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Making the Most of What You Have (Guest Post)

Guest Post by My Friend Kelly

January is over and the Eating From the Pantry Challenge has come to a close. While you may be ready to dive back into grocery shopping, couponing, and restocking, don’t let the momentum end here. The principles behind this challenge can be applied to a variety of other projects which can help cut costs, de-clutter your home, and streamline daily life. Sometimes this means using up excess stock and other times the focus is getting more regular use out of non-expendable items.

Here’s a few ways to do that:

Personal Hygiene Products

Whether or not you can find coupons and deals on the food your family eats, most everyone will be able to find a rebate or rewards deal on hygiene products at one of the drug stores or national chains around the country. Using what you learned during Eating from the Pantry Month, give yourself 30 days before buying any new personal hygiene products. In the meantime, clear out your bathroom cabinets and see what you still need and what you don’t.

Finish up half-used bottles of shampoo and conditioner and use the last bits of lotion from gift sets. Replace the razors with dull blades or broken handles and if you have liquid soap, refill pump bottles.  Toss broken combs or hair accessories and use up the last inch of mousse or gel before starting a new bottle. If someone in your family opposes a particular brand and you have unopened items consider putting together a care package. Check out this post for ideas on what to send and who to send it to.

Pull out fresh floss and mouthwash to improve your oral hygiene and health. If you haven’t swapped out your toothbrush in the past three months or have recently gotten over an illness open up a new one but don’t throw out the old just yet–a toothbrush can clean more than your molars!

Household Cleaners

Maintaining a clean house doesn’t have to take hours and hundreds of dollars in premium cleaning products. Use similar tactics to inventory what you have, see what you need, stretch what you use and find substitutes.  While you’re digging under the sinks use up the last little bit of general cleaner and wipe down the shelves. Try to identify what you use each product to clean and how often you use up a bottle.

Don’t just think about products but other supplies as well.  Re-purpose old towels from the kitchen or bath as cleaning rags, use old worn out toothbrushes to scrub small crevices, find an old pillowcase to clean ceiling fan blades, or lone socks to dust. If you find you have a pile of dusting rags you can reduce the amount of paper towels you buy.

Office supplies

How many different places in your house do you have a stash of pens? Notepads? Tape? Round everything up and sort it out (old shoe boxes come in handy here) and toss or donate what you don’t use.  Find out what you’ll need for everyday use and what school-aged children can take to class. Just like the pantry challenge, make do with what you have–blue pens can work just as well as black ones–and substitute where you can. Whether you write grocery lists on the back of a used envelope or reuse file folders these tactics can keep money in your pocket and clutter out of your home.

Centralize one place for commonly misplaced items like tape, scissors, and sharpies. Or is that just my house?

Crafts & Decorations

If you can be described as crafty, then you’re probably well aware of the dangers that entrap quilters, scrapbookers, knitters and painters alike. It’s easy to hoard supplies and fill drawers, bins and yes, even rooms with projects that we have no hope of finishing in ten lifetimes. Make the commitment to stop buying new supplies for one month and go “shopping” at home. Dig through your stock and try to remember what project you had in mind when you brought home these items.

Finish an old project or start a new one, substitute one component instead of buying new, and give away things you won’t use to someone who will. Consider a swap amongst friends or just a potluck night in when everyone can bring a dish and a project and work together.

As Spring rolls around it can be easy to get tired of our surroundings and want something new and fresh.  Check your attics, basements, and closets for decorative items that were put away or forgotten. Re-hang a picture or touch up the paint on a table. Move around some furniture, pull out the throw blankets, fill glass vases and use the good china.  Put a new picture in an old frame or clear everything off a wall and paint it fresh.  Look for things you already have that can be used in new and interesting ways.

There are also some things we can be getting more use out of, things that are not necessarily used up.


Do you have family games gathering dust? Puzzles, video games, books or movies that go unused? The same principles apply even if using an entertainment item will not expend it for future use. Pull out all your puzzles and look them over together. Maybe some are missing too many pieces, another too advanced for younger children, some too juvenile for older children. Keep what you’ll use, recycle what you won’t. Donate unused items to your school or church, ask friends if their children would enjoy something new.

Do your kids have piles of half used or broken crayons? Turn them into a craft project. Go through your books and weed out volumes you no long read, reference or enjoy. Do the same for family pictures by tossing prints that are fuzzy or faded, or pictures that have no personal meaning or value. Be careful about tossing older photos that may have some value to another family member. Check out this post for tips on preserving family memories.


