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Using things to death

By on February 23, 2008

photo by aussiegall
carnival glass
We live in a throwaway society. We’re so wasteful that people known as freegans (, an anticonsumer environmentalist group, can salvage and survive, by choice, on what mainstream consumers discard. While they’re often criticized as being extreme or downright nasty, I couldn’t disagree more. I think it certainly reflects the amount of waste generated, and I’m pleased these items aren’t simply tossed and going into landfills. Maybe to you it’s garbage they’re sifting through, but there’s more to it. They’re making a statement that goes against materialism and overconsumption. In a way, freegans are like soul cousins to tightwads. We both simply prefer to take advantage of the full usable life of goods.

Many frugal discussions on my forums ( include topics such as using items to death. It’s interesting to note the camaraderie among like-minded members. It gives me hope that we can make a difference. In order not to appear fanatical by carrying on about global warming, waste and poverty, I’ll share a bit about wearing out common goods. I’m doing so to show you that if there’s not a little frugality in you already, there easily could be. Why? Because it’s simply the right thing to do.

LINENS: From comforters to towels, frugal-minded folks are holding onto these items until they’re threadbare. It does my heart good to hear from one reader who has a 31-year-old comforter and another who has 27-year-old towels. It’s not uncommon for these items to be used as rags for many years after their original purpose. While there isn’t anything wrong with buying new, if an item has plenty of life in it or needs only a simple repair, there’s no true need to toss it. What happened to this type of thinking?

CLOTHING: Remember when cutting jeans into shorts, patching them and then making them into quilts once they were unwearable was common sense? Winter coats weren’t bought every year. Shoes that were worn out were used for outdoor work until they literally fell apart, and who had more than a dozen pairs? Clothing was bought as needed.

KITCHENWARE: Dishes and flatware were once passed down to children when they moved out. Now it seems everyone wants brand-new and everything immediately. They’ll buy plastic this and that and toss and buy new on a fashion whim. While some appliances are wonderful for convenience, I can’t stop shaking my head at the gadgets that are available. However did we get by without hot-dog and hot-cocoa makers?

I don’t want my children to think I had to walk uphill 10 miles to school in a snowstorm, but I do want them to understand what is good enough. We have better use for our money such as saving or sharing it, and because I want my children to care about their impact on the environment, the economic state of our country and our humanity. What a concept!


  1. kim

    2/23/2008 at 11:55 pm

    I am 33 and people my age think it is odd that I’ve had the same dishes and dishtowels for 12 years now. I bought quality from the beginning, I would love to pass my collection down to my granddaughter some day 🙂

  2. Daisygirl

    2/24/2008 at 8:14 am

    I was completely horrified this year when I was getting quotes on have the zipper replaced on DD7’s winter jacket. $20! Then I found a brand new winter jacket for $12! It was a bit of a dilemma, and I went ahead and bought the new jacket to save the eight dollars. But at that price, face it, how long is this coat going to last?

    Sadly society sets us up for things to be disposable by putting out non-quality merchandise. I think it is up to us to buy better quality in the first place. I know next year, if new coats are needed I am going to purchase some that are guaranteed (a store here has a guarantee that their items will not develop holes, broken zippers, etc during the first year after purchase).

  3. Amy

    2/24/2008 at 12:32 pm

    My boys wear hand-me-downs from cousins and friends and they are just fine. The clothes they are wearing have been worn by boys for the past 10 years and they are still going strong. I don’t believe we’ve ever actually bought either of the boys any clothing!

    As for myself, my clothes are hand-me-overs or bought used. I have 8 pairs of jeans that I’ve gotten throughout the years from my sister-in-law. They still work for me, and when they start to wear through, I either patch them or make shorts.

    Our furniture is almost all used and it still works for us. We take care of it and it looks nice, but we didn’t have to spend gajillions of dollars, and the old owners didn’t fill up space in the landfill when they bought new furniture.

    A little ingenuity and a little time and there is no reason why you have to buy new things.

