Saturday, November 21, 2009

What used to be called cheap
by E J Brunton originally published in the Napanee Guide 

Sometimes I do things that make my more lavish friends smirk and shake their heads. For instance, I really have to think twice to throw away a nice clean bag, be it paper or plastic.

I keep all those plastic margarine and cottage cheese tubs; save string and aluminum foil, cardboard, twist-ties and elastic bands. Christmas cards and envelopes become my note paper; unusual bottles hold flowers; tin cans with the juicy tomato picture still on them keep my pencils handy. Mesh onion bags stuffed with too small bits of wool and string can be hung in a tree as a handy dispenser for birds to choose their nesting materials.

Where did I get these strange habits? Well, long before recycling became the vogue my mother was the subject of much derision amongst her friends. She kept everything; neat piles of butcher paper, huge balls of string and jars of elastic bands. Little bits of soap were saved in a curious metal basket and swished around in the dishwater. Wrapping paper was ironed and reused till it became quite a valuable antique. Tea bags were dried (on previously enjoyed aluminum pie plates) for fertilizing what she jokingly called her “tea roses”. She even saved waxed cardboard milk cartons for freezing the trout that my father brought home. No drawing paper for me when there were plenty of nice clean cardboard pieces from inside the shirts my father sent to the drycleaner.

When her friends would smirk and ask her why she was saving all that old garbage my mother would say, “Well, maybe it’s my Scottish blood or maybe it’s because I lived through war and depression. Those days left an impression on me and I just can’t waste. Why throw out perfectly useable items that you get free everyday and then go and buy those same items?

You send me pies in aluminum tins and I send mine back to you in the same tins. And that bacon grease and bread crusts in old tin cans in the freezer? I remove the tin and put that mixture into an onion bag that I hang out for the birds in winter. My husband is glad to get the kitchen waste for his compost pile and Lord knows he has a wonderful garden that I’ve heard you admire.”

Mother passed away in 1988 but the habits she instilled in me have lived on. What used to be considered cheap is now considered not only chic but indispensable with shrinking space into which to put our garbage.

I can still remember her telling me that those friends who laughed at her saving ways would sometimes ask her for a loan. I hope she didn’t rub it in, when they came with hat in hand. “I’m just like Liberace,” she would say. “I’m laughing all the way to the bank!”

Note : After posting this article I found this blog from Gaiam with some interesting green gift wrap ideas at this link


Jerry Pat Bolton said...

When you put it that way, and so eloquently, I have to say, save on, save on. You mentioned your mother living through the depression. My parents did also, and they were frugal to a point, but unfortunately it didn't rub off on me. I enjoyed this . . .

Diane Berg said...

When my husband's aunt passed away leaving no children, his mother insisted that all of her sister's belongings be lugged from Vancouver Island to Saskatoon - 13 suitcases full on a Greyhound bus. Among these items was a bag labelled "string too short to use"! I can see that you would have had a use for them. Who knew?
Diane Berg