This Week in Zero Waste

by Katy on August 18, 2015 · 81 comments

Parking garage towel

Although I don’t strive for a 100% zero waste lifestyle, much of how my family lives falls under that category. We buy used, (zero packaging) mend instead of replace and choose reusable items whenever possible. This past week was no more a Zero Waste Week than any other week, but it still included many zero waste components.

  • I brought home a towel from the floor of my hospital’s parking garage. I’d noticed it when I came into work in the morning, and saw that it was still there when I finished my shift. I noted that a different car was now parked next to my Prius, so I brought it home. I needed two towels for my son to take to college, so this was a perfect find for me. And as a bonus, I noticed that it had the texture of a brand new towel. Score!
  • I brought my own lunch to work yesterday which included leftovers in Pyrex, a cloth napkin and a spoon from home. As always, my thrifted ceramic travel mug came to work with me as well.
  • I mended my husband’s insulated lunch bag, which was becoming frayed.
  • My sister broke my bought-it-on-Craiglist rug shampooer, but was able to source the replacement part to repair it. This appliance has brought countless thrift store rugs back to life, which I was then able to resell for a profit. Rugs that would otherwise have been landfill bound. Not to mention that it keeps my home looking fresh and clean, so I never have a need to replace worn out looking furniture. I lend it out frequently.
  • I washed out my son’s fabric toiletry kit, as the inside was smeared with toothpaste. I bought this zipper-case at the Sampsonite outlet store back in college, and it’s large enough that there’s no need to buy wasteful travel-size toiletries. Perfect for car vacations.
  • I’m keeping a running and detailed list of things my son will need when he moves into his college dorm next month.  The school has an annual Fred Meyer night, where students are bussed from the campus to the Fred Meyer store to buy all their dorm and school essentials. My goal is to make sure my son already has everything he needs from home. No reason to wastefully buy brand new stuff that already exists in our home. (Of course that list includes things such a reusable water bottle and a travel mug!)
  • A blog follower read that I was keeping an eye out for twin XL sheets and mailed her unused set to me. (Thank you, Lauren!) I still need to source a second set, but that should be a fairly easy thrift hunt, as barely anyone has a need for this size once their college days are over.
  • I cleaned one of my mother’s guest cottages and brought home half a bottle of white wine, six eggs, half a large container of Greek yogurt, five Bud Light tall boys and two-and-a-half sticks of Tillamook butter.
  • I brought home a pink pony tail holder from the entrance of the SOU dining hall.

None of these zero waste activities were part of a special blog stunt, just components of our daily lives. Living thoughtfully with an eye towards waste avoidance.

Do you try and work zero waste into your life? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Katy August 18, 2015 at 7:51 am

It’s attitude and an awareness of the privilege of pickiness and germ phobias. It’s a towel. It can be washed.


Donna August 18, 2015 at 9:07 am

Every time you go to a hotel or gym, you are using a used towel, Hector. It’s amazing what hot water and laundry soap will do 😉


Diane C August 18, 2015 at 10:05 am

Amy D referred to this skill as “Selective Squeamishness”, a great tool in the frugal arsenal.

And Donna’s right, Hector. For that matter even hospitals have “used” towels.


Kimberly O August 18, 2015 at 2:50 pm

And coming from a nurse, Katy’s squeamishness (and knowledge of germs in general) are something I wouldn’t question!


Katy August 18, 2015 at 4:09 pm

You should see what our linens baskets look like after a delivery!

Sharon August 18, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Yes! Wash it, use it, save it from the landfill!


Betsey August 18, 2015 at 7:57 am

Paper towels and napkins are never bought into my home. I turn off water when brushing teeth. Lights are not kept on unless they are needed. My air conditioner gets turned off at night. I try to be frugal in all ways.
PS. I would have picked up the towel, too.


MsSF August 19, 2015 at 4:27 pm

I wish I could turn off our air conditioner at night. It is just way to hot and sticky to do so until November if we’re lucky and that only last about 3 months. I have been trying an experiment this year to leave it on one temperature all day long and it has really cut our electric bill over adjusting it up and down all day.


Sarah August 18, 2015 at 8:15 am

Twin XL sheets often go on super clearance at Target to make room for the Christmas stuff (especially in non-college towns). I bought these instead of regular twin sheets for my kids beds and they work great on the shorter mattress too. I know that isn’t quite ‘zero waste’ but it is a frugal way to get needed items and take advantage of clearance prices.


