As I repaired my mother’s quilt, it became obvious that I would have to re-quilt it. The thread she had used to quilt it initially had disintegrated in places; to skip that step would defeat the entire purpose of repairing it.
I had a problem with completing that task. In order to quickly quilt it, I needed to use the machine but I didn’t have a quilting guide that would allow me to get the stitching somewhat straight. I headed online, determined to purchase one…
…but then I caught myself. Was there a way to make something that would work? I asked myself. My goal is to limit, and eventually eliminate my reliance on corporations. Thrift shops are closed, so the hope of finding a used quilting guide was slim to none, but could I make something instead?
A paperclip and some creative bending later, I crafted a device that allowed me to do what I needed. I crafted a quilting guide using an item I already had.
I came extremely close to buying one, not because I didn’t have the skills to make something that would work, but out of sheer habit. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we need to buy the solutions to our problems. I’ve been conditioned to that as well. I can remember during my childhood how those around me secretly made fun of people who solved problems and created items using the stuff they already possessed. That experience affected me more than I realized, and I suspect that it’s affected you as well.
I remember my grandfather getting secretly teased for using old leather belts to make hinges and clasps for doors and gates. I remember my aunties getting teased for knitting and crocheting scarves and hats for Christmas.
“Too cheap to buy something so they’ve got to pass out that nasty handmade crap,” I remember overhearing one person say.
I remember wondering why store-bought clothing seemed to be made funny until I got older and realized that they’d altered the construction process to accommodate their equipment. I remember the commercials and movies that defined those who made things by hand as being extremely poor or eccentric.
And now I realize just how deep that programming, the programming of generations, runs within us all.
A paperclip. That’s all I needed to devise something that met my needs. In time, I could fashion a piece of wire clothes hanger to make a larger one if I wanted to quilt in wider gaps, and I don’t need to buy anything to make it; I’ve got everything I need to make one right here.
I want you to think about that the next time you stumble upon a problem and immediately think to head online or to a store. I want you to think about how you have been programmed to buy the solutions to your needs.
I want you to think about that, because the marketers are being paid to program us to buy stuff instead of making it ourselves. They want us to buy because that is what makes them rich. That is what allows them to hole up in the Hamptons while they order us to work in contaminated factories despite the risk to ourselves and our family members.
They don’t care if we catch Covid and die. They don’t care if the processes they use harm us or the earth around us.
We have literally became sacrifices upon the altar of their Money God, and only we have the power to stop them.
All we have to do is stop buying their stuff.
I’m not going to say that it’s easy. We have a lifetime of programming to overcome, and even this eccentric old woman is struggling. But if we just stop and think about things, perhaps we can devise solutions that don’t involve giving them our money, and every time we do that we win.
A paperclip became a quilting guide. A plastic milk jug or butter bowl can become flower pots. A bit of string can turn a recycled jug into a hanging planter. An unwanted lid can catch the water from those pots even.
An unraveled sweater in our closet can be used to create socks, hats, mittens, scarves, bed coverings, or a number of other items. A sheet can be turned into a dress, a curtain, a quilt backing, or any number of things. Belts can be used for lightweight hinges or converted into pet collars. Even old computers can be brought back to life and used to surf the Internet.
There are so many things we can do with the items we already have, but they don’t want us to know that. They want us to buy everything we need and toss that old stuff instead.
It’s reached the point where I honestly wonder if the Minimalism movement has been hijacked by the corporations. Think about it: if we reduce our possessions to the bare minimum by discarding or donating our excess, what will we have to do when the items we keep wear out?
We have to buy new, that’s what we have to do.
I am proud of myself for devising a solution to my quilting dilemma. I solved my problem by using something I already had, and I didn’t give the corporations an extra penny, since I already owned the paperclip in question. Now I am looking around my home with fresh eyes as I ask myself what else I own that I can repair or create using the items I already have.
Have you ever considered the value of making things yourself? Have you ever solved a problem by creating something instead of buying a solution? Do you have any tips to share that will make it easier? Please share your stories in the comments below.
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“Here you go, Mom!” Katie dropped a stack of tee shirts on the kitchen table. “Cut these up so we will have them ready. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get more towels or toilet paper at the store so we may have to switch over soon.”
