadgets! Someone once gave me an avocado slicer from Williams Sonoma. Sure it looked cool, but it was just as easy to use my knife like I always did. I donated it. :)

    • Kira

      I fear our electric can opener. I’m always convinced it’ll drop the food and splatter all over the counter. Thus, we have the additional benefit that our cats haven’t developed a Pavlovian response to it.

      • Heather Levin

        Kira, I so know what you mean! Those things wobble the cans back and forth (I had a bad experience with a can of tomatoes) and do sometimes drop them. Handheld is so much easier, and reliable when the power goes out.

  • Skirnir Hamilton

    I have to say I must be higher consumption then I thought, as I can’t see going without almost anything you mentioned above.

    1. We have to refrigerators and for a family of 3, unless you shop every few days, I find we make use of them. I like to coupon and stockpile a bit, and milk and such takes up a lot of room, as does all the bread products. Used to I left bread products out on the counter, but they molded too fast, so now they are in the top shelf of the fridge and yes, that shelf is full. Maybe I could go with less variety. But I can’t see a smaller fridge. (Ours says total for fridge and freezer 21.7 cubic feet and we have a small dorm fridge in the basement and a chest freezer in the basement.)

    2. Dishwasher… I have heard many times that the newer energy and water efficient dishwashers use much less water than handwashing. And who rinses their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Maybe in 80s, but dishwashers have greatly improved since then. And for me, if you have a load of dishes per day, which we do, then it is just so much quicker. Who wants to wash an hour of dishes every night? (My husband and son are home all day, so they do make lunch and breakfast dishes in addition to the dinner dishes, which we do cook and eat at home.) For my single twin, a dishwasher would help her to eat healthier at home more, as she will not make sides of vegetables as she doesn’t want to have to do the dishes. Maybe I could live without my dishwasher, but why would I want to? (And yes, I grew up without one, but if I can afford it, I will have a dishwasher.)

    3. Microwave… We use the microwave daily for steaming vegetables and for reheating left overs. Those are its main uses for us and maybe you can use a toaster oven for both, but is it more effecient, and does it really take less counter space than a microwave? (I think a toaster oven does take somewhat less space, but wouldn’t know as I don’t have one.) But somehow, I suspect a microwave is more energy efficient, but don’t know for real. Don’t know if anything would even compare the two. Again, having two at home for lunch daily means the microwave gets used a lot.

    4. A dryer? Not sure how you dry that many clothes at one time. I guess you do a load a day and dry them. IE my twin comes over and does two loads minimum on Sunday. She would have to take them home and lay them out all over her apartment. How do you have room to dry your laundry? Do you have some sort of contraption to lay them out on? And how many towels or pairs of pants can you put on it at one time? I think I will keep my dryer too. :)

    5. AC… That one I at least could see living without if it came to I couldn’t afford it, as we don’t use the AC that much, but in a house where you already have it, I can’t see getting rid of it. Hmmm… not replacing when it breaks.. (even though I live in Wisconsin), I would replace it. Why? Because we spend most of our time at home. If we spent more time outside the house at work, playing on weekends, week nights, etc., maybe. But in a given week we spend 80% or more of our time at home in our house and I want it to be comfortable for my family. Oh, and the heat does interesting things for my asthma too. (I grew up without AC also.)

    • Heather Levin

      Skirner- You may not have higher consumption. Everyone is different! You may be cutting back in ways that I’m not, which is the great thing about having discussions like this. We all share tips and opinions, and learn from each other! :)

      I don’t have children so living without a dryer is probably easier for me than you, since you do have kids. I’m sure if I had children I would want both a dryer and a dishwasher. But with just me and my husband, we don’t really need them.

      I do use a drying rack which holds an astonishing number of clothes in a small space; I set it up in front of our eastern windows, and most of my clothes are dry in a matter of hours.

  • Karen C.

    I live on the Texas Gulf Coast so AC is critical for at least 8 months of the year but we keep it at 78 and run fans and the bill is still high. In the winter (if we have one) we never turn on the central heat and run a space heater only where we are sitting.

    What I can do without?
    An Iron – I buy clothes that require no dry cleaning, are wrinkle free/resistant and we live with wrinkled sheets.
    Leaf Blower – I prefer sweeping to the leaf blower as it’s more meditative and quieter.

  • Debra

    I agree with the leaf blower. I try to conserve where I can but I am only willing to go so far. Who has the counter space for a toaster oven? Do they make built-ins? i, too, buy in bulk and need fridge space. So, can I argue fewer car trips to the store? And, it makes me nuts when people wash or power wash the driveway (or for that matter leaf-blow them). That seems wasteful. A broom is better exercise. I could do without AC, but hubbie has allergies, so windows are closed much of the time.

    • Heather Levin

      Debra- See, we’re the opposite! It’s hard to imagine not having our toaster oven; we use it almost daily. Of course, our toaster takes up the shelf space the microwave would have occupied.

      I hear you guys on the leaf blower too; sweeping is so much better for you, and better for the environment!

