My mom recently watched me smear a cookie sheet with the inside of a butter wrapper and laughed.
“Your grandmother used to do that!” she exclaimed. “You’re frugal, just like she was.”
I looked at the wrapper. I looked at the pan. I didn’t see what frugal had to do with it. It just made sense. Why would I dirty my hands and waste a blob of butter when I had this ready-made butter-wiping-pan-greaser right at my fingertips?
My mom’s parents were born in 1916 in rural Ontario. They experienced the Depression and they pinched their pennies, living a relatively simple life. The next generation, the Baby Boomers, arrived into a different world: the post-war era of gleeful consumerism, when convenience became a commodity — the age of cookie-pan-greaser in a spray can.
In some ways, it feels like my generation came full circle: for most of my friends, lifestyle takes priority. Instead of striving for the disposable income it takes to buy disposable conveniences, we seek simple ways of making life easier. We may not be saving the way our grandparents did, but we’ve realized that time is also a commodity: that having what truly matters in life means living, loving and playing more. We’d rather work less, spend less and live simply.
Pondering this, I started thinking about the other weird things I do, the things that, to me, speak to simplicity and ease while another might see them as frugal and odd. Here are a few more.
Stealing shower caps
I use the word “steal” somewhat factiously here, because when I lift that flimsy piece of plastic from my hotel room, I’m paying roughly 100 times its market value. But when it comes to food storage, shower caps are worth their weight in gold: they’re perfect for snapping over salad bowls on your way to a potluck or for covering leftovers in the fridge. Unlike like plastic wrap, they can be reused and if you leave them at that potluck, rest assured there will be another waiting for you in the next hotel room.
Paper bag princess
Nick told me not to add this one (he thinks it’s lame), but I disagree: there’s nothing worse than seeing a plastic bag filled with dirty tissues go to the landfill. Inspired by friends who incinerate their toilet paper (I limit ours to burnables that haven’t grazed our privates), I stash paper bags around the house. Instead of throwing paper scraps and tissues in the trash, they go in a paper bag, which, when full, makes a perfectly self-contained fire starter. Throw in a few disposable chopsticks and you have kindling. Lame? I think not.
As Keeper of the Hearth, Nick diligently empties our wood stove’s ash tray daily. It’s not long before he’s filled the galvanized bucket outside our door and overloaded the compost. So, when the weather turns icy, I gleefully dump ashes on the walkways knowing it’s the best no-slip solution out there: At the local science fair a few years ago, a Grade 7 student compared ash, salt and commercial products on ice. Ash won by a mile. You can’t argue with science.
Solar stain remover
I hesitate to mention this one, because it’s embarrassingly simple. Maybe you all knew this, but I only learned a couple years ago (while researching cloth diaper maintenance): It turns out that the best stain remover out there, hands down, is the sun. Got stubborn stains? Hang them out to dry on a clear day. Even in winter. Seriously, there’s no way my grandma didn’t know that. But somehow the information took four decades to make its way to me. It’s crazy to think of all those people paying good money to buy chemicals in plastic bottles and then spraying them on their clothes.
(Another great hack: humidify your home in winter by hanging clothes to dry inside. Between that, the stain thing and current hydro rates, our dryer is hardly ever in use.)
There are things my grandma might not have understood. After spending countless days on hands and knees waxing hardwood floors, she was a big fan of pre-finished hardwood and likely would have shaken her head at our hand-troweled sand-and-clay floors sealed with linseed oil and beeswax. But, generally, I think Grandma and I have a lot more in common than we ever realized, despite our nearly 60-year age difference.
Takeaway: Our grandmas were performing life hacks long before life hacks were a thing. The next time you finish a pound of butter, toss the wrapper in the freezer for the next time you’re baking. And thank Grandma.