The refrigerator 'art gallery' closes – and reopens

It was a major triumph. It had been at least 20 years since the refrigerator door was clutter-free, no papers, magnets, or schedules. After the birth of our first child, the refrigerator had become a convenient spot for posting our most important family papers.

Before my husband and I had children, our lives fit neatly into the pages of a Day-Timer. We carried the phone numbers we needed, the reminders of appointments, the essential memos.

But life got bigger the day our daughter was born, and only a space the size of the fridge could handle all that we needed to manage.

The door was a great display case for early photographs of our daughter. We even taped the infant CPR instructions and emergency phone numbers on the refrigerator door for baby sitters in case of an emergency.

As our children grew and changed, so did the display on the door. Early works in crayon and finger paint yielded their spaces to elaborate geometrics, lessons in perspective, and self-portraits.

Bus schedules, school menus, and report cards fought for space alongside reminders of dance rehearsals, dentist appointments, and birthday parties.

A magnetic clip held the Campbell's soup labels we collected for a computer in the school library. We taped up reminders of everything the girls brought home to sell – from Girl Scout cookies to magazines.

In high school the refrigerator door acquired layers of SAT scores, coupons for pizza, and a wealth of magnetic poetry.

Now that one daughter is off at college, we post her schedule of exams and semester breaks, not to mention the dates of parents' week.

I could have created a comprehensive family history – a biographer's treasure-trove – if only I had boxed up all those papers every time I removed them from the door. Instead, I periodically picked through the layers and tossed the outdated reminders to make room for the new.

The refrigerator door was never empty – until last week.

We decided to paint the kitchen and, to speed the process along, we took everything out of the room. It was a good chance to scrub the fridge of fingerprints. When the painting was complete, the stark simplicity of the room and the lack of chaos and clutter on the refrigerator door brought a calming presence to the space.

With one daughter now 20 and the other 17, and each managing her own Day-Timer, I reasoned that we no longer needed the refrigerator door to structure our lives. As mature adults, we could all enjoy the purity of an unadorned fridge. We had survived childhood and were ready for the next frontier.

I tossed out the remaining papers, and gathered up two decades' worth of magnets, tucking them inside an empty margarine tub.

Each time I entered the kitchen I smiled, knowing how far we had come and what we had achieved.

The order and cleanliness of the kitchen was catching. It even inspired my daughters to clean their bedrooms. The 20-year-old began by sorting through her college and high school papers and memorabilia. When she unearthed her grade-school papers, she began to appear every few minutes with a laugh, holding her first essay about "My Dog Jake" or a sketch of her family drawn when she was in the first grade.

The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and realized that something seemed oddly awry.

It was the refrigerator door – no longer empty and pristine. Our older daughter had found the magnets and buried the fridge anew beneath a collection of her early works. The fridge door was again cluttered. It was a mess. And it was mildly comforting.

Perhaps no one in our family is yet ready to embrace the vast, empty, and unknown post-refrigerator years.

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