Jill August 18, 2015 at 8:16 am

My daughter starts her senior year in college this week and she is moving into an apt. with 3 other girls. The apartment came sparsely furnished so when she was packing up she went through each room in our house to see what I could donate. Luckily for her we have been redoing and purging a room at a time – she scored some bookshelves, old frames (which she is putting last years calendar pages in) , a nightstand which she plans on painting and a lamp plus shade that she will spray paint. Today is her 21st birthday and she is receiving a new (to her) lunch bag with a bottle of wine and food for her new apt. What more could a 21 year old want?!


Carol M. August 19, 2015 at 9:54 am

Two bottles of wine!


kathleen August 20, 2015 at 3:39 pm



Sally August 18, 2015 at 8:49 am

I have a set of flannel extra long sheets in my Goodwill pile. I’d be happy to pass them along!


Katy August 18, 2015 at 9:04 am

Cool, where do you live?


Sally August 18, 2015 at 9:09 am

I’d have to mail them. I live in Illinois 🙂


Nathalie August 18, 2015 at 9:35 am

I have 2 kids in college. One (a senior this year) lives with his dad right now. The other lived with his dad last year (freshman year), and is moving in with us for the next 3 months (getting an apartment in January, I will be charging him rent in the meantime but I’m thinking I might just give him all of the money back once he’s moved into his apartment, if all goes well while he’s here. He won’t expect it!). He was supposed to be in his own apartment next week but that was pushed back at the last minute and I had been getting him things at the thrift store for his kitchen and also decluttering my house and setting items aside for him (or his 2 siblings who will be heading to college in the next 2 to 6 years).

At first, Katy’s picture made it look like it was soaked with engine oil or something so I honestly thought “eww” too, but when I looked at it more closely, it’s just that the colors of the print make it look very filthy 🙂 I wouldn’t have picked the towel off the floor but only because we have plenty of towels already.

Several months ago, I parked at Aldi and the lady next to me who was loading her groceries let go of a pint of grape tomatoes that spilled all over the parking lot. She shrugged, got back into her car, and drove off. I soooo wanted to pick the tomatoes off the ground but there were people around and I was very self-conscious. I think that nowadays, I would have picked them up. I certainly would have picked them up if they had been mine!

However last week I picked up a ponytail holder and a nail clipper from different parking lots and felt very Non Consumer Advocate-like 🙂 I always pick up any change that I spot, even if it’s just a penny.

I went on a walk at some point this summer and passed by a old sock, an old glove, a small rotting gator that had been hit by a car, and a Coke bottle cap that was half buried in the side of the road. I dug out the Coke bottle cap and performed surgery on it to be able to decipher the My Coke Rewards code which I then redeemed for 3 points, and texted my 2 youngest kids with pictures of the glove and sock, making them believe that I had picked those up for their stockings at Christmas (you know how teen girls like wearing socks of different colors these days?). They are my 2 most frugal kids but they.were.aghast. I was thinking about actually picking those up the next day when I went for my walk again but someone had ran them over with a mower in the meantime. Oh and I told them I had taken the gator and frozen it for a future crockpot, hahaha. Well, I didn’t (it really was rotting anyway and I wouldn’t even know how to cook gator meat). I love consterning my teens, though. So fun!

My daughter wants plastic bags or trash bags to line her small trashcan. I use reusable bags all the time so I rarely have plastic bags. We’re going to Publix tomorrow where they have recycling bins for plastic bags so I will grab a handful from there.

I’m constantly re-washing and reusing plastic zipper bags and aluminum foil. I keep several flimsy produce plastic bags in my coupon organizer and I use those when I want to buy loose product that really should be in a bag. When I get home, I put the produce in the fridge and put the bag(s) back in my organizer and just keep reusing the same ones.

I also wash and reuse plastic containers and glass containers (jars of all sizes, spray bottles, cat litter jugs…) and keep all cardboard boxes, which either end up under mulch in my garden (helps keep the weeds off my vegetable garden) or full of donations for the thrift store. If items break, we keep the parts that might be useful before throwing them away (screws, wheels, etc.).

My husband exercises at lunchtime and his gym provides those same flimsy bags to put his dirty, sweaty exercise clothes. I have yet to convince him to just reuse the same bag each time (men!) but I have reused several of his bags over my seeds or cuttings to make small greenhouses. They work great! The rest I recycle in those Publix recycling bins. They’re too narrow to use them as trashcan liners or I would use them for that purpose.

Everybody in my household uses a lunch bag and we reuse plastic or glass containers for our food. I have sandwich wraps and pack my husband’s sandwiches in those. We also use plastic or metal drink bottles that we reuse and have had for years.

