Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Making Do

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


Advertising or a trip to The Container Store may convince you that there is a perfect, purchasable  solution for every one of your problems, needs, and desires. But before you rush out and make a purchase, stretch your brain to think: do I already have something that will serve my purpose? The following are some things in my house that we have made do with very satisfactorily, no special purchase necessary.


A cardboard box with a few large and small holes cut out of it for the cats to play in. They love their cardboard box, and it certainly works as well as they $25 cardboard “cat castle” that I recently saw at Petco.

Cardboard boxes are also fine for storing Christmas ornaments and the like. There is little reason to purchase plastic storage containers, especially extremely specific containers like the ones that are supposed to hold wrapping paper or your seasonal wreath.

For years I have used the compartmentalized side of egg cartons to hold my earrings. Each carton holds a dozen earrings and several of them fit neatly in my drawer.

I repurposed several excess leftover containers to hold my various chargers and iPod accessories. A label on the lid makes this storage system even more efficient.

Some other extra leftover containers migrated to the bathroom where they now hold cotton balls and Qtips.

When my pillows started to get too flat, I cut them open and redistributed the fluff. Instead of 6 flat pillows, everyone in the house got a new, fluffy pillow. (And, in case you’re wondering, I discovered that the fluff was almost exactly the same in every one of the pillows. What was different was the fabric and style of construction on the pillow case.)


My husband and I package our dinner leftovers immediately after eating. (And sometimes before we are done, if we think that we’ll needlessly eat too much.). Depending on what’s left, we may make up a lunch that’s ready to grab and go or just put away like with like.

We don’t leave the leftovers in pots, as that would be inconvenient when I cooked again. In fact, it might make me think I needed to buy more pots! In addition, having pots in the refrigerator makes it harder to maneuver.

In addition, every container is marked with a piece of masking tape on which we write the date and what’s inside. This simple step really cuts down on food waste.

Lastly, every Saturday lunch is a leftovers meal. I pull out everything that’s in the refrigerator  and everyone helps themselves to whatever they want. Usually this takes care of anything that’s still hanging around at the end of the week.

What clever solutions have you come up with to make do with what you have?

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter old sporting equipment for sports you no longer play. I have done this with our snorkelling gear, my son’s little league gear and  most of my softball gear as I have no intention of ever playing again. I kept my mitt as a keepsake because it is special to me and has lots of signatures from the Seattle Mariners on it.

Eco Tip for the Day

I don’t think we need an eco tip today as I think Cindy has it pretty well covered.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Wow, I’m definitely using the earring egg carton idea!

  2. Definitely, your suggestions today are friendly to the environment and also to our wallets. I can laugh about it now, but my mother was a great example of using what she had on hand to store items. Only problem was, she had too much of it and would tend to hoard and never let any of those things go. They did not have any industries back in those days that catered to organization, so you had to be resourceful. She would save every plastic container that came from the grocery store, like the ones that prepared potato salad come in. She would clean them and use those for leftovers or whatever she needed to store in them. Most of us, if we take a moment to think, we can find something around our homes, that will do the job just fine, instead of buying a specialty item. My kids have enjoyed numerous hours playing in cardboard boxes. Just be careful, sometimes there are little pests, bugs, etc., that like cardboard, but if things are stored in an appropriate area of the house, this may not pose a problem.

    • Jen – my mother and grandmother both did that too.

      • I have plenty of reusable plastic containers now, but I think that even I have done it once or twice in the past :). I refrained from collecting them for permanent use though. I even had a friend who would use the empty plastic bags that bread comes in to put his sandwiches in for lunch. Now that is being resourceful.

        • Oh, I also had a friend who would save those plastic containers (not the cardboard ones) that come with frozen dinners in them. The ones that have different compartments which can help with portion control. As long as it was not distorted after the cooking process, he would wash them and put his own dinners in them for the next day’s lunch at work.

    • Jen I do that now.But love Cindi’s idea of the egg cartons for the jewellery and the cardboard box with holes cut for the cat to play in.

