Do you remember the mantra from The Great Depression “Use It Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without”?
This phrase was responsible to helping people to get through one of the most difficult periods in American history.
Popularized by Calvin Coolidge, shortly before his death, this phrase was a modified version of the English saying “Eat it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, Do Without”.
Coolidge was complimenting the English ways of thrift and frugality and so promoted it to his own country, during WWII and The Great Depression.
But did you know that this mantra is still just as powerful and effective today?
How can we apply the timeless principles of this mantra to the consumer-driven, instant-gratification culture that we live in today?
Principles are just that, principles.
A fundamental truth that governs people’s belief systems and guides the decisions in their lives.
The principles of “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without” are incredible principles that, when applied, can keep you out of debt and on good financial footing.
So, let’s break this mantra down into it’s four maxims and examine each one.
Use It Up
When was the last time you completely “used something up”?
The term “Use it up” means to “exhaust of usefulness or use“.
Synonyms include: Absorb, consume, burn, deplete, devour, drain, exhaust, expend.
I think of using up that last bit of catsup in the bottle, or adding water in the shampoo bottle to make sure you get it all out.
Those habits are simple ones.
But what about other commodities like appliances, clothing and cars?
Do we use our appliances until they can no longer be repaired?
Do we wear our clothing until it’s unwearable? Then make the scraps into quilts?
Could we drive our cars until they were virtually scrap metal?
Well, the fact of the matter is that most of us do not do those things.
Primarily, because we have a choice in the matter.
What if you didn’t buy any new books until you had read every book you already own?
How much less money would you spend if you wore every shoe and piece of clothing until you had completely exhausted it’s usefulness?
After repairing it several times? (My husband re-soles his dress shoes several times before letting them go). Use it UP!
What would your grocery bill look like if you committed to eating/preserving every morsel of food that you already have, before it went bad?
What if you swore off paper napkins and paper towels?
What if you kept your current car until you had 300K miles on it? And maintained it meticulously so that it would last that long?!
The point that I’m trying to drive home (pun intended) is this…
Most of our spending decisions aren’t because we need something…
It’s because we WANT something.
Yes, it’s hard to hear.
Aside from our discontentment, living in this digital age makes it incredibly easy to consume. One or two clicks on a phone app, and your purchase is on it’s way!
So, just how do we overcome this consumer-driven lifestyle?
I have a few suggestions.
First of all, let’s just STOP.
Stop all discretionary spending for a period of time.
One week is good start.
Next, take some time to look at each room of your home. Start in the kitchen, then continue through each room in your home and take inventory.
If your home is like most Americans, you’ve got cabinets and closets full of things you don’t use.
We’ll just cover the two most wasteful rooms today: The kitchen and the bathroom.
“Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” in Your Kitchen
Most American kitchens are extremely wasteful.
Americans waste 40% of the food that is grown for us. Forty percent!!
Can you imagine what would happen if we all started eating everything in our refrigerators on a regular basis?
What systems, if any, do you have in place to make sure that older food gets eaten before newer food does? What happens when you have leftover food from a meal? How is leftover food from a meal eaten out dealt with?
Most of us don’t have these kinds of systems set up. The good news is that it’s fairly simple to do!
Next, buy less food. Only purchase what you can finish in a weeks time.
Otherwise, the “newest” food simply pushes the “older” food to the back of the frig, and is rarely consumed at that point.
Meal planning is another great and simple way to map out your food consumption for a period of time.
Meal planning will not only save you money, but it will also keep you from eating out.
Meal planning isn’t difficult or time consuming, it’s simply making a decision about what you’ll be eating for a period of time.
Typically, I plan just dinners for a month at a time. I use a simple 30-day calendar and chart out the same 14 meals to be served 2x during the month.
The cool thing about meal planning this way is that I can double the recipe the first time I serve it, and freeze the second portion for the other meal later in the month.
For those times when food waste is unavoidable, at least compost it, or find someone who can.
Making your kitchen “paper-free” is such a simple process! This decision will not only save you a lot of money, but it’s also sustainable!
Ditch paper towels and use micro cloths to clean glass and windows.
