Living Well by Making Do

Reader Contribution by Sarah Joplin
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Photo by Sarah Joplin

Long before the saying “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” came into being, there was a common phrase which simply said: “Make do.” It goes hand in hand with “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and implies making use of what you have on-hand, items and materials you have readily available. Making do with what you have to accomplish a given task has been the prevalent approach for eons. Now we “up-cycle” as a work-around when really we are finding an item with which we can make do, using something we already have rather than feeling compelled to buy the “right” item for the job. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And making do is an essential, if unspoken part of self-sufficiency not to mention a great way to employ creativity and ingenuity.

It’s gratifying not only to find a way to achieve your end by employing, reusing or repurposing an item but it is also a joy to utilize long-neglected things that still have perfect utility which you’ve either saved for a rainy day or long forgotten.

For instance, we’ve been renovating our antiquated barn for several years and have saved stacks and piles of wood cut-offs from various parts of the re-construction. These include odd shaped and sized 2x4s and other dimensional lumber, scraps of OSB board, and nail-ridden old-growth oak and walnut used to build the barn in the first place. The construction crew wanted to burn or trash these remnants but my boyfriend insisted on keeping them. It turns out they come in handy for all sorts of projects! When it came time to build out his shop, many of these cast-offs made perfect small shelves, drawer bottoms and sides, and bench materials. Instead of wasting this perfectly usable wood, we saved money, made space and had JUST the right pieces for a variety of applications.

Photo by Sarah Joplin

Similarly, we got chickens and made do with our old barnyard watering trough as a brooder for the chicks. The same lumber cut-offs make perfect “risers” to lift waterers and feeders as the chicks grow. In fact, much of the lumber also came in handy to build a divider in the coop separating the roosting area from the supply area.

Another example of the frugality and practicality of making do came when my boyfriend was in need of substantial lumber material for his woodworking bench. Instead of paying a premium for such wood, he scrounged up stray lumber laying around in an old shed. It took hours to plane, chisel and band saw some of the pieces into straight and square bench legs but the end result is not only handsome but he made use of what would be expensive materials that were lying there to rot! It turns out the four legs were all cut from an individual tree; you could see how all of the rings aligned into growth rings as if premium wood from custom milling.

Photo by Sarah Joplin

When I took to gardening with gusto, I was looking for containers to start seeds. Not being able to resist some of the annuals in the garden centers, I purchased some 6-packs. Once the starts were transplanted, the containers made great vessels to start my own seed and it got me thinking about what people do to recycle these. Come to find out, Lowe’s had a program where people can give or take these plastic containers, so I was able to acquire a good number. I’ve now used these over 7 growing seasons! Of course, egg cartons can also be made into seed flats as just about any plastic vessel can become part of a container garden. Another way to make do in the garden is to propagate your plants using your existing “stock”. Many perennials transplant well when you dig a small portion of them to plant elsewhere. Others thrive after cuttings have been rooted and allowed to establish before transplanting. You can also collect your own seed at the end of the season and re-seed the next spring.

Perspective is so important when approaching a subject. We are fortunate to have abundant (actually invasive) Eastern Redcedar on the property, so we have taken to cutting and chipping the trees to yield copious amounts of mulch (and push back the onslaught). And though the rocky hillsides can be difficult to landscape and thin soil horizons challenging for planting, they do yield generous amounts of valuable decorative rocks for making stone walls and walkways as well as edging specimen plants, shrubs and trees. 

It turns out we can get by and even make out pretty well when we take a fresh look at the materials we have available and envision how we can make do with them.

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