  3. Cindy, this is a good post. It’s so funny because I was talking about something like this yesterday to S and a friend. We were working on albums that S bought 3 years ago for us to make. We are just now getting to them. The friend was talking about the work we had done on the crafts room, etc. She said that she was going to go home and do some work on hers and would need to check on storage solutions. I asked her what she thought she needed and then proceeded to give her some ideas of things like the egg carton idea for brads, jewels, etc. and the idea of covering cereal boxes to make containers for magazines, etc. I also directed her to for all sorts of homemade storage solutions. She was all excited about going home and doing this.

  4. I like your ideas. Luckily, I have less and less use of storage containers in general, but I’ve always used little cream containers (tins) for craft supplies (for pins, buttons, beads etc.) or also these small plastic cases SD-cards come in. (about 10 years ago I also used (photo-) film cases, but these days I don’t have any). Also, I am a big fan of twist-off mason jars. I re-use lots of glass jars that we buy jam, pickles, mayonnaise and other food in. Meanwhile I’ve “standardized” my collection to one lid size, which makes canning easier and allows to stack the jars (I chose a lid size which is one of the two most common over here, it comes on jars of all sizes from big to small). These jars close very tight, so no bugs or moths can creep in or out, and apart from self-made jam etc. I also store flour, lentils, rice etc. in them – or sometimes use them for leftovers in the fridge, becauseI have got rid of most of my plastic storage containers.
    Cardboard boxes come in all sizes as well, so if I need anything, I just wait until a new shoebox or chocolate box or whatever suits best comes along.

    We usually have little left-overs and include them in the very next meal (Next day’s lunch or same day’s dinner). If there are more leftovers, I freeze them right away.

    • Sanna, I do love screwlidded glasses for storage, too. Now I just have to convince the BF who thinks tupperware is neater … (actually, for some things he is right when it comes to the form of the container but I don’t like to put my food in plastic if I can prevent it) I really need the containers to be see through, otherwise we’ll forget about the contents too easily …
      I guess the solution will be to replace some of the square and stackable tupperware with square glass forms that come with firm closing lids and can be used for transporting, heating, baking AND freezing. Though they still have plastic lids overall I am intrigued by them. It’s only that it feels wasteful at the moment as our tupperware is not nice enough any more to pass it on and not worn out enough to be replaced. So it’s more of a longterm plan to move on to something better some time.

      • Oh, I know those, my granny has a few of them. They’re nice as well. I also have two enamel containers with plastic lids which I use most of the time for leftovers etc. (you can put those in the oven as well – not in the microwave though, but I don’t have one) or for transporting food – along with the two plastic boxes I still own. However for most things that stay in the kitchen I use my glass jars.

        • Sorry, too fast: At the moment I’m still rearranging the kitchen far too often to invest in other containers. Also, I store most of my dry food in a deep drawer, so I don’t see how pretty my jars are anyway – I only see them from above and with my glass jars I just put labels on the lids to see what’s in there. If I ever have another kitchen where I see more of the container, I maybe might change things, but for now this is working well.

  5. I really enjoy the encouragement and good ideas on this blog.

    One of the “toys” I remember being most excited about from my childhood was the box the refrigerator had come in. That thing was awesome! I used it as a fort, a trap for my sisters, a cave, a little house. My parents weren’t thrilled that it was big, but it only lasted a few weeks before we’d destroyed it and it could be non-controversially recycled.

    When I was about 13, I decided that my little sisters had too many toys. I paid them each $10 to box up their toys and play with pipecleaners for a month instead. They made a set of toys out of the pipecleaners and played with them fairly happily for the whole month before unboxing all their other toys. Now that story is hauled out as an example of my controlling big sister nature, but I still think I made a reasonable point. 😛

    • Rebecca – just the other day my kids were talking about the time we got a new refridgerator and they had the box as a hut in the living area as a play hut. I seem to recall we kept it about a month, I’m not sure if it got too battered or if I got tired of moving it around but we certainly got our mileage out of it.

      • My 10 year old has a box in the LR right now. She’s outfitted it with a curtain on the front and a pillow inside. The only downside is that she has to compete with the cats to use it!

