9 Things My Grandma Never Threw Away

9 things my grandma never threw away 1950s housewife tips and advice

My Great Grandma Alma was a young woman during the Great Depression and a young mother during WWII. Her daughter, my grandma was a housewife, my mom was a housewife and now I am too. Although all of us housewives have to make sacrifices to afford to stay home, we also save a fortune if we do it right.

Great grandma taught me some of the essentials of being a great housewife when I was just a pre-teen and how she survived the Great Depression by being smart with what she had. Here are 9 things my grandma never threw away. Save money and live greener with these clever vintage housewife tips....

Worn clothes/towels/sheets
Never pitch fabric because you can always use it for something new. In grandma's time, ladies sewed dresses from beautifully printed feed and flour sacks or whipped up a little girl's dress from her mother's old dress.

A man's suit could be cut and sewn to make one for a lady and any remaining scraps would become an heirloom quilt. Today, most of us won't be hacking up hubby's old suit to make one for ourselves but we can still apply this make-do and mend mentality. Learn basic sewing repairs to extend your family's wardrobe.

 I've rescued so many pairs of my husband's jeans with a new zipper or hem, darned a favorite sweater for myself and my sister and made a big stack of great dish rags with threadbare towels. Even an old sheet can be sewn into new pillow cases or a little summer dress.

 I used old sheets and scrap fabric to make some much loved Christmas gifts for my kids last fall and they didn't cost a penny. I made giant Nessie stuffed animals, softie dolls, furnished a dollhouse and sewed the entire 1959 Barbie wardrobe with a bunch of fabric scraps.

Aluminum foil
Depending on the first-time use, some foil may be beyond a second life but if it can be rinsed off, use it again! Re-use foil to cover left overs more than once or wad it up, stick it in a potato or onion bag and you have a great pan scrubber that you didn't have to buy.

One winter, our car wouldn't start so my husband popped the hood to find that the battery terminals weren't looking so hot. He used a small wad of tin foil to scrub the corrosion off the terminals and the car fired right up and ran without any problems.


Buttons on shirts
Even in 2016, buttons are expensive! With a 50% off coupon, I'll easily spend $1 or more for a lousy pack of 4 buttons. Thanks to grandma, I never throw away worn clothes that still have their buttons.

Re-use buttons on clothes you've sewn yourself or to replace lost buttons.  I also take zippers from worn jeans, pants and dresses. With a good stock of buttons in a jar, you'll rarely need to buy any, which brings me to our next no-pitch item

Jars, boxes, jugs or any container
Great grandma must have been quite the jar hoarder because the jar obsession has passed down to my grandma, my mother and now me. We rarely pitch a jar, be it glass or plastic, big or small!

 Use jars for spices and grains in the kitchen, to hold your hair ties, q-tips and cotton balls in the bathroom. My husband has jars of screws and nails in his workshop and I use them in my sewing room, cleaning cabinet and of course, one with holes in the lid so the kids can catch critters in the summer. Decorate jars so you can keep them out in the open and no one will guess that they may have deemed them ready for the trash can.

Mason jars are now selling for a pretty penny, especially the colored vintage looking ones. Color your own for a trendy look on a dime store budget. My mom made her own Moroccan inspired lanterns from old spaghetti sauce jars.

Save boxes as well. Shoe boxes are worth their weight in gold in my house. We use them for our craft supplies, snack organizers in the pantry, holiday decor storage and kids school projects. Break boxes down to store flat, if you're low on space.

Bones from a chicken or cut of meat | Veggie Scraps
My family loves a rotisserie chicken or nice roast for dinner and the left-over bones make wonderful stock. A box of chicken stock costs around $2-3 at my local grocery stores but it's easy to make your own for free.

a freezer bag in the freezer and toss veggie scraps and chicken carcasses in the bag. When you're ready for a great soup this winter, toss the contents in a pot of water, season with herbs, salt and pepper. In the Great Depression house, not a scrap of food was wasted.

A Diaper
This one won't be for everyone but the truth is, Great grandma never threw away a diaper because she used cloth. When my daughter was born, I was a stay at home mom with plenty of extra time for laundry so we decided to give it a shot and try cloth diapers to save money like grandma used to do. 

Just shake solids into the toilet and flush away and have enough on hand to wash about every two days. Stains are quickly bleached away by hanging in the sun. We saved a fortune and we never added a diaper to the landfills. And a fluffy cloth diapered butt is so cute!

Now that my kids have outgrown their diapers, we've sold the ones in good shape on Craigslist and saved the rest for great cleaning rags. 

Bacon fat
To this day, many of my family members hang on to bacon fat. Oil and lard costs money so why pitch that flavorful, wonderful bacon grease?  Keep one of those recycled glass jars in the kitchen to store bacon fat. Add it to gravy, soup, cornbread, potato salad and potato cakes. Bacon fat keeps in the fridge for a month.

My home was built in 1930 and we've found old newspaper in the walls as insulation! Grandma may have used newspaper for : gift wrap (use the funnies!) glass cleaner, storing breakables, compost, starting seeds, make a pinata, packaging material in the mail, pet cage liner or to start a fire


Soap scraps
Those pointless little slivers from a soap bar can still be put to use. Put the scraps of bar soap in an old pantyhose leg or worn out stocking and tie it off. Stick it by the sink for kids (who, in my house use way too much liquid soap) or next to the garden sink.


  1. Fantastic tips!!! I really need to step up my game and incorporate some of these steps into my routine!!!

  2. This is good stuff! We also reuse ziploc bags. We couldn't get any on Africa, so we always washed and reused them. They were gold! The extra fun part is after washing, when they're wet, they will stick to a wall and dry that way.

