Use What We Have

I scrawled the words on the shower wall about a week ago now … “Use What We Have” … an idea that came to me for a future post … more importantly though, the purple bathtub crayon words serve as a gentle reminder to be more resourceful and “get by” with what we have.


I’ve written about this a few times before, but I personally find a lot of value in experiencing a “drought” or a period of scraping by or managing with what we have. It encourages creativity and improvisation. It teaches us how little we actually need to survive (or even thrive). And, of course, we always save money in the process.

In recent times, I’ve shared my stories of significantly reducing my wardrobe (you can check out those two stories here and here). Months later, I still have no regrets about this dramatic reduction in the number of clothes I own. I even managed to get by with what I have for two separate week-long vacations, which really solidified the premise that we can get by with so much less than we think! Now, if only I could learn how to purchase items that fit this new body of mine (more on that here) … and quit wasting money on things I later hate … but, I digress.

As another school year approaches, I can’t help but implement the “use what we have” approach once again  … my daughters are going into grade two and kindergarten this year; each girl has a lengthy list of required school supplies. Last week, in an effort to use what we have, my five-year-old and I spread out what we had in the house for crayons, pencils, markers, pencil crayons, erasers, and the like. She selected the 12 pencils she would take, and we made up a set of crayons and a set of pencil crayons. She picked an eraser, and a few dry-erase markers from our collection. We put her selections in her new (yes, new) Paw Patrol pencil case, and concluded that we would only need to purchase glue and a binder yet, since we didn’t have those items at home.

We are using what we have, because we have so much. No, it’s not necessarily perfect … all the crayons aren’t perfectly sharp (we do have a sharpener though) or the same length. The pencils and the pencil crayons are also different lengths, but my daughter doesn’t care, and she truly enjoyed picking through our ridiculously large collection of pencils, carefully selecting her favourites (and setting aside a few for her big sister). I hope I am teaching my daughter the important lesson of using what we have (and in turn purchasing only what we need). I know new sets of crayons and pencil crayons are relatively cheap, so the money isn’t the issue here … the issue is purchasing items we simply don’t need.

Today, we will go through the girls clothes, footwear, and winter gear. We’ll make a list of what we need, and when we head to the city here shortly, we will be very aware of what we have and what we need. I don’t want to deny my daughters the thrill and  excitement of getting ready for back to school (I absolutely loved that as a kid), but I don’t want us to (all) fall into the trap of consumption and purchasing things we don’t really need … that just creates clutter … and with clutter comes anxiety and stress and having to look after even more useless things around the house …

Yesterday, in anticipation of our upcoming trip, my oldest asked, “Mom, since we’re both coming to the city with you this time, will you purchase ONE thing for each of us?”

“Yes, Sweetheart,” I respond, completely thrilled that she is expecting so little.

“I really want those highlighters we saw last time that look like little nail polish bottles. Can I get those?”

“Sure,” I say, knowing that she will get much more than that on this particular trip.

Beyond school supplies, my daughters have been forced recently to get creative with their Barbies. At the beginning of the week, we had just a small handful of Barbies in the house. Wanting a house (or at least a room) for them, the girls got to work creating beds and quilts for their dolls in little fabric “bins.” Beds were crafted out of empty cracker and waffle boxes, and quilts were created out of paper towels. Shopkins furniture became Barbie furniture. A Lalaloopsy bus became a Barbie bus. Mini quads and the truck and trailer that pulled them were parked nearby for Barbie, Ken, and their friends. I loved watching my girls figure things out, improvise, and create. After receiving another lot of Barbies, Bratz, and other special dolls for a mere $20 (which they paid for), the girls had to get creative once again. They needed a house! We don’t have a Barbie house, but we do have a couple of cube shelves. I set them up side-by-side in one of the bedrooms, and the girls got to work once again.


A third and final “use what we have” category I’ve been working hard on lately is food. I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but the volume of food in this house is sometimes just plain ridiculous. Our deep freeze is full, but I continue to purchase more and more all of the time. The pantry is stuffed, but I continue to buy more. I can’t get the cupboard doors closed on our “extras” cupboard, but I am still shopping. The spice cabinet barely closes, and things sometimes get purchased twice (wastefully), because other things got pushed too far back.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been making an effort to make my trips to the grocery store as snappy as possible, going in with a list, trying hard not to be tempted by sale items or things we just don’t need. Any lingering or wandering (or kids in tow), and I am suddenly purchasing things we could easily live without. Yes, we need fresh fruit and veggies, milk, and a few other essentials, but when we really look at what we already have in the house, we can accomplish so much (and maybe even save a few pennies too).

Using what we have isn’t only about saving money though. Using what we have is about the drought … the drought makes us appreciate what we have more … the drought makes the rain that much sweeter … the drought teaches us about what we really “need.”

Using what we have requires effort … effort to stay strong when tempted to shop …. effort to improvise … effort to get creative.

I dare you to use what you have … try it for a day, a week, or maybe even a month. Maybe just maybe, a new habit will form, and you’ll grow to appreciate the drought (which isn’t even REALLY a drought … we’re not suffering here, we’re using the shampoo and conditioner from the basement shower instead of purchasing a new set for upstairs). Is using what we have sometimes inconvenient? Yes, but not ridiculously so. Being inconvenienced sometimes teaches resilience … it builds character and allows us to learn and grow.

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