Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

Waste Not Want Not


“Waste Not Want Not” was a saying past generations used and lived by-because they had too. Wasting for past generations was considered shameful. Hard times caused folks to use what they had-to make do-and to never waste.

Miss Bonnie, The Deer Hunter’s Grandmother was born in 1914. She was a typist for Champion International, then after having children a stay at home mom.

At the age of 55 Miss Bonnie started a new career as a lifeguard at the YMCA. She taught half the town of Canton, NC to swim. She worked as a lifeguard at the Y until she retired at the age of 76.

Miss Bonnie lived her life with a “waste not want not” attitude. Even during the later years of her life she still carried the saying along with her in her mind and in the daily actions of her life.

Miss Cindy (Bonnie’s daughter-The Deer Hunter’s mother) recently shared a few details about Bonnie’s waste not time at the Y with me.

The YMCA supplied soap, in the form of little brown bars, for the patrons to use. Most folks would shower and leave the little brown bar laying in the stall only having been used one time. Miss Bonnie would collect the soap instead of throwing it away. She took the bars home and put them in a plastic mesh bags that oranges came in. She used it to wash clothes and dishes holding the bag under running water. She just couldn’t bear throwing the perfectly good soap in the garbage day after day.

Miss Cindy said Bonnie felt the same way about the clothing and towels folks left at the YMCA. The Y’s policy was to keep the items a few weeks to see if anyone came back for them, if no one did the items were thrown away. But not on Miss Bonnie’s watch. Once Bonnie found out the unclaimed items were being put in the garbage she started taking the items home to see if anyone she knew could use them and if they couldn’t she sent them to the local Salvation Army.

My Papaw grew up with the same “waste not” attitude. I remember one time he accidentally poured tea in his cereal not wanting to waste it he ate it anyway.

While I can’t live up to Miss Bonnie’s actions I do hate to waste things. I feel bad about food that isn’t eaten. I feel bad about clothes or shoes that somehow never get the use worn out of them, but I donate them to a local charity or send them to the consignment shop.

So you have a good example of “waste not want not” for me?


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  • Reply
    Bill West
    March 20, 2009 at 2:40 am

    My folks both grew up in the Depression and there was no such thing as leftover food in our
    household. What didn’t get finished at dinner would ofttimes show up
    later that week when it was “leftovers for dinner night”
    Thanks for sharing the memories.

    • Reply
      Deborah Falls
      May 2, 2018 at 9:41 pm

      Make do, wear it out or someday you’ll do without.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I give all the food scraps to the chickens. They love them & lay more eggs.
    Anything I can’t use goes to the thrift stores.

  • Reply
    The Tile Lady-Marie
    March 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I save the butt ends of melted candles so I can re-melt them and make new candles!

  • Reply
    March 13, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    My grandmother (Nanny) and my late mother-in-law were both born within a couple of years of Miss Bonnie. Those two women could squeeze more out of a penny than anyone I’ve ever known. They each existed on a pittance of a social security, and yet had all they needed.
    Granted, my mom did help out my Nanny from time to time, but only because she wanted to give her nice, new appliances and such, not that my Nanny ever felt the need for them. She believed in using it up, and wearing it out.
    My mother-in-law helped out various family members over the years when they needed cash for emergencies. She got by on so little, and yet always had enough to help others.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    March 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I relate to this saying. I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and my grandparents never wasted anything. In fact, my grandma was a pack rat. She saved everything. When the clothes wore out, she would cut them up and make quilts out of them.

  • Reply
    March 12, 2009 at 11:46 am

    My mother never gets rid of anything – she has half a kitchen drawer full of string.
    We waste very little here – recycle/reuse. We make good use of the compost pile and I use newspaper as mulch in the garden. I donate to the thrift store and I shop there too. What I find most frustrating are electronic items – it is usually cheaper to replace them than to fix them so off to the landfill they go. I hated trashing my last cell phone – there was nothing wrong with it other than outdated technology.