Ditch the paper plates, except for cook-outs and other special occasions.
“Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without” in Your Bathroom
How far will you go to make sure you use up every drop of something?
The bathroom can be another wasteful place, with all the plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash! Tubes of toothpaste are usually discarded with at least another week’s worth of toothpaste inside. Razors are tossed long before they are truly dull (did you know you can re-sharpen disposable razors?)
Personally, I gave up disposable razors a long time ago for a safety razor, I LOVE that little thing! Totally worth the money and far cheaper long term.
Can I encourage you to try bar soap instead of body wash?
Bar soap costs so much less money, and is far less wasteful.
There are also other options for washing your hair these days, like shampoo bar soap, as well as the “No-Poo” method.
What about toilet paper? Could you save money by using cloth toilet paper? Even if you just use it for #1, you’ll save a lot of money.
No-waste feminine care options include a menstrual cup and cloth feminine napkins. I’ve used both over the years and been very pleased! Pay once and you’re good to go for many years.
These suggestions might cost a little more money up front, but over time, you’ll find yourself spending far less money at the store.
You’ll also create a sustainable home rather than being a consumer-driven home!
“Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” is just as our fore-mothers did during The Great Depression!
Wear it Out
How many things in life do you think you’ve completely worn out?
I doubt that many Americans use all of their possessions until they had absolutely NO usefulness whatsoever.
So, does this make us all bad people?
Of course not.
But our lack of resourcefulness does explain a lot of things about our lives.
It explains why most people struggle to get their finances in order. It explains why our dumps and oceans are full of all the crap we discard. And it explains why we can’t stop shopping….
Because we lack one thing…..contentment…and the ability to wear things out.
Contentment: A State of Being Happy and Satisfied
Happy, but not because you just got a raise, or a new outfit, or a new pair of shoes.
Happy, because you’re alive.
Happy, because the sun came up today.
Contentment may sound simple, and it is.
But it’s very difficult to maintain.
We Americans are presented with nearly 5,000 images per day to consume! That’s over 208 images per hour and 3.47 images every minute! That’s crazy!
No wonder contentment is so difficult to maintain! Everything in our culture tells us NOT to be content.
The word “advertise” means to “divert attention”, towards a product and away from any sense of contentment.
So, do we simply give up and stay in our consumerism and debt-driven lives?
Frankly, it would be easier than trying to cultivate a sense of contentment. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been one to go with the crowd. I’m making a choice to be counter-cultural and lead a different kind of life.
Not just for me and my husband, but for our children. Without a model, our kids are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their elders.
There is a different way and it’s achievable. Finding like-minded friends and Facebook groups is one way to start.
We all need support.
Cultivating good habits is truly the way to fostering a sense of contentment long term. Daily thought processes are important as well, I recommend some sort of quiet time in the morning to get your mind calm and controlled. Find a devotional or a podcast that you enjoy, that will set you up for a successful day!
Turn off the Media
There’s a good reason that advertisers pay $5 million dollars for a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl…..it works.
Ads work. (Remember the definition of “advertising”??)
You can’t argue with ads, the best way to deal with them is to avoid them. Turn them OFF.
Turn off the TV! Establish healthy TV watching habits (is that a thing?) for your family, and don’t let the TV just be on with no one watching. Those commercials are getting into your brain, whether you realize it or not.
I’ve never been a big TV watcher, I prefer the house to be quiet.
While driving, consider turning the radio off and use that time to think and meditate. I solve so many problems when I’m driving!
If you do choose to listen to something while driving, at least make a conscious decision about what you choose to fill your mind with. Play a CD that you enjoy or listen to podcasts, but YOU choose, not the radio.
Quality merchandise will last longer than cheap products.
It’s just a fact.
However, the price of better quality goods can hold us back from purchasing them. Settling for a lesser quality item may cost less now, but it won’t last as long and you’ll wind up replacing it.
I learned this lesson a long time ago and here’s my take.
I would rather wait and save to buy that better quality item than to settle for a sub-par item. There’s nothing wrong with some “delayed gratification” in life, and there’s nothing wrong with saving for something you want. (Why don’t we DO that anymore??)
