Monday, January 7, 2008

Using What You Have

My husband (who has yet to come up with a clever internet moniker for himself) spent a good bit of time on Saturday cleaning out the kitchen. Not cleaning it, mind; cleaning it out.

One of the occupational hazards of being 5'2" (if I stretch the truth by a quarter of an inch) is that things tend to get lost in the upper shelves of cabinets and pantries. Vitamins we bought but didn't like (or couldn't swallow), sleeves of crackers with three crackers still in them, out of date canned goods, expired prescriptions and the like end up cluttering things up and taking up room that could be used for other purposes; but since I don't always see these things or don't take the time to check the dates on the packages I forget to clear them out. This is one of those things my husband is really good at doing; he's meticulous and thorough, and while he's not wasteful in his approach to food he does tend to be realistic about items we may not use or whose expiration dates passed over a year ago.

When he had finished, I was amazed at how much room there really was to store things, and at how many things I'd purchased and never gotten around to using, or especially to using up. My style of meal preparation tends to be more slapdash than it ought to be, and I usually decide what I want to make before I look around to see what there is, or what I've already opened and should really use before it can't be used anymore.

We moms are always examining our budgets, looking for room for improvement, and I've decided that my focus this year is going to be on using what we have. It's far too easy for me--and maybe for you, too--to start replacing perfectly good items either because I've forgotten that I have them, or because I've changed my mind about the color (or, in the kitchen, the flavor); instead of putting a little extra effort in to making whatever it is work anyway, I'm bagging it up for a charity or for the trash, and starting all over again.

There are lots of "thrifty mom" websites out there with some good ideas, but I think that before I start to ask myself whether I need to buy something at Ubiquitous Mart or whether a local thrift store would be a better choice, the first question ought to be "Do I need to buy anything at all?" For instance:
  • Do I need to put this item on my grocery list (is it a staple, or something I know I'll use) or is this a relatively uncommon ingredient necessary only for a recipe I haven't tried yet that my family may or may not like?
  • Do I need to purchase new toothbrushes, or do we still have a stash of them somewhere from the last time the local discount store had them on sale? (Yes, we've done this: bought extra of something when it was marked down and then forgotten where we've put them, or even that we bought them at all.)
  • Does Bookgirl need new clothes, or do I need to have Kitten try on some of the things stashed in the back of her closet to see if they're ready to be handed down?
  • Do we need new wastebaskets for the bathrooms, or do we just need to take the old ones out into the back yard for a good hose-down?
  • Do the girls actually need any new art supplies, or do we just have to clean out the art cabinet and see what's in there that they've forgotten they have?
One of the sometimes-frustrating things about our way of life in America in the twenty-first century is the fact that it's so much easier, sometimes, to buy things thoughtlessly, unnecessarily, unknowingly, and repetitively. It's a habit I've gotten into, and thanks to the good example of lots of thrifty homeschooling moms out there it's a habit I want to change.


Lisa said...

We're trying to tread down this path, too. Man, have we accumulated a lot of junk! btw~ The comment I wanted to make about your pants vs. skirts issue the other day spilled onto a post today over at my place, if you're interested.

freddy said...

Our street had a neigborhood garage sale one year and when a neighbor asked me why we weren't participating I had to explain that we were still *using* our junk! :)
That said, I've still got a long way to go. So many thing get tossed, lost or given away that should be saved and used. My goal this year is to better use, repair & pass down the kid's clothes. And never hear anyone in my house say, "It's ok, we'll just throw that away and get another!"

nicole said...

I've been trying to be much more thoughtful about our purchases too. I'm learning to make substitutions for some things. I definitely have spent more time thinking about how badly I need something just b/c I have a coupon, since I'm on a cash budget for groceries. It is so rewarding to have cash left over when I really try to make sensible purchases.

Christie@tisbutaseason said...

Have you seen "The Story of Stuff"? It's a 20 minute video about all the stuff we buy. It's pretty crazy to think about. My grandfather is 88 on Friday and his mindset is so different. We are a country of disposable EVERYTHING. During his upbringing you fixed what you had and made it work even longer. Too bad that didn't carry on.

(I've posted a link on my blog to the story of stuff video.)

Anonymous said...

This is what has helped me. I stopped buying food that I "wished" my family would eat and started only buying food that they do eat. This evolved into a weekly meal schedule (roast chicken on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, sausage & peppers on Wednesday, pork chops on Thursday, pizza on Friday). So, when I go to the grocery store, I really only buy for my dinner meals, and some basic staples (milk, bread, eggs, cheese, fruit, veggies). It's not a perfect system, but it cuts out a lot of guessing and experimenting. I figure that the kids can try new stuff at a restaurant if they so choose.