Extreme makeover – refrigerator edition


If your family is anything like ours your refrigerator attracts the detritus of everyday life. Some of it is important. Some of it was free. Some I just didn’t know what else to do with. Most of it is unconscious. Even the magnets themselves are mostly found objects, collected at street fairs and conventions.

Our refrigerator is in a very central location. I pass by it to go anywhere else in the house. In fact, you can see it from the room where we spend our evenings. And of course I visit it many times a day to get food. So this location has a lot going for it in terms of message placement. Consciously or unconsciously, whatever is up there is going to get a lot of play in our attention.


I’m curious about what is up there now. Left to our own devices, what have we done? I’m pretty sure that not very much of it has been chosen with a lot of conscious intent about what messages it delivers. So what are we telling ourselves is important? Here is what I found:

  • Four menus for take-out restaurants. Two of them are never used.
  • 6 schedules – for our health club, drumming class, recycling pickup and busses (out of date).
  • Informational pamphlets about recycling and taking your pet to a state park (which we have never done)
  • A sticker from a street fair.
  • A magnetic container with pens, pencils, sticky notes and a memo pad. To my knowledge we have never used any of them.
  • A full-page cheat sheet about navigating the voice mail systems of many big companies to reach a human.
  • Three very old photos of family.
  • Phone numbers for a neighbor and barber shop.
  • A cartoon that was very funny at one time, but I’m over it.
  • A card from a neighbor.

Those items are attached with 11 magnets:

  • 5 gifts from other people
  • 3 free magnets from businesses (which are cheap and don’t work very well, but they are still there)
  • 2 success tokens from a weight loss program I have not participated in for several years
  • 1 phone number for calling into work in case it snows (Hey, it’s Seattle. An inch of snow can paralyze the city!)

And finally, 2 items that I chose on purpose, to remind me of something I want:

  • A picture of a refrigerator that is similar to the one we’d like to have (the refrigerator is visualizing improving itself – nicely recursive).
  • A page I printed out from Hugh MacLeod’s gapingvoid blog.

The last item contains some great lines, such as.

We are hungry. Meaning is the prey.

Our thoughts are coming together because we are no longer asleep. We’re not even sleepy.

Now that I think of it, that page was another piece of my ad campaign about becoming a blogger. However it has been up there for awhile and I have learned to ignore it.


I took everything down to sort it for this inventory. When I started nearly every square inch was covered. In fact, if you wanted to post something new it was hard to find space. Taking a deeper look, I noticed that:

  • A lot of this stuff is informational. We use it as a file cabinet/bulletin board
  • Much of it is extremely outdated
  • It’s clear that several things were up there simply because they have magnets on the back. Since the magnets are useful for holding up the bulletin board-type content, they stay. Of course, businesses know this and use it as a strategy for pushing their brand.
  • The refrigerator attracts some things that we don’t know what else to do with because it’s a metal surface. You can slap the problem item up there with a (free, branded) magnet and you’re done!

Now that I’ve taken everything down the space feels much less chaotic, and also more alive. I think displaying that much outdated, unconscious clutter so prominently was negatively affecting the energy of the space. How could it not? My filters had tagged it as irrelevant, which most of it was.

Suggested intervention

  1. Throw away everything that is outdated or unused
  2. Purchase some small, plain magnets that work well. That will eliminate most of the extraneous branding.
  3. Keep the schedules and take-out menus. As I mentioned in the article about downloading and printing your ads, I think it may actually help place your ads among other stuff you have accepted as normal. We should consider installing a bulletin board in another location for the rest of the informational material.
  4. Perhaps add some photos of happy memories for the same reason as above, and also to add warmth to the center of our home.
  5. Leave the rest of the space free for both of us to hang personal ads.

Your ad here

Here’s how I’ve started to use the space I freed up on the refrigerator:

  • Since I have it printed out already I think I’ll start by posting a picture of a sports jacket I downloaded from the Old Navy website. Though I am not much of a shopper I need a casual dress-up jacket to wear with jeans. I like the jacket in the photo and would like to find something similar. (Update: this did not feel like a real good ad to post in shared space so I moved it to my desk. However, I did find and order a jacket.)
  • My partner and I have been enjoying working out together and would like to follow through on doing it more. Maybe we can ask someone to take a picture of us the next time we are at the gym to reinforce that idea. That will be a great ad to post in common space.
  • We forget to take vacations, so it will also be good to post a picture of a place we’d like to go.

That still leaves quite a bit of space. I have found it to be true with some of my other marketing experiments that “If you build it they will come.” So I’m going to leave the rest of the space blank and see what other marketing ideas show up. I’ll keep you posted.

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One Comment

  1. Mother
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I think the BBR refrigerator needs to use your clean-up technique!

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