Waste Not, Want Not

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a news feature on TV.  The reporter tracked a “typical” well-off American family to see how much food they wasted in a single month.  By the end of the month they were astonished to learn that they’d thrown out $500 worth.

My grandma would have been horrified!

Grandma Hannah, who passed away in 1962, was the daughter of a pioneer farm family scratching out a living in dry, gravelly Southern Utah.  She learned early how to make a little go a long way.

I knew her well.  During World War II, while my dad was in the Navy, my mom, my baby sister and I moved in with Grandma and Grandpa.  Since Mom’s  younger brother and his new bride were also living there, they had a houseful.  Grandpa was a carpenter and part-time farmer.   Grandma kept house and tended us two little girls while Mom taught school to help make ends


One of my favorite treats was something called jelly punch.  When Grandma got to the bottom of a glass jelly jar and couldn’t scrape any more out, she’d add some water, dissolve the traces of jelly in it, and give it to me to drink.  I loved it.  She also made me

something called pearl tea, which was nothing more than hot water, sugar and milk.   Peppermint tea came from the mint that grew along the ditch banks in our little town—as did asparagus and rhubarb, which we picked wild.


Grandma had one of those big black coal-burning cook stoves, and  she took a lot of pride in keeping it shiny.  Back then, bread wrappers were made of oiled paper.  Grandma would use those wrappers to polish her warm stove until it gleamed.  And she would save every scrap of stale bread to make bread pudding.  These days they serve bread pudding in fancy restaurants, but I have yet to taste any as wonderful as Grandma’s.

When our clothes wore out beyond mending, we gave them to Grandma.  She would cut them up for quilt pieces or tear them into strips for weaving the beautiful, durable rag rugs she sent up to the Pioneer Handicraft store in Salt Lake City, her only source of income.

The quilt I sleep under now was pieced by Grandma and quilted years later by my mother (the photo shows a similar one).  Every little piece of fabric is a memory of a happy childhood and a woman whose loving hands and thrifty ways I will never forget.

How about you?  Do you have any comments about today’s throw-away society?  Do you know someone like my Grandma who lived by the old adage, “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without?”

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22 thoughts on “Waste Not, Want Not”

  1. Good morning, everyone. Today my thoughts are with the folks in the Northeast who’ve suffered so much from the weather. Sending them my best hopes.

    I’ll be in and out today and am also on deadline, but I’ll be checking in and looking forward to some fun comments on this topic. Are you a saver? Do you have someone like my grandma in your family?

    Have a great day.

  2. How interesting, Elizabeth. I thought my mother was the most frugal person until I read this. She survived the Depression years by making do and not wasting anything. Lots of our family all lived together. All of them just trying to survive. I can’t imagine what the people in the Depression went through and I hope I don’t ever have to find out. I throw away far too much. I’m ashamed of myself sometimes. But like you said we live in a throw-away society. I’m going to try to do better. I hate waste.

    You have great memories of your childhood with your grandparents. Savor them. Sometimes it’s all we have.

  3. I do my best not to waste things. I hardly ever throw food out, I’ll eat leftovers for lunch or save them to add to another dinner. When clothes start to wear out, I wear them around the house. I’ll even add some water to my liquid hand soap to make it last longer, which annoys my husband. I always tell him that our last name isn’t Rockerfeller, so I economize whenever I can!

  4. Thanks Linda. I’ve read enough from you to know you didn’t have a lot of material things growing up. But family is what really counts. That crowded house was a wonderful place for a curious little girl. There was always someone around to be with. I remember it as a happy time.

    And good for you, Maria. We all need to be more frugal. I’m wasteful in many ways but I catch myself doing little things like tearing off a tiny piece of paper towel when that’s all I need, or saving my used makeup remover sheets to clean up after the cats (they don’t come apart like tissue). I guess there’s a bit of Grandma in me.

  5. My family was really poor when I was a kid and I didn’t realize it until I was an adult but all the delicious things Mom cooked (well, not ALL) were Depression food.
    Bread Pudding, Tapioca Pudding, Rice Pudding, Potato Soup, macaroni and cheese. Rice dishes, all these things she made were what a person makes who can’t afford fancy ingredients but who has an almost inexhaustible supply of milk and eggs, which we did, living on a dairy farm with a flock of chickens. My dad never butchered, or rarely, we just didn’t have a cow to spare for that.
    So we had meat but not very much and when we had it we each got a modest serving and filled up on rice or macaroni or milk.
    In a lot of ways my mom was like your frugal grandmother. Mom liked to say, “We can have everything we want, as long as we don’t want too much.”
    Which makes me smile to remember it. We weren’t hungry. We weren’t suffering, but we had modest wants, for sure.