    1. my mom re-uses ziploc bags too and she's gotten me to start also. They're definitely good for more than one use, most of them time!

  3. I love this post! My beau and I were just talking about his grandfather and how growing up during the depression shaped the way he was as an adult. Like your great grandmother, he saved most everything and found uses for most everything he saved. There is so much that we can learn from folks of that generation, not just to save money but to live more mindfully and without so much waste.
    I'm surprised at how many of these things I already do, like saving jars and buttons and bacon fat, and I am excited to give the others a try!

  4. When I had guinea pigs, I lined their cages with newspaper and shredded it up for bedding. I had to change it more often than the store bought bedding because it wasn't as absorbent, but it was worth not having to buy any at the pet store. That can get expensive

    1. instead of trashing the used paper when you clean out the pet cages, lay it around your garden plants and cover with mulch. Voila, fertilizer and weed prevention!

  5. This is the true spirit of home economics and I really wish it would make a come back. Nice post.

  6. These are great tips! When I go camping, they use those laundry tablet nets with soap slivers in them in a similar way!x

  7. Soap scraps are great for marking fabric when you're sewing. Let them get dry and they leave a nice thin line that always washes out.

  8. Love this. We started saving jars too, especially the peanut butter ones. They are awesome to reuse for paint and spices we buy in bulk.
    I just threw a sheet out. I wish I had seen this first. :(

  9. These tips are really fantastic, and I just adore the dollhouse and barbie outfit you made!

  10. Great tips.. We are so wasteful in this generation we live in.
    You can also-- when your soap gets almost used up..just a thin sliver, lay it on top of your new bar of soap[wet the new bar first] .Lay in your soap dish, and the next day, it has stuck to it. I didn't come up with this, I read it on another blog. But since doing this, I have not thrown away any soap..
    Love the things you made from scraps.Adorable.

  11. Terrific post and trip down memory lane. My grandmothers, numerous elderly relatives and neighbours alike all came rushing back to me (I should mention, thankfully, both of my grandmas are still alive) in this list. On top of the sorts of things mentioned here, some others that I firmly remember these people in my life saving.reusing when I was a child include any sort of resemble food tin (such as Christmas cookie tin), zip-lock bags, the plastic tabs on loaves of bread, twist ties and rubber bands, paper bags, and hotel toiletries.

    ♥ Jessica

  12. Fantastic tips! I keep my bacon fat in the freezer, and it keeps pretty well for quite a long time. It lends too tasty a flavor to just pitch it!

  13. I am now the Grandma and I save everything.Jars,boxes,bags,etc.I bought a 'soap saver' to remake soap slivers into bars.I am probably the one buying your used diapers at yard sales and online since my daughter uses disposable.Nothing beats a good old fashioned diaper for dusting!

  14. I just stumbled upon your blog through Pinterest and I am really loving it! I feel like we're long lost vintage friends :) We are doing a year of not spending this year (eek!) so these tips are very helpful. Thank you! http://www.superbusyathome.com/welcome/2016/12/16/the-year-of-notspending

  15. My Momma always saved soap scraps. She would wet it a little & fill holes in the wall long before Pinterest. Also, shed take some with us wherever we went because some restrooms didn't have soap. Also, she saved her bacon grease, buttons, & old socks, tee shirts etc for grease rags for my Dad outside, cleaning rags inside,& any mess you just wanted to scoop up & throw away.

  16. I have always saved old pillow cases and sheets to use for sewing. Thanks for all your tips

  17. One more comment about slivers of soap. When the soap gets too small to use, drop it into a small plastic glass with a little water. It will melt into liquid soap overnight so you can get one more shower using the liquid soap. I also pour larger containers of shampoo and conditioner into travel size plastic containers for use in the shower. Even if you drop or spill, it will only be just a little spill instead of a full sized container going down the drain.

  18. I loved your tips. I am a plus size lady and I like to wear dresses but the price for a new dress is outranges so I buy a lot of sheets from thrift stores and I have beautiful dresses for almost nothing. I have been able to find patterns and anything else I need at thrift stores also.

  19. I recall wool socks being darned, and if they were no longer repairable, they became puppets. And what about the food... any fruit was made into a dessert (cobbler or slice). Banana into banana bread - everyone knows, but not often do you hear people making simple apple crisp anymore. Leftover meat was sometimes ground and used in Sheppard's Pie (my favorite) or soups. My mom baked lots of bread. But any 2 day old bread was made into all sorts of things: bread crumbs, croutons, breakfast casseroles, french toast... Oh the bacon fat.. yes! buttons, bread ties, zip locs, prescription bottles, jars, containers, plastic grocery bags, paper bags, hotel soaps and shampoos, lol. Yes all true and all in my house today!

  20. My mother saved plastic bread bag to store home made tortillas, or in a pinch; she would slit the bag up one side to use to cover her head during a rain storm to get to and from the car outside. Our ancestors were the best recyclers!

  21. I use/hunt down old sheets to crochet into rugs, place mats, baskets, etc. White ones cane be dyed colors. Or, splatter paint on them before making into stripes. If I have stains on clothes that won't come out, I paint little designs over them...a whole new look. I pretty much do most of the above also :-)

  22. Also the adage of "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without" is excellent advice as is "one man's trash is another's treasure". Yard sales and thrift stores are main shopping places for me. I am a senior and shop the thrift stores on senior discount days of the week ( 25%-30% off) Also "bag sale" days. All part of things I learned from my grands.


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