"There's nothing left in there!" my father exclaimed upon seeing my mother in the kitchen, extricating the last drop of mayonnaise from the jar with a spatula. "I can't help it," my mother replied, "it's how I was raised!"
My mother's parents were born a scant few years before the Great Depression, and grew up making the best of every little thing they had. She and I have inherited several of these habits, for lack of a better word: saving the crumbs from bags of store-bought bread to make our own bread crumbs, and squirreling away plastic bags that inevitably come in useful 'on a rainy day'. Purchase scrap paper? Forget it! Like mom, I rip up one-sided junk mail for re-use. Campbell's soup labels and stamps from sent mail? Save them for charity! Not to mention an endless array of plastic containers used to hold room-temperature or refrigerated leftovers (but NEVER for reheating!). Unsealed, blank envelopes from greeting cards are also collected for future cards.
Dad has his own stories about growing up with thrifty parents. His mother cut up old flour sacks and sewed them together to make sheets. With seven kids to look after, she made the best of whatever came her way, and I'm amazed to hear about the clever 'second uses' she found for various items. As Dad puts it, "Sustainability and recycling aren't new concepts!"
The next time I see my grandparents (my mother's father and my father's mother), I plan to ask a lot of questions regarding re-use -- the sometimes-forgotten middle member of the three Rs. If you're able to, why not do the same? It'll be a good conversation and might yield some surprising tips!