  • Reply
    Just Jackie
    March 12, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I just love your stories. Our families may have lived hundreds of mile apart but still neighbors at heart. We share so much of the same background. We reused, recycled, and re-purposed everything. I still do. NOTHING can go to waste. I have a habit of holding on to everything “just in case” So many people have never been “dirt poor” and have no respect for the abundance we all live with now. Can’t wait to hear the new CD.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    March 12, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Beautiful photos, Tipper. What a lady.
    My life has been lived with the same philosophy. My Dad never wasted–he would take pallets apart and plane and sand the wood (which was often good quality oak or other hardwood) and use for all sorts of woodworking projects. Mom saved bits of leftovers from dinner and combined them in soups, casseroles and stews–some more “interesting” than others.
    I chop and freeze celery leaved and bottoms for cooking, use small canning jars instead of plastic containers for the yogurt and cottage cheese I take in my lunch, use the cottage cheese containers for plant starting containers (just punch holes in the bottom)—the list goes on and on. It’s just a way of life, not a conscious effort most of the time.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    March 12, 2009 at 12:59 am

    My casual clothes (tees and jeans) and tennies go through cycles. New- worn for nicer going out to eat or to visit. Get a stain or spot on them, they become house cleaning or messing around the house or running to the store clothes. A little more wear and tear, they then become painting clothes and digging in the garden clothes. The jeans get worn through they become shorts. Learned from my parents. Dad was born in 1903 and mom in 1909. Momma could sew very well and she would stitch up tears and replace pockets in dad’s pants, even would mend his under-drawers. I do understand and honor Miss Bonnie for her frugality.
    Good mindful post. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Rick M
    March 11, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for that story. My Grandparents on both sides of my family would just die at the waste of people today.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Bonnie sounds like my kind of gal! Taking up a new career and living life to the fullest. She would have found a soul mate in my husband. He scrapes out food remnants from each can. He eats the kids’ leftovers. He piles soap chips together to make a new bar. We can not throw anything away unless it’s uses have all run out. Although, I draw the line at eating up the Cheerios behind the couch.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Tipper, all the old habits of saving and making do are really coming back fast. We’ve always had a garden, and I sew, mend and make do for every-day clothes. No one has mentioned my M-in-L’s favorite money saving trick, washing out her zip lock bags. I try to use containers I can wash rather than throw away anything. We send more to the recycling center and the thrift shop than we send to the garbage, everyone could do that!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    March 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I am always so eager to respond to your essays that I forget what is most important: I should have said how much I have come to admire your people for their goodness and character, and you for sharing, with pride, their culture.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    March 11, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    And, I wonder … when does thrift become an obsession and when does an obsession gray into insanity. I rinse out sandwich bags and turn them inside out to dry. I rinse out Bounty paper towels and dry them for another wipe. If I grow a garden, it’s always too big. If I find a wild pear tree, full of fruit, I pick too many. The bounty of our piano teacher’s orchard goes beyond canned apples; its excess is preserved in nearly five gallons (that’s 25 bottles) of wine.
    Mine is an obsession that won’t allow me to waste anything. It is the child of abject poorness, born watching my mother scrimp to use, reuse and exhaust everything she bought.
    She was a girl who was disciplined to a waste-not-want-not existence in the Great Depression but her Scots-Irish heritage would have embued her with thriftiness anyway.
    I am not ashamed of my conservation but we’re about to run out of room.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I am right there with you on the economy you know that. This post so reminds me of my grandma.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I’m big on thrift store donating too. The scraps don’t bother me as much because we compost, and so I feel like the scraps are going back into our garden each year.
    Sometimes if we have big items we have “Free” Sales’ where we just put stuff at the curb with a sign that says free, that stuff is always gone in the morning.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    March 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Tipper: As time gets tougher more people will have to do this. Growing your own food can save money also. I remember in my youth collecting discarded dishes from the Shenango pottery and giving them to the YMCA for use at there boys Summer camp.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Tipper, I can’t bear to throw anything away if I can help it. Meat scraps go to our dog. Other food waste goes into the compost. Leftovers are reused in other meals, or they go into the freezer “soup veggies” box.
    I even save meat dripping, which I later turn into soap.
    When the kids outgrow their clothes, I either have a yard sale, give the clothes to someone who can use them, or donate them to Goodwill.
    A good use for torn up jeans (besides saving for patches) – roll them up and use them for a gnat smoke, if you’re plagued by gnats and skeeters outside.
    We light several “gnat smoke torches” around us when we go out blackberry picking.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 11:28 am