“Okay,” I replied as I picked my jaw up from where it had fallen on the table. The older she had gotten, the more she had grown to prefer using disposable paper products. We had been debating their use intermittently over the years. I wanted to go with cloth to reduce expense and our environmental footprint. Katie wanted the convenience of disposability. To see my modern child actively encouraging me to switch to cloth after arguing against it for so many years speaks volumes for the times we currently live in.
And I have a confession to make. I’ve never in my life experienced a time when we could not buy things like paper towels and bathroom tissue. Aside from my switch to family cloth before my move here, the only time I’d ever had to experiment with alternate sources of paper towels and bathroom tissue was when visiting the homes of friends in the mountains. Back then, quite a few people lacked access to indoor plumbing. While almost everyone had running water, outhouses were common, and within the outhouses of older folk you would see corn cobs, stacks of newspapers, and the occasional catalog (typically a Sears catalog) in lieu of the bathroom tissue that is ubiquitous today.
People thought I was insane when I switched to family cloths and menstrual pads. Even I thought I was going a bit overboard when I did that but I wanted to experiment so I did. Now I’m beginning to wonder if we all might have to switch.
That frightens me. The thought that our world has changed so much that things I’ve grown up with, things I’ve taken for granted may no longer be available scares me in a way I cannot explain.
To prevent myself from going insane (I’ve got people who used to make fun of me pestering me for advice now!), I’ve had to start reframing how I look at our current situation. If we look at this a bit differently, look at this from another angle instead of thinking about the fact that we are doing these things out of necessity, I believe it will remove at least some of the feelings of deprivation and make this entire situation a creative challenge.
But how do you reframe the fact that the shelves are growing rather empty at the stores? How do you reframe the fact that things you took for granted are disappearing?
I thought long and hard about that during our last shopping trip the other day. I stocked up even more than I’d planned, spending $200 on canned goods and other shelf-stable items as I felt the fear mount at the sight of the empty shelves. The kid must have been feeling the same emotion because our cart was overflowing by the time we dragged it home. Our freezer is stuffed and the canned goods have overflowed my pantry. I’ve placed the overflow on my living room shelf to compensate for lack of storage. I’ve not attempted to garden in the back yard, so based upon my failures in the front yard I am concerned. Will I be able to grow enough back there to supplement? What will we do if I can’t?
Reframe, Annie. Reframe this. This is just another challenge. You can handle a challenge. You are one of the foremost frugal living experts in the United States. This is your time to shine. You can do this. You can not only figure out a way through this, you are going to do whatever it takes to show others how to get through this time as well. So stop whining, reframe this situation into the puzzle that it is, and get back to work.
If I was concerned at our dependence upon Big Business before, I definitely am now. Based upon how this plays out (Trump’s “absolute power” and “LIBERATE” tweets are NOT HELPING!), our current situation may become the new norm. So how do we get through this?
It dawned on me that the more we can reduce our reliance upon the major corporations – the more we can reduce our reliance upon mass manufacturing, period, the better off we will be. But how do we do that?
Our primary needs at the moment are food and shelter. Most of us have enough clothes to get by for a while (you haven’t thinned out your wardrobes, have you? Please tell me you’ve not thinned down your wardrobes), so as long as we can pay the rent (or mortgage) and keep food on the table, we’re in good shape. So what about the rest of the stuff that we take for granted – like bathroom tissue and paper towels?
I don’t believe my grandparents ever bought paper towels. As far back as I can recall, they would use recycled cloth for towels that they would wash and re-use until those towels fell apart. My grandmother would sew repurposed fabric into potholders and thicker towels to handle larger messes. I just grabbed a handful of repurposed fabric to use before the kid persuaded me to switch back to paper.
When you think about it, using repurposed clothing as hand towels, cleaning rags, and family clothes is actually better on the environment. The damage is already done with those; they were made, they were sold, and they were used for their intended purpose until they reached the point where they either wore out or went out of style. If we cut those items up, converting them into rags or family cloths, we can not only reduce the burden on our landfills, we can reduce our dependence upon the corporations. If we reduce our dependence upon the corporations, it won’t affect us if they go under near as much as it would otherwise.
