Thursday, October 11, 2012

10 Things to Keep and Reuse

I have been accused of being a pack rat, and it's sort of true.  I keep a lot of things for sentimental or historical value.  For example, I have at least one dried flower from every bouquet my husband has ever given me (except the tulips; those didn't dry well).  I think I have every hospital I.D. bracelet I've ever worn.  Cheap jewelry my parents gave me when I was a kid.  Friendship notes from middle school.  High school art projects.  My braces headgear.

I keep a lot of other things because I just know they'll come in handy one day.  I think there were two major contributors to this mentality.  The first is that during my childhood I regularly spent time with my two sets of grandparents and one set of great-grandparents, all of whom lived through the Great Depression, and I sort of picked up on their habits.

The second influence was the Barney Bag.  Yes, I was a Season 1 Barney watcher.  I was a little old for it, and I was mercilessly mocked by my 4th grade class when they found out.  What can I say?  I had a 1-year-old sister and a 4-year-old brother, and my grandma taped every episode for us.  My little sister actually measured time in Barneys (one Barney = half an hour).  But the point is, the Barney Bag held all kinds of random objects: paper plates, duct tape, scrap paper, paint, yarn, vent duct hose, paper towel tubes, you name it!  "With imagination and the Barney Bag," you could make anything from a robot to a car to a feathered mask.  Why on earth would anyone throw away items with such potential?

Now that I'm a mommy on a budget, I've found vindication in legitimate uses for things I tend to hoard save. Here are 10 things a lot of people throw in the trash (or recycling bin) and what they're good for:

1.  Gift bags, tissue paper, and undamaged wrapping paper

The best piece of advice I got at my bridal shower came from my sister-in-law: "Save all the gift bags!"  This practice is not only economical, but green.  I have never seen a gift bag ruined unless it is taped shut and opened by a child.  Why throw away a beautiful bag?  Who cares if the tissue is a little rumpled?  And I know there's a stigma attached to it, and I only started doing it once I got really poor, but really, why tear up that gorgeous, perfectly good wrapping paper?

I remember when I was a kid there was a commercial for the "magic" Scotch tape.  It showed people being handed wrapped gifts, and then making pained faces and forcing a smile as they saw the shiny tape on the seams.  To them I say, anyone who turns up their nose at the wrapping of a present is a hopeless snob, not to mention having spent too long out of the society of children.

I have two large paper Kohl's sacks in our office/library; one full of collapsed gift bags, the other full of folded tissue paper and wrapping paper, grouped by color.  They're mostly wedding and baby themed, because those are the two biggest gift-receiving events of our lives, but other than two rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, we have spent no money on gift wrap since we got married.  There are certain gift bags that have been popping up at nearly every birthday in my family for the last five years, and no one cares a bit!

2.  Bows and ribbons

I haven't seen bows much in recent years, but I always keep cloth ribbons.  Longer ones make good hair bows (Mr. T loves it when I tie a bow in my hair).  Shorter ones come in handy for craft projects or to embellish gifts.  Later this week I hope to create a Christmas stocking for Sunbeam using fabric I already have and decorated with ribbons that came off of presents.

3.  Boxes

Larger ones for storage, smaller ones for sorting, packaging, and shipping.  I can't count the number of times we've been searching high and low for a box to put a present in or send an Amazon sale.  I use shoe boxes in my pantry to compartmentalize seasoning packets, drink mixes, candy, baking chips -- anything that won't stand up by itself.  Also, I'm planning to make Sunbeam a cardboard kitchen for Christmas in a year or two.

4.  Jars and bottles

Glass jars -- like the kind spaghetti sauce, salsa, and jam come in -- are great for giving homemade treats.  I've used them to give homemade granola to friends.  There are also all kinds of ideas out there for cookies/cake/bread/soup in a jar (basically you just layer the dry ingredients and include a tag or label with instructions for what to add and how to cook it).  A Google search will yield various ideas for how to remove sticker residue, or you can just cover it with a label of your own.

I also use glass jars to store homemade sauces in the fridge, primarily homemade maple syrup.  I don't even know if it needs to be refrigerated, but I figure it's best to be safe.  And there are things all over Pinterest showing how to make candle holders and other projects out of jars.