Yesterday I made draft stoppers for 2 of my doors by using an old pair of pantyhose and kitty litter that I had gotten for free after coupons. I made “sleevers” for them by using the half of the ruffle of a bedskirt that had come with a comforter I had bought for my daughter about 10 years ago. We never used the bedskirt but I always keep everything that we might use one day (I’m not a hoarder but I’m certainly no minimalist!). I tied up the ends with lengths of ribbons that came from gifts that I had been given, so the whole project was free.

I needed a dresser for my bedroom so I took one of the two my teen daughter had in her room. Why? Because, as a teen, her clothes are more often on the floor than in the dresser anyway! My bedroom looks better and my clothes aren’t cramped with my husband’s anymore. We’re tackling the reorganization of her room this afternoon and if we need anything, we’ll shop the thrift stores tomorrow first (no free piles down here).


Katy August 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

I love that you’re going to charge your son rent and then return it to him later on!


Ruby August 18, 2015 at 10:14 am

One of my aunts did that with her daughter. She charged her rent for a small house the family owned. Some years later, when her daughter was getting married and looking for a larger place, my aunt surprised her by giving the accrued rent back as a down payment on a house.

My aunt felt it was a win-win situation, since her daughter proved to be the best renter she could ever have asked for.


Joy August 28, 2015 at 9:24 pm

That is awesome! I did something like that with a former student. She lived with us for a few months and gave me rent money and “paid” me to take her to and from work. Every penny went into an envelope until she had gotten a job and moved out into an apartment with a roommate. I told her she needed to open a checking and savings account to be able to pay bills, etc, so she and I went to the bank to open her accts. She had to have $25 to open one, which she had from her job (she actually have done pretty well saving) and I secretly brought the envelope and gave it to her when she went to pass her money to the banker that was opening her account. I hope that she remembers how ecstatic she was and will do the same for her kids one day. She admitted to me over a year after that it made her become more frugal because she felt that she was spending “my” money and needed to be more careful with it.


Katy August 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

And the towel really isn’t dirty. It was just terrible lighting.


A. Marie August 18, 2015 at 11:19 am

I’m still laughing about the threat of the rotten gator in the crockpot. Thanks, Nathalie. (Believe me, I can use the laugh today.)


Nathalie August 18, 2015 at 1:25 pm

My 16-year-old daughter and I just spent 3 hours reorganizing her room. She started by telling me that she had already gone through most of her stuff and she pointed to a huge trash bag of things she was throwing away… I always go through the kids’ trash whenever we do a room purge and this is why: I pulled so many things out! Supplies we could reuse (rubber bands, paperclips, binders), donate (unused beauty products, art supplies, games, picture frames, even some electronics although I will test them first, magazines). She was shaking her head. I told her that as frugal as she thought she was, she was very entitled to throw all this stuff away that could benefit someone else. That kind of gave her a pause.

After that, as we went through the rest of her room and her drawers, we made 4 piles: keep (hers), reuse (for me), donate to the thrift store, or throw away. We now have 4 large boxes/bags full of items to donate. What we threw away was mostly school papers from last year. I recycle plastic bottles, batteries, cardboard boxes. I needed rubber bands so now I have a nice little supply of them, which makes me happy. It’s the little things… I think the thrift store will be happy with our donations tomorrow and her room looks much less messy!

I’m going the same thing with my 13 year-old son on Friday.


Monica August 19, 2015 at 4:17 am

Great teaching opportunity, one your kids won’t forget.


Susan August 18, 2015 at 7:28 pm

With the talk of all the reusable bags, I thought, “She should make a reusable bag for her daughter’s trash can!” Then I realized that would be somewhat redundant, right? I mean, can’t we just throw trash into a bin without having a bag? The bin is holding the trash. Is there anyone out there that uses their bin for trash instead of using a bin to hold a BAG for trash?
When did we start using plastic bags to throw out our garbage?? Anyone??


Katy August 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm

I use a liner for our kitchen garbage, but otherwise not. However, the kitchen liners are whatever bag I happen to be able to scrounge, often a paper bag.


Laure August 18, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Where I live, it is mandated that trash be in a tied, plastic bag. As of Aug 1, grocery (and other big) stores were banned from giving out plastic disposable bags. I don’t have a big stash since I mostly use reusable bags, except when I know I’ll need garbage bags and don’t have any plastic packaging to reuse for this purpose. I absolutely refuse to spend $ on garbage bags. Instead, I’m asking suburban family/friends to save their grocery bags for me. Likely many of them would just toss them in the landfill anyway, so maybe I’m saving some from that at least.


