Butter wrappers from my fridge

Can you guess why I took this picture?

No, I didn’t go on a butter binge. Nor am I experimenting with French cooking. These are wrappers saved over the last year.

Every time I look at a butter wrapper, I smile, remembering a statement one of Stuart’s Old Order Mennonite aunts made years ago when we were drying dishes in her kitchen. She had whipped up an amazing meal on the spur of the moment. And now she was whisking away all the dishes with the help of her daughters and me. I was a newlywed, so perhaps she was using the occasion to pass along some of her motherly wisdom.

Aunt M looked at me with dead seriousness in her voice, a twinkle in her eye, and a butter wrapper in her hand. “Now, my sister and I debate which is the best way to take the butter off the wrapper. She’s a knife scraper. I just use these to grease my cookie sheets and cake pans.” I was happy to describe myself as a Greaser rather than a Scraper also.

Neither of us would think of throwing away all the good butter left on the wrapper.

Another story from about the same time period, the early 1970’s. One of my neighbors, a woman whose husband owned a successful business and could have been sipping cocktails at the Country Club, invited me to an afternoon project in her back yard.

What were we doing? Taking soap collected from local hotels, scraping it down so that it gleamed in the sunshine like the new piece of soap it was. Then we packed up the clean bars to send to disaster areas. We discussed various ways to create and preserve soap. Some of the women remembered rendering lard and adding lye to make their own soap. Most of us didn’t do that, although all of us knew people who had.

Instead, we discussed how to do soap grafting. When a piece gets small, we add it to a larger piece while it’s wet. That way we can use it to the end.

Saving, preserving, fixing, recycling. These are things I learned how to do at home and still value.

They save money, yes. But the impulse behind them goes beyond penny pinching.

There’s the planet, of course. Back in the 1960’s we were only beginning to recognize how wasteful American society is and how much harm we were inflicting on oceans and land.

90 days until Blush launches! Save those pennies and buy the book! The paper underneath has been recycled -- twice!

I also enjoy the challenge. Stretching a dollar can be as much fun as spending it. For years, frugality was a necessity. Now I enjoy selected frugality as a way of staying sharp. I haven’t scraped a soap bar since that day long ago, but I keep saving wrappers, reusing plastic and paper, and grafting soap.

There’s a spiritual dimension to all of this that supersedes the other reasons but is harder to describe. The native American concept of walking gently on the earth, trying to leave no trace, lifts our eyes from the earth itself to the heavens and to respect for all the generations to follow us.

Aunt M understood all of this, as she stood there in her kitchen, more than forty years ago, butter wrapper in hand. She was treading lightly, enjoying the joy of being alive, wanting to share that joy.

My New Beginning today? I’m returning all these pennies to the tip jar in this restaurant. The perfect act of frugality not only saves money, it gives it away also.

I can’t wait to hear what your New Beginning is today! Click here to share it and to enter the 100 Days Challenge. And I’d love for you to share frugal tips below.

P.S. In case you don’t know about the 100 Day Challenge.








Shirley Showalter


  1. Ray Evans on June 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Those lessons in frugality learned in those early years stay with us all our lives. I grew up as the ninth of ten children far from town and stores. It’s amazing how one can stretch things, make things, and repair things if one really needs to. We were recycled things long before it came into fashion and I still do!

    My mother was the most frugal person that I’ve ever known. She always said, “a penny saved is a penny earned” and she practiced that every day!

    TOG, (the Old Geezer from Geezerville)

    • shirleyhs on June 14, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Hi, Ray, good to see you back here again. And I can tell this is a subject you can relate to. What’s the most creative recycling your mother ever did? Or the most frequent way she saved?

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on June 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    “Reduce, reuse, recycle” – That’s the mantra of our local waste management organization. But my folks did this their whole lives. And taught us kids to do it, too. My husband (one of 11 kids) was cut from the same cloth. If I need something, my first stop is his shed. He almost always has whatever I need. Or he can make it.

    • shirleyhs on June 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Wow. One of eleven makes for either huge platters or small servings at the dinner table.

      Those experiences of doing without or making from scratch often benefit us as individuals and certainly our communities benefit when we “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

      Another thing we have in common, Country Girl.

  3. Marian Beaman on June 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Today when I opened one of Mother’s kitchen drawers I spied a bowl cover she had recycled from a hotel-style shower cap I sent her in a greeting card months ago.

    Your butter-wrapper and soap-grafting illustrations sound very familiar to me. I’ll add one of my own: Tin foil is never ever used just once at our house. I clean and flatten the Reynolds Wrap repeatedly pinching pennies from the silver.

    Yes, saving, preserving, fixing, and recycling are part of my DNA too. Great post!

  4. shirleyhs on June 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    My daughter refers to our recycled cottage cheese containers as “Mennonite Tupperware.” And yes, I clean bags and foil and re-use also.

    Love the idea of shower cap bowl cover. I’ll have to remember that one. But probably I won’t copy it. I’m afraid I don’t adhere to the higher standards of the older generation. 🙂

  5. Aleta Schrock Ellsworth on June 15, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I’ve been both a smearer and a scraper- depending on the need. I’ve been a grafter too. And all those yogurt and cottage cheese containers… They are for sending home holiday leftovers with other family members. I grew up washing plastic baggies, despised the task and vowed I’d never do it. Sadly I didn’t for many years. But when I became aware of the condition of our landfills, I began to use reusable containers whenever possible so I could minimize my footprint.

    I grew up Old Order Mennonite in rural Goshen, IN. And I have family in the Harrisonburg and Dayton, VA areas. I look forward to reading your memoir.

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      So sorry I missed responding to this comment earlier, Aleta. I’m glad you have reclaimed frugality. I love trying to minimize my footprint. Gets harder as the need gets greater, however. Blessings!

  6. Ray Evans on June 16, 2013 at 10:26 am

    My Mother was a saver, no question about that, partly because she was frugal and partly because we were far from stores! Every piece of string, every tin can or anything else were always saved for a possible re-use!

    We didn’t have a garbage service, “didn’t need one”, since hardly anything was bought from the store, there were vary few containers to throw away. The hogs and the dogs ate the food scraps, most everything else was considered a treasure to be used amother day!

    Old wicker bottom chairs were repaired with deer hides and used for years after other folks would have thrown them away! Shoes were cobbled together with tacks and scraps of leather from other old shoes that had reached their demise long before!

    TOG, (the Old Geezer from Geezerville)

  7. […] that the last two numbers have been written with Hershey chocolate syrup, and now that you know frugality is a life-long habit of mine, you are probably wondering how I put that syrup to good use. Iced […]

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