Use It Till It’s Tattered

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Erma Bombeck, comedian of all things domestic, once wrote,

My mother won’t admit it, but I’ve always been a disappointment to her. Deep down inside, she’ll never forgive herself for giving birth to a daughter who refuses to launder aluminum foil and use it over again.

My parents used what they had until it couldn’t be used again. Clothes that couldn’t be repaired became rags (although I refused to use my father’s old underwear for a dust cloth). Bread bags were washed and turned inside out to dry. And yes Erma, sometimes foil was reused too.

My kids would surely say I uphold that tradition. It might be frugality, but I think there’s more to it. I have sort of a Velveteen Rabbit feeling about objects worn from use. I like using the same cloth bag to carry library books home. Sure it’s frayed, with straps ever shorter from being sewn back on, but the bag has life left in it. I wear shoes until sunlight shows through, then relegate them to gardening shoes. I save old jeans too, using them for everything from a jeans quilt to trying out my weird idea for jeans-based weed control.

I once wrote a post about the psychological effects of materialism, illustrating it with an image of my toe peeking through a hole in one of our very old blankets. My toe really didn’t appreciate the publicity. Yet here’s that photo again because it really illustrates my point.

Use it till it's tattered.

Who takes pictures of their own toes in a past-its-prime blanket?

We have dear ones over for dinner on a regular basis. Each time, I use trivets that were probably given to my parents as wedding gifts over 50 years ago. The cork covering has degraded pretty badly, but they deflect heat as well as they ever did.

Useful, just unattractive.

Useful, just unattractive.

I also use the best hot pads ever. These were crocheted in tight little stitches by my grandmother sometime in the 1960’s. They still work perfectly even if marred by scorch marks. I’ve tried all sorts of replacements, from thermal fabric to silicone. Nothing is as flexible and washable as these handmade spirals.

In use for decades. Stained but still perfectly functional.

In use for decades. Stained but still perfectly functional.

Our towels are, as you might imagine, pretty tattered. Of course they absorb moisture as well as they did when their side seams were perfect.

Old towels need love too.

Old towels need love too.

Even the kitchen floor is giving up.

No, that's not a giant spider. Not dirt. Just a floor after years of service.

No, that’s not a giant spider. Not dirt. Just a floor after years of service.

We actually do buy new things. I can prove it.

The comforter on our bed had been worn through for years. I repaired it over and over until the fabric got so thin that it simply split. It had also been indelibly stained. I remember the origins of some of those stains. Like the time one of my son’s friends came in our bedroom late at night to seek our counsel on some apparently vital adolescent matter, sitting on the edge of our bed (with bib overalls greasy from working on his car in our garage) while chatting with my husband and me. Those stains wouldn’t launder out.

Bedspread of 20 years.

Bedspread of 20 years.

We used it with peek-a-boo batting for years until we broke down and bought a (severely marked down) bedspread. “A new bedspread? Who are you?” my daughter asked, “It’s like I don’t know you any more.”

Something new. It happens, even here.

Something new. It happens, even here.

There’s a heightened beauty in things we use everyday. I see it in our daily tablecloth, our heirloom dishes, our antique furniture. I like the sense of completion that comes when using something fully.  We’re supposed to use ourselves up too.

While we’re not defined by our things, they do say quite a bit about us. I guess I’ve said this already in a poem.  Nuff said.


Object Lesson  


18 and in love

I heard

Too young.

Won’t last.


Yet each solid thing unwrapped

from fussy wedding paper

made it real.


The cutting board

too thin to last

split into kindling.

Paint chipped off leaky flowerpots,

used until they cracked.


Bath towels, coarse and cheap,

wore down to barn rags.

Bed sheets, gone to tatters, torn

to tie tomato plants and peonies.


One last gift, a satin-edged coverlet

saved for good till every other blanket

fell to pieces. Pretty but polyester,

it too frayed to shreds.

Nothing temporal

remains inviolate.


All that’s left are

clear glass canisters

holding exactly what we put in them

right here on the counter

for us to see

each day of our long marriage.


Laura Grace Weldon, from Tending


This post is shared from our farm site.

21 thoughts on “Use It Till It’s Tattered

  1. My sacred wife (a.k.a. Rocky) thinks of it as “conservation.” It’s about avoiding waste. Her belief is bound in a Jewish tradition called “Bal Tashchit” – – I think it to be a beautiful practice because it increases my sensitivity to my responsibility to the things I use, and to the wisdom of my favorite and most cherished teacher.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this post. I learned frugality from my maternal grandmother, a woman who, by both her nature and her circumstance, was unable to throw anything out. She was the original consummate recycler, making tissue paper flowers and pet mice out of kiwi skins. As a child I thought her frugal tendencies were a bit nutty but I can now fully appreciate her intention to ensure absolutely nothing went to waste on her watch. It really is a shame we live in such a throw-away consumer society.

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  3. I love your posts, Laura. You speak of subtler moments in life, those that don’t make big news.
    My mom especially, was the same as yours, still is. Makes me crazy sometimes when she insists on reusing all those plastic containers from frozen cream puffs…and my kids chuckle at my distilled propensities.
    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I commented on this when I saw it on Bit of Earth, to the effect that as a child I wore the same pullovers several times in different incarnations; my mother was a demon for unravelling hand knits, washing the wool, winding it round a wooden chopping board and then using child labour to wind the resulting skeins into new balls of wool to be reknitted. Every time the garment got a little bit smaller because of the wear in elbows, etc, but I remember being devastated when a beloved pullover was finally deemed beyond reincarnation…

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    • Your mother is a character right out of a folktale. I remember a picture book I used to read my kids titled Something Out of Nothing. A boy’s grandfather made him a blanket, which was sequentially made into a jacket, a vest, a tie, and so on down to a single button.

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  5. Fabulous poem! I love to recycle and reuse things, everything around me is rich with memories. And I think I would be disowned by several women in my family if I ever used tin foil only once!

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    • Tin foil wastrels were judged silently by my kinfolks. They elevated to pursed lips at fools who let the water run while washing dishes. But someone who clearly spent money on non-necessities (new purse! large house! late-model car!) provoked actual comment.


  6. I can *so* relate, growing up in a thrifty family (my parents lived through the Depression). Even in her comfortable retirement, I’d catch my mum rinsing out ziplock bags in hot soapy water and leaving them propped around the kitchen to dry and be reused. I’m not so thrifty with the ziplocks, but I do wear my clothes until there is no life in them anymore, and drive my cars more than a decade, and consider furniture a lifetime investment.

    I personally love my home with worn patches everywhere. I credit it to a “wabi-sabi” sensibility – there is such beauty in the imperfection.

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  7. This is exactly why I love when old becomes new, is reused, remodelled, sold, cleaned and put into use once again. I consider antique stores great way how to spend my time, searching for hidden treasures from the past. Others just go to IKEA. By the way, your poem is great, the idea is fantastic and the message is clear! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am fortunate to have inherited a houseful of antiques but enjoy strolling through antique stores too. In fact, when a toddler’s potty chair was needed we looked till we found a charming old wooden one. So much more character than a plastic seat.

      Thanks for kind words about my poem!


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