Is it a need or a want August 19, 2015 at 2:46 am

I remember before plastic bags garbage was thrown out in a paper grocery sack into a garbage can with a lid. Yes you had to watch for stray dogs and animals.. But like today you could figure a system to securely keep the lid down .usually with an attached dowel through the handles.
Wet garbage like vegetable peelings were wrapped in multiple layers of newspaper.
My mother never in her life paid for a large green garbage bag. When I worked at a summer camp during university we had those bags and I brought home my campfire smoked clothes in them .
She saved them for all sorts of other uses but the idea of spending money to specifically throw it away was just a foreign concept.

Lynn August 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

where I live, our garbage has to be in clear garbage bags. I guess they want to see that you are not throwing out recyclables, but I also used to use odd bags from the stores instead of purchasing fancy bags for trash. I use reusable bags when I shop, but we still end up with some regular plastic ones. I do use some to take back to the store to put meat in, and then I recycle them.
I would have picked up the towel too. a few weeks ago we were at the beach, and in the parking lot, empty parking lot, no one else was at the beach, we found a great minion shirt just the right size for my son took it home, washed it up and its great!

Carol M. August 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

Just a thought, for anyone who has this at their grocery stores. We buy compostable liners/bags in two sizes. Yes, you have to pay for them, but they are a lot more earth-friendly.


Nathalie August 19, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Well, first off, she’s a teen so I’m just happy she actually uses a trashcan instead of just leaving the trash on the ground 🙂 She’s already messy enough!

She wanted liners because she’s an artist so often she disposes of items that have wet paint on them. She also chews gum. She didn’t want to have to scrape it off the bottom of the trash cans. I suggested she roll her used gum in small pieces of paper (I have tons of those that I keep after clipping the coupons that I print).

I use trash bags in the kitchen trashcan (too nasty not to!), when we clean out the cats’ litterbox, and in the bathroom trashcan when either of us is on our period to prevent odors. Otherwise, none of the other trashcans (in the other bedrooms or in my “office”) have liners.

Years ago we used to put our waste waste in large trash bags that we piled up at the bottom of the driveway. One day I got sick of it and got large trash bins on wheels and we’ve been using those ever since. The trash trucks aren’t gentle on them, though… most of them are pretty damaged. But we’ve used them for several years and will continue using them until the trash pick-up folks can’t empty them in the truck anymore!

I looked at the compostable bags that another commenter is referring to, but I’m not willing to pay extra for those.


Sharon H. August 18, 2015 at 10:00 am

You might want to edit the first sentence of your post, it now reads “mend instead of repair.”

I did a double-take on that one. 😉


Diane C August 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

I did the same thing, Sharon. I wonder of Katy meant mend it yourself instead of sending it out for someone else to repair. What say you, mighty Non Consumer Advocate?


Katy August 18, 2015 at 10:44 am

At least I spelled it right! 😉


Charlie August 18, 2015 at 10:47 am

Hi Katy,
When I saw today’s post come across my Feedly feed, I just couldn’t resist reading the entire post and peek at the comments. I pride myself on how frugal I am but I’m not sure I would ever take home a used towel especially from a hospital! I’m really stunned and yet admire your willingness to go outside your comfort zone! A question did pop up though for me as I had a look around your website and noticed all the ads: how do you reconcile having ads while still advocating for a “non-consumer” lifestyle?? Thanks for the great post by the way- it’s definitely a conversation starter over lunch with my wife today!


K D August 18, 2015 at 10:52 am

I always skip having items bagged in store bags. If I haven’t brought bags with me I do without.

I print on the back of paper unless I am printing something very important. I have also been Pinning recipes, patterns, etc. instead of printing things.

I use the water I rinse fruit in to water my plants.

I avoid restaurants that use disposables.

I continue to wear clothes and shoes that are not the latest fashion (because I already have them). Because I am fit, they look fine.

I give items away on (or put them at the curb) if I don’t know someone that would want our unwanted items.

I wait to do full loads of laundry and to run a full dishwasher.

My husband has brought home abandoned items he has found: a beach towel, a fleece jacket, tee-shirts and the like that need a good cleaning. If we don’t need the item we give it away after cleaning it up. The same goes for broken items they are throwing away at work, many of them can be fixed.


Kim from Philadelphia August 18, 2015 at 10:52 am

Used hospital towels are far more gross than a parking lot towel!!

– instead if purchasing tomato cafes to corral our plants, we asked to take a few bamboo shoots that our neighbor had in his garage. I cut thin strips of a stained tee shirt and secured those suckers! The plants were free from a friend.
– taking our steel water bottles on vacation with us!
– using up odds and ends in the fridge so we don’t waste any items while we’re away
– we’ll go to a grocery store once we get to our destination and stock up on non perishable snacks for our 10 day trip- raisins, granola bars, fruit. No reason to buy expensive snacks when hunger strikes and we’re on the road.
– sharpened, spiffed up, and organized at the leftover school supplies from last school year so we can “shop at home” when we get the school supply list.


