Monday, January 9, 2012

Savings Idea #5: Use. Reuse. Repeat. (then Recycle.)

It sounds so simple to use and reuse what you have until it’s no longer useful. Each time I huddle under one of Granny’s quilts, I’m reminded that recycling and reusing is an old, old idea. When I compare our new modern home’s amenities to the storage and electrical output of our former home, I realize that they didn’t have as many outfits, sets of dishes, or electronics in 1935 as we do three-quarters-of-a-century later. They reused items until they had to be torn apart to be useful, and then they composted the remains out by the garage. Our old home has an in-ground trash bin outside for garbage pickup, which is roughly the size of our office recycling can (maybe 4 gallons). Clearly they used less, and reused more than we do; the lifecycle of their goods was, in many cases, a lifetime.

Over the last decades, retailers have ramped up their efforts, and are constantly trying to hurry that cycle along so that you buy new goods more often, resulting in “can’t live without” upgraded models and planned obsolescence. Many people have bought into this system, and when their shoes get dirty they buy new ones.

Granny’s philosophy was: If you’re going to throw it out, why not try cleaning it up first? Use and reuse until it’s dirt.

Case: My sons’ Robeez slipper shoes, bought with love by Grandma, were serving as the twoddler’s everyday wear inside the house. They resemble moccasins, and after a couple of month’s punishment and a few stomps in spilt milk, the soles resembled banana peels. They were dangerous. So I washed them with soap and water, and scraped the soles with a serrated knife, roughening the soles as ballerinas do. Ten minutes in the dryer on ultra-low, and these leather shoes were ready-to-wear once more. We got two more week’s wear out of them, and I'll donate these refurbished shoes when I get around to it.

If I have something I can no longer use, even if it's heavily used (like the Robeez) but not torn or badly stained, then I donate. Some balk at giving away heavily used goods, but I say to them: "Some poor people just watched their homes with all their possessions float downriver, get repossessed, crumble in an earthquake, or become a really big bonfire." Granny used to say: "Some poor people have nothing at all," and she'd know; she grew up in the Ozarks, and was a self-labeled "dirt farmer" before moving on to better things. People who have "nothing at all" will be glad for some shoes and clothes that aren't completely worn out.

I also buy items that do double duty. Kids’ toys, for example. A simple set of blocks can entertain a 6-month-old as a chew toy, an 18-month-old as a building set… but one with printed letters, numbers, and symbols can be used again to teach when the child is learning the alphabet. Later, the blocs return to their status as just a building tool. Boppy pillows. I collected several of these, I think 4, and they were useful when my kids were newborns. As crawlers, the Boppys came in handy to soften their space. Now, they are perfect first pillows for toddlers. A pillow, after all, is always a useful item around small children. I imagine them at five, snuggling the Boppy’s in the back seat on our way to a theme park.

But here’s why I bring up these Boppy’s: I was shocked to rediscover a use for them when my boys turned 16 months, because I’d gotten locked into the manufacturer’s vision for the product’s purpose. Now, we’re going through about 190 boxes, and I’ve finally got the “leisure time” (during the twoddler's naps) to sort through a couple a day. I can really consider whether to donate the item, refurbish the item (steam an old carpet, fix chipped goods), or repurpose the item. If it's broken or trash, I recycle the components.

Your Assignment: Look around your house and see what you can repurpose, refurbish, or recycle/donate before you buy a replacement.

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