Plastic jars (like peanut butter jars) are airtight and have the added benefit of being shatter-resistant.  You can use them for short-term food storage such as in the fridge or a lunch box, or use them for things like small pieces of things (pompoms, marbles, crayons).  And you may have seen the "calm down jar" making the Pinterest rounds; here's one rendition.  Sturdy clear plastic bottles (like vinegar, sports drink, or olive oil bottles) are good for making "discovery bottles" (see Familylicious and Pre-school Play for many great ideas).

5.  Plastic tubs

Like the kind yogurt or cottage cheese come in.  If I'm taking a meal to someone, I put side dishes in these and the person doesn't have to worry about returning them afterward.  And according to this blog, you can even remove the printing with 100% acetone (wash well afterward) and thus render them nicer-looking and fit for higher uses, such as upcycled toys.

6.  Fabric

I don't generally get random pieces of fabric dropped in my lap, but sometimes it comes in the form of creative gift wrapping and sometimes it turns up at our Relief Society sharing table (basically our own little local version of Freecycle).  And there are always usable bits of fabric left over at the end of a sewing project.  It's amazing how fabric that's cringe-worthy in and of itself becomes cute when it's made into something.  It's also amazing what you can do with fabric without ever cutting or stitching it.  For instance, last Halloween my costume consisted of a green bridesmaid dress that I already had, with two or three yards of gauzy, leaf-print material wrapped around it and safety-pinned (I was a dryad, a la Narnia or Fablehaven).

7.  Rubber bands, twist ties, bread bag clips

I always save these things, and I have a hard time imagining myself ever buying them.  The twist ties and bread clips are good for re-closing partially used bags of frozen veggies, dried beans, etc.  I also used twist ties to help reinforce some branches trimmed from the bottom of my parents' Christmas tree and made into a sort of wreath by my sister-in-law.

Everyone has uses for rubber bands.  Whenever I get one, I put it on my pantry doorknob.  One unconventional use I happened upon was as a makeshift bra extender during my pregnancy, when I couldn't afford to upgrade.

8.  Sturdy jugs

Not milk jugs, but the clear, tough kind that juice or soda comes in.  If you look at the little recycling symbol on the bottom, it should say "PETE" beneath the triangle.  These are good for taking water or Kool-aid along on picnics or road trips.  I mostly use them for emergency water storage, though.  I wash and rinse them out very well with a few drops of bleach, then fill them to the brim with cold tap water and close the lids tightly.  I write the date they were filled with permanent marker, and store them at the back of my under-stair closet (the place where the ceiling meets the floor).  In case of an emergency, such as an earthquake, that affected civic water service, you would want to have at least a gallon per person per day of potable water for drinking and preparing food.  When you add sanitation to the mix, you can see how it wouldn't take long to go through a couple dozen gallons.

9.  Grocery bags

When I was a kid, the baggers would always ask my mom, "Paper or plastic?"  Now, paper is not an option at any of my local grocery stores.  Pity, because those big paper bags were great for lots of things.  But their plastic counterparts also have many uses.  They work great as liners for small trash cans in bathrooms and bedrooms.  I wrap my shoes inside them when packing a suitcase, to prevent them from soiling my clothes.  They make great cushioning when packaging fragile objects.  I keep a couple in the diaper bag to quarantine diaper explosion fallout (i.e. poopy clothes) until I can get it home and into the laundry.  And, of course, they still work perfectly well for toting items that are not too heavy or spiny.

10.  Blank paper and cardboard

I worked at a bookstore for over four years before Sunbeam came along.  Often shipments of books would arrive with a sheet of plain, white paper between each book and its neighbors, to prevent the glossy dust jackets from sticking to each other.  My co-workers habitually threw those papers away, but whenever I was the one to unpack the books -- or whenever I could intervene when someone else was unpacking -- I would collect those beautiful white papers and take them home.  They became paper chains and snowflakes, goal charts on the fridge, birthday cards, and drawing pages.

Cardboard is great, too.  You can use it for anything that needs to be stronger than paper.  I laid one particularly stiff piece of non-corrugated cardboard across a wire shelf so I could place smaller objects on it without worrying about the gaps between the wires.  At a Young Women's activity we once made little memo books with cardboard covers wrapped in scrapbooking paper.  A good, strong, larger rectangle of cardboard can easily be made into a flannel board.

So, there you have it: my first blogging advice list.