    i’ve really been trying to be more concious of our wasteful habits. I reuse brown paper bags to hold our recycling items. I wash out used yogurt, butter, sour cream tubs to use for other purposes. Clothes that are outgrown go to friends or Goodwill.
    When you think about it, I bet there are alot of ways we keep from wasting things but there are probably alot of ways things go to waste also.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Tipper, my mother was born in 1914 and she was just like Miss Bonnie. I think all women born into that era were out of necessity. They were the original recyclers. “Make do, or do without” was the watchword in those days. Not a scrap of food went uneaten in our house. If there was one bite left in a bowl, Mom saved it to eat later. All vegetable scraps were put back onto the garden plot and clothes were worn until they were worn out. Cuffs were turned and holes were patched. I’m much like my mother in the waste not, want not philosophy, but I can never hope to match her skills of making something out of nothing.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2009 at 1:51 am

    My oldest married daughter puts worn out clothes into her compost pile.
    My mom, who came of age in the depths of the Great Depression, split sheets down the middle and sewed the outside edges together, even replacing elastic in the corners. She also took out the collars of my dad’s shirts and turned them around. Both of these practices had to be taken care of before the fabric wears through or to thinly. I barely notice until there is a gaping hole!

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    March 10, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing the story of this wonderful woman.
    I have always tried lived my life that way. I was taught well by both my grandmothers and my mother. I used to be called eccentric. Now I’m “green” and “cool”.

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    March 10, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    All my kin folks were like that. My Mamaw used to say,”You might see the day when you wished you had that.”

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    One thing I always do…
    When any kind of bottled soap is so empty you can’t get anything out of it, I add water and use up as much as possible before throwing the bottle away.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Sounds like most of the folks who lived when things were not as available as they are today. Most of us grew up with parents who went through the Great Depression and learned to “make do”. It rubs off on you. Throwing things away has always been hard for me.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Your story reminds me of my family members. Those who endured the deprivations of the Depression never lost a sense of how to make the most of everything. I think that’s great. There really isn’t much pleasure in tossing good stuff, anyway!

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    My grandmother saved everything – literally everything. She kept the wrappers from the butter and rubbed them on pans to grease them when baking. During the depression when she didn’t have soap she made it by boiling old bleached bones she picked up near a cattle lot with a bottle of lye. It made a jelly-like soap that she said was the best cleaning soap she ever saw. 🙂 blessings, marlene

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I am guilty of keeping or collecting things because “someone might want them”. I have been recycling more recently and using freecycle.org to give away things that are still useful. I remember my uncle pouring barbeque sauce on his salad one time. My sisters and I thought it so funny that he mistook it for salad dressing. He ate it anyway, so I guess he didn’t want to waste.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    What a great lady – it’s so neat to get to know her through your words and the photos. We can sure learn a lot from the people of that generation!

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    March 10, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing about the amazing Bonnie! What an example. For not wasting–I do a few things. I save worn out, too small jeans to use as patching material for all the denims with knees torn out from my active kids. I can’t bear to not keep a kid in a pair of pants just because the knees are ripped. So we always patch them up.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    March 10, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    At work when we get cardboard in boxes, I save it to use when I need something firm for an envelope that I don’t want to be folded. It doesn’t take up much space and it’s there when I need it.
    I put patches on old jeans that I wear around the house, or to the laundromat because they’re still good. I take the buttons off old shirts and pants and then cut them up for cleaning around the house.
    If I buy french fries and don’t eat them all, I cut them up in scrambled eggs the next morning. My mother’s Mom taught me that. Leftover Western fries are especially good for this. xxoo

  • Reply
    March 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    My parents and grandparents are the same way. This economy has been a blessing in that it has made me realize how wasteful I have been.
    Great post.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 10, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Tipper, what beautiful pictures and comments about my mother. Thank you! She was, for sure, one of a kind. She was a caution, as they say. There certainly are not many women working at the age of 76 especially where the uniform is a bathing suit!!

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