    • I remember the box my dads Computer came in. Back in the days computers were big and I was certainly smaller, so the box (with a black and white cow pattern on the outside) was transformed into ship, car, cave, shop, etc. it lived for more than two years in our attic where we had a little corner to play…

  6. I used the bottom half of an egg carton to store some bottles of hair dye because they were easier to use if stored upside down and the tops of the bottles fit perfectly in the egg carton sections. I use a clean Altoids mint container to store bobby pins. It works perfectly and we already had the tin in the house.

  7. Trying to think of ideas as I’m writing!

    We save plastic pots/tubs from packaging – chinese takeaway containers, sauce pots etc and they’ve found loads of uses around the house, from storing dried food, to holding our earphones and charging cables/connectors, to corraling craft and stationery supplies or even making up mini kits like sewing or first aid. Just doing a quick round up in my head I can think of at least 30 we have in use at the moment. Oh and TicTac boxes are surprisingly useful!

    We also store deccies in cardboard boxes – who needs a fancy container when its just going to languish in the loft for a year!

    I cut up old plastic ring binder folders to use as bookmarks too (only works with the ones that are solidly plastic not the plastic coated cardboard ones!) and also laminate old cards to use as page markers/bookmarks as well.

    I also keep all my empty essential oil bottles so I can make up my own blends and give them to family to use.

    Another free solution was I repurposed a couple of art palettes for jewellery as I didn’t want to spent £15 on a properly jewellery container!

    Old t-shirts and socks (clean!) make good dusters.
    I’m currently thinking of reusing some jars for spices, but want to come up with a prettyfying solution – scouring Pinterest as we speak!

    Whenever we get a gift that comes in a sturdy but not necessarily colour coordinated box, we use old emulsion to paint the boxes in the required colour for reuse – currently storing all my tealights in a couple of these just now.

    When I was younger my Mum made us all soap bags from facecloths – anything you put in damp got absorbed by the cloth rather than the moisture lying in the plastic lined bags you got from the store – I thought that was genius. Oh and my Dad made lots of vases using old out of date pasta and polyfilla! We didn’t have much money, but we certainly made do!

    There’s a great website in the UK – that has an old-school thrifty forum and it is excellent for repurposing and make-do and mend ideas plus we’ve a programme on here called Superscrimpers that has lots of money saving ideas (shows people who spend too much on food, clothes, make-up, car maintenance, whatever the subject how you can still have just as good food, wardrobe, style, etc without spending £000s. We were forced into making do when we made the decision to want to pay off our mortgage and have never looked back!

  8. Love the post and mostly agree. However, I want to add a climate related comment (excuse?) I live in a rainforest. For longer term storage, a plastic, fairly tightly lidded tub works better than a cardboard box.

    On the kitty front, I re-purposed some jute from a worn out cat tree (off Freecycle) to wrap some posts and keep the kitties happy. My friend wrapped the sides of the ladder leading to a loft room and her cats love it.

    Totally agree on the food comments. And have ready made lunches from last night’s leftovers makes the mornings easier for packing lunches.

    • Delores, i think a moist environment would make storing things more of a challenge. I’ve heard of using metal trash cans for storage in wet environments, too.

  9. Loving today’s post. Right now I have coffee jars soaking in the sink to get the labels off before I turn them into pantry storage jars — I use my label maker to print official-looking labels for all the seeds and grains and whatnot in there. The jars themselves came from people at work. I asked around for spares of a particular brand with nice glass lids so that they would match what I had, since we only buy refills pouches now so I don’t accumulate any extra jars myself.

    We very rarely get takeaway food apart from pizza, but on the few occasions that somebody orders an Indian I always save the plastic tubs that the food comes in. They are a perfect, stackable, freezable, microwaveable, portable, disposable-in-a-pinch tub for freezing and reheating leftovers. I can put half-and-half homemade curry or stew and rice into one and it’s a generous lunch for the office.

    And yes, good call on not leaving leftovers in the pan. My husband does this and the kitchen always looks messy, and mess begets mess so there’s soon a heap of dirty dishware and cutlery building up around that pan. Often I come along behind him and tub his leftovers before he has a chance to think about it.

