When I was growing up, the "turn-the-lights-off-when-you-leave-the-room-and-don't-leave-the-water-running" mentality was firmly engrained in my being (probably more from a money-saving standpoint than a conservationist standpoint). As I grew up, I stuck with this mentality and when I got to college, something in me totally snapped (blame being broke (sidebar: I used to use my apartment complex's free standup tanning bed in the winter to get warm and not have to turn up the thermostat (sorry, skin)), taking online classes, and having unlimited time and access to Discovery Channel and Animal Planet), but I became totally hooked on conserving resources, re-using everything that I could possibly re-use, and
Anyway, living in Germany re-kindled my conservation efforts, simply because I had less access to "things" and for 3 months, I wasn't working, so I had less cash to spend on stuff and after a few years of this lifestyle, active conservation became a way of life again.
Cue my move back to the US and as I wrote a few days ago, I'm totally overwhelmed by the extreme consumerism and "throw away" mentality of this country. I'm honestly having a hard time dealing with it. In my mom's house alone, there's always at least one TV turned on (there are 7 in the house and only 2 people usually live here) and there are always a ton of extra lights turned on and the ceiling fans run 24/7 in each room (except for mine). It makes me crazy. When my mum pulled out crock pot liners before we prepped dinner the other night, saying that they were "The greatest thing ever" I was a bit flabbergasted. While they DID make cleanup easy, it was just one more plastic bag to be used once and then tossed in a landfill.
And so, because I feel the need to be an ambassador of sustainable living here, I've compiled a list of super random things that I do to make full use of stuff and not let anything to to waste. Take 'em (please) or leave 'em (please try not to). Here we go!
: Stale bread? Dry it out and turn it into croutons or bread crumbs for cooking!
: Don't want to buy Ziplock (or similar) storage bags? Cool. Don't! If you buy cotton balls, when the bag is empty, hold onto it! Most of them zip just as well as brand name zip bags! Oh, and if you do buy bags... as long as what you put inside of them doesn't leak, you can reuse them until they fall apart. I've been using the same 3 freezer bags for about 5 years and they're still going strong!
: Clumpy mascara? Let it soak in hot water for about 5 minutes to loosen up the clumps. If this doesn't work, add a few drops of water to the container, shake it up and voila! You're clump free!
: Pick up some bar soap at a hotel? Hold onto it! It's so underrated! It works just as well as shower gel and if you have a mesh bag or a shower loofah that you can tuck your bar soap into, it suds up just like shower gel. If the bar gets dried out towards the end of it's life, use a cheese grater to shred it down and use the soap flakes.
: Got some old candles? Love Woodwick candles? Did you know that you can make your own Woodwick candles at home? Melt down your old candles and use wooden coffee stirrers as a wick!
: Re-use birthday candles. For real. They're lit for all of a minute. You can easily crank 2-3 birthdays out of a set of candles without anyone really noticing that the candles have been previously used.
: Save your glass spice jars. They're great for transporting salad dressing to work for lunch! No need to buy a special new container or tote your big salad dressing bottle. This is also great if you make your own salad dressing and need easy storage for it! Old pasta sauce jars are good for this too, if you make a big batch.
: Piggy backing off of the last tip: save your old pasta sauce jars! We use ours to serve drinks when we have people over. Drinking from them makes me feel like a hipster (and I love it), plus they produce zero plastic waste. Goodbye, Solo cups! These jars are also great for candles, homemade bath products, and those fun "cookie mix in a jar" things that always go around on Pinterest as gift ideas before the holidays.
: If you happen to take food away from a restaurant, much of the time these days, they'll give it to you in a nice solid plastic container. Hold onto these! Noodles & Co. has great takeaway containers that I've been able to hold onto and reuse for years. I like to use them to hold marinating meat, but they're also great after Thanksgiving when your family wants leftovers. You can pack entire meals in them for your peeps to take away and they don't have to worry about washing and returning Tupperware to you!
: Get mail? End up with a stack of flyers from work or whatever? Do they happen to be blank on one side? Flip it over and cut it into notepads for scratch paper! If you still can't make the switch to making lists electronically, this is a great way to continue using a resource that someone else already started using. Remember to recycle when you're list has been all checked off!
: If you're not a list-maker, you can shred junk mail to use as packing material.
: If you're not in the market for packing material, but are a bit crafty and have a hole punch and some free time (or kids you want to keep busy) decorate your paper and punch it to make confetti!
: Got a ton of greeting cards? Cut off and save (or recycle) the side with the personal message and use the front part with the picture as a gift tag or post card. I have a huge stock of these that I use as teacher thank you notes or pop into a gift! It's a huge money saver that also happens to be eco-friendly!
: This tip is more geared towards teachers or people with young kiddos, but those one-use containers from things like applesauce, TV dinners, and Oreos can make great art supply containers. Use applesauce cups for water paints or turn them into sorting containers for little kiddos. TV dinner trays are also great for sorting or can be used to store crayons (oh, and melt down your old crayon stubs in a muffin tin for some super fun, easy-to-hold crayons for tiny humans!) or markers. Oreo or other cookie trays are also great for sorting activities or storage for things like colored pencils, paintbrushes, and chalk sticks. Why spend ton of extra cash at the Container Store when you can re-purpose?
: Oh, and if you buy milk in cartons like the one in the photo above, it's an absolute snap to create a bird feeder. You can definitely turn it into a family art project, but we didn't have any other supplies handy and kind of got a kick out of watching birds snack out of our old milk container!
I do hope that these tips are helpful! They are super random, but it is my wish that they've helped ya'll to look at the items you have in your house a bit differently so that you can give things new life before dumping them into a landfill!