It's funny how ideas go in and out of fashion – whether it's saving or borrowing, home cooking or fast food, recycling drives or personal convenience. As it happens, the trend in recycling has swung back towards an old saying which many of us in the United Kingdom will have been brought up with: 'waste not, want not'. This little adage has taken on a whole new identity since the time of ration books and shortages, but the fact that it is coming back into use on the fronts of glossy council leaflets suggests that it still has something to teach us.
These days, though, it's less about winning a world war against an evil empire and more about going green by reusing your old and broken things in clever and original ways. A flurry of websites have appeared in the last half decade or so, proving that the ideas of re-using things that you might otherwise throw away has been around for a while. A lot of the ideas on these sites are a little frivolous, though, and not much use for the average family. How to make dream catchers out of old jewellery or plant pots out of milk bottles might be entertaining for young couples with time on their hands, but busy urban families will struggle to see the point of such innovations, imaginative as they are.
Far more generally applicable ideas, in fact, can be found in the wartime interpretation of the phrase. Fabrics are especially re-usable. Broken shoes, with a little bit of snipping, can become flips flops for around the home. Ragged old trousers can become shorts without a great deal of expertise. Dresses can become t-shirts and any offcuts will make perfect jay cloths for around the house – that's one less thing to buy. And if you think about it, there's something quite special about having a completely unique piece of clothing. You might just find yourself being asked where you shop, and having to explain that no, you're actually an amateur eco-friendly fashion designer.
Of course, there are simpler things yet that you can do. After Christmas, do you simply throw away all the used wrapping paper, or do you save the unripped pieces for next year? This little tip can save a bit of cash over the years, as well as giving the kids something to do while you are washing up after you Christmas dinner. If you break a mirror that you were fond of, you don't have to bin it – by carefully gluing the pieces to a new backing, grouting in between so that there are no sharp edges and sweeping away the smaller pieces carefully, you will end up with a mirror that not only serves its purpose just as it used to, but doubles up as a cool piece of home art, too.
Then there are some handy modern tips. If you find your bins overflowing, you might be able to lighten them with some clever waste reuse. Old milk bottles, if you slice them at forty-five degrees, make great little dustpans for clearing your kitchen surfaces of crumbs, vegetable peel and so on – and after a few uses, you can simply throw them in the recycling and cut yourself a new one. Old shampoo bottles can be snipped in half and, with a little niftiness, can serve as great bedside mobile phone holders. Broken ironing boards, desks or ladders can make wonderful shelves with a minimal amount of DIY. How many people have shelves with drawers?
Of course, there are inevitably going to be broken items or used packages that are useless to you as well. There's little point in accruing a vast pile of dilapidated and useless objects – and that is where waste disposal comes in. But when you break something you liked, don't want to let go of a favourite piece of clothing or find yourself throwing out the same things every week, it is certainly worth asking yourself what you could do to give them new leases of life. If only to give your imagination some exercise.