Kim from Philadelphia August 18, 2015 at 10:53 am

Oops. Meant tomato cages!


Nathalie August 18, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Aww, and I was thinking that I liked the idea of Tomato Cafés, with all the little tomatoes hanging there, having a drink while watching the bees and butterflies flutter by… lol.


JD August 18, 2015 at 11:14 am

After 2 years of looking for suitable used lunch containers that weren’t BPA plastic, flimsy, or leaky (or all of the above), I finally broke down and bought some new Bento type boxes. They fit in my lunch box and are well-made. It’s not part of the buy only used compact, but I’d been making do with leaky, flimsy, questionable containers too long, and no one took my hints to give me any better ones for a gift occasion. However, I use cloth bags for my snacks such as carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, and for sandwiches, etc., a stainless steel bottle for my homemade iced tea and a gifted Swell bottle for cold water. I make my own kombucha and pack some in a glass bottle that I’ve used many times over. When I empty my lunch/snack box at the end of the day, it’s all stuff to wash, not throw away. I keep thrifted silverware and a real plate at work to eat with. I have a thrifted mug at work for my hot tea and I use a tea ball rather than bag tea. I use a washable muslin bag at home to hold the loose tea to brew my pots of iced tea, instead of tea bags.
When my husband’s cotton underwear is too old to carry on, I rip the cotton to shreds and compost it. I have to throw away any waistbands, but that’s much less than the whole item, and they are too stretched and worn to be good for anything else by then. If it’s a tee-shirt and the fabric isn’t too worn, rather than shredding it, I cut it up and use it for rags.
Our old towels become what I dry the dogs with, mop up dirty spills with, put under us when working on damp ground, loan out for moving blankets, and last fling, my husband tears them into strips and uses them as “wicks” for his grow buckets (which are recycled five-gallon buckets).
Old sheets cover plants in cold weather, protect the car seat from doggy paws, and get cut up to make other cloth projects, such as curtains. When my kids were young, sheets made tents to play under and shelters for pallets for sleepovers with giggly girls.
I have many more steps to go to reach a zero waste life, but I am working at it! I love all the ideas I find here. Keep it up, Katy and fans!


Laure August 18, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Any suggestion on where to get a tea ball? So many around here — made in China — have been recalled for containing lead that I am desperate. My last one, made in China, rusted terribly, although it was allegedly stainless steel and tea shouldn’t be corrosive. I can’t come up with any alternative except to make tea bags out of cheesecloth and wash them, but it seems a lot of work when I just want a non-plastic, non-made in China tea ball.

I admit I would be too squeamish to pick up the towel, mostly because it looks my designated “car towel”, which has been used to wipe WD-40 and much worse. However, my BF picked up a new-looking baseball hat in my alley this week. While he’s a bit too squeamish to wear it (and already owns around 30 hats), we are going to donate it. If we had no hats, we’d be glad to wear it. “Selective squeamishness” is well said.

I live in an urban, walkable neighborhood, filled with wrought iron fences. I love that when people find a mitten, sweater, kids toy, whatever, they pick it up and display it on the fence picket so the owner can go back to find it, and hopefully it won’t be stepped on or soaked, etc. I did successfully re-trace my steps to find a dropped leather glove last winter. (I’m sure no one was coming back for that towel that Katy found, though!)


Nathalie August 18, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Darn it, I had no idea about the tea balls from China… I just ordered one for dirt cheap off Amazon ($1.58 with free shipping all the way from China, how do they do it?!) because I couldn’t find the one that I wanted at our local thrift stores (we have one where you screw the 2 halves together and I can never get it unscrewed after we’ve used it). I haven’t gotten my order in yet. I guess we’ll see? But lead, yikes. I wonder if there’s a way to test it?


Is it a need or a want August 18, 2015 at 4:09 pm

I have two tea strainers. They were picked up years ago at our church rummage sale. The same can be done with a small tiny mesh strainer. I make a pot of tea and pour through the strainer into each cup. Any remainder is stained into another empty tea pot or into a thermos. I then refill my tea pot with hot water for a weaker but also enjoyable pot. I set the timer for both pout throughs at 5 minutes so it does not become bitter tasting. I compost the tea leaves.
I have also purchased on vacation in a specialty tea shop,a mesh and plastic insert for a teapot made in Germany. It holds the loose leaves. Ten Thousand villages (a fair trade store) also sells a wicker one made in India.


Is it a need or a want August 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Sorry, the tea strainers I picked up at the rummage sales were silver plate. Seriously they are so nice looking!

