use it up, wear it out, make it last or do without

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

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. But did you know that this mantra is still just as powerful and effective today?

Can I ask you a question?

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t able to separate yourself from anything until you had completely “Used It Up”?

But first, let’s define “Use it Up”…

To Exhaust of Usefulness or Use


Synonyms include: Absorb, consume, burn, deplete, devour, drain, exhaust, expend.

Back to the question: What would you life be like if you truly “used up” everything that you currently own?

Better question: What would your household spending look like if you truly “used up” everything you currently own?

I’ll admit that this is a very “counter-cultural” question, but hear me out. Let’s consider…


Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without – Buy Less

What if you didn’t buy any new books until you had read every book you already own? Twice?

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!

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without

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?

19 Ways to Begin a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

VW bug

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.

Most of us are Perpetual Consumers Who are Chronically Discontent with What We Have

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.

Take the “No Spend” Month Challenge

“Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” in Your Kitchen

Most American kitchens are extremely wasteful.

old kitchen

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!

13 Clever Ways to Manage Leftovers and Save Money

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! Swap out paper towels for kitchen towels and make yourself some cloth napkins.

Ditch the paper plates, except for cook-outs and other special occasions.

minimalist bathroom

“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.

How to Make and Use Cloth Toilet Paper

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!



Week 2: Wear it Out

Week 3: Make it Do

Week 4: Do Without

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Last or Do Without

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Comments (10)

  • Amanda Reply

    Great ideas that I had not thought about before. If I read every book I own 2 times, I will never be able to buy another book. 🙂

    January 2, 2019 at 5:24 am
    • Kelly Reply

      Hi Amanda! Same here, I have so many wonderful books that I just need to stay focused on. The books I buy, the more I realize that they just all glean from each other. Buy the good ones, and leave all the copycats. Thanks for reading!!

      January 3, 2019 at 8:50 pm
  • Heidi Aurich Reply

    Good afternoon!

    Re: Wasteful items in the bathroom

    Toothpaste – I haven’t used toothpaste in decades. Next to my sink is a nice jar that holds my “toothpaste” – baking soda!

    Shampoo – I haven’t used shampoo in about 5 years. With my naturally curly hair, I wash it only about once a week with lemon juice (Apple cider vinegar is another option, and it is cheaper). Different types of hair require different solutions, but this works perfectly for me. Some people with straight hair can use baking soda.

    Conditioner – Because I am no longer using harsh shampoos, my hair no longer needs this type of product. My hair is perfectly soft as is.

    Body Wash – Not only do I no longer use this in the shower, I no longer use any kind of soap. I do take a shower once a day, but just plain water rinses off normal sweat and dirt. This is one way to protect the natural biome of my skin. I do use hand soap.

    Deodorant – I haven’t used antiperspirant, again, in decades, because of the aluminum in it. But, I have also quit using store bought deodorant. I have another pretty jar in which I have a make-up poof, and, wait for it — baking soda! Fluffing it on everyday after my shower is all I need. And, no, I don’t stink.

    January 5, 2019 at 8:44 pm
    • Kelly Reply

      Hi there, Heidi! This is just awesome! Your bathroom changes not only save money, but they’re good for you! Eliminating harmful toxins! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      January 6, 2019 at 1:39 pm
  • Kristina Reply

    Thank you for the article!

    January 10, 2019 at 12:52 pm
    • Kelly Reply

      You are very welcome, Kristina!! Thank YOU for reading!

      January 10, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Amazing article. Total COMMON SENSE. Many thanks!

    January 13, 2019 at 6:07 pm
    • Kelly Reply

      Thanks so much, Susan, for reading and commenting! LOVE your website!

      January 13, 2019 at 8:23 pm
  • Pat La Reply


    it looks like I’m a few weeks behind, but I’m doing a lot of this already. I only buy main meals for 3 days at a time now because I found we changed our plans too often during the week and I was wasting produce during the winter. (In the summer it’s all fresh from the garden right before I need it.)

    My kitchen wastes go one of 4 places —
    1) as I cook during the week, I collect the outside/ends/peels/wilted parts of the veges in a fridge container, then roast all the root parts with some oil and salt before mixing all of them in a big pot of water to make vege broth for the next week,
    2) home made fish food, (I raise tilapia for consumption on all organic, home made foods)
    3) whirled in the blender for my worm farm and garden tubes, and
    4) to the compost pile along with shredded paper and garden wastes.
    Worm castings and compost are spread on the garden every spring and I start over.
    Pond and aquarium water is used in the garden as a natural fertilizer and to grow herb, lettuces, etc.

    All year I collected “special boxes” such as the ones from Apple products. With two coats of spray paint and some crafty decorations, all the Christmas gifts went in a memory filled gift box depicting events with each person over the past year. No wrapping paper was needed, and the boxes are being reused in homes across the country. (First timers, know that this saving process will take some convincing for your recycling partner, but they’ll be convinced when they see the results.)

    I have definitely read every book I own more than twice, and most that I used to own went as gifts to someone or were donated to local schools/libraries. These days, most of my books are electronic and my “library “ shrank from an entire room of the house with personal/specific subject books in every room to just 2 bookcases. Any hard copy books I have now are regularly used or have a family history. My bad though, I’m addicted to the glossy pics, turning the pages, and the gift feel of receiving the magazines each month. These, too, are reused by others, but I can be far more sustainable here.

    I’m well known for my cloth napkins at meals. They are so much nicer than paper and so little effort. We use marked napkin rings to hold our individual napkins between uses, and add to the laundry when soiled. Paper towels are only used for meat drippings and spills with broken glass or such. Maybe a roll every other month. Even for special occasions I pull out a second set of flatware and use a mixed medley of napkins and plates to avoid the disposables. It’s looks so elegant.

    Still… After reading your article, I see so much waste in my kitchen and bath. I will be busy resetting practices and clearing out unused items sending them to a place where they can be used appropriately.

    Your article is a great reminder that with only a little thought, we can all do a bit better caring for our environment. Thank you for the nudge!

    OBTW — My folks we’re from Ohio, Swager Valley, near Portsmouth, and I got to spend time there most summers. Loved it!

    March 27, 2019 at 3:44 pm
    • Kelly Reply

      Hi Pat! You’re certainly doing a lot right! I love the raising tilapia idea, not sure I have the right climate here though. Your Christmas box idea is awesome!! Keep up the good work!

      March 31, 2019 at 6:21 pm

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