  10. I also wanted to thank the community for encouraging me to try Freecycle. So far my experience with it has been very good. The big piece of plywood I didn’t know what to do with is gone, shelf that doesn’t fit in my car should be gone tomorrow, and now I’m seeing if some leftover supplies from a tiling project will also go.

    • Freecycle is great, isn’t it? It’s so good to find somebody who wants to use a thing rather than you having to take it to the dump, and especially when they come to take it away as well 🙂

    • Hurrah and you’re welcome!

    • Since I heard of freecycle (probably here) I have been using it in both ways (giving and taking) frequently. I also introduced a lot of people to it and they are using it too. its a huge community now, which makes it harder to get the good stuff (I am currently checking for a new bedframe)… freecycle is amazing.

  11. I used to purchase those vacuum bags to store ‘stuff’ in. Now I don’t. We do not have extreme weather conditions or the need to store seasonal items.
    My husband is a ‘tradie’ , ( he welds, machines, builds stuff in steel ) so he has a lot of stuff. A few months ago he did a clean up and had a pile of rubbish he wanted to get rid of. I donated a couple of things to the local junk/antique shop, one of which was a homemade tool box. Last week he thought he could use the tool box for storage, had forgotten he had discarded it in the last cleanup, was walking past the junk/antique shop and saw the box out the front! Fortunately he has a sense of humor and delighted in ribbing me about disposing of something he could use. I did remind him I asked if he wanted it before I donated it! Anyway, I can say I ‘found’ him a more suitable tool box along with a lawn mower that he worked his magic on to replace our rusted lawn mower.
    You don’t need to shop at the container store to buy storage is like a whisper that grows into a shout. Cheers

  12. Loved your post. I came from a generation growing up with parent’s that lived through the Great Depression. Their mantra was, “Use it up, Wear it out, Make Do or do without”. Fortunately and Unfortunately (it’s a double edge sword at times), I am the Queen of making do, haha! I once saw the the late George Carlin on Johnny Carson talking about the whole “Make Do” process. It was hysterical.

  13. I think shopping for some storage solutions can be a nice reward once you’ve figured out what exactly (and really!) needs to be stored and where and how. I think in the process making do with what you have on hand is an absolute must but it is okay to find out after some time that some specific solution would make your life easier and better. Just don’t head to the store before you have thought, purged, arranged, re-arranged, purged, thought (preferably a few cycles ;-))
    I have fallen into some storage solution traps over the years and now try to really pay attention to the needs before I purchase something (and never browse store sections with nice boxes because I know I am always tempted). However, on some open storage we have I prefer matching, store bought boxes to mismatched shoeboxes. All the repurposed, mismatched organizing solutions may go into drawers and behind doors.

    • I agree, but have got rid of too many storage solutions in the last years that didn’t really fulfill my needs in the end, so I’m a little cautious at the moment. There is still more to declutter before I buy anything again – and there are also the remainders of my former buys, so I do have a few baskets or pretty boxes as well.

    • yeah. rearranging before getting the storage solution is a must.

      Since I can remember, my mum was always asking for a certain type of shoebox (grey box, colourful lid) in a brands store. and she always got some, always for free. She used them for sorting her craft supplies and her toys (she is working with toddlers). I dont want to know how many shoeboxes are in drawers (for candles, flyers, postcards, tissues, etc).
      I am using cardboxes for electronics, postcards, cleaning supply, craft supply (the few items I have are actually not worth the big box, but I have the space and the box, so I dont mind). I am always wrapping them in pretty paper, or stick some pictures on the visible side, so that I can easily re-use them by changing the wrapping, but still have a certain “beauty” in my shelf.

  14. Hi! One of the very first advices I read, way back in 2007, when I was starting my decluttering process, was that you only buy storage containers AFTER decluttering. I did not always follow that advice, but I reuse ice cream pots for food storage, because they are better than Tupperware. I use pet bottles to store rice, beans and corn (for popcorn). Once you wash and let the bottle dry for some days, with the top down, it is great for storage of grains and it is easy to store. I learned a few tricks when I went to the countryside where they make do with whatever is at hand, because they live far away from convenient stores. To buy a plastic container they have to travel, at least 15 km. I walk 500 meters. But I saw no reason to do what they do and save some money.

