Tips for spending less money and putting less crap in landfills

I haven’t written a post quite like this before because I like to be very careful about how I talk about social and environmental issues. Words can be politically polarizing and I don’t like to be labeled an environmentalist because the label dismisses the other parts of my identity and the economic and social impacts of the way that Sean and I choose to live.

Thanks to Westwick Dreaming for the bounce over to My Make Do And Mend Year and for reminding me that it’s important to share these things. In the spirit of reusing, recycling and repurposing, this post lists some of the simple things that we do at the homestead, in addition to buying local, to minimize the stuff we throw in a landfill and the money that we contribute to businesses that don’t match our values:

Part 1: Recycling, Repurposing

  1. Sponges: I cut a corner off of a dish-sponge and it becomes a counter sponge. I cut a second corner off and it becomes a floor/nastiness sponge. After that, I throw it into a container on the back porch and it becomes an outdoor sponge. Sometimes the progression is shortened or modified depending on the needs of the moment, but the principle works well. This was inspired by the dish-sponge, bulkhead-sponge, sole-sponge, head-sponge progression I learned in my weeks with Ocean Classroom in middle school.
  2. Old rubber scraper: It became brittle and the end began to disintegrate, but instead of throwing it away, we hung it on a nail by the chicken fence and now use it to scrape out containers of nasty goop on its way into chicken-bellies.
  3. Packing materials: we keep a bag of them in our storage room and delight in mailing them back to our friends and family.
  4. Recycling: A lot of folks in our area don’t recycle. Even the progressive young teachers that we spend most of our time with are daunted by the absence of a curbside recycling service in our community and wind up discarding hundreds of pounds of recyclables each year. Sean and I use a set of three Rubbermaid tubs that fit in the trunk of our car. As one fills up, we pull it onto the porch and bring in another. We rinse our recyclables before throwing them in the tubs, which prevents critters from taking an interest and unpleasant odors from developing. We dump the tubs when we make trips to the city. Usually, this system works fairly smoothly, though we do occasionally produce too much recycling between trips.
  5. Clothes: if they’re good quality, we donate them, but if they’re too torn or stained, we toss them in my rag tub. I use them as cleaning rags or to make patches, potholders, and new seats for old chairs. I may also use small scraps in lieu of twine to build trellises and tie tomatoes. I saved the pockets from my old overalls and I’m planning to nail them up in our tool-storage area to use for small tools and bits of hardware.
  6. Tissue paper, gift bags and wrapping paper: I use wallpaper glue and make pretty lanterns with the tissue paper we save. Otherwise, this stuff gets folded neatly and stuffed in a drawer to be used next holiday.
    Pig Lantern
  7. Twist-ties and bread-tags: Stored in the junk drawer, these things come in handy from time-to-time. A bread-tag can be used to extend the life of a flip-flop when the strap pulls through the sole.
  8. Plastic grocery bags: We use these for covering bowls of rising dough, harvesting and storing greens, and in the place of paper towels for picking up dead mice and frogs that the cats dragged in. Thanks to the grocery store, we have never bought garbage bags: I stuck wall-hooks to our trash-can and they keep grocery bags from slipping into the bin when they grow full. Between composting and recycling, we don’t make a lot of trash, so this bag size works well for us.


    A photograph would have been actually gross, because the cupboard under our sink is a scary, scary place.

  9. Paper grocery bags: I store packing materials, clothes that aren’t in season, craft materials, and overflow recycling in these. They also make good table-covers for messy projects.
  10. Feed Bags: One of these on the porch makes a great trash-bag. They also make drop-cloths for painting, skinning or other messy projects.
  11. Egg Cartons: We use them over and over for our eggs. These would also make good packing materials if we were ever to run out.
  12. Yogurt containers, cans and peanut-butter jars:  I sort bits of hardware or rubber bands or twist ties into these, or use the lidded yogurt containers as backup tupperware.
  13. Jugs from vinegar or detergent: These make great scoops for feed.
  14. Compost: it’s easy and as a bonus, our trash never smells like garbage.

Part 2: Making from scratch

  1. Soap: We use the lard from our pigs to make bar soap. I often use the bar soap to wash my hair, and it can be grated to powder and mixed with borax and baking soda for use as laundry detergent. Liquid hand soap is easy to make out of the odd ends of the grated bars or bits scraped out of the pot: just add water and allow the soap to dissolve.
  2. Trellises: Bamboo (not to be mistaken for the native cane) is not indigenous to the forest here, so I feel no qualms about harvesting poles for trellising our tomatoes, cukes, peas and other climbing or trailing plants. I simply pound some canes into the ground and tie cross-bars to these uprights to provide support for my crops.
  3. Food: obviously, we grow a lot of food ourselves. I’m not sure this has saved us much money, (we’ve spent a lot on infrastructure in the past few years) but it helps us cut back on packaging materials that we have to throw away, and contributes to reducing emissions from shipping and chemical use in industrial agriculture.

Part 3: Minimizing by borrowing, buying used, or buying quality

  1. Books: I read a lot, and instead of buying books I go to the library or download for free. I pay a membership fee to use the library in Memphis, and it’s absolutely worth it. Supporting artists is important to me, but I’m not sure how to do this most effectively when it comes to authors: I don’t want a larger cut of my purchase going to a chain store or Amazon if I can help it. For now, I’m sticking with supporting libraries.
  2. Clothes: My clothes come almost exclusively from Goodwill and moving-out piles. This arrangement suits me because I don’t feel guilty discarding something that I don’t love as much as I thought I would if I hardly spent any money on it.
  3. Food Storage: We bought a set of pyrex containers that will last into the next century and totally eliminates the Tupperware-lid-matching problem.
  4. Furniture: Our furniture is all used or homemade, which I’m extremely proud of. It’s not all beautiful and it doesn’t match, but who cares? We’ll upgrade when we’re ready, probably piece by piece as I learn to refurbish nifty old stuff.
  5. Farm Equipment and Appliances: From lightbulbs to fencing, Sean does his research to make sure it’s durable, effective, and energy-efficient before we purchase anything new. We also get away with borrowing a lot of these items from our wonderful neighbors. Gifts of pork and garden veggies make these arrangements mutually beneficial.

Anything cool that I should be doing and haven’t thought of yet?

3 thoughts on “Tips for spending less money and putting less crap in landfills

  1. That is such a great list and I’m so proud I put you on to My Make Do and Mend Year – it is a great blog.

    I love the idea of cutting the corners off the sponges. That is genius! Also I’m so impressed you make all your own furniture. DIY is not one of our strong points and something Josh and I are working hard to learn at the moment.

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