Memories of a life of frugality and recycling

Published 9:22 am Thursday, August 27, 2015

Creative Connections by Sara Aeikens

Frugality, saving, not wasting, reusing and recycling to preserve our earth all represent actions from my growing up years, not reflected with words, but by example, passed through many previous generations of Midwestern farm-raised parents. A most obvious memory comes in the form of extremely short (some less than an inch!) stubby pencils with almost eradicated erasers hand-sharpened and saved for further use by my exam-correcting biology professor father.

This frugality belief system and practice extended to our household. Water from our kitchen sink faucet always flowed into a sturdy stainless steel dishpan, so the contents could be used to supplement periodic plant waterings both indoors and out. When our mother cut our hair, the trimmings all went to enrich and embellish perennial garden flowers.

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I recall using baking soda for teeth cleansing, and in this century I might be known to finish off an almost totally rolled up tube of tooth paste while other household members expend another complete tube during the same time period. The backsides of discarded pieces of paper most often found a home in a shelf or box for future scribblings, phone notes or kid colorings.

Yesterday’s newspapers wrapped, protected and cushioned saved objects for sharing later.

For my mother, an effective method of saving money and materials turned out to be through her Singer sewing machine. Yards of fabric found homes in her creations of quilts, clothing and even wedding attire. Hundreds of scraps became colorful designs in coverlets during her later years.

I am not alone in my history of frugality.

One woman in an exercise class told me her older sister got a handmade dress her mom crafted and then about seven years later, she received a skirt of the same fabric that mom had made just for her. Someone else mentioned their mother taking all the siblings together for a special yearly shopping spree at the local seed house for new wardrobes made of colorful feed sacks. A local laundromat employee gave me a couple of examples of how presently people are more inclined to leave unwanted clothes at laundromats with seemingly few thoughts of recycling. Yet the business is required to retain the items for a specific period of time before disposing of them.

Other exercise friends talked about cooking and food frugalities. One woman still smooths out her tin foil very flat, cleans it and reuses it. Reusing parchment paper and waxed paper from jello boxes and using leftover butter wrappers for greasing cookie sheets also came up as regular practices. Another person makes sure all the ketchup in the bottom of the “empty” bottle gets shaken with extra water and used for adding to casseroles.

Someone else recalled her dad repairing and sewing his own leather shoes while conversing, whereas today he might more likely be watching TV since they had neither TV or cell phones in the 1960s.

One person’s parents made sure their children did not litter on the ground or throw litter out of their car when going for a ride because the highway patrolmen gave fines the family couldn’t afford when the police caught someone throwing trash out their car window.

A story I enjoyed popped up because my parents took pride in our frugal and sleek 1948 Studebaker. My friend described how her dad recycled the hood from their Studebaker and tied it to their small tractor or lawnmower. Three or four siblings found fun in slick grass rides around their yard.

In leaving my exercise group I paused to speak with a 5-year-old boy near our coffee table.

He clearly knew about recycling and frugality. He explained how he’d like to have a “recycle grabber” in a kid-size just for him so he can pick up trash. This reminded another woman nearby how she never got an allowance but received payment for harvesting the family strawberry patch regularly which helped her use her earnings wisely, some on candy, of course.

My favorite memory for my collection of recycled memories came from my husband. He recalled his own dad made sure to take every bit of meat off farm pigs he butchered, except for the squeal. I found out later my husband recycled that saying from an ad he heard but I smiled and still appreciate the humorous recycling story.


Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.