Use It Up

The Use It Up challenge isn’t, on the face of it, about money. Sure, everything around here is kind of about money, and the money-saving part does happen, but the focus is on extending the lifespan and usefulness of things we bring into our lives and homes so as not to just mindlessly consume and buy and consume and buy in a never-ending cycle of habitual consumerism, dumping waste into landfills, and brokeness.

The challenge has three main parts: 1) Use the very last of things you already have, 2) Replace single-use plastics and wasteful items with sustainable eco-friendly alternatives, and 3) find new uses for things you would normally throw away.

USE THE VERY LAST, examples:

  • Cut open the toothpaste tube to get the very last bits out.
  • Water down the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, laundry soap, dish soap (really anything that comes in a bottle) to get the very last bits. Recycle the bottles!
  • Use those little haircare and lotion bottles that you know you take from hotels and have a tub of somewhere. Recycle the bottles!
  • Use a little spatula to get the last of the peanut butter (I’ve done this and it yielded about 2 Tbsp of PB!).
  • Put the last 1/4 cup of rice, lentils, macaroni, or whatever into your “fridge soup.”
  • Cook the meat in your freezer before buying anything new.


  • When you use the very last of your shampoo, replace it with a packaging-free bar shampoo.
  • When you use the very last of your laundry soap, replace it with plastic-free laundry sheets.
  • When you use the very last of your toothpaste, replace it with a plastic-free (glass jar) variety of paste, powder, or tablets.
  • When you use up your shower “poofy schmoofer” body scrubber thing, replace it with a natural alternative, such as a loofah or a biodegradable body scrubber.

FIND NEW USES, examples:

  • Before you throw away, donate, or recycle something, ask yourself: can I get more use out of this thing?
  • Keep and reuse plastic forks and such if you end up with them. Recycle what you don’t need; don’t throw in the trash!
  • Keep plastic containers (sour cream, butter, cottage cheese, etc.) for nails, screws, twist-ties or whatever in the garage. Or for pompoms, googley eyes, and other craft supplies for the kids. Or save them out in the shed or garage to plant seeds in come March — they make great seed starting cups!
  • Turn worn-out shirts (flannel works great) into “unpaper towels.” Cut around whatever nasty stain you’ve managed to inflict, then sew into rectangles roughly the size of a half-sheet paper towel, then stack up next to the sink for drying hands.
  • Turn worn-out sweaters into scarves, cowels, and leg warmers. You just need to be able to sew a semi-straight line.
  • You shouldn’t be going to Starbucks during January if you’re doing a no-spend month, but if you somehow find yourself in possession of a paper coffee cup, just use it until it wears out. I can typically get another 4-5 uses out of these before they start falling apart and leaking. Then recycle!

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