Laure August 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Great ideas. I will try them. Thank you!

JD August 19, 2015 at 6:20 am

I’ve bought tea making supplies from Mountain Rose Herbs. You can try there, too.


Heidi August 18, 2015 at 11:14 am

I have picked up and washed clothing/towels left behind too. It’s all washable and no worse than the dirt we get into on our farm.

My zero waste contributions:

I was given some produce from the neighbours. We weren’t able to use it up yet, so the rest of it got roughly chopped and roasted for tomato vegetable sauce (tomatoes, zucchini, onion, green and red pepper, carrots, garlic and thyme – roasted with olive oil, s&p and balsamic vinegar). I’ll blend it smooth or mostly smooth once it cools.

We’d been given too many green peppers to use up, so I chopped the rest up and laid them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen, I will put them in a freezer bag for future meals. I also washed and chopped some spinach for the freezer.

Yesterday I noticed some sour cream in the fridge was quite a bit past it’s date and starting to separate, so I used it to make a coffee cake.

We have an early apple tree that was absolutely loaded this year. We couldn’t use them fast enough, plus we have two more trees that will be ready soon, so we put the word out that there were free apples for the picking and friends and neighbours have nearly picked it clean. Perfect. They’ll be back for the next wave of apples too.


Linda in Mass August 18, 2015 at 11:22 am

Hotel towels are used many times…they are washed in between people. Washing and hanging out on the line will take care of any germs.

My husband gets sick of hearing me talking about how we have so much in this country that items are discarded on the highways and streets. When I see a tarp on the side of the road, I think that in other countries that would be snapped up to keep a family dry.


Gina August 18, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Great point about the tarp, Linda! I help out with a litter pick up group in my (underserved!) neighborhood and near the major river in my city and I am amazed by what ends up abandoned. I once found a beautiful, old quilt in great condition along the river. I carried it home, washed it up and it is one of my favorite blankets.


Katy August 18, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Wow, amazing find!


JD August 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

I forgot to mention a handy tip: if you have the chance to be good friends with a bar employee, do so! When my daughter dated a bouncer at a college town bar, he brought us umbrellas, a lovely sweater, sunglasses, a jacket, and a real gold ring with a skull head on it ( we told him he could keep that one, thanks anyway. He sold it later, which was fine with us.). That’s just a little of what they found cleaning up at 2 a.m. The bar always held the left behind items for a few days, but NO ONE ever came back to claim them. NEVER. Either they were too drunk to remember where they left them, or they just didn’t care — just buy another, right?
We cleaned that stuff up and used it!


Bonnie August 19, 2015 at 5:51 am

I had always assumed any item left behind was long gone…


Kathleen August 18, 2015 at 1:08 pm

I am enjoying the comments. I have learned some new ideas.


Marcia August 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I still have a ways to go, also, but I was intrigued by the mention of the toiletries bag smeared with toothpaste. I have one the size of an overnight bag which has lots of plastic pockets–and I know it ISN”T toothpaste, but they also look like toothpaste has been smeared everywhere. I wash it after using it and sometimes it needs it again before I can use it. Is the plastic deteriorating or something? I think mine is probably 15 years old and it was gifted to me. I liked it so well I bought a similar one for a couple people–my family–who didn’t find it as useful as I did. I think I have one in the attic. They were about $20 from JCPenneys. I have a replacement requested on my wish list for next Christmas, or I could use the other one in the attic. I really don’t know what is causing this problem, and I don’t think it’s toothpaste. It is really handy–we always travel by car–to have everything in one bag.

Our grocery store recycles plastic bags, too, and I save bags from all sources, not just that store, to return to be reused. We do use some for waste basket liners and some for cat litter–the rest are taken back to the store. I have lots of canvas bags which never seem to be where I am, although I leave some in the car all the time.

I’m not anti-new ALL the time, but I do a great deal of mending for us and for the rest of my family. I’m considered the “sewing” person in the group, although I happen to know one sister can also sew quite well herself! My husband also repairs all kinds of things, including fabricating parts as needed. He has scrap wood and scrap metal as well as some electronic components from where he used to work that are available to him. I also buy used online as I like some old style gadgets better than their newer counterparts!


Jeana August 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I sent two sons to college with 2 sets of sheets. The second set never got used. Check on the laundry situation at SOU. My sons had free use of the laundry rooms in their dorms, no charge . They washed their sheets and put them right back on their bed. Plus, t
Freshman dorms are usually very small and he will need the room for other things.


Lauren August 18, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Jeana, that was what my husband did (I’m the former owner of the sheets Katy mentioned). He went to school with two sets and just washed and replaced one set. Hence, the second set that is now going to college with Katy’s son a decade and a half later!


