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There was a saying during World War II, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. ” The same holds true today for modern homesteaders, only we tend to say, “reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle.”
The basic premise is first to reduce our reliance on materials that would ordinarily end up in the landfill by purchasing products with less packaging and reusing or recycling the packaging on those products that do have it.
Homesteaders have an advantage in this because our grocery stores come from our own property, but we still have feed sacks and some commercial purchases to make at the local grocer.
Keeping an eye on how much plastic, glass, metal, and paper we use is the first step to reducing our waste. Reusing those items is the next step. When we do (rarely) receive plastic baggies, we make sure they get recycled at the grocery store the next time we are there.
If we had a large stash of them, we’d consider crocheting strips of them into something handy but we use reusable tote bags for our grocery shopping and rarely receive plastic baggies, usually only when a friend comes over for a get-together.
We wear things out around here. Our kids get hand-me-downs that were bought at thrift stores, yard sales, and swap meets, that’s if they weren’t handed down to them from an older cousin or friend in the first place.
The only time we buy new is when it’s on sale and they only get brand-new clothes from the store when it is a birthday, a holiday, or they’ve grown out of their shoes. Once they’ve received their thrifted or hand-me-down new-to-them items, they are worn until they are worn out or no longer fit. Then they are handed down again if they are still in good condition. We patch knees and elbows with scraps from other clothing that didn’t have as much life left in it.
Our kids don’t mind, and we homeschool them in an area where a lot of families chose a similar lifestyle. So, they don’t get teased for it. If they were going to public school, I’d probably only patch their play and farm clothes.
When our tiller broke, we just borrowed one from a family member. When that got old we learned from permaculture experts to put our chickens to work in the garden tilling the soil. The pigs have also done a good job turning up things but they are Kunekunes so not as prone to root as other pig breeds are.
When our wood chipper stopped working and I didn’t have the time to repair it last year we rented one. Knowing now how expensive that would be for the upcoming year, I am whipping out my tools and getting that chore done before the wood chipping season is over again.
There really aren’t many things we have occasion to purchase unless we are replacing something that has broken down and we really can’t fix it, patch it up, or make do without it.
We have plenty of occasions to repurpose things. Worn out jeans, t-shirts, old sheets, and flannels do not get thrown out. They are too worn out to donate, so they are made into rags, cut up to make quilts, or made into patches for other clothes.
Intact clothing that no longer fits is donated to charity, especially during fire season, to homeless shelters and to foster agencies. We do not donate to thrift stores unless we know how much of our donations go directly to help those in need and are happy with the margin.
Quilts and rag rugs are among our favorite things to make with old clothing scraps. Ripped denim can be repurposed into gardening aprons with handy pockets. With a little cutting and sewing, used feed bags become shopping bags and gift bags to sell these at craft shows and give them as gifts to friends and family.
Old tires can be used as dust baths for our chickens and nest areas for our ducks and geese. Large tractor tires can be made into playgrounds for our goats and old wire spools can make rustic patio furniture.
Pallets are probably among my favorite thing to repurpose. They have become chicken coops, storage sheds, garden gates, duck houses, pig houses, goat stanchions, compost bins, birthing stalls, temporary fences, and much more on our farm. It is always a good idea to have a good supply of them laying around just in case you need something built in a jiffy.
The main idea is to always be examining things you are going to purchase from the perspective of how much packaging there is and what you will be doing with it and what you are planning to throw away from the perspective of how it might be reused. It might take a bit of effort to store things to reuse later but, if you have space and a nice neat place to store it, it could well be worth your while.
What have you repurposed? Share your photos.