This morning’s post was written by Andrea Parunak. Daughter of the King, full time help meet to her knight in shining armor, and mother to four exuberant blessings. She blogs at Pursuing Titus 2.
This past weekend, I did a remarkable thing. I threw away my collection of sour cream containers. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why did she have a collection of sour cream containers in the first place?” The answer is very simple: My mother uses washed out sour cream and cottage cheese containers to store leftovers. The problem was that, despite my noble collection, I almost never actually used them for leftovers, or anything else. Mostly, they were just filling up my cupboard. I had the general feeling that a frugal homemaker saves things like sour cream containers and then does good and creative things with them. I wanted to be a frugal homemaker, so there they were, waiting for a surge of goodness and creativity to sweep them from their shelf and send them into action. This particular shelf was in the worst cupboard in my kitchen. This was the cupboard that I would throw things into and hope they didn’t come tumbling back out of (which they sometimes did).
Well, on Saturday, as I was nursing, I read an inspirational post on organizing in which the author encouraged taking everything out of a space, putting back only what you truly want to have there, and then dealing with the rest. This is actually pretty much my husband’s way of organizing, too, and it works really well. So, I decided to try it out in tackling the cascading cupboard in my kitchen.
My baby sat on the floor with me, joyfully exploring everything I shoveled out around us, while I laid down the law: If I don’t use it, it doesn’t belong in my kitchen. It may belong somewhere, but not here. I had a trash bag, a place to pile things I wanted in the cupboard, and a place to pile things I wanted, but not in the kitchen.
I discovered that I actually use less than a sixth of what was in that cupboard. Everything else was there for the wrong reasons, most of them having to do with my feelings of frugality, the hunch that I might really be able to find a good use for that whatever-it-is sometime, and that I will have saved money by having just the thing on hand. But I was drowning in it. I had so much stuff that I couldn’t really function. My cupboard was frustrating, hard to find things in, unsettling to look at. There was the enormous pile of canning jar lids and bands, most of which were so rusty that I was too embarrassed to ever use them on a hostess gift of jam, so there they sat, unused, taking up space in my cupboard. I saved the impeccably beautiful ones, and threw all the rest in my trash bag. I must admit, I felt guilty. Canning lids and bands cost money, and visions of frugal friends looking on in horror flickered across my mind. Nevertheless, I was determined to be merciless. Also into the bag went a Tupperware container that had warped so much that the lid no longer fit. It had been my Grandma’s, and it was a nice big one, probably useful, but in eight years of owning it, I had used it once. I got rid of all the old jars I’d been saving–pickle jars, yeast jars, honey jars. And lids! I had way more lids than jars. How did that happen?
And then there were the sour cream containers. I felt a tug over them. So useful. I could put collections of small things in them. I could use them to hold water for the children’s watercolors. I could put leftovers in them! “BUT I don’t,” I told myself. Into the bag they went. Besides, we go through a container of sour cream every other week or so. If I ever need another one, I’ll know where to get it. It was a great epiphany when I realized that for me, and indeed for most of us living in the U.S., things like sour cream containers are pretty easy to come by, so saving them when we have no real use for them is actually not being as frugal as we might think. Actually, we’re just hoarding. True frugality is making prudent use of what you have, so that you’re not wasting your resources. So if I use a decorated sour cream container as a bank for my child instead of buying a piggy bank, that’s being frugal. If I’m only trying to stay prepared to do such things at a later date, which may or may not ever come, that’s hoarding, and it’s being wasteful of things other than money. What I realized in cleaning out my cupboard is that we have many more resources to manage than just money. We have our time, our space, even our quality of life.
Now, of course, if you’re like my dear mother, who actually uses her sour cream containers to store leftovers, then you are being frugal having a nice collection of them. They cost a lot less than Tupperware! But if you just hear about someone else’s frugal idea, and it doesn’t work for you, then don’t feel obligated, and certainly don’t make my mistake and store stuff for ages, hoping that you’ll use it. The online world is full of great ideas for how to save money by reusing this or that–plastic grocery bags, jars, old calenders, worn out clothes. And if it works for your family, wonderful, but if not, that’s OK. If you’re not using something, you should feel free to get rid of it, even if it would cost money to replace. Chances are, you won’t need to replace it anyway because if you’re not using it now, you aren’t likely to want to use it later.
So today, the cascading cupboard is the practically empty, showpiece cupboard. Instead of drowning, I’ve gained some breathing room, and even a little sanity. I’m one step closer to finding the system that works for my family. I’ve decided to be frugal about life.
Join me on Thursdays when I share one of the At The Well – Pursuing Titus 2 devotionals that has made an impact on my daily walk with the Lord as a mother and wife.