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For a High School sewing class, I once had to bring an old item of clothing, cut it apart by the seams, press it out, and use the fabric to make something new.  I made a darling lavender dress for my baby sister out of a hideous Junior High School choir dress.  Novel, isn’t it?  I can’t say that I have ever done anything like it since.

Elva Roundy

My grandma used to tell a story that happened to her during the Great Depression.  She had planned to make a dress for my aunt, but when she laid the fabric out, she just couldn’t bring herself to cut into it.  She got the distinct feeling that she needed to use the material to make dresses for her sister’s three little girls.  She laughed when she told me that after she had fit the pieces and cut the fabric there was so little left that she could have wadded it up and fit it in her mouth.

She didn’t come through the Great Depression and raise eight children without knowing something about frugality.

In the house I grew up in, there was no such thing as taking the crust off the bread, and we always ate the “heels.”  I remember having peanut butter sandwiches made with leftover pancakes or waffles.  If there was leftover chili one night, and spaghetti the next, chili-ghetti was sure to be on the lunch menu the following day.  Every Friday Mom took the list that had accumulated during the week, planned the most direct route between stores, and got all of her errands done at once.  We didn’t make a special trip to the store if we were missing an ingredient for dinner.  If we couldn’t just omit it, we changed the menu.

The largest piece of fabric in this dress was the bodice.

For Easter, one year, Mom made Easter Bunny Baskets from recycled gallon bleach bottles and bits of colored felt.  Another Easter, we got new dresses with patchwork skirts and sleeves made from squares of fabric left over from all the other sewing projects Mom had done in recent history.

During the eighties Mom made patchwork sweat pants and shirts from stretchy terrycloth, because she could buy it by the pound in oddly shaped pieces from the mill.  She knew very well that “Time is Money,” and taught us by example that if you don’t have the money for necessities, you have to have the time–and talent–to come up with them or learn to live without them.  She is the most resourceful and creative person I know.

Benjamin Franklin originated a couple other sayings I grew up hearing:  “A penny saved is a penny earned” and “Waste not, Want not.”  I don’t know where this one came from:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
or do without

A few years ago I took the tour of the historic pioneer Cove Fort in Utah.  As I remember it, we were told that beds were made from sturdy mattress ticking fabric filled with straw.  When the fabric was worn and the straw started poking through holes in it, it was cut to make overalls for the boys in the family.  When the overalls wore out, they used them for cleaning rags, and later cut them into strips to be woven into rugs.  When the rugs were worn, they were burned and the ashes were used to make soap.

We live in different times.  (Imagine the looks you’d get if you went to that much trouble to make a bar of soap these days.)  The slogans of our day are “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” or “Go Green.”  It’s just as expedient that we use our resources carefully today.  It calls your conscience into play when you discard an item that could be useful later or to someone else, but what’s “useful” to one person may not be worth the time and effort for another.  I’m personally waging a constant battle between the hoarder and the squander-er in me.

Sometimes I think of the absurdity that I pay to have kitchen scraps and newspapers hauled away, then buy compost and weed killers for the garden.  (See my earlier post on Lasagna Gardening)  I don’t have problems drinking tap water out of a washable glass instead of spring water out of a bottle.  Donating items to the Salvation Army, Deseret Industries, or a Goodwill donation center is an easy way to contribute positively to the community you live in.  I have a harder time separating glass, plastic, and metal from the trash.  We all have to pick our battles and decide where we can make a difference.  I have tried using a composting container, and honestly it’s just a lot of trouble to remember to use and even more difficult to keep the chemical reactions happening in it, but I think I can get on board with putting some items directly into the garden.

Here are a couple of other little things for your consideration in how you balance your own personal resources.

  • Cottage cheese, yogurt, or sour cream containers with lids are perfect for leftovers or to take dinner to a friend after surgery or when they’ve had a new baby.  They may not be as pretty, but your friend will appreciate the fact that they don’t have to clean your dishes or remember who to return them to.
  • I buy a lot of items from the bulk bins at the supermarket and need various sized containers with lids to accommodate them.  I’ve refilled the little green-lidded Parmesan canister for years.  Frozen concentrated juice containers (the plastic ones with screw-on lids) make great individual toothbrush holders.  When I bake bread, I store it in store-bought bread bags.
  • Save up used dryer sheets and put them to use instead of buying interfacing for small sewing or craft projects.  Use them to replace the air filter in the vacuum (smells good!) or make a scrubber out of them.
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    Lint fire starters enable Cub Scout to cook without help.

    This You Tube video shows you the comparison of using plain cottonballs and vaseline-infused ones as fire starters for camping.  I save dryer lint for this purpose.  (Doesn’t make sense to throw out the lint, then turn around and buy cotton, does it?) I put the lint in a snack sized zip lock bag with about a teaspoon sized blob of petroleum jelly.  Zip it up and knead it until it’s all worked into the lint.  Store the bag in your camping pack and when you need to make a fire, all you have to do is tear off a small piece and give it a spark!

  • Shredded paper makes good packaging material, or add it to your leaves and grass clippings for mulch.
  • You can save a lot of money by refilling your printer ink cartridges instead of buying new ones every time.  When you do need a new one, be sure to send the old ones in to be refurbished.
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    Cookie knows we always take a bag on her walk.

    When they ask you “paper or plastic?” do you get the feeling that somebody’s going to be put out no matter which you choose? Take the plastic ones with you when you walk your dog to clean up after her.  Or spread out the brown paper to draft patterns or to protect the table from permanent markers or a craft project.  I refuse to feel defensive about paper or plastic, as long as it’s not just tossed into the trash.

These are just a few of the things I have done, off the top of my head.  I know the list could continue on.  I’d be interested in a few of your favorite ways to conserve household resources and improve or simplify your life.

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