Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thanks Mom! (and Dad, and Grandma...)

"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!


  1. My mom is just the same! well, the first paragraph at least, the flour sacks are a little rediculous.

  2. Our parents and grandparents really knew how to use absolutely every. Now a days not much gets used a second time around whether regardless of it purpose - well tupperware, but that's a whole other story.

  3. One of my Grandmothers had a thing for saving empty 'Mir' bottles. It was a dish soap that was made many years ago. She had a back room literally full of them and always just had the impression they would come in handy someday. They never did. Different times indeed...

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  5. Your post is certainly a wake-up call. For most of us, we just need to 're-think' about the many ways we can reuse a lot of stuff in our homes.

    Growing up, I was also taught on how to save on a lot of things like reusing papers, plastic bags, food containers and envelopes. I have 7 siblings and my mom definitely did a great job managing our house and finding ways to cut down on costs and save some money for the rainy days.

    I'll definitely look forward to your next post! It will surely be another 'hot' topic to anyone who would like to save! :)

  6. Greg - did she have the Mir bottles in pink and yellow and blue, or were they all one colour?

    One winter there was a bad ice storm (this was in Ottawa, where they tend to get those), and we couldn't get up the steep incline of our driveway; we figured it had to be an "indoors day." But before long we heard an odd noise outside: there was our grandfather (whom we called MacGyver for exactly this reason), effortlessly climbing the driveway in boots fitted with "crampons" made of the spiky pedals from my 10-speed and old shoelaces.

  7. Homemade snowshoes, that's awesome! As for the flour sacks, Adam, I think the idea was that she'd save money, or at least get her money's worth out of the sacks. After all, you buy flour and also pay for the sack.

    Anyone with any other good tips from relatives, please post!

  8. Melanie -

    I remember pink and white Mir bottles for sure. The blue bottles I don't recall. They were probably on the bottom of the pile. : )