Katy August 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm

My son is highly likely to never change his sheets. But it can’t be because I didn’t provide enough. <--- It's a mom thing.


Lisa August 19, 2015 at 7:01 am

My son does his laundry once a month. He does one load with everything stuffed in. The sheets are rarely, if ever, washed. He knows better, just doesn’t care. Sigh…..


Marilyn August 18, 2015 at 2:29 pm

A friend who volunters at a thrift shop tells me that people often donate single socks which the shop could not sell. She can not bear to throw away the baby socks, so she collects them during the year and decorates her fireplace mantle with them at Christmas. It is a really cute arrangement and one way to make use of single socks.


Kaylen August 18, 2015 at 3:52 pm

I think it’s so sad when someone drops something and it ends up in the garbage – much better that you took it home and washed it.

A few winters ago, someone left a winter coat in good condition on the ground in front of my house. I hung it on the stop sign for a few days in case someone came back for it, then brought it inside, washed it, and donated it to goodwill. (I didn’t need it.) I’m often tempted to do the same with single gloves that I find in winter.

When I was at the pool a couple days ago, someone took my towel and shampoo. (I think it’s likely that someone grabbed them by accident, but either way, I didn’t have a towel to use after that.) I quickly looked through the lost and found in case someone had used it, realized, and left it there – nope. Anyway, my round about point is that I hate how pool lost and founds lead to wasted towels. They sit in the bin wet and I suspect most people don’t bother to go back for them. I’d happily wash them, even if it was just to donate them to the local humane society.


is it a need or a want August 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm

They can only stay in our pool lost and found for a specified time. Because they do not want mold growing they wash and donate the towels to the Humane Society and the other incidentals to a thrift shop.
If you lose something and find something similar frequently they will encourage you to just take it.

When my kids were in school and I volunteered to take the school lost and found to the thrift store if I or someone could use an item (we were encouraged to take it) it was their form of reward for us delivering the contents to a thrift shop.


Isabelle August 18, 2015 at 5:42 pm

I am far from zero waste, unfortunately, but I try and do my part… sometimes…
* I try to buy used clothes instead of new, and refuse a bag when offered
* Starting tommorow I will bring a cup at work instead of using a disposable one (thanks to you! That one just popped into my head)
* I bring my reusable bags at the grocery store instead of using plastic ones
* I borrow books from the library instead of buying new ones, and I’ve stopped buying magazines
* We are a 1 car family, compact one (Toyota Echo) = less gas. My husband bikes to work everyday. I drive (not an option).
* We try to give, recycle and compost before throwing out
* If I see something that I can use at the curb, I will pick it up
* We try not to waste food (best option is often freezing)

Have a great frugal day!


Chris August 18, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Was at a library meeting tonight and needed to get a phone # from a potential volunteer. I had him write his # on the back of an envelope I was using for notes. The person next to me tried to give me a fresh sheet of paper from her pad and after I talked to him, the librarian had copied his # on yet another fresh sheet of paper. Frustrating – for me at least.

I never thought of taking bags from the grocery store recycling drop off – great source for picking up after the dog bags!


melanie August 21, 2015 at 2:52 am

I would feel uncomfortable taking plastic bags form the recycling drop off – some people do intend their bags to be recycled, not reused only to go to landfill with poop in it instead.

However, at our local dog parks there are dispensers that you can take from/donate plastic bags to – yes, still goes to landfill eventually but user make an informed choice:)


Diane C August 21, 2015 at 8:56 am

That feels like splitting hairs to me. No, worse. I am one of those people who donates bags to the bins at the dog parks and trails, but they are also being stocked with new bags by the city. People seem to gravitate to the new bags until they’re all gone, which means those bags are being used only once.

Grabbing recycled bags from the drop-off ensures that they are used multiple times. If a person feels as you describe, IMHO, the onus is on them to recycle in such a way that their bags can’t be re-used.


Nathalie August 21, 2015 at 9:38 am

“If a person feels as you describe, IMHO, the onus is on them to recycle in such a way that their bags can’t be re-used. ”

So much this. And I would also add “or they should just not use plastic bags in the first place.”


Stefanie August 18, 2015 at 7:16 pm

I caught myself almost throwing away a reusable bag because of a ripped seam, and then I thought of you. Instead I spent 1 minute repairing the rip, and the bag is as good as new. Thank you for inspiring me.


Katy August 18, 2015 at 7:22 pm



auntiali August 18, 2015 at 7:49 pm

I was going to say that your son will probably not change or even wash his sheets while at school. My kids said their dorm rooms were always hot no mater what the season so flannel sheets might be a little overkill.


