I was very lucky to have grandparents who lived through the Boer War, the 1st World War and the 2nd World War and parents who lived through the latter two. They all knew how to be economical which nowadays translates as ecological and sustainable.
Grandma used to use an old baked bean can, put holes in the bottom and then put all the ends of used soap in it. This she would then swill around in the water to create washing up liquid, thereby wasting nothing. She also used to get the nylon pan scrubs (that looked a bit like the copper ones pictured below) unravel them, then re-knit them to make squares. These became very durable- two or three years minimum was their life span and was a great way to make the pan scrubs last much longer.
Old scraps of cloth she cut into tiny strips and woven into canvas to create beautiful rag rugs, scraps of wool would be used to thread into tapestry covers for chairs or to create cushions. Furniture was lovingly polished weekly and looked after so that a piece of furniture lasted a life time… she would have been horrified by the throw away society we have created nowadays.
My mum hardly threw anything a way either. When shirts, old knickers or teeshirts became too holey to wear, she would rip them into squares for rags to use for polishing or dusting. Old jam jars were washed and refilled with the following years home-made jam, old pop bottles would be washed out and filled with home-made lemonade, old toothbrushes were used to clean tiny corners that only small headed bristle could get into. Peelings would be composted, left over food re-combined into a new meal for the next day, milk bottle tops saved for the guide dogs fund raiser and of course milk was delivered by the milkman so the bottles were recycled daily. Shopping was packed into her own reusable shopping bags and fruit and veg piled into the basket with no bags and no wastage of packaging.
I have followed many of her tips in my own life and learnt a few more of my own along the way. I refill my washing up liquid in big 5 litre containers from the refill shop. It’s pure soap and doesn’t hurt and split my hands when I use it. I also use it for refilling old soap dispensers, which I add a few drops of essential oils to create a lovely smelling hand wash. It’s been brilliant with all the recent handwashing, my hands don’t hurt as much as when I have to use the commercial stuff in school and outside.
Old coffee tins are purloined by my husband to be used to store drill bits, screws, nuts bolts, nails- they are brilliant containers.
As you can see we get through a lot of coffee, so I use old coffee jars to refill with food items from the refill shop, such as pulses, nuts, dried fruit… the list goes on and on.
I was really thrilled when the up-cycling movement started up a few years ago. Old furniture is so much better made than the stuff they make nowadays. Our son’s chest of drawers in his room is solid as anything and a piece of the ‘Utility’ furniture made during and after the 2nd World War. We’ve up-cycled my Mum’s old kitchen cabinet and also another old kitchen cabinet that we purchased from a friend. The wood is oak, underneath all the paint and polishes up beautifully.
However the queen of up-cycling furniture is my Instagram friend anamcara2018 she is so creative and has some brilliant ideas. Her posts are very amusing and always give me a good laugh, but if you want to go straight to her up-cycling page here’s a link:
Another of my friend’s has a beautiful website that shows her up-cycling of cherished materials in to lovely bags and purses. She has a very inspiring story on there as to how she started doing it which is very moving and well worth a read. https://www.cherished.me.uk/
If you google up-cycling there’s many more amazing ideas that people have shared.
When I was in India in 1978-9 I couldn’t believe how brilliant the people were at re-using everything. We could learn a lot from them. The streets were packed with people working on the pavements, reusing things to create new objects. It was done out of poverty and necessity but it showed me how amazingly inventive humans can be. Two things in particular stuck in my mind. Old tin roof tiles were re cut, reshaped and created into amazing children’s toys, whilst every sort of paper, from newspapers, to magazines to old journals were carefully folded and glued to create paper bags. These are just two examples but there were many many more. Maybe these modern artists were inspired by similar ideas?
It’s all about changing our mind set. Instead of looking at something and thinking, “Oh this is worn out or even I don’t want this any more, I must throw it away,” we need to be creative. Look at the object. Okay it is no good for the function you bought it for now but what else would it be useful for? Being creative and thinking outside the box is great fun. Maybe post it on social media and ask for suggestions- you never know what might be created as a result… (even the rude suggestions might give you a laugh if nothing else…) Enjoy the process, life is as fun as we make it.« Back to blog page