Three habits of thrifty people
With the UK’s much-vaunted economic recovery again faltering, a bit like a wannabe toddler collapsing down on her nappy-clad bottom every few paces, my thoughts are once again turning to thrift and the thrifty habits that now seem to have the same anthropological interest as the customs of far-flung tribes.
This all started when, driven by a morbid fear of what it will be like for our offspring to have to clear out our house when we die (not that I’ve any reason to suppose this is imminent), I decided to have a bit of an early go at some drawers full of miscellaneous stuff.
Among the stuff I found several bars of soap, accumulated from various presents and holidays, and I’ve started working my way through them. In fact, I think I’m becoming a bit obsessive about this, because each time I get to the end of a bar, I try to see how fine and translucent a sliver I can create before it finally dissolves. This then reminded me of the little mesh cage with a handle that my mother used to have. The idea was that you could put all your little scraps of soap in it, and have a critical mass for creating suds in which to dab through your smalls.
When I looked online to see if you could still buy anything like this, the nearest I could find was a cotton mesh soap saver sack, whose primary purpose is described as being to ‘gently exfoliate the skin’, with using up the last little scraps as a secondary consideration – which pretty much sums up the shift in our preoccupations over the 20th century.
Creative ways with mince
At a time when most families had roast for Sunday lunch, the Spong mincer was a staple of the kitchen. Though you can still buy them, a photo posted online baffled many punters.
As a child I found the Spong mincer endlessly fascinating. I loved the way it could be clamped onto a table top, the elegant wood-clad handle, the heavy cast iron funnel for putting the meat in, the inexorable screw inside it forcing the meat into the barrel, and most of all the plasticine-y worms of cold lamb extruded through the holes. The shepherd’s pie that came after wasn’t bad, either.
You can still buy a variety of cast iron mincers from a variety of manufacturers – including an Italian one, but theirs is no chic-er than the rest. And anyway, who wouldn’t want to buy something called Spong? But to get the real-deal 50s item in that characteristic washed-out austerity green you need to go to vintage site Etsy, and it’s yours for £10.
Sides to middle
I don’t remember the thrift in my family extending as far as turning sheets sides to middle – not because we didn’t have sheets thinning in the middle, more because needlework of any sort was not a big thing in our household.
I can’t imagine that it can have been much fun sleeping on a turned sheet, and a post on a grammar website, of all places, confirms this: “ . . . lying on a sides-to-middle sheet is something like walking with a stone in one’s shoe”.
You might think that with the demise of feather mattresses and the strain they placed on sheets, and the advent of polycotton sheets , that the need to turn sheets was a thing of the past. But no, the author of a post dated 2008 (i.e. the dawning of the Age of Austerity) on the moneysavingexpert website claimed that by turning her sheet she had prolonged its life by five years and saved £20.
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If (when?) we end up in the nightmarish post-industrial world conjured up by David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas, let’s hope some of this knowledge survives – we may need it.