  4. shells

    2/28/2008 at 2:46 pm

    When you are finished with your old towels, linens and blankets you can donate them to your local Humane Society or animal shelter. The animals don’t mind worn out linens with holes in them!


  5. Jennelle

    3/10/2008 at 10:49 am

    We sure have turned into a “throw away” society and it’s so sad.

    I rarely just throw things away if they are useable by someone but do have to admit that many times,

    I’ll buy instead of trying to figure out an alternative with using something I already have here at home.

    I really need to start working on this!



  6. Barb

    7/22/2009 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Sara:
    When you get to the bottom of your deodorant, eyeliner or lipliner pencil, bottle of lotion, etc: there is always some left in the container, so for deodorant, I use a small knife & cut out the remainder of the product & put it into the top of the new deodorant container, press it down firmly & you’ll have enough deodorant to last you another few weks. My eyeliner & lipliner pencils: I break the pencil in half (it’s the only way to get to what’s left (Avon products) & use a toothpick at the bottom opening to push up a small amount of the product to use it & it, too, lasts for another few weeks. A bottle of lotion with a pump on it: Turn the bottle upside down into another container, or into another bottle of the same lotion; let is drain for a few hours & you’ll be amazed at how much more was still in the “empty” bottle.
    Barb S from Navarre, Ohio

  7. Carrie N

    7/22/2009 at 7:04 pm

    I am an avid and regular reader of your column Frugal Living at the Daily Local News here in West Chester, PA. I’d like to share with you my “frugality”. My husband and I have been married for 25 years now. We are originally from the Philippines. In 1989 we moved to the Middle East and lived there for 9 yrs. till 1998 after which we came here to the States. I am still using my very first set of measuring cups and measuring spoons which I brought from the Phil. to the Middle East to the U.S. We got them right after our wedding when we shopped for items that we did not get as wedding presents. It was my 19-yr. old daughter who begged me to get a new set so she’d enjoy baking with me . I really agree with whatever you say about the need for us to maximize the use of everything we have. I’ll continue reading and enjoying your daily column. More power to you! Thanks.

  8. Patty

    7/22/2009 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t know if you know about this little frugality or not but my husband and I have sent the same cards for Christmas, Birthday, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Valentine,& our Anniversay for the past 34 years we just put the year date in it and pass it back to the other and when the next year comes around out comes the same card. No one remembers what the card looks like a year later and we have saved a lot of money. Our first year together he bought me $3.95 Mother’s Day card well I all most fell thru the floor. So that is when we started the card saving. Keep on being frugal its the only way of life lol.
    Hugs, Patty

  9. Mrs. (old school again) Susan H

    7/22/2009 at 8:59 pm

    Being frugal is a way of life…….. It boggles my mind that others need to be directed in this method. It is just common sense (may be that is what is lacking).
    My sister said to me once that she hoped she never ‘had’ to scrape like I did.
    For me scraping the last drop from a jar is second nature: why waste it and buy more sooner than one has to?
    Years ago I asked my children once why there was an empty mayo jar in the fridge; their answer, “we weren’t sure it was clean enough for you”!
    I do cut open and scrape my lotion bottles but I admit I hadn’t thought of the toothpaste………will try that now and see how much is left after my squeezing 🙂
    As for clothing, I do not buy many clothes and often I purchase from thrift stores. I like what I like not what the ‘designers'(?) suggest I should like. …….oooh, stubborn, independence must be from the “old” school……
    Throw out cottage cheese containers and buy disposable storage containers.????? An ‘educated’ society thinks of this. In this “throw away” world, thank you for your approach to sensibility, I can only pray other will take heed. “You might be frugal if….” Good title for your book ?

    Sincerely, a fan

  10. Bev

    6/28/2012 at 10:33 pm

    My husband hates me reusing plastic containers from sour cream and cottage cheese as well as peanut butter jars. That was how I was raised! You did not throw away something that can be used for something else. My Mom and I both use small peanut butter jars for cut carrots and celery and then put water in the jar and put the lid on. Great for a healthy snack!

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