Again, counter-cultural, I know. But, it keeps you out of debt and pays off in the long run!
Story: Raising a large family, I cook a lot from scratch!
For the longest time, I had a random collection of pots and pans.
Some had lids, most were too small for my tribe. I craved a set of pots and pans that would really serve my family and be the tools I needed!
So, I started squirreling away a few dollars each week from my grocery budget (we were on a cash system) until I finally had enough to buy what I wanted, which was a set of Cuisinart Belgique stainless steel cookware.
I still have that set (18 years later) and it’s still going strong! Barely looks used and I’ll never get rid of it.
The moral of the story is that when you buy good quality products that you really need and use, they could very well be the last ones you ever need to buy. I plan to “wear it out”!
Another way to score quality items, whether they be cars, clothes or housewares, is to purchase them used.
Remember, quality merchandise wears well. So, even though someone else might have “used” it for a month or a year, it’s probably still in very good condition – as opposed to a cheaper quality.
When I need clothing, which isn’t very often, I always check out the thrift stores first. I have a wonderful $5 Anne Klein coat that I scored from Goodwill about 5 years ago!
Even though the first owner didn’t “wear it out”, I plan to!
Appliances can be had for a song on Facebook marketplace! Most appliance needs can be met with good, used ones.
People move into a new home, buy all new appliances and then move out in a year…OR they move into a home with good, used appliances but MUST have new ones. Crazy. BUT, this is how to score good quality at a discounted rate. Just be patient and look for that great deal, it’s out there.
Then “wear them out” until they are completely dead!
Once again, the consumer-driven economy in which we live tells us to throw away, rather than repair.
It’s not worth the time and effort. Cheaper to buy a new one.
That may be true, frankly, when we purchase poorly made things.
However, the skill of learning to repair things is of more value than the item itself.
For example: How many young people do you know, right now, who could sew on a button if asked to? How many could open the hood of a car and check the oil? What about changing a furnace filter?
Over the last couple of generations, we’ve lost so many of the skills that we need in life to maintain and manage a household and a family!
“Home economics” isn’t taught in schools anymore (although I hear it’s making a comeback!). “Shop” has also exited the high school curriculum. Life skills have taken a back-seat to higher math and science classes.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m all in for math and science. However, we have largely created a generation of young people who are completely incapable of taking care of themselves!
But it begins with us. Make the effort to learn how to repair things, YouTube is a great source. Once you learn, or even AS you learn, invite your kiddos to join you.
Up-cycling is simply “to reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.”
Up-cycling is quite popular these days, whether it be clothing, furniture or housewares, people are truly “wearing it out”!
Here’s some inspiration:
100 Ways to Up-cycle Clothing
Clear Out What You Don’t Use and Replace with Functional Items
You might be realizing that you have a whole lot of stuff that you don’t need or want. That’s a good thing, because now you realize it!
How can you fill your life and home with good quality items when they’re full of junk?
Start with one room or one closet. Completely empty it out and clean. Take a hard look at what you have. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I really use? (Box up the rest)
- Where are the gaps? (Save up and buy used)
- Who can I donate or sell these other items to? (Facebook market place, Craigslist).
Don’t Put Yourself in a Position to Shop
With over 3 images per minute in your face, every day, asking you to buy them, I think it makes sense to consciously lower your risk of buying unnecessarily.
- Get off of mailing lists and throw away any catalogs your receive.
- Stay out of stores as much as possible. NEVER roam around a store! Studies are clear that the longer you are in a store, the more likely you will buy something. This is why staple items are located in the far corners of a grocery store, to force you to walk through all of the other isles to get to them.
- When you do shop, take a list and even an accountability person. Get in and get out.
- Don’t surf the internet to shop. It’s so much easier to “click” shop. Discipline yourself to not do this.
- Delete apps on your phone that make it easy to purchase unnecessary items.
- Unsubscribe to email solicitors.
Contentment is wonderful. But you must work towards it. It doesn’t come naturally.