AshleyAshley August 19, 2015 at 6:49 am

My favorite time to pick up used stuff is after Spring semester at college campus dorms. The kids leave behind so much stuff…a lot of it is laundry detergent bottles half used, lamps, rugs, etc that they dont have enough room for everything in their car so they get rid of things.


Vickie August 19, 2015 at 7:47 am

I use King size flat sheets, on our Queen size bed, instead of fitted sheets. I was taught how to make hospital corners in Home-Ec, so I just fold the sheets flaps under the mattress. I’ve found King flat sheets really cheap at Ross in the past.
If you can find queen flat sheets cheap at Thrift stores, I think those will work as XL sheets on a mattress, too. Just an FYI, if you can’t find the fitted ones.

*Once my towels get ragged or threadbare, I donate them to the animal shelter. I have enough rags around the house and don’t need more at the moment. They will take old flat sheets too. Recycling score – no adding to the landfill.

*I’m like you Katy, I have a mug, a drinking glass/cup, a plate and flatware at work that I use. I found the plate in a surplus pile here at work and the flatware and mug were Thrift store items. The drinking glass/cup was University swag during a Staff week event. That’s where my insulated lunch bag came from too. There’s always swag on Campus. No use paying for things they give away.

* Our University Surplus department has a Public Store day. I’ve gotten office items and even a TV for really cheap. The TV cost me $10. No need for a fancy model, when it’s only used for the grandkids to watch DVDs and play games on in our guest room.

*I pick-up random paper clips and such on the floor at work. I’m big on recycling in the office too. I’ve stretched our office supply budget by not throwing out stuff that’s still usable.

I’m with Katy – Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – easy enough when you’re attentive.


Maggie August 19, 2015 at 8:00 am

I definitely try! We use dish towels instead of paper towels (except for bacon. I have one roll of paper towels for bacon that’s lasted us going on two years now), cloth diapers and feminine products instead of disposable, and try shopping in our own home first. I feel like we haven’t been very good at non-consumering lately, as we’re buying a home and it needed some things right away for safety (like a fence to keep toddlers contained, and smoke detectors- I’m not waiting around for them to come into the thrift store!).


Diane C August 19, 2015 at 10:39 am

FYI Costco now sells Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors complete with ten year batteries. So worth a few extra bucks to avoid the use of ten batteries replaced annually. And yes, detectors do “expire”, so I’d consider buying them used, unless you know they are of recent origin, a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.


Diane C August 21, 2015 at 8:40 am

Oops! That should read “would NOT consider buying them used, unless…”
Big difference.


Carol M. August 19, 2015 at 11:30 am

Well…I talked about this in Five Frugal Things, but I think it’s worth a mention. I don’t know how many people it will apply to, since most people don’t have a juicer (but I live in L.A., it’s like the L.A. crockpot).

I took the pulp leftover from making carrot ginger juice and turned it into carrot ginger soup. Only needed to add onion, veg. bullion, and honey to replace some of the flavor. Otherwise tastes like carrot soup.


Mary G August 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm

That sounds promising. I bought an old basic juicer (Juiceman Jr.) this past spring for $4 and have used the carrot pulp to make carrot pulp muffins. They are pretty good, but I really like your soup idea.


Carol M. August 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm

And I like your carrot muffin idea!


Sarah G August 20, 2015 at 10:45 am

I’m a registered nurse at a big city hospital, and I would never bring home an unwashed hospital towel, not with the bugs I know are lurking in that germ filled place. Sorry. On my unit we see everything from C. diff to klebsiella to MRSA to necrotizing fasciitis. If the towel was fresh off the linen cart that would be one thing, but I’m loathe even to wear my scrubs home. I love frugality and keeping usable goods from the landfill, but I draw the line here. If you can do it and feel good about it, more power to you.


Katy August 20, 2015 at 11:22 am

It wasn’t a hospital towel, it had just fallen out of someone’s car.


Sarah G August 20, 2015 at 11:50 am

Oh, that’s totally different! I would have grabbed it too.


Lynne August 20, 2015 at 11:39 am

About the XL sheets – when I went away to school many years ago my mom sewed 2 regular fitted sheets together to make an XL fitted sheet


kathleen August 20, 2015 at 5:20 pm

I have been following Bea Johnson since about 2007, so I am really good at the zero waste. Not as good as Bea, but close. Starting 9/1/15 I am going to start my experiment doing a Buy Nothing Year. This should pretty much leave me with zero waste. We’ll see! I will save it too (just for 1 year). I hope to have to recycle once or twice during the year. All my groceries are zero waste!


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