Use it up, wear it out…

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“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This was an adage I learned shortly after moving to Vermont more than thirty years ago. And while this may not be New England in origin, the idea is certainly widespread in this area. Maybe it is because most of the housing here is old; in some cases, like ours, that means over 150 years old! Or maybe it is because of the rural nature of the place; getting supplies to remote places, especially in winter, was difficult until modern times. Or maybe it is just a kind of Yankee frugality carried over from the first settlers who came here with few possessions.

I was reminded of this saying in a slightly different way recently, while I stood at my kitchen window and watched an auction crew throw many of my late neighbor’s possessions into a dumpster. It was sad to hear the sounds of items crashing into each other all morning, and it made me think about all the ways we save our “good” things for special occasions. I’m pretty sure that if Mrs. Byrd had known that her beautiful silver-rimmed drinking glasses were going to a landfill someday she would have used them regularly.

Fortunately, because my husband went to the estate sale early the day before, we are giving a new home to a few things: a beautiful quilt, machine pieced but hand appliqued and quilted; a Scandinavian sewing box; a mantel clock; and a decorative plate. These items probably would have been purchased by someone else, but I am happy to have them and happy to use them!


I know from experience that it is tempting to keep things stored away. But rarely is something so valuable that it needs to be kept out of use. I have a set of crystal wine glasses from Sweden, and when I use these with company they often comment that they are too “good” or “fancy” and sometimes express concern they will break one. I originally had 12 glasses, acquired over a three-year period about 40 years ago. In spite of using them frequently, I still have 11. So the fears are unfounded, and if one breaks, so be it.

Of course, the second part of the saying, “make it do, or do without” may be the harder part to follow. Quilting can be one way, though, to partially achieve this. Fabric scraps are abundant, whether one’s own or with a little searching. Some members of my quilting group regularly scour The Restore in our area (the name says it all), or go to the flannel company and buy bags of scraps for $5.00 (enough for at least 3-4 lap/kid quilts). One of my next projects is making window treatments for my studio, using doilies crocheted by my grandmother. So look around, and bring out the good stuff, use it, and see if what you already have can be just what you need.