    • Hi Andréia!

      May I ask how you fill those pet bottles? I also thought about storing some of the grains in bottles rather than jars, but I am a little clumsy so I’m afraid this would result in a big mess when I try (re-)filling the bottles with grains. I’d assume you use some sort of funnel, but isn’t this clogging the funnel and thus troublesome as well?

      • Grains, lentils etc. can be put into bottles with the help of a piece of paper that is rolled up to form a funnel. Thus, the opening can be made as wide as possible to still fit the bottle. I find it tricky, too, though and it works better with 2 people, one slowly pouring, one holding the makeshift funnel and adjusting it in case something gets stuck. However, I wouldn’t use plastic (see my concerns below).

        • Thank you. I’ll give it a try. I haven’t thought of plastic, rather glass bottles for milk or ketchup or something that aren’t so narrow. That should also make the filling easier. Unfortunately the most common milk bottles are about 1mm too high for where I’d like to put them…

  15. It is easy to run out to the store and get storage containers for all of our stuff instead of thinking twice before we go and possible tackling the stuff instead of just buying more containers to put it in. While I do like a sturdier container to put things in and keep rodents out, there are other things we “reuse” instead of recycle. My problem is that I don’t like things hanging around the house very long if we don’t need them. I like to reuse them right away or get them out! But, you can save a lot of money doing that. Kids are just as happy making forts out of cardboard boxes. They can even personalize them and you don’t have to worry about them drawing all over or cutting holes in them, etc.

  16. I don’t want to sound preachy but I think everyone should consider where it is possible (and maybe necessary) to go plastic free. I strongly believe that we all are practically used as guinea pigs when it comes to plastic (and a lot of other substances, too). Just think of BPA! Everyone thought it was harmless for decades but today it is forbidden (unfortunately not everywhere).
    Reusing is a good thing in general but when it comes to food storage all plastic should be considered very carefully.

    • I have so many people around me getting rid of their plastic in the kitchen, too. I do see the point in it, but I have to say, I do like my tupperware… I am using glass jars for most of my herbs and spices, but I wouldnt like to use them for food leftovers, because I think its a pain to clean them again. Now if I would have a dishwasher, I would certainly reconsider. 😉

      • If you find the topic interesting I can recommend reading “Plastic Planet” by Werner Boote (I actually found the book to be much better than the documentary). Thus said, I still have some tupperware but I try to avoid it for longterm storage as well as for oily or acidic food.

  17. I do not have a sewing/craft room, so for my projects and materials I use the clear zippered bags that linens come in; there are several different sizes from small (sheet sets) to medium (blankets) to large (comforters). I can keep material, pattern and thread/bobbin/trim all together. They are sturdy and see-through, and stand up easily in a box if you need to corral them.

    I use shoe boxes for shoe storage (why buy plastic boxes just for your shoes?!), and also for craft items such as paints that need a sturdy container and need to stay upright. And I use large flat boxes that boots are sold in to keep miscellaneous craft supplies in – they can be stored under the bed. The tube containers that certain kinds of chips come in are good for storing paintbrushes in to keep the bristles from getting out of shape.

    When our kids were young, we used laundry baskets to store their stuffed animals and larger toys. Easy to fill and light to move around – fill it where the mess is, then take it to the closet.

    Recently I organized my desk drawer using a couple of small boxes that jewelry comes in. I put the bottoms into the inverted tops to make them stronger, and sorted the paper clips into one, elastics in another. They fit very well into the shallow drawer and made it so much neater. I get a lovely feeling of organization every time I reach in there 🙂

    Cindy, great post! Great comments, too.

    • I think that’s great Jo you are using what you have and sort of upcycling which I really into lately.
      I also used washing baskets when my kids were little and kept one in the loungeroom so my toddler learnt how to put the toys away- I made a game of it by saying see if you can beat mummy putting them in faster, it worked a treat.
      I will use the jewellery box idea myself if you don’t mind.