  6. My father’s maternal grandmother, whom I never knew, left all these quilts. One I remember that was never finished, just a quilt top in my grandma’s cedar chest, was a postage stamp quilt. It was one inch square pieces, all sewn together by hand.
    I marveled at it, the thousands of tiny pieces! And my grandma said, “I never saw my mother sit down without something in her hands.”
    It makes me think of writing in a way. Think of how many ‘tiny pieces’ (words) it takes to build a book, and yet we all do it over and over. Slow and steady over a lifetime, can add up to beautiful quilts and many nice long books.

  7. The downside to this is my mom, who is retired, my dad passed away, the owner of a lot of lovely, fertile farmland, is a fairly well-to-do woman. Not rich by any means but certainly she’s got plenty…
    Well, after a lifetime of ‘making do’ she has trouble throwing anything away.
    She’s not like one of those pack rats who gets on a TV show but mercy the woman hates to part with a ‘perfectly good’ old magazine or book or shirt or …….. I don’t want to overstate it. She lives in a nice house in town these days and it’s well kept, but, well, she hates to part with things.
    She also recycles everything, except she never gets it recycled so that stuff piles up, too.
    I actually have a bit of a grudge against the ‘recycling’ mentality. Because I’ve heard a lot of the recycled things just end up in landfills. So here is my mom, NOT throwing every possible recyclable scrap in her trash out of a sense of ‘doing what’s right’ and it makes her life a lot harder, and yet the end result…..a landfill…..is the same except for complicating her life.

  8. Love your posts, Mary. And I’ll bet the food your mother cooked was filling and good. I feel for your situation with her now. My grandma was that kind of saver, though her house was always neat on the surface. After she passed away, her kids took trailer loads of stuff to the dump.
    Beautiful image of the postage stamp quilt and busy hands. My grandma and mom were both like that–had to be constantly busy making something. My only sister also does lovely handwork. Me–I must take after the other side of the family. 🙂

  9. My grandmother who lived with us was very frugal and I’ve taken on many of her ways. I hate throwing anything out if I think it can be used or eaten lol. I rewash my food bags until they fall apart. Luckily a lot of things can now be recycled. And if I haven’t used food that is almost seen it’s day, I have raccoons and possums that finish it off for me lol.

  10. I have the same values,I dont hardly throw away anything,an my husband takes leftovers for his lunch to work,,an we have left over friday where we finish up whats left from cooking then entire week,,I try to reuse an recycle what I use,,my grandmother wasnt as tight as me,but she got me started

  11. LOL, Catslady. You’re lucky to have the raccoons and possums to finish your leftovers. If I put food out here I’d probably just have a mob of neighborhood kitties who are getting fed at home. My own cats don’t eat people food.
    Thanks for stopping by.

    Love the Leftover Friday idea Vickie. Great way to use up what you have. My boyfriend loves to eat out. I’ve learned to divide my meal down the middle, eat half and box half to take home. Saves calories and money.

  12. When I was little, I didn’t know we were poor, either. We always had lots to eat, but now that I think about it… we had a lot of macaroni and cheese, rice,bread,all types of puddings. Even now I can remember the yummy bread pudding that I have never been able to duplicate. As in the rice pudding. I don’t know what she used, but my Mother was a genius in the kitchen. I had two brothers who were 10 and 11 years older than me, so they were always hungry. If she had leftovers and wanted them eaten, they went to the front of the refrigerator shelves. That way they were the first the boys saw when they opened the fridge. Smart!
    With my three boys, I never had leftovers, (after an hour after dinner). I could depend on none.
    My mother also survived the Depression and I was born towards the end (in 1935), so I got in on the tail end. Then it was rationing with WWII. That I remember Very Well. I still have the rationing books that were left over at the end of the war. But that is a story for another time!!!

  13. I think most people who were through WWI,then the Great Depression and then WWII are very frugal people.. I know my grandmother was… I try not to waste too much, but the last time I cleaned out the pantry cupboard I was surprised at the things I had to get rid of when the expire dates frightned me….I try not to buy to many items I will not use much of…I really don’t have the money to waste..

  14. I hate to throw out food but sometimes you have to. If you have doubts throw it out. We don’t waste a lot of food here most of the time they do eat the left overs. I hate to waste food is just to expensive to waste.

