Thursday, January 26, 2012
Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without
The title for today's post is an important one. I've tried for the past couple of years to make this saying my motto, hewing closer to it when money gets really tight, and maybe veering away a little in the interest of convenience when times are better. This week has definitely been a "make it do or do without" week. I spent the grocery money this month on birthday supplies and stocking up on meat, and while both of those were good things to do, it left us short in this last week of the month. We've been out of bread all week, and the fresh produce and milk were gone on Tuesday or so. It's just for a few days, tomorrow we're going shopping to get staples and February is coming soon. Since we're all still getting calcium, protein and fiber, I count it as less a crisis and more an exercise in innovation.
You learn things when you're cooking without the stuff you used to have. This week I learned that it's possible to sub in things like cream cheese or sour cream for milk in recipes and boxed dinners. Tuesday for lunch we had macaroni and cheese (and cheese) with diced hot dogs and frozen corn that was actually pretty good. Monday night I put the last few spoonfuls of sour cream in the microwave and used them to make an enchilada topping that was actually much better than if I'd used milk. Tortillas are easy to make with ingredients around the house, and you can use them instead of bread in lots of ways. I've been able to use quite a few of my stockpiled cans now that the pantry is organized and I can see everything I've got. Tonight I used a cheddar broccoli soup mix and added potatoes and ham to make it a full (and delicious) meal. Not too bad for the end of the month!
My motto serves me well in weeks like this, and things that I've done recently, like making a rag bag of one of M's destroyed pairs of pants and filling it with old clothes scraps, have worked out very well. Being able to repurpose and reuse things makes me feel good and thrifty. At the same time, though, I find that the motto can be my enemy when it comes to getting organized. Like many chronically disorganized (that's what they call it when you're not a hoarder quite yet) people, I like to hold on to things that are just a little bit broken or torn or expired, hoping that I can fix them or find a new use for them. Sometimes it's true. Robert had a good time using my old pans for drums, and I have replaced plenty of buttons and even repaired some small tears or ripped hems in our clothes. But much of the time, I find that I am unrealistic in my thinking, wanting to keep a broken lamp I have no skill in repairing, or thinking of a great use for some weird empty container that is so time and labor intensive I'm never going to get around to it.
At some point, you just have to say enough is enough and get out the trash bag, even if you're not 100% sure that you can't use a thing anymore. I have to be realistic about my own time and capability and even enthusiasm for reusing or repairing an item. Using Freecycle to get rid of these things is a good idea, but I have to be realistic about that, too. Is someone going to drive all the way to my house to collect this item from me? Am I going to find the time and make the effort to put it online? Or will I and my family be better off if I just put it in the trash and get on with my cleaning? It's the antithesis of using up and wearing out, but it's keeping house.
As with many housekeeping-related tasks, I use my Grandma J as the gold standard. She was both an excellent housekeeper and a frugal person, so I know it can be done. When I get up to my neck in items I can't decide whether to keep or toss, I ask myself what Grandma would do. Most of the time my imaginary Grandma-guide tells me to throw things out, and as a result, things are starting to get a little cleaner. We're still far from "a place for everything and everything in its place" the way she advocated, but it's a worthy goal.
I guess it's a matter of striking a balance between getting the most possible out of our things and not letting our things overwhelm us. For now, I'm trying to cultivate an attitude that lets me feel good when I find a new purpose for something that would've been waste, but at the same time lets me not feel guilt when I don't. Sometimes you just have to let go, and let that be okay.