If you find yourself wearing the same outfits over and over again try the Empty Closet Challenge.  Pull everything out and box up things that don’t fit or flatter your figure.  Work with what you have and fill in pieces that will create attractive looks that fit your lifestyle.  At the end of the month pull out the boxes of discarded clothes and sell them by consignment or eBay, return new items to the store, donate to a charity or give to a friend. Don’t forget to look over belts, scarves, jackets, shoes, and jewelry too. Rethinking a wardrobe can be challenge–check out this site for ideas on using thrift store finds to create stunning new looks for under $20!

I know it seems overwhelming when you think of all the places to apply the principles you learned during Eating from the Pantry Month. But just like January, take one thing at a time, make adjustments as you go, and share what you’ve learned. By 2011, you might just have a cleaner, uncluttered home, more money in the bank and new routines. Then your only challenge will be finding a New Year’s Resolution you haven’t already accomplished!

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern California. Despite a high cost of living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly looks forward her first trip abroad, thrift store decorating, and teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

Photo credit: Fauxto_credit; Kevin McShane; Patrick Q

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  • becky says:

    Really good tips and great post! Thanks!

  • Katie says:

    Thanks for this post! I just posted today about reusing tin cans for varied purposes…. I love trying to find new uses for old items. Love the ideas listed here…thanks!


  • Sandy says:

    With each new year I do what I call my January Sweep. I go through every drawer, cupboard, cabinet, and closet to reorganize what I have, put things back where they really belong ( I have a rule that everything has a place) and eliminate what I no longer want or use. It also helps me to ensure all holiday decorations are put away. I place things in different piles which organizes for me as I go. There is the resale shop pile, the pass on to a family member or friend pile, the goes to church pile and the rest goes right into the garbage. I find it helps me to be grateful for all I have and empowering that I have taken the time for myself and my home.

  • Diane says:

    Great article! This is definitely something I need to do more off and I appreciate the reminder.

  • colleen says:

    I am so thrilled to see that someone else has the pile of pens I have! That way I never have to buy one!

  • Karen says:

    Great article with some great tips on clearing out. I got too caught up in saving money by spending and using coupons that I need to slow down and see what I have. Thanks!

  • Susan says:

    Wow! First thing this morning I took a look in our linen closet and came to the same conclusion: Time to stop stocking up and use what we have, because there is plenty!! Did a little re-ordering and de-cluttering and it was great. Thanks for the post — it was very helpful. Great things to keep in mind!

  • Cortney says:

    One thing I do with the inevitable pile of coupon-funded toiletries is to give them away to women’s shelters. One of my friends worked for a battered women’s non-profit, and she said they always got tons of donations of clothes, food, furniture, but what they always needed were things like deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, razors, body wash, etc.

    • @Cortney, Interesting, I never had any excess toiletries at home, but only excessive clothes and way too too many books. Toiletries are always short at my home… and I always found myself running out of shampoo, running out toilet paper…or fresh air spray…

      • Cortney says:

        I think it’s because I’m single with no kids, so when there is a CVS/Walgreens deal for a few things of toothpaste, or body wash, or shampoo, I always end up with way more than I need and I’m always giving them away 🙂

  • What a great post! It’s funny; I think the “Eat From the Pantry” challenge got a lot of us thinking! I know I posted about it yesterday on my blog. It’s cool how one small change (even in the form of an experiment!) can effect a lot of other big changes. Thanks for all the great tips.

  • Julie says:

    Toothbrushes can be cleaned by dipping the head in mouthwash or in the dish washer (sans chemicals)

  • Melissa says:

    I am LOVING all these guest posts. They are so inspiring! Thanks for throwing in all these articles to make us think and improve our lives in so many ways. Of course I love to get all the money saving tips, but these articles are nice little surprises. Thanks!

  • Emily says:

    Great post! I recently hung pictures on our bare/needing to be painted walls to give them a fresher look so that we can hold off on painting until it fits better in our budget.

    Cortney- great idea on giving things to a womens shelter. I have tons of free trial sized things lying around, waiting to be used. Now I can clean up some space and donate them to a good cause!