Read, meditate and pray each day. Bring your mind under control to focus on what’s important. Write little note cards to yourself and keep them in your car and on your bathroom mirror. Limit your associations with people who’s habits don’t line up with yours.
It’s amazing that when we begin to change, the dollars and cents begin to work themselves out.
Make it Do
It’s happened to all of us at one point or another.
You find yourself needing something that you don’t have on hand…
- A cup of sugar
- A tool
- An outfit for a special occasion
No one can own everything they’ll ever need, nor should it be necessary.
When you find yourself needing something that you don’t have, you have a few choices:
- Find something around the house that you could use as a substitute.
- Call a friend to see if someone can loan you what you need.
- Ask yourself if you really need this thing.
- Look for another solution.
“Make it do” really means coming to terms with the solutions that you have at your disposal, without running out to buy something!
“Doing Without” might bring negative connotations to mind at first.
But learning to do without material goods in our lives can actually improve our quality of life!
During the Great Depression, “doing without” meant really doing without….having no shoes or coat, no heat for their homes and no social programs to serve as a safety net.
Life during the beginning of the century was much different than life is today.
Today, social security, public housing and numerous government programs keep our population from suffering at the same levels of the Great Depression.
But as I think about life in 21st century America, I see a paradox of sorts.
Most Americans live lives of excess.
Consumption is so much a part of our lives, we’ve become immune to it.
I’ve heard it said that even the poorest Americans live better than most of the rest of the world.
We should be grateful and happy, right?
Yet, according to recent Gallup polls, while feeling that the economy is improving, Americans are reporting an unprecedented decline in well-being.
Wait, could it be that money and security doesn’t make us happy?!
Who knew? (tongue in cheek)
In recent years, new trends such as “minimalism”, “homesteading” and the “Kon Mari method” have surfaced.
What we’re beginning to understand is that all of our “stuff” is making us sick, depressed and overall unhappy. Yet, another good argument for learning to do without!
Most of us have passed the “Fulfillment Curve“.
So then, what does “Do Without” look like in our everyday lives?
I would venture to say that we could all choose to “do without” some of the stuff that is cluttering our lives.
Go through your home, room by room, closet by closet and get rid of the clutter.
Sell it, pitch it, give it away but get it out of your life.
The reason I am encouraging you to do this is NOT to be more organized (although that’s a nice thing).
It’s NOT to make money to pay off some bills (although that’s nice as well).
The reason I’m encouraging you to get rid of physical clutter in the place you call home is so that you can get down to business about what’s really important to you.
If you are looking to make some changes in your life this year, your potential to reach those goals will be diminished by clutter in your life.
My assumption is that you would like to be more self-reliant and sustainable in some way.
Perhaps you want to start a garden on your apartment’s balcony this year, but it’s loaded with lawn furniture that you never use and a bike that you never ride.
Get rid of those things so that you can use that space to accomplish what’s really important to you at this point in your life!
Make your kitchen more functional by clearing out things you don’t use and make room for a dehydrator or canning equipment! What good are all those casserole dishes doing you?
One of my readers has an aquaponics set-up in his basement!
I would venture to say that he had to do a lot of clearing out before he could accomplish that amazing goal, but now he’s living his dream.
Some of you have considerable cash tied up in things that you’re hanging onto for sentimental reasons or guilt factors.
Unless it brings you joy at this point in your life, I encourage you to let it go.
I know this one is hard, but no one ever won an award for keeping the most “old stuff”, handed down from well-meaning relatives.
I love my father dearly, but he has given me enough “old stuff” over the years to fill 5 storage units…maybe more! Those wonderful items have found new homes. I can’t hang on to all of it, it drags me down.
It feels better to do without.
Still others of you over-spent on items that you can’t bear to get rid of. You feel as though you have “too much money tied up” in it. Perhaps you do, but let me ask you a question…is that item appreciating in value? I doubt that it is. The fact is that while you may have X amount of money invested, the value continues to drop…by the minute. Consider cashing out and consider it a learning experience.
“I love money.
I love everything about it.
I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater.
And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff too.”
You’ll never have today again.
Why not start living in financial freedom by embracing the timeless mantra “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” in the modern world!?