Save. Spend. Splurge.

Growing up cheap made me more eco-friendly

I didn’t grow up in poverty by any stretch of the imagination, but I did grow up with parents who were… shall we say frugal to the point of being cheap? πŸ™‚

My dad repaired (and still repairs) mesh sliding doors with duct tape because he’s waiting for it to REALLY be destroyed or covered in tape before he uses the new one he bought on sale 3 years ago.

This of course, not only saves money but the environment because we buy a lot less than if we were to care about things like mesh sliding doors.

Other things I was used to doing or trained to do at an early age:

  • Turn off any wasted running water — to this day, I get slightly sick when I see water being wasted
  • Turn of any and all lights in any room you aren’t using
  • Re-using some water that is not necessarily dirty, to water the plants with
  • Buy secondhand items like winter coats, skates and bikes because I was still growing
  • Buy items 2 sizes too big for me so I could grow into the coat
  • Wait a year too long before buying another winter coat and wearing longer gloves to compensate
  • Spend most of my life (even up to now), not owning a car or driving — walk or take the bus/subway!
  • Not wasting food like overripe bananas — it becomes a banana cake!!
  • When things broke, we did without them unless it was unbearable

I am sure there is a lot more, but those are the main ones I can think of.

They’re all eco-friendly things that saved my family money, and ended up seeping into my brain when I became an adult.

I can’t help but think that my childhood has a lot to do with what I do today:

  • Don’t use laundry detergent 99% of the time (only for greasy, gross loads)
  • Don’t use dryer sheets (they use animal fat, I was told, to make clothes softer)
  • Use white vinegar, tea tree oil, and basic soap to clean the house
  • Use napkins and handkerchiefs instead of tissues (unless I’m REALLY sick..)
  • Avoid buying or using hand sanitizers, and use soap and warm water instead

And my favourite?

Learning how to buy secondhand items (consigned / thrifted) or higher quality items that last.

Wearing and buying secondhand is really solid for the environment, because it’s reusing what has already been made, and you aren’t purchasing anything new which will contribute to a stronger carbon footprint.

In addition, toxic chemicals in too cheap clothing can be a serious health concern because it’s how they cut costs.

I really got into consignment stores lately because you can find higher quality brands and really nice things that people have gently used.

I always wash and clean everything before I wear it, although I know it still makes people shudder at the thought (BF especially, so I just don’t tell him)…

…but when you score things like gently used cashmere sweaters for $30 that sell for $300 or more, or Manolo Blahnik heels for $60 properly taken care of and used by someone who paid $900+ for the shoes, your price point for actually buying those items drops.

It’s like finding a great deal, a gem of the lifetime and saving a lot to boot. I can’t tell you how awesome I feel when I find exactly what I want and have been searching for, for a price beyond reasonable.



  • Yoko

    I’m curious as to what your parents (and Jess’, and Cherry’s, and Cassie’s…) think of today’s minimalist lifestyle trend (“The 100 things challenge”, “How owning less is better for you”, etc. etc.). Poverty – or wartime rationing, as in my parents’ case – teaches you to hold on to everything, in case you.’ll need it later and not be able to either afford it or find it.

  • Jess

    Yep, I grew up doing all of those things as well. My parents both grew up in poverty and had tough lives, so they were also frugal and cheap. My mum never had stationery, so in her adulthood she hoarded every single scrap of paper like treasure. My parents mended their clothes until they were unrecognisable (patches on underwear and replaced elastic bands… come on, that’s basically the entire underwear!) and still refused to replace them with the new clothes they had sitting in their cupboards. In their current home now they walk around in dark half the time instead of turning on the lights. I could go on forever. But yes, absolutely, it had a huge impact on me and being more conscious to repair/repurpose/reuse/DIY/go without. Even though my parents drive me crazy, I am glad I have these values.

  • Cassie

    Your bullet point on wasted running water made me snicker. My husband brushes his teeth with the water running rather than just turning it on when he needs to rinse out the sink. If I’m doing my makeup or hair beside him when he’s brushing his teeth I turn the water off on him. I think it annoys him, but there’s no need for it to be on and I think he’s getting used to me doing it now.

    Growing up we always had a large garden, so composting was a part of life for us. Even living in the city with a smaller garden, I still hold on to my eggshells and coffee grounds to use as fertilizer. You can just crush the shells up and coffee grounds can be added directly. No smell, no fuss, just keeps it out of landfills and saves on fertilizer.

    My mom made a lot of our clothes when I was a kid. It’s not as cost effective now when you look at the price of fabric compared to what clothes are selling for in stores (which is a dead giveaway something is amiss), but I do still perform some of my own alterations. I understand not wanting to tailor something difficult like a custom dress or suit, but hemming jeans or taking in a shirt from the thrift store is a great place to start (even if you’re not particularly skilled). I have a maxi dress I picked up at a clothing swap that I think is going to turn into a maxi skirt this weekend. It’s not difficult by any means.

    In addition to the cleaning items you mentioned above, I’ve found baking soda is a go to in the bathroom. None of the chemical cleaners take water spots off our shower door the way baking soda paste and a little elbow grease does.


      The water thing drives me mad. Mine used to leave it running just to annoy me. It bothers me so much I can’t concentrate when I hear it on….

      I have learned how to do simple hems but for taking in shirts and so on, I don’t know but would like to learn….

      How did you learn? Did you just teach yourself, or learn from your mom? My mom can sew somewhat….

      • Cassie

        Mostly I learned from my mom, but sewing was also a mandatory part of home economics in grade 8 where I went to school. Sewing, cooking, woodwork and metalwork. I’m not overly good at it, but I can keep two pieces of fabric together if I need to.

  • chezloup

    Can you recommend some consignment/thrift stores in Toronto?

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