Use What You Have

Efficiency has become a part of my being since the spring. Truth be told, I thought I was a productive member of my household and society before everything was shaken up and down and all around. I am no stranger to the belief that there is a silver lining with each season, present day included. Even though some days find us stretching a little bit more to see that sliver of silver, it is there, nonetheless. Families have gotten more flexible with schedules, creative with meals, innovative with learning, and adaptive with life in general.

We have spent more time at home than planned and explored our own city and state instead of traveling afar. While my positive takeaways from the past umpteen months are many, I keep coming back to a phrase that was most likely coined by one of my favorite businesswomen and philanthropist (and Real NY Housewife), Betheny Frankel: Use what you have. In context, she uses that phrase when it comes to helping communities, organizing an art project for her daughter, or concocting a happy hour cocktail at home. Even though she gives aid to struggling countries with each natural disaster and can make a mean skinny mojito, her words are relatable. Whether you are trying to keep kiddos engaged at home, aiming for healthier meals, wanting to make your dollar stretch farther, or simply become less wasteful, this phrase is for you.

We’ve all been there: staring at the insides of our refrigerator wondering what to make for dinner, who actually drinks all the milk, and how long those lettuce leaves can survive in the produce drawer. Food from the week before may take a backseat once the new curbside order arrives, and before you know it, you have a week’s worth of peaches, plain yogurt, and string cheese that seems to keep multiplying.

Those cucumbers that will most likely be mush in three days are screaming next to the plethora of homegrown tomatoes to be thrown together. Grab that bottle of olive oil and balsamic and toss them with your homegrown beauties and a few cheese sticks for good measure for a cool summertime salad. Take those peaches and yogurt and any other fruit whose time might be coming to an end, blend them together, and divide them into cups for the morning. Voilà––smoothies for all! Keep in mind that berries, lemons, and limes can always be infused in a pitcher of water for a refreshing take on an ordinary beverage. Use what you have.

If you have fallen into a mid-week lull with dinner options, lay out what you have been staring at in the fridge and have the kids do a “supermarket sweep” for a fun-filled, potluck kind of dinner. The abnormality of it all might just be the excitement they need to try that bite of zucchini you’ve been asking for since the beginning of time. With more people eating at home than ever before, your wallet will thank you for making all the chicken cutlets into a meal that can last three meals over the next week. Don’t forget about the sides either – that random potato can be transformed into home fries for breakfast or sweet potato fries with dinner or homemade chips for a weekend. Use what you have.

Over the past few months, our closets have undergone makeovers, facelifts, weight loss, and any other form of change you can imagine. We have made better use of the space, donated unwanted items to charity, passed outgrown toys and clothes to friends and younger family members, all the while trying to reevaluate what we actually need for the coming months or year and what we want. Come to find out, my son’s favorite play clothes involve a rotation of only 5 shirts and shorts. Despite the full drawer, those 5 are the ones he gravitates towards and would take to a deserted island if presented with the chance. With the green light from him and a happy heart from me, the rest of the shirts and shorts were lovingly passed along to a younger cousin. The extra space in the drawer granted me the chance to rearrange, which in turn freed up shelving space in the closet for the growing Lego cities that have zero endpoint to them. We used what we had, passed on to others, and rearranged in a way that makes sense for the season right now.

Cleaning products get me every time. If there is one category of item I *tend* to over purchase, it has to be the products that leave my house smelling like lemons and my counters as shiny a new babe’s bottom. The problem for me does not lie in my liking of the products as much as it deals with the frequency to which I purchase them. Common sense says that I only need to replace an item once I have used what was left in my possession. My cleaning cabinet will tell on me and say that the world according to Kathy calls ‘false’ on that statement, all the while holding lemon and lavender sprays in both hands. I didn’t need the threat of staying at home or coronavirus to overbuy on these products. But what I can work on is refraining from adding to the collection, consolidating my stash, and putting a little elbow grease into the mix in between house cleanings. Maybe that last cupful of floor cleaner is the push I need to tackle the hard to reach area behind the couches while being able to toss the empty container into the recycling bin. Win-win. Use what you have.

Scouring through cabinets in my house has a domino effect, which means no cabinet is safe. Discovering travel-size soaps, lotions, and other toiletries led me to question what I was thinking when purchasing all these teeny tiny bottles and when we will ever travel to faraway lands again. I can safely say that it will not be in the coming months, so those airplane-approved items can be better utilized in a blessing bag of sorts, along with the endless supply of granola bars our pantry has seemed to acquire. Not only are they finding a home somewhere other than my cabinet, but they will hopefully spark a little joy in someone’s day. Using what I know is needed (basic toiletries for those who don’t have any) with what I have too much of, is a winning combination.

There is no doubt that the past half year has taught us many life lessons about ourselves and our families. We have found ways to persevere through murky times and choose light among the darkness. Some of us have become scrappy while others fine-tuned ways of assessing wants versus needs. We have encouraged our kiddos to let their imaginations flow with the toys and tools from home and discovered that the most beautiful art projects can stem from a coffee filter, streamers, and googly eyes. We’ve reused, recycled, re-loved, and re-homed items to hopefully make someone else’s day brighter. To be honest, we have always possessed these capabilities.

Deep down we felt the overabundance but perhaps didn’t have the time to address or troubleshoot the issue. We recognize the areas of our hearts that could stand a little more attention but found an excuse to arrange our priorities in a different order. We delayed those much-needed projects at home until they were literally staring us in the face. However, we mamas know when a shift is needed. We feel it in our bones, thus proceeding with the nitty gritty steps to work on a solution. Regardless of the rooms in our house, the lotion in the bottles, the markers in the case or the strength in our hearts, let’s do what mamas do best and use what we have.


I’m a native Pittsburgher through and through, but transplanted to Texas with my superhero cape to teach elementary school. I am a proud Mama to a spirited girl (2011) and a laid back boy (2014) who keep my days full of laughter, Legos, books, and more stuffed animals than should be allowed. As a stay-at-home Mama, I am constantly yearning for new ways to engage their minds, hands, and bodies with the city and community around them, while stealing a run and a cup of coffee or two. I can be found at the local library for storytime; the park for an afternoon swing; either of their schools to lend a helping hand; and/or the local splash pad to escape the heat. I’m not hard to miss due to the donning of Steelers gear in the fall and Penguins attire in the spring. I welcome and thrive on new conversations, friendships, and methods of rearing little humans. Favorite Restaurant: Paloma Blanca Favorite Landmark: Any of the Missions around San Antonio Favorite San Antonio Tradition: It's a tie between The Texas Cavaliers River Parade and The Battle of Flowers Parade, both occurring during Fiesta. Viva!