One of my childhood memories of Guam is riding shotgun with my mom as she slowly drove the family station wagon through our early morning neighborhood streets on trash day. On seeing an easily repairable rattan chair thrown with some random person’s trash, she stopped the car, launched herself onto the curb, opened the back of the station wagon, and hauled in the chair before anyone could see her.
Later she would repair that chair with chicken wire that she had on hand, strategically twisted into place with needle-nose pliers, and my family would have a new-for-us chair.
Meanwhile, my dad — when he wasn’t on ship somewhere in the Pacific — would night dive from a nearby beach, net and spear fishing whatever was out and about at night. Based on the catch I would find in the kitchen sink the following morning, it always seemed to be some variation of grouper and pissed-off octopi.
Now, I’m not saying this is typical of an immigrant family, or an enlisted Navy man’s family, or even a Filipino-American family. But in my family, I learned pretty early how to find stuff for very little money and (more importantly) how to make do with what we had.
Like duct tape. I LOOOOVE duct tape. I’ve made makeshift tote bags out of used-but-clean Ziploc bags and duct tape. Why? Because of bag policy requirements at places like the AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys). Once I saw that “clear tote” I thought, Hey, I can make that with stuff I already have!
I cook the same way. My dad was and still is a great cook, being able to create meals based on what’s in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. He taught me how to cook, so I tend to make meals the same way. Carb, fat, protein, plant fiber, yummy spices — permutations of those five = a complete meal. The only time I grocery shop is when I’m missing one of those components. If I have enough of those components, I whip up something.
As an aside: It drives my sister nuts that those “whip up something” meals are all in my head because she’s a recipe-collector-and-follower, but I don’t have enough of what’s in my head written down for her to replicate the results.
Another example of making do is arranging the stuff in my house. There’s a show I saw on HGTV while at my parents’ house for Sunday dinner. I don’t recall the name of the show, but the two hosts were showing a homeowner how she could redesign a room based on furniture and other home accents that she already had, scattered in other parts of her house. In other words, instead of making a Home Depot or Ikea or Room Store shopping run, all she had to do was “shop” in her own home. (There are tons of websites like this one to help a person redecorate without the HGTV treatment.)
I try to do that as much as possible, like repurposing some lumber and bricks languishing in the shed as a footpath in the backyard. I even repurposed a couple of cotton valences that the previous homeowners left behind as 1) a pirate sash for my kid and 2) a hanging noren as my bed’s headboard.
The other side of that “shop” mentality is donating stuff that’s just sitting around and I have no use for these items. It’s easier to know what I have when superfluous items — like generic CD cases… really, when was the last time I burned a CD??? — aren’t cluttering the house and yard. That includes, by the way, the dreaded “junk” drawer. (This site is helpful to get started with decluttering.)
One category of clutter that many folks (like my parents) overlook — medications.
Now, once upon a time I was briefly pre-med. And I’ve always been a science nerd, gobbling up science documentaries on PBS. So I knew how to read a medicine bottle to suss out the med’s chemical name and, therefore, its purpose.
For instance — miconizole. It’s a topical (that is, skin-only) antifungal, often sold as creams, sprays, or powder. But the brand name for it can either be Lotrimin, Micatin (for jock itch, athlete’s foot, and ringworm), or Monistat (for vaginal yeast infections). But the main ingredient for all three — miconizole — is the same.
So, with my skin allergy for all things mold, the largest amount of miconizole for the cheapest amount of money is a big ol’ tube of store-brand vaginal yeast infection cream, even though I slather that stuff on my hands and back-of-my-knees.
Also, fluticasone. In nasal spray form, the name brand is Flonase. In ointment/cream form, the name brand is Cutivate. Either way, fluticasone is a corticosteroid that’s stronger than, say, Cortizone-10 (hydrocortisone), in relieving redness, weeping sores, and itchiness. While Cutivate is still prescription-only, Flonase (to my happy surprise) is NOT.
So when I can’t get ahold of Cutivate just yet, then I spritz some Flonase on my misbehaving skin, slather on miconizole, and take a pill of diphenhydramine (name brand — Benedryl) or cetirizine (name brand — Zyrtec) — either one’s an H-1 antihistamine, but diphenhydramine will knock me out (it’s listed as a “sleep aid” in certain OTC pain meds, after all).
In a related note: when a physician’s assistant treated me for a wasp sting, he suggested that I supplement my generic Zyrtec with generic Pepcid, the heartburn med. I learned that famotidine (the active ingredient in Pepcid) is an H-2 antihistamine and, thus, boosts H-1 antihistamines. So that’s how generic Pepcid found its way in my medicine cabinet.
Thus, I can make do with a limited medicine cabinet because I know just enough pharmacological chemistry to use these meds for more than one purpose.
So — these are just some of the ways I’m making do with what I have. I’m not an expert or professional (especially with all that aforementioned med stuff), but so far, so good.