Even better, by reusing the things that we already own instead of buying disposable stuff, we can significantly reduce the amount of money we need to live on. I don’t know about you, but cutting costs is high on my priority list at the moment. “Da Corona” (as people jokingly refer to it here) caught me a bit flat-footed financially. I’d planned to go back to work come spring and had budgeted accordingly since I quit my job last October. Because of that I don’t qualify for unemployment like so many others are fortunate enough to do. While I do make a few dollars each month from my book sales, it’s not enough to make me feel secure. Since this old bat is in the age range where this stuff becomes seriously deadly, I’m pinching my pennies as tightly as I can in order to wait this out. I like living too much to risk it.
“Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without.”
That is the mantra I am chanting as I go through my days. That was the mantra I chanted when I realized that I am spending more of my writing time plopped upon my bed instead of at the kitchen table. I needed something to place my laptop on to allow it to breathe since overheating can kill a laptop. My first instinct was to order something online, which I immediately rejected. The less money I can spend, the better.
As I pondered the issue, I noticed the boxes that our latest pet supply order had arrived in. The cardboard was rather sturdy; all I needed was something flat and firm to rest my laptop on. I grabbed a roll of tape from my bin and got to work.
A bit of cutting and a few strips of tape later and I had my solution: a “board” made out of layered cardboard that was large enough to work as a lap table. It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever created but it works.
I could dress it up with some paint or fabric but I decided against that for now. I want it to look rough; that way people will know as soon as they see it that I did not purchase a solution to my problem.
I want the world to know that I made it myself in order to encourage others to get creative as well. The less we buy and the more we make, the better off we will be. The more we repair and the less we replace, the more money we will have in our pockets moving forward. I am embracing that whole-heartedly.
For instance, not only is the laptop stand handmade from recycled cardboard, the laptop is a handmedown. It was gifted to Katie several years ago (thank you again!) and she eventually passed it on to me when she upgraded. This laptop is close to seven years old, which means that it is a dinosaur in our consumerist society. I installed an SSD in it that I found on clearance, added a lightweight version of Linux (Linux Lite, for the curious), topped it off with a keyboard protector to extend the life of the keyboard (that came with a matching cover for the trackpad), and placed it into service. With a bit of love, this machine will last for years, especially since the operating system I selected uses a fraction of the resources that Microsoft Windows does.
Big Business will not like my solution. They want me to buy their stuff rather than make something using stuff I already have but you know what?
We don’t need to buy their solutions. Purchasing their solutions may allow their employees to make a few pennies, but it also allows the CEOs and investors to quarantine in their mansions. I may not be able to do much about income inequality, but I can fight back with my personal choices.
This old woman is choosing to use what she has instead of buying new. I hope that you will do the same where you can.
It takes but a bit of effort to cut old clothes into rags and use them instead of paper towels and bathroom tissue. It takes but a bit of creativity to repurpose cardboard into a lap desk. Bits of cloth scraps can be pieced together to create larger pieces of fabric even. I’m currently using tiny squares of cloth scraps from my mask making to create a quilt even:
You don’t need as much as you think you need, my friends. You don’t always need to buy a solution when you encounter a problem. If you learn anything from me moving forward, I hope you learn that.
As for me, I need to conclude this post and get back to work. I want to make sure that the kid has enough masks to get through the week without getting bored. I also want to craft a few extra for another friend, who generously gave one of the masks I made away to an elderly lady that had crafted a mask from a paper towel. She is my hero, so I want to make sure she not only receives a replacement mask to stay safe, but that she has a couple of extras to give away if she discovers anyone else in need.
I may not have much but I intend to help my fellow man where I can. As for the corporations who believe money is more important than human lives, fuck them. I will avoid giving them my money out of spite. I don’t care how much money the government gives them, they will still collapse if we stop buying their stuff in protest. Even better, we will weather the economic fallout of this pandemic far better than those who continue to support them.
I think I’m going to enjoy the challenge of growing a garden this year. I believe that I will enjoy removing my financial support from a food supply system that doesn’t care whether their workers live or die. With every spade of dirt that I shift, I am going to remind myself of that. I will remind myself of the lives being lost to feed the machine.
I hope that you will join me.
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Necessity is the mother of invention. It is an act of pure genius when one can use the things they already have available to solve a problem.
One of the major problems I currently face is my inability to tolerate backlit screens for very long periods of time. Even when I dim the screen as low as it can go looking at it becomes painful after a short while. Rather than cry and say that “I can’t” I started looking around for a solution.
