‘This pencil is too small to hold and sharpen,’ the little girl would extend a two-inch stub of lead pencil to her elder brother. After solemnly inspecting it, he would pull open a drawer that held odds and ends and push it into the barrel of a broken fountain pen. ‘There you go! You can use it at least for another week!’ he would smile at her disappointed face as she wistfully looked at the long new pencil on his table.
Looking at her crestfallen face, he promised her, ‘After you run through that one, I will give you a new pencil, ok?’
For the next week there would be one busy little girl who would write and write to finish the lead in her ‘extended pencil’!
That little girl was me and the extended pencil was only one of the many such economizing measures adopted in our house as in many others. The other day when I was unable to fall asleep, I harked back to those days of childhood and suddenly remembered the lead pencils and fountain pens we used in those days and the conversation with my brother before dozing off. (I had written about how such reminiscences always relax and put me to sleep here)
Nothing was to be wasted. It was a cardinal rule and applied to a whole lot of things including school books. A whole lot of elders siblings and cousins passed on their old books, dog-eared and dirty to the younger lot. The sole criterion for discarding a used book was its missing pages. It wasn’t till my high school that I got new text books and fresh copies to be used as rough note books. And then too, it was only because I had left Nagpur and in the new city there was no one from whom I would have got the hand-me-downs! Did I tell you about the rough copies? These were made up of unused pages from the copies of the previous school year and sewn together by one of my elder siblings.
Likewise, if you were a younger sibling, you had to make do with hand-me-down clothes. These were first were worn outside the home when ‘new’ and as they deteriorated, at home and finally were turned into a mop or duster, depending upon the fabric and the condition they were in. Sometimes when such rags were in abundance, we would cut them into tiny bits to be stuffed into pillow cases and used as a spare pillow when needed. New clothes were reserved only for Diwali or birthdays. So the number of dresses were limited too. Mother’s nine yards silk saris were cut and made into a sari for my elder sister and a lehnga for me. These were precious addition to our meagre wardrobes.
Want to know what we did with those soap bits in those days? Detergents like Surf and Det had not made their appearance in middle class homes yet. We used to get ‘soap chips’ instead, which we used for soaking clothes. So what did our mother, the eternal economizer do? She would have us make the chips at home to save even that money! That brought to mind the soap knife. Made of cast iron it was the poor cousin of a Swiss Army knife with a screw-driver, a bottle opener, a corkscrew and of course, a blunt knife which couldn’t have cut anything except soap. When we had enough soap pieces, one of us would sit and make tiny slivers out of them and voila! We had a bowlful of colourful soap chips! Sometimes the old bit was stuck to the new bar and used and sometimes we put the bits in an old sock and used it to scrub the collars and cuffs. (See picture below).
Oh, those were the days when we recycled things as a matter of course. Not a scrap of anything was thrown away or wasted. Not like today when recycling is a ‘concept’ to be adopted with awareness campaigns running into lakhs and crores. The problem is that we think it is below our dignity to do some honest recycling or prevent mindless wastage of things. It is a measure of the times we live in that it is only when marketed properly, these ideas are adopted as either being ‘cool’ or as contribution to the society from a responsible citizen!
There were so many such wonderful recycling ideas that I grew up with, which might sound archaic in today’s world and probably even be out of place in a use-and-discard culture. But whatever you do, please don’t brand them as cheap. Tell me, is there any harm in preventing needless waste? To my mind, cheapness begins only when one starts counting pennies while spending on necessities or sharing things with others — even when one doesn’t need to and can well afford it. From there is it is all downhill.
Coming back to the post, I wish I had some creative ideas on recycling discarded stuff to share, but alas! But wait! I do have my own ways of preventing waste, even if it is a few drops of oil. Feel free to classify the following into thrifty/cheap/wow! ideas.
Here you go:
- I pour hot dal or sambar into the refill packs of cooking oil or cut them open and wipe them with dry atta to remove every drop of oil. What is the point of throwing a teaspoonful or two of good oil in the garbage?
- …rinse the milk sachet with a couple of spoons of water to get all the milk out.
- …add water to the empty shampoo bottle and use it till the foam can cleanse, which is usually two to three washes.
- …stick the soap bar that has become a sliver to the new one. If it is the same soap, it becomes a large bar, but if it is of another brand or colour, then it becomes my own colourful and multi-fragrant bar, albeit haphazardly stuck together as in the picture above? After all soap is just a cleanser and not a status symbol, right?
- …roll the toothpaste tube tightly to take out the last dollop of paste. I have heard that running a comb over it is even more effective, but I have not tried it.
- …cut small squares of one-sided papers and use them as scribble pads to make lists, etc. A remnant from the ‘used’ rough note books of my school days, perhaps 🙂
- …have an odd-and-ends box that holds everything from pieces of string, rubber bands, bottle caps, gift wrappers and what have you. It is most useful, I tell you!
- ….use plastic containers to store random things. I still have a 20-year-old Brylcreem container, which holds loose change and has travelled with me across the country and through dozens of house shifting. The other day, the younger one was thrilled to see it. I am sure it had set him off on a trip down memory lane!
- ……do many many more such little and big things.
I might be no good at making art out of waste but I am sure many of my friends do. Do share them, as also any thrifty ideas with me! I promise to be suitably awed by every one of them and even adopt some 🙂 I am sharing Indu’s post on how she recycles for relaxation.