Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remember: Living With What We Have

When all of this COVID-19 “fun” began, folks were flocking to the stores, stocking up (we’re using this term versus hoarding, but if you bought 47 packages of toilet paper, that’s not stocking up.)

Not going to lie – we added quite a few supplies ourselves. We stocked up and hunkered down. Then the frenzy calmed. And we were home staring at that stash. I looked at our pantry, our closets and our shelves and shook my head. As I sorted through things, the bounty we had slapped me in the face.

Before we stocked up, our shelves were far from bare. We just tend to go for the newest, shiniest, yummiest-sounding thing versus using up what was already there. Random jar of you name it, still in there. Along with all sorts of bottles, cans, and boxes that we hadn’t used. Hence the discovery of Bisquick marked “Best by 2017″.

As I pulled the older items forward, I shook my head at the waste. Wasted time shopping. Wasted money on things we hadn’t used. Wasted resources that were headed to the landfill.

The average American throws out nearly a pound of food a day. And yet grocery store shelves were empty, people were hoarding all sorts of things, and, of course, there were—and are—lines and lines of people in need of food. And that food insecurity has increased exponentially as COVID closures have hit our economy.

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They say that stockpiling toilet paper, bottled water, and all of the other things people were drawn to was actually an attempt to gain control over what was going on. I decided to take control a different way, by making use of everything we had. Rather than throw things out or buy something else, I looked for ways to use things up.

REDUCE

I decided to reduce what we bought by better using what we already had. Rather than fill my online shopping carts, I tackled what we already had with a renewed passion.

It makes so much sense now.

When my grandmother passed away years ago, we questioned the bread bags and twisty ties she had saved, not to mention used wrapping paper and more. She was a child of the Depression. Flash forward to COVID and I marveled at her resourcefulness.

The graveyard of almost empties I was determined to drain.

I deboned chickens and saved the meat for soups. I cooked down the chicken bones to make stock. I washed and re-used aluminum foil. No more plastic bags: reusable containers rule. Almost empty containers were turned upside down to get every last drop and tubes were cut in half to squeeze out anything and everything that might remain.

That pantry full of packages became a game. What could I make? Googling recipes became an obsession as I found what I could make with what we had. Rather than let something go to waste, I’d find a recipe that put it to use. Cookies made from refrigerated pie crust? Sure. Using up the milk before it hit its expiration date and using that Bisquick by making a custard pie? No problem. A cake with no eggs, milk, or butter? Bring it on! Croissants made from crescent roll dough and old jam? Not exactly Paris, but they were pretty good.

A Bisquick pie that worked even with “old” Bisquick.

Along with recipes, I started researching. Turns out that many of the product dates are just that: guidelines, not a hard and fast rule. Before you think I was putting questionable food on the table, there are guidelines detailing what all of those “Best By” labels mean—and what should be tossed when. There’s even an app to help identify how long something can be stored, even after it’s open and taking up shelf space in your refrigerator. And crystalized honey? Soften it in the microwave and use it anyway: honey never goes bad.

REUSE

I already mentioned the aluminum foil. But I found myself inspecting everything before it was discarded. Could we find another way to use that milk jug? Why yes, it can become a bird feeder. (Bonus: an activity that keeps kids entertained!) Yogurt containers became flower pots, growing seeds we saved from a bell pepper. That potato that decided to sprout eyes? We planted it. Sadly, I couldn’t get my avocado seeds to grow, but I’ll keep trying.

It’s not pretty, but it’s been popular with the birds.

Cleaning out old t-shirts gave me new dusting rags and since we decided to wash our car at home, we put other old rags to use scrubbing. We gathered old towels and earmarked them for donation to Animal Care Services. A stack of old books is headed to our library store, where they’ll be sold to earn money for the library.

Organizing the bathroom cabinet, I found myself shaking my head again as I came across bottles and jars of unused cosmetics and toiletries. I have ridiculously sensitive skin and a lot of products just don’t work for me. And there they were, staring back at me. But rather than throw them out, I repurposed them.

Use it up before throwing it out.

The face cream that made me break out? Turns out it made a great foot moisturizer. Ditto on the lip balm that made my lips itch. My feet were never softer. That hair serum I didn’t like? It gave me a natural wave and a different look that worked for days spent in quarantine. Random samples I’d squirreled away? They got trotted out and used. If my skin broke out, it’s not like anyone was going to see me, right? I used them up, helping my regular products last longer, and kept them out of the landfill.

RECYCLE

As we cleaned things out—and continue to—I find myself looking for ways to repurpose everything or find it a new home. Like everyone else, we turned an area of our home into a space for distance learning. Rather than buy new, we scoured our closets to see what would work. With a husband in IT, we had an old laptop to get online, as well as a mouse and even a keyboard.

That same closet cleanout yielded other old computers that we were able to update and share with other families who needed something for their kids. At a time when laptops were hard to find, it was a great way to use what we weren’t. And we weren’t alone:  neighborhood groups trading/swapping items became the rage during lockdown.

A found can of spray paint let me refresh some metal garden décor and sorting through forgotten items in our shed unearthed pots and other pieces we added to our outdoor space.

A red cookie tin became home for art supplies in our new learning center and a free calendar some real estate agent had mailed us became how we tracked due dates. When it became easier necessary for me to move my workspace to the other end of the dining room table to answer the million questions that arose from distance learning, I turned an old headset into my version of noise-cancelling headphones.

And when we couldn’t find hand sanitizer? I used aloe vera and alcohol to make our own. And it felt good to be making do with what we had.

REMEMBER

As I was organizing things, I realized how much we had that I didn’t remember. Sure, there’s stocking up, but when you’re buying something because you didn’t realize you already had it? That’s another issue.

One of my favorite products is a local skin care line, In the Weeds Natural Skin Care, an ACM Favorite Thing from 2017. Alamo City Moms is actually who got me hooked on In the Weeds and when it’s time to repurchase, I always buy two or three of my favorites at the same time so I don’t run out. But I found a crazy stash I’d mistakenly hoarded. Oops.

I’ll definitely love using it, but that’s where REMEMBER comes in. I realized that when the hustle and bustle and craziness of everyday life came to a screeching COVID halt, my focus returned. I was able to better organize our things and honestly, better use what we had. There was no more haste. I had time to make lists and track what we had. I stopped grabbing something I thought we needed and actually checked to see what we had that we could use before I bought something new.

It’s not that we couldn’t buy more, it’s that I didn’t want to. As things relaxed and toilet paper returned to store shelves, I realized that the sense of control I had was also a sense of peace—and prosperity. By better using what we already had, I was saving money that we could repurpose. I was doing my part to make a dent in our overflowing landfills and being kinder to our environment. I was teaching my son to be more responsible and resourceful.

And I’m pretty sure my grandmother would be proud.

 

Dawn
An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food

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