In a world of consumer culture and disposable commodities, it’s easy to forget the frugality and resourcefulness with which our grandparents lived. In times when items were scarcer and often handmade, there was a strong ethos of use and reuse. This not only applied to major purchases but also to everyday items that many people today wouldn’t think twice about discarding.
In this piece, we take a nostalgic look back at ten commonplace items Grandma would have never thrown away, uncovering the wisdom in her thriftiness and the potential for us to incorporate some of these habits into our modern, eco-conscious lifestyles.
1. Glass Jars and Bottles
Grandmas knew the value of a good glass jar long before ‘upcycling’ became a trend. Whether it was for storing preserved fruits and vegetables, saving leftover soups or sauces, or even as a simple vase, glass jars, and bottles had a myriad of uses in her household.
2. Pieces of String and Twine
A ball of string might seem insignificant today, but for Grandma, it was a crucial tool. It could be used to tie up garden plants, patch up broken items, hang clothes on the line, or bundle items together. Nothing was too small to save, and these pieces often came in handy.
3. Cloth Scraps
Every scrap of fabric had a potential use in Grandma’s eyes. Worn-out clothing was repurposed as cleaning rags, quilts, or stitched into other garments. Because fabric was expensive and labor-intensive to make, it was seldom wasted.
Buttons from old clothing were always saved. A missing button could easily be replaced from Grandma’s button stash, which often had unique and beautiful buttons collected over many years.
5. Wrapping Paper and Ribbons
Wrapping paper and ribbons were smoothed out, folded, and stored for the next gift-giving occasion. Grandma didn’t see the sense in buying new wrapping accoutrements when the ones from last Christmas looked as good as new.
6. Old Newspapers
Old newspapers had endless uses: polishing windows for a streak-free shine, lining shelves and drawers, or wrapping fragile items for storage. Grandma would have scoffed at the idea of buying special-purpose paper for these jobs.
7. Food Scraps
From potato peels to carrot tops, food scraps were turned into compost to enrich the garden soil, not thrown away. They also served as a base for stocks and broths or as treats for backyard chickens or other animals.
8. Cooking Fats and Grease
Bacon grease was a flavor booster and cooking medium and was commonly saved in a tin by the stove. It also had non-culinary uses, such as greasing pans or even making homemade soaps.
9. Sewing Needles and Thread
Grandma would have a needle and thread close at hand to mend garments that had become worn or torn. In an age of fast fashion, it’s a reminder of the value she placed on repairing over replacing.
10. Tin Foil
Aluminum foil was washed, dried, and used again in Grandma’s kitchen. While it’s often used only once today, she would find it wasteful to do so when it could be just as effective upon second or third use.
Our grandmothers lived in a very different world, but their lessons in frugality and sustainability are timeless. By looking back, we can move forward to a more waste-conscious future, proving the adage true that everything old can indeed be new again.