My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression. As you can imagine, during that time he learned some pretty thrifty habits, ones that stayed with him for the rest of his life. One of those habits was reusing things before he threw them out. He definitely took the mantra "waste not, want not" to heart.
My family and I always joke that my grandpa was green without even knowing it. He was ahead of his time! We kids would drink out of washed-out plastic yogurt cups instead of glasses when we needed water.When we wanted to draw, he would pull out a big tin of broken crayons (probably from when my mom and uncles were kids), which we would use to draw on the back of paper that had already been printed on. He had a bar of soap at the sink in the bathroom made exclusively out of saved-up soap slivers (you know, that little slip of soap that remains when you're almost finished with it) -- I just thought it was rainbow soap and he bought it that way. He had a specific drawer in his kitchen where he stored plastic grocery bags and bread bags and every doorknob in his house had rubber-bands around them. The guy didn't throw anything out unless it had been very thoroughly used.
When I first started blogging as the Parsimonious Princess years ago, some of the very first posts were about reusing things that others would throw out. I call these "random reuses" (what can I say? I'm a sucker for alliteration.). Maybe it's in the genes, but I love finding a second life in things; it's a sort of challenge. Today, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite reuses, the ones that I either use the most, the ones that I have benefited most from, or the ones that simply would have made my Grandpa proud.
The Camping Hand-Washing Station
Summer is here and that means it's time to camping again! This random reuse is one of my favorites because it works so well. All you need to make a hand-washing station for your camp is a gallon-size jug (I used an empty vinegar one), a couple golf tees, and a bungee cord or two. Poke a couple holes in the bottom half of the jug with some golf tees. Once you've made the holes and left the golf tees in place, fill up the jug with water and hang the filled jug (and some soap) from a nearby tree with the bungee cords. When you need water for washing hands or brushing teeth, simply pull out one of the golf tees, and you'll have a stream of water to use. What's so great about this hand-washing station is that when you hang the jug in a sunny location, you get warm water! I tell you, it feels like a luxury to have warm water to wash up with!
The T-Shirt Bag
My husband owns a lot of t-shirts. We give the old ones to the thrift store but others aren't quite up for donation. These are the ones that have stains, holes in the armpits, or are super-faded. Instead of throwing them out, one way I like to repurpose them is to transform them into bags. It's really easy to do -- I simply turn the shirt inside out, cut the sleeves and part of the neckline off, and sew the bottom hems together (for complete step-by-step instructions, you can check out my post about it here). Or if you have a phobia of sewing machines like I used to, you can try this no-sew version. It's also an easy way to make a bag -- I actually taught 30+ teenage girls how to make the no-sew version at a church camp-out. We've used these bags for trips to the grocery store, the library, the pool, the park, and even for trick-or-treating.
The Makeshift Mesh Scrubber
Those green-and-yellow sponges so commonly used for dishwashing harbor all sorts of nasty bacteria. Dishcloths are a cleaner alternative, to be sure. The problem with them, I've found, is that dishcloths just don't work as well as those sponges. One way to fix that problem is use to use the plastic mesh bag from a bag of onions or oranges. Cut the tag off one end of the bag so it's like a tube. Fold the dishcloth a couple times and slip it into the mesh bag tube and then continue to fold until it's the size you want. Once you're done using it, pull the dishcloth out and throw it into the laundry. Rinse off the mesh bag and hang it up to dry. Whenever it gets too worn, toss it out and use another. I'll be honest, at first I was a little skeptical when I learned this suggestion, but once I tried it, I was really surprised by how well it worked. In fact, it worked just as well as the green side of those sponges I used to use!
Bread-Tab Turned Frustration Tamer
Old bread tab = less time fiddling around on the roll of tape trying to find the beginning.
Toilet Paper Roll Bird Feeder
This is such a simple yet fun craft for kids. To make one, simply punch a couple holes at one end, spread peanut butter on the toilet paper tube, roll it in bird seed, thread the yarn through the holes, and tie onto a tree branch. The birds loved our feeder -- and my boys loved to watch.
When my oldest was starting to paint when he was around three years old, I used paper plates as his paint palettes. I later realized that a washed plastic lid works just as well, if not better. I find that the 16 oz. containers (like the ones used for sour cream or cottage cheese containers) work particularly well. When your child is finished, you can either throw the lid out or wash and reuse. Sometimes, I don't even wash it; I just add more paint on top of the dried paint from before. Much better than a paper plate.
I had a reader send me this tip about turning cans into stilts. I used a couple 28-oz tomato cans for my son's stilts. I let him paint them and then I made a couple holes in each, threaded some yarn through them, and they were done. Such a simple project and they kept my son (and the neighborhood kids) entertained.
Milk Jug Mini Greenhouses
Of course, no list of random reuses would be complete without mentioning how I start my seeds with empty milk jugs. This reuse truly has changed how I grow my garden. I cut the milk jugs almost in half, fill the bottom with potting soil, plant my seeds in each one of the jugs, and put them outside. This method for seed starting can be used outside even when there's still snow on the ground. The milk jugs work like little greenhouses. This is my third season starting my tomatoes this way and it still makes me excited. It's just so easy and works so well, I feel obligated to tell people about it whenever I can. You can read all about it in my Green Phone Booth post here.
These are only a handful of the random reuses at my house. I've turned a paper towel holder (since we don't use paper towels anymore) into a plastic bag drying rack. My oldest made a guitar out of an empty cereal box. Old, faded flannel receiving blankets were turned into cloth wipes for cloth diapering. Old cloth diapers and hole-y socks turn into rags for cleaning the bathroom. I've even reused dryer lint to make firestarters for camping, emergency preparedenss, and to fuel my beekeeping smoker. A second life can be found in so many things and this leads to less waste -- less waste in the trash and less waste of the money in our wallets. The combination makes this frugal girl -- the granddaughter of a "green grandpa" -- pretty happy.