  • Patti says:

    I have had the very same thoughts this month! Some of my ideas: 1. If you have a shampoo or conditioner that you’ve bought with coupons, used it and decided you didn’t like it, don’t throw it away. I pour mine in mini bottles (like the hotel shampoo bottles) and use it once a week. (I keep the big bottle in the closet). That way I get to keep using my favorite but use up the ones I’ve opened.
    2. We have a school supply shelf in my son’s room where we put all the excess stuff and he “shops” from there every time he needs something. 3. And I found out when I was pregnant that we don’t need as many clothes as we think we do. It doesn’t pay to buy anything – even at a thrift store – if it is “too much”. You can wear your clothes for a week or two and see how many outfits you need and keep only that amount. I practice the “one in and one out” rule – if I buy something new, something else has to leave. My wardrobe now is VERY simple which saves an incredible amount of time – both with washing and with getting dressed everyday.
    Now I am going to start working on using up all my other products so I can clean out my bathrooms, linen closet, and cleaning closet!

  • I’ve been thinking lately about how, even though I’ve got all these games, it seems only one or two get used over and over.

  • Kasey says:

    Thanks for the great post. Lots of good links! Have a good weekend.

  • jen says:

    Amen sister. I think the Lord is speaking to His dear ones. I really do. I am a seamstress and have been given tons of fabric. I recently moved and realized I had way too much fabric.

    I was able to
    give away:

    3 boxes to a widow with small children
    2 boxes to an older sister in church with limited income
    5 boxes to a minisry that makes blankets for the poor
    2 boxes to other sisters in church

    And I still have alot left for mine and my families sewing needs.

  • Fantastic advice. I try not to use creativity with what we already have and avoid buying craft supplies. I do not have the time, money, or space to accumulate extra supplies.

  • debbie lynne says:

    Wonderful post – I felt like it was written especially for me! Thank you.

  • cait says:

    This is so great. What a fresh reminder of simplicity. Thanks for sharing this inspirational blog!

  • Kari Shipman says:

    Thank you SO much for including a link to my page in this post! I am passionate about helping people find & embrace their own personal style without breaking the bank, and making it a socially responsible decision. You have a lot of great readers who care about those things too – it’s great to see women embracing positivity in all aspects. Love your blog – you have a fan!

  • Tonya says:

    I loved this article. I also wrote an article today about appreciating and using what you have. You have some great suggestions. Thank you


  • Ashley says:

    They had an article similar to the “Eat From The Pantry Challenge” in this months Kiwi Magazine. They used a lot of the same ideas you had along with a few others. Pretty informative article.

  • aimee says:

    i chuckled as i started to read this as it sounded so familiar. a couple months ago i went through our linen closet (which is really the catch-all closet) – threw out things that were expired, cleared the top shelf and made it the unopened “inventory” shelf, and made a mental list of all of the half-used/already opened items. our rule was that no one could buy any health and beauty item without first looking on the already opened and unopened shelves. i’ve been amazed at how long we’ve been able to go without buying these items.

    i know a lot of people who read this blog stock up on things when they are on sale but for us (with a small house) it’s easy to get cluttered and disorganized so i’ve also stopped doing that.

  • Kelly says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! I love the motivation to look first to what we have at home when it’s so easy to run out and buy another.

  • Gwen says:

    Great post. I need to do this, but didn’t realize it until I read this post. Thank you.

  • marisa says:

    Thanks for the link! I live in Sacramento and it was cool to see she lives here too!

  • Love, love, love this article! My family and I recently did the closet challenge and were amazed at items ‘hidden’ in the back of the closet. Not only did we get some ‘new’ outfits, but we also were able to donate quite a bit of clothing and shoes.

  • Wow!!! I am impressed if that is your game and puzzle shelf! Also, all those pens…..yeah, when we run out of pens, it is usually because we really have no pens!!! And we only own maybe 3 games that are complete, the other ones I throw away usually. Well, there might be 4…..I have an abundance of books, but there are people out there who really do not have stuff.

  • Antonella says:

    love this post!

    this is what I do if I discover that a shampoo/body wash I bought is awful (also good for the hotel samples, that are usually cheap smelling and harsh):
    I use them as soap!
    for the hands in a soap dispenser
    for my delicates (bras or lightly soiled clothes)
    or for the dishes!
    In the last case, I also mix and match the tiny doses left in the bottles I normally use (even diluting with water if’s the case)

    it works beautifully

  • stean to says:

    Some of theese ideas I have been using for years, but other ideas seems great as well. Thanks

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