I found it in a pair of dark sunglasses. I keep them at my computer and put them on whenever I go to work. It makes it really hard to see my keyboard in dim light, but a carefully positioned lamp takes care of that issue.
I have received a few chuckles from my daughter and friends when they see me working but I don’t care. It works and that is all that matters.
What workarounds do you use in your daily life? Please share your stories in the comments below.
My friend and her family (I mentioned them in an earlier post) have finally moved down from Michigan. Until they find a place they are camped out in my tiny house. As a result, privacy is virtually impossible to come by at home and the quiet time I need in order to write is completely nonexistent.
I could gripe and complain but I see no point. I knew that things would be challenging from the moment my friend expressed an interest in moving back to Kentucky. As a result, I decided to get creative.
On the days I am not working at my day job I load up my two laptops and take a walk to the local library. I fire up my 11 year old XP laptop, work up my posts and other writings, then transfer them to my Linux laptop and upload them when I’m done.
It sounds like a lot of work but it is worth it. I have everything set up on the XP in order for me to write comfortably without distractions and have absolutely no desire to use a more modern computer that will go online.
The librarian looks at me askance when I arrive with my big bag of gear but leaves me alone otherwise. I honestly couldn’t care less if she does think I’m rather strange. I am solving a problem with a minimum of fuss and that is all that matters.
How have you gotten creative to solve a problem recently? Please share your stories in the comments below.
In today’s society we are taught that the best solutions are the most expensive. We buy the high-end phones, the expensive computers, luxury cars, high-end appliances, and many other items and services based on the logic that it must be wonderful if it costs so much.
I’m as guilty of this as the next person. In my hunger for knowledge, I have paid hundreds of dollars for information products that ended up being worth less than the paper it cost to print the crap. I’ve bought high-end computers (my other primary weakness) only to discover that in a year or so they were falling apart (compared to the cheap old laptop I purchased on sale back in 2006 that is still going), and many more items that I can think of counting.
Learning a lesson from this, when I faced a recent difficulty I decided to look at what I needed instead of what society said I should buy. My male cats had decided to rebel against the small but expensive litterboxes I purchased when they were kittens. They got tired of only being able to stick a portion of their bodies in the box to do their business so they started going beside the box.
Talk about a mess! I scooped, I cleaned, I did every trick I could think of, only to have those stupid critters glare at me balefully as they stubbornly did their business with the wrong end inside of their litterbox.
I searched online for a better solution and winced at the prices. Not a single litterbox was large enough for my needs, yet every single one of them cost a small fortune. The higher the price point, the greater the argument that this box would solve my problem.
I stepped back from the problem for a few days to consider. What did I really need? Ideally, I needed a box that was large enough for my cats to fit inside with sides that were high enough to minimize scattered litter. I didn’t care if it was pretty or expensive; I just wanted something that would work.
My eureka moment came when my grandson came over to visit. He marched over to his toybox, reached in, and started pulling out toys to play with. It dawned on me that a similar-sized tote, sans lid, was considerably larger than commercial litterboxes. The sides were high enough to prevent scattering litter, even if I gave them a nice deep pile of litter to do their business in.
I didn’t want to spend the extra money on what constituted an experiment on my part (I wasn’t sure the cats would like having to hop into the thing), so I started asking my friends to scrounge me up an old storage container that was missing a lid.
One of my friends came through. I found myself the proud owner of a grungy old Rubbermaid tote that had been destined for the trash. I cleaned it out, filled it with litter, and placed it beside their regular litterbox. I scooped up the cats one by one and placed them in the container to let them know “hey stupid, here’s a new litterbox for you to try” and then waited.
I woke up the next morning to discover that both cats had visited the new box. In fact, one of my cats made a point of visiting the new one as I scooped both boxes out! In a few days I plan to switch the cats over to the new box entirely, clean out their old litterboxes and either sell or donate the old ones to the local animal rescue.
This just goes to show that the best solution is not always the most expensive. I solved my problem without spending a penny. I love it when I can make the Gods of Consumerism cry. Every time I solve an issue without spending money, I feel like I’m giving Big Business the middle finger, so I do it as often as I can.
What was the last problem you solved by getting creative? Please share your stories in the comments below.