  • Bob Allan

    With due respect, no microwave, no dryer, no large frig? Whaat? I have to agree with “Hamilton” on all of those. As for central HVAC, having lived from the South Pacific, across the US, to Europe… HVAC totally depends on the contruction of your home. Apartments and town houses — yes, total HVAC because there is no cross wind for ventilation. Single family homes — unless the house is specifically built for the climate with insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, and high ceilings, you’re going to need a/c. Southern homes with open floor plans, big sliding windows and doors and terrazzo floors might get along without it. I don’t think I’d want to try FL, MS, LA, Ark, TX or the southwest without a/c. Oh, hanging clothing outdoors is a great way to fade colors and get them layered in dust! There are sooo many ways to use efficient appliances efficiently!!

    • Heather Levin

      Hey Bob,

      I know my list isn’t for everyone! For me, it’s all about redefining what I need. As I mentioned in the article, I’m living quite comfortably without these things. But for others, they couldn’t life a good life without these appliances, and that’s fine too.

      Really, I just wanted to put the idea out there so we could all start thinking about what we need, in our own life, and what we don’t. And I do agree about living without A/C in the south…it would make things really difficult. My dad grew up in Louisiana without air conditioning, and he said he’d never, EVER, want to do it again. :)

      Thanks for respectfully disagreeing! :)

  • Melissa

    Actually, if you’ve got a relatively new dishwasher that’s Energy Star rated, it’s much MUCH more energy/water efficient to wash dishes using a dishwasher. And unless there’s gunk actually stuck on to a plate, there shouldn’t be any reason to rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Not to say a dishwasher is a necessity (I don’t have one), but in terms of being green, they do win out.

    I also don’t understand how a toaster oven is a necessity, but a microwave is not? A toaster oven is basically a small oven, but a microwave serves a completely different function.

    As far as AC goes, I think it’s just too much of a regional thing to comment on. Seems like AC is as much a need in the south, as heat is in the north. Heck, I live in Toronto, and most people consider AC a necessity. I went without it for four years and it was horrible. Like, living in a perpetual state of being covered in sweat, horrible. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live somewhere like South Florida or Arizona without AC.

    I get that these things aren’t necessities, but they’re non-essential in the way that a washing machine is non-essential. Sure, you could go outside and beat your dirty clothes against a rock, but why would you when there are technical advances available to you to significantly improve your life. This isn’t like just cutting your cable to save money.

    • SociableCBKitten

      My cousin practically had to remortgage his house when he replaced his A/C in the summer of 2011. He works outdoors all day, here in Arizona. In the summer of 2012, he decided he could not afford the electricity it cost to run this new A/C, so he set the thermostat at 99 degrees! I bought us a large swamp cooler that blows air clear through the house and keeps it up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature and it’s FRESH air instead of stale air to boot. The only thing you need to be mindful of with these is to realize that you need to keep doors and windows open a bit so there is a place for the air to escape from on the other side.

  • Gingee Adams

    Just got this huge drying rack from a Amish gentleman; it’s lovely. Still use dryer, but every bit helps. Some research shows microwaves really aren’t good for your food or you, so…I can appreciate your article because we Americans have really began to not be good consumers. The land of plenty has spoiled us and made us lazy. So good job in putting out there some new thoughts for people. gingee

    • Heatherllevin

      Gingee, Thanks so much for reading, and for writing in! You’re right about our laziness, and I definitely have a lazy bone at times! But we get more exercise and feel healthier when we avoid some of our “modern conveniences.”

  • Mysstica

    Over the past few months, our dryer, air conditioning and oven (but not stove-top) have all gone out! :O It’s taken some adjusting for sure, but you’re right – you CAN live without these things. ;)

  • JMHS1967

    NO WAY the southern states of America can do without A/C! I will do without some other “necessity” before I swelter in San Antonio’s high-humidity heat. It leads to violent tempers and who know what other side-effects. That’s an ignorant and ridiculous suggestion at best.

    • jerzygirl45

      She already mentioned that AC is vital in the South and Southwest. It’s not like she’s making this a law, these are just ideas and suggestions. No need to get so vehement about it.

  • AZkuuipo

    Tucson, AZ with AC? Never! Dryer? HOA doesn’t allow clothes lines. Fridge, larger saves trips to the grocery store; less gas. Dishwasher, gives me some precious time to myself. Sorry, but best of luck to those of you who try.

  • CrazyTerry

    I lke my food hot, Microwaves are great for heating something for 15 seconds. Are you going to empty the bowl and put it in a sauce pan to heat it just a little? Then you have to wash the saucepan again. Frozen vegetables are healthy for you as long as they dont have all the fake sauces and stuff. Sometimes, you just dont have the time to put them in a sauce pan. If having a microwave means I ensure that I have more vegetables every single day, that makes the microwave very useful even if I do not use it for the majority of my cooking.

  • CrazyTerry

    And when it is raining for days, how does one dry clothes?

  • Sandy Staudacher

    I had a new range, I sold it for more counter space and have not missed it, I use no dryer, my water heater is on for 20 minutes a day in winter only.i love living like this. My fridge is 10.0 feet