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In this era of ever-increasing prices on, well, everything, it’s important to get the most value out of the money we do have to spend. In the world of being a thrifty mom and living the Survival Mom lifestyle, experienced moms effortlessly turn everyday items into useful stuff. For those new to this, I’ll share 20 things I never throw away because they’re super handy. From kitchen stuff to regular things at home, these items do more than you’d think. Let’s explore how to use things wisely, where nothing’s thrown away, and everything can have a second life.
Why Using Items Wisely Is Important
Reducing waste and reusing items emphasizes strategic preparedness. By finding multiple uses for items and repurposing resources, preppers make sure their things last a really long time and use them in the smartest way they can. This mindset fosters adaptability and resourcefulness, essential qualities in the unpredictable scenarios preppers aim to navigate. Basically, repurposing things and cutting down on waste is a fundamental step in building a strategy for becoming more self-reliant.
- 2-liter bottles, gallon vinegar jugs, etc. Use to store water (room temperature or frozen). Be sure to date and rotate every six months. You can also use the 2-liter soda bottles to store foods like rice, oats, cornmeal, and other dried foods. Use a funnel to help with the filling, stamp the bottle several times as you fill to help with settling the food, and then add 1 small oxygen absorber just before you cap the bottle for storage.
- Huge coffee containers. I refill with whatever needs to be moved into rotation: brown sugar, instant oats, flour, powdered milk. These fit into my everyday pantry a lot easier than 5-gallon buckets, and they aren’t nearly as heavy and bulky. I can also fit about a dozen Ramen Noodle packages into one to make them less accessible for my tiny, four-legged nemeses. By the way, if you’re a coffee lover AND into food storage, you should take a look at buying green coffee beans. They last far longer than roasted coffee beans and ground coffee.
- Plastic peanut butter jars. The large ones can nicely fit a couple of bags of split peas, chick peas, or other bean varieties I don’t usually buy in bulk. Or, if I’m moving longer-term food into rotation, that is, to begin using up food that has been in storage for a while, these are perfect (and I can see what’s in them). Also great for storing treats like freeze-dried corn (which the kids eat like candy!), venison jerky, chunks of rock candy, or opened pretzels. I hate when that half-eaten bag goes stale!
- Plastic food tubs. Perfect for leftovers, especially ones I’m sending home with guests. I also use the tiny sour cream tubs to store homemade lotions and my fledgling attempts at homemade yogurt. They’re also nice for dividing up paint and paste for craft project because tossing them is cleanup.
- Empty spice jars. Refill with your own dried herbs at the end of the growing season and refill with spices bought in bulk.
- Fancy wine, vinegar, or other glass bottles. I make my own fruit-flavored vodkas with the cheapest, bottom-shelf stuff. Then I pour it into pretty red wine vinegar bottles, attach a recipe for a fancy drink, and give as hostess gifts. Fun meets frugal.
- Mason Jar boxes. Okay, I’m probably not a genius, but I sure felt like one when I discovered this. I almost feel like I should whisper it to you. If you slice the plastic wrapper down the very middle and just slide the new Mason jars out the slit, you can restock the box with filled jars, label the side of the box with masking tape, and stack as high as you dare. The boxes are pretty stable, especially with the added support of the stretched-tight plastic. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying those plastic storage stackers.
- Cardboard. Yes, you can store linens and off-season clothes, BUT you can also store valuables at the bottom, label the box “winter sweaters” or whatever, and stack that box at the very back and bottom of the closet until you can afford that 36-gun safe. I’ll bet no burglar is going to rummage through your sweater box.
- Baby food jars. We don’t have babies anymore, but the jars are still in faithful service. My husband screwed the lids into a scrap of 2×4 wood, which he then mounted to the wall of the garage. The top is a storage shelf. He can unscrew the jars from the lids to access the screws, nuts, bolts, nails, and other things stored in the jars, which he can see without rummaging through drawers. He could actually be a genius. (Tip: Use two screws instead of one; our prototype featured jars that spun in a circle every time we tried to unscrew them.)
- Bacon Fat. It just makes everything taste better! Strain it through a rubber-band-secured cheesecloth into a canning jar, and some Southern cooks swear you can keep it forever. Mine never lasts longer than the next pot of beans, jar of green beans, or fried egg breakfast.
- Chicken carcass. We love the homemade broth for chicken noodle soup the next day. When I’m feeling ambitious, I freeze or can my own broth for later use.
- The bottom thing you cut off of celery stalks. I tried this last summer, and it seemed to work until the sun baked everything in the garden. You can actually grow celery!
- Everything else. Compost or supplement your animals’ feed. You can also put scraps of veggies in a freezer bag, freeze until you have 4-5 cups of scraps, and then make your own vegetable stock for soups and other recipes.
- Egg crates. First, I used them to store fresh eggs. Then I poked holes in the bottoms of the Styrofoam kind, filled with potting soil, and used them to start seedlings. Lots of folks are willing to save these for you.
- Dryer lint. A few dryer cycles is all you need. Store the lint in a Ziploc baggie and toss into your bug-out bag or with your camping gear. You have instant fire-starting material with almost zero weight and very little room if you squeeze out most of the air. Safe fire starting is just one of many important outdoor/wilderness skills to know, and something as simple as saving and using dryer lint is easy!
- Newspaper. So many uses! Shredded up, we use it to mulch the garden. We keep it to start wood fires and do paper mache crafts. We wrap Christmas ornaments for storage and dry windows with it at car wash fundraisers. The kids make origami hats and torment the cats with it. Occasionally, we read it first.
- Outgrown clothes. I admire those of you who can turn clothes you no want into lovely quilts. The rest of us just send them to the consignment store for extra cash or donate to worthy causes (or cousins). I salvage the buttons from clothes too stained to pass on and use to repair current items or complete craft projects.
- Outgrown toys. Whether it’s the church daycare, Goodwill, the Disabled American Veterans, or the Make-a-Wish foundation, someone is bound to do good things with the toys we no longer enjoy. If they’re washable, toss them in the dishwasher for a good sanitizing wash.
- Labels. We save box tops, Campbell’s labels, and Capri Sun pouches because our public school gets cash for them. In addition, I keep the recipe suggestions from many packages and file with the rest in my recipe card box.
- Hair clippings. Okay, I don’t actually cut my family’s hair and keep the clippings; I had to ask for some from my own beautician. But either way, you really can sprinkle some clippings on new garden shoots to keep the deer at bay.
- Hardware. Even small item like bolts and screws could be used for repairs and building. Store them in those plastic container you’re saving. You are saving them, right?
What items do you always hang onto? My grandma, who grew up during the Great Depression, had a knack for reusing things like “tin foil” and collecting rubber bands and twist ties in margarine tubs—stuff many of us simply throw away. Reflecting on the Great Depression, have you ever thought about the valuable lessons from that era? One of my most popular posts, “Could You Stomach These Great Depression Meals?” explores how people back then truly understood the importance of reusing, recycling, and making do with what they had.
What things do you never throw away? There are a lot of great thoughts in the comments. Share yours!
Originally published January 22, 2013.