  15. Elizabeth and I are sisters. When our parents were newlyweds they had very little except their love for each other. Our mother really wanted to have a sewing machine. She put a jar in the cupboard and added nickels, dimes, pennies and dollars as she could. She called it her “sewing machine fund.” Each time she would get the jar filling up something would happen. Their car would need repairs. One of us would get sick and need to go to the doctor or some other unexpected expense. At these times the jar would be emptied to pay the bill. It was years before she got her beloved sewing machine and used it to make our clothes, doll clothes and beautiful quilts. But even more important was the fact that she had a nest egg to use in times of trouble. Her sewing machine fund story taught me a great lesson for my life.

  16. Mary J, your mother does sound like a genius. Great idea, putting the leftovers she wanted eaten in the front of the fridge. And what is it about that old home-made bread pudding? The stuff in today’s restaurants can’t touch it!

    Kathleen O, you’re right on about people who’ve lived through hard time being frugal.. My grandma had lived through the depression and two world wars. I was little at the time of the second one, but I still remember how they rationed things like sugar and tires.

    I agree with you Quilt Lady. “When in Doubt Throw it Out!” as they say. You can’t eat bad food. Every now and again my sweet daughter-in-law goes through my fridge and tosses everything that’s past the expiration date–like ketchup, which I rarely use but have to keep around.

  17. Thanks, Pat, for sharing that story. I love it. And I remember how Mom made all my dance costumes on that machine, including that Can-Can outfit with yards and yards of ruffles, which must have taken her hours. You’re an amazing seamstress yourself, even though you mostly just sewed for your boys.

    And for the rest of you, just so you’ll know–I have the world’s greatest sister!!

  18. What wonderful memories you have, Elizabeth. 🙂

    It always shocks me how much we throw away as a society, but sadly I often fall guilty of this myself.

    My Grandmother used to by the cheapest paper plates for family picnics, but the clincher was we didn’t throw them away. She would wash and reuse them. How? I don’t know, but she did for years and years. I’ll never forget the first time I almost threw one away, my Dad looked like a boy about to get a spanking. Luckily, he caught me in time and the paper plate was saved. 🙂


  19. Does anyone else make “can’i tell y” (I cannot tell you what’s in it) soup or “refrigerator stew”? When our kids were still home we would have one of these every once in a while depending on what leftovers were in the ‘frig.
    I, too, wonder if the items I take to the recycle bins actually get recycled or just end up in the landfill. At least I don’t have to pay for dumping them.

  20. Now trying to figure out how your Grandmother washed those cheap paper plates, Kirsten. Very carefully, I’m betting. FWIW, I use those cheap plates in my microwave to catch spills and spatters. Since they’re 2-ply, I take the layers apart. They don’t have to hold any weight so it works fine–but I never tried washing them.

    Great idea for soup, Hilltop Farm wife. Some people I know can throw any ingredients together and make them taste good. You must be one of those people. Wish it worked for me!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  21. My dad’s mom and your grandmother would have gotten along well. Nothing was wasted. She made pieced quilts from scrap fabric she got at the factory where she and grandpa worked. She had a small garden which produced well. She canned beans, tomatoes, etc to last the year. She built a doll bed, highchair, and hutch from scraps for their only daughter of 7 children. She painted those plus a table and 2 chairs . She repainted the head and face and head of my baby doll when it got worn, and made clothes for it. She sometimes talked of what it was like during the depression trying to feed her large family.

    I inherited many of her traits. When our children were little, we made much of what we needed. I sewed, canned, and my husband did wood working. He made their kitchen set and the jungle gym style swing set for them. Very little was wasted. I kept a container in the freezer for the juice from canned vegetables, leftover vegetables, small amounts of leftover pasta or rice, and bits of meat. When it was full, it went into a pot as a starter for soup.

    Americans don’t realize just how lucky they are. When I was in the Peace Corps, the saying was a family of 4 in most 3rd world countries could live for a year on what an american family threw out or wasted in the same time period. I have never been able to understand why people waste so much food. At buffets, why take something if you aren’t going to eat it? I have see people leave over half a plate of food to be thrown out while they go up to get more. While I was in the PC, a neighboring valley had to close their schools early one year because of a drought. When they reopened the next school year, only half as many children returned. The rest had starved to death. Here in our own country today,many people are going hungry. Shame on those who waste what they do have. They don’t realize how close they could be to loosing it.

  22. I try to be thrifty and think twice before purchasing stuff. And to be aware of how things/food etc are packaged.. I also try to be more aware of what my food contains.. I use half & half in my coffee… I was surprised to read that the brand I had in my hand had high fructose syrup in it… I chose the organic brand instead..

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