Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Loose change

This is the change jar. It sits to one side of my work desk, where it provides safe haven for any pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters we happen to pick up in change over the course of the day. It's handy at times when we're in need of petty cash, and occasionally when the jar reaches critical mass I make a few coin rolls, trot them down to a local bank and exchange them for paper money. (I don't use the Coinstar counting machines because they exact a fee; most banks will do a straight-across exchange as long as you've rolled your coins.)

Why do I do this? I'm sure it doesn't make a huge difference in our finances to hoard our spare coins. But it's something I've always done, and I guess I picked it up by osmosis. My mom usually had a place to collect spare change while I was growing up, and I seem to remember that my grandparents on both sides of the family had change jars as well.

Change isn't the only thing I tend to hoard. I also keep containers for a half-dozen other useful household items, including elastic bands, thumbtacks, paperclips and buttons. I know I don't need to do this, but again, it's a family tradition. Grandma always kept a button jar in the drawer where she stashed her craft supplies, and Mom tells me that when she was a child her mother would often cut all the buttons off their worn-out dresses and coats before they were discarded. (She also hoarded zippers from cast-off clothes, something I've never bothered to do.)

There are several reasons why it was such a common habit to hang onto useful things in the mid-20th century. In the '30s and '40s, the country went through the double privation of a decade-long Depression and a world war; at first no one could afford to buy new things, and later everything that could be spared went to the war effort. Under these circumstances it became second nature to "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" -- or as a later and more wasteful generation would spin it into a mantra, "reduce, reuse, recycle." Hoarding useful items, planting vegetable gardens, darning socks, making over old clothes and similar practices made it possible for homemakers to create a sort of household stone-soup alchemy, a way of making something out of what appeared to be nothing. Not only are these skills of self-reliance useful in everyday life, but they help people make it through truly lean times -- and I think they're well worth cultivating.

Why am I bringing this up? Oh, no particular reason, really; why do you ask?


Wendy Jean said...

used to be those thing were worth saving... now they make everything so cheap it isn't always worth saving. I usually donate old clothes, but have been known to remove buttons... I wish we could switch back to making quality things that last and were worth repairing, saving and reusing.

Soozcat said...

I agree that many items now are created with "planned obsolescence" in mind, which is a shame. I think it's one of the reasons why vintage sewing notions are highly sought after and snapped up so quickly on places like Etsy.

Quality control is one reason why I learned how to knit socks. (Just being able to say "I can knit socks!" is admittedly another...) Not that I'm a whiz with the knitting needles, but there's no comparing the quality and continued sturdiness of those two pairs of basic handmade socks to the store-bought pairs in my drawer, which started wearing out after three months. It's ludicrous.

heartland frugalista said...

Lovely! I just interviewed a darner over at my blog:


Perhaps you, too, should consider setting up shop? @:-)

Soozcat said...

Thanks for stopping by! It's nice to see people still keeping up the old methods of darning and patching and fixing things, rather than simply tossing them out.