Sunday, August 26, 2007

Grandpa's Pants

There is an old saying about living frugally that says: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." In today's disposable society few Americans see the point in that adage. Still, it is something that guides many of the choices I make.

Years ago I went on a road trip with a group of 10 college students for a graduate course in social psychology. We rode in our professor's motor home from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Eureka, Illinois where we stayed for three days in a Mennonite community. It was a great trip that taught me a lot. However, one of my most powerful memories I have of that trip is not of the Mennonite people we got acquainted with. What I remember most is the obvious distress of one of the twenty-something co-eds when she was told that due to limited space she could only bring one small bag of luggage for the week long trip. Apparently, up to that point in her life, she had never worn an item of clothingother twice without washing it after the first wearing. That blew my mind. The rule at my house had always been to wear things at least twice unless you could see the dirt on them, and even then if they passed the sniff test they might be good for another go.

We all have different ideas of how to make use of what we have. Some people throw away their table scraps after dinner is over. Some people give them to the dog. Some people save them to use as ingredients for the next meal.

Or, for that matter, there are very different views about "wasting food" in general. Some say if you drop your food on the floor it is contaminated and must be thrown away. Some say there's a three second rule, that if you pick it up right away and don't see dirt on it, it's still good. Some people say it depends on the nature of both the food and the floor. I will pick up a dropped bannana. I will not pick up dropped spagetti.

While talking on the phone with my older brother this afternoon, he reminded me of a family story about our grandfather. Once when our family was visiting, our other brother got up early and discovered Grandpa stirring up some clumps in the fireplace, removing a zipper and a few other charred bits. Apparently he was burning his Levis. Grandma was so frugal she would just keep patching his pants over and over any time they began to get tattered. Grandpa had had about all of that he could stand. So he burned his Levis before Grandma woke up, sheepishly admitting "it's the only way I can ever get any new pants."

At what point do I try to get more use out of things and when do I say enough is enough and buy new? This came to mind recently when the dog got hold of my cell phone. The thing still functions. It just looks terrible (all those teethmarks and the trim broken off) and it doesn't hold a charge very long. So I've really been considering getting a new phone. However, so far I just can't justify it. After all, it DOES work. Besides, to just go buy one retail is spendy, and I'm not willing to extend my service contract just now to qualify for a rebate. My husband just did that because his cell phone went through the combine while he was harvesting garbonzo beans.

Our family is tough on phones, it seem. Our plan will insure them for $7 per month per phone which I think is highway robbery, so we've just taken our chances. Our chances here lately have not been so good.

Things I now absolutely throw away that I used to try to keep and use over:

Margarine and cottage cheese containers.
(I finally got a decent set of plastic containers to use for left overs so now other plastic containers from things we buy go immediately into the trash as soon as they get empty. I got tired of finding science projects of hairy mold in the back of the fridge that was actually three week old spaghetti masquerading as margarine.)

The GOOD shoelace from a pair when one breaks.
(Life is too short. If I replace ONE shoe lace in a pair of shoes, I put in new ones in BOTH shoes even if the one seems perfectly serviceable. It's just a matter of time till it gives out too and I got sick of having one extra lace laying around in a drawer.)

Stubby pencils. And all pens that skip.

Things that I WILL keep and use over that other people might find silly include:

Zip lock bags.
This drives my husband crazy. Every time he catches me washing them to reuse he raves at me "for crying out loud we can afford a new bag!" But I can't help but cringe every time he throws one away. It just seems so wasteful.

The white Styrofoam packing peanuts that come in boxes from things I order online.
My kids always called them "ghost turds". Because I live in a podunk rural town with no stores, I buy a fair amount of stuff via the Internet. So I generally have a bag of these things in a closet somewhere just in case I need them. I have a bag now that has been "just in case" for a very, very long time. Maybe I should reconsider this?

Birthday candles.
Yeah, I know they are cheap. But it is so easy to rinse of the frosting and put them up in a cupboard to use again. What's the point of throwing them away after just one cake?

So there's a partial list from me. What sort of things do you keep and what do you throw away??


Tristi Pinkston said...

Ghost turds -- oh, wow, that's so funny!

Let's see -- I used to keep bananas to make banana bread. It was just wasteful to throw them out, right? But I finally realized that I was throwing out banana bread, because no one in my house, including me, likes it!

I do keep my ghost turds, and gift bags, and boxes that look like they're good sizes for me to reuse.

I heard of one person who would rinse off his dental floss and reuse it. That makes me want to throw up.

Ruth D~ said...

I have a a ziplock bag of elastics--rubber bands-- that are around the newspaper each morning. The grocery store clerk puts them around cartains of eggs too. And I save every single one. I couldn't use them all in a lifetime. I never use them, but to waste . . . I was raised too well. :>) I was going to do a blog post on this, too. If I do, I'm not trying to be a copycat.

Belladonna said...

Tristi - reusing dental floss is just plain disgusting.

Ruth - I just threw out a bunch of rubber bands that had gathered from newspapers. I had them for quite a while, but figured I'd never use them, so out they went. And I don't care one bit if you are a copycat.

Fraochán said...

What a small, small world. I went to undergrad in Eureka...."Eureka College" actually. Their claim to fame is that Ronald Regan went there. ;)

I tend to keep too much stuff. hehe. I keep a lot of "memories" like train ticket stubs, pamphlets, etc. with the idea that SOMEDAY I will put them in a scrapbook...

Anne Bradshaw said...

Me too. I hate throwing things away. Nearly broke my heart when we moved from England and had to offload my hoardings--kid's stuff, teaching aids, toys, books and the like.

I guess my biggest "collection" here is my box of bubble wrap. And sure enough, it really does "come in useful one day."

Thanks for your comment on Tristi's comment on my blog, by the way. Made me giggle, too.

Cleancutmatt said...

I scrape bannana peels to get the rest off and boil old milk to make cheese!

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