It all started with the Soft Scrub. For years and years, Elbira, my cleaning girl, swore by Soft Scrub, using it to get my kitchen and bathrooms looking their very best. On the rare occasions that I tried to save a dollar or two by buying the generic equivalent, Elbira firmly but politely made it clear to me that she didn’t approve. I then bought another bottle or two whenever it went on sale to give her a steady supply. And then one day it happened: I opened the cabinet under my kitchen sink and discovered eight bottles of Soft Scrub all lined up in a neat row. Soft Scrub had been replaced; what was I going to do with the eight bottles?
I know, I know. I should have kept better track. I did ask my married kids if anyone wanted them, but no. With no takers and a genetic inability to throw out usable items (part of your upbringing when you are raised by a Holocaust survivor) I decided to get creative. For about 12 seconds, I contemplated selling them on eBay, but mailing liquids sounded like an adventure that could only have an unhappy ending. Instead, when my sink-side bottle of dishwashing soap got used up, I pulled out the Soft Scrub and gave it a whirl. While it didn’t suds up satisfyingly like my Palmolive, it did a great job getting stuff clean, especially eggy messes off my frying pans and those brown marks that accumulate in your coffee mugs. Over time, I worked my way through most of the Soft Scrub, with a little help from two of my grandchildren who decided that they liked the taste of it, but that’s another story.
Emboldened by my success, I applied the same logic to another location in my house where items seem to magically reproduce in the dark of the night: my makeup drawer. Dabbing on a pinkish liquid lipstick one day I noticed that all of my blushes were way too peachy. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I dotted a few splotches of lipstick on my cheeks and blended them in and it should come as no surprise that my lipstick and my blush were now a perfect match. Ironically, that particular lipstick was a shade I rarely wore and had been sitting in my drawer for longer than it should have. In just a few short weeks I managed to use the whole thing productively.
Those two incidents got me thinking about what other items might be laying around that could be repurposed. The aforementioned makeup drawer held plenty of promise: there was the bronze loose-powder eye shadow that just didn’t look good on my eyes, but turned out to be a great Shabbos lipstick; the pastel highlighter palette that didn’t add much of anything to my face, but was great eye shadow when I dampened my brush with water to get a more dramatic effect, and yes, I have used blush on both my eyelids and my cheeks while on vacation and needed to pack light.
And then there are the products that just seem to pile up in my pantry for one reason or another. Each year when spring rolls around, my local Shop Rite has coupons for a free five pound box of matza with a $50 purchase and, really, how is it even possible to walk out of the supermarket spending less than $50 on groceries in the weeks prior to Pesach? For quite a while I had matza boxes piling up in my pantry until I discovered that my mother gave up buying matza meal years ago, preferring to grind her own. It turns out to be a win-win situation – my mother is well stocked with free matza and I get to empty my pantry, while also getting to enjoy the world’s best knaidlach whenever we visit my folks for Shabbos.
When it comes to cleaning products, it’s hard not to find yourself drowning in an ocean of cleansers and sprays, but it is worth taking a minute to google alternative uses for vinegar, isopropyl alcohol and baking soda, an effort that can yield pages and pages of information. Vinegar is an amazing degreaser that also works great on wood floors, and I have two spray bottles of diluted alcohol in my house – one to clean fingerprints off my stainless steel appliances and the other that gets used with a microfiber cloth to clean the screens on my cell phone and my iPad. And while you might most closely associate baking soda with cakes and cookies, it does a great job deodorizing carpets and getting burnt on gook off your cookware.
I know there are mothers who never get any school supplies back on that last day of the year, but my kids were always great about bringing home whatever was left in their desks and cubbies. While some, like gently used folders, got repurposed around the house, and barely used notebooks got saved for scrap paper and shopping lists, old crayons were my biggest problem. Feel free to take a page out of my book and toss the best of the bunch into a no longer wanted lunchbox that can get pulled out anytime little people decide they are in the mood for coloring or you can transform your old crayons into totally new creations. Melt down a batch of crayon pieces and then pour the hot wax into an cube tray or mold in fun shapes like hearts or Lego bricks, upping the fun factor by swirling different colors together. You can also whip up a batch of two of crayon Play Doh by melting down the equivalent of two and a half crayons, mixing in a tablespoon of oil, and then stirring in a cup of water, 1½ cups of flour, ¾ of a cup of salt and a tablespoon of cream of tartar. I think it is fair to assume that crayons are not kosher so I wouldn’t advise doing any of this in your kitchen or with any of your regular utensils. Check with your local Orthodox rabbi on how to proceed should you decide to try this in your kitchen.
Last but not least, should you find yourself with an overabundance of any particular item, be it a food, a cleaning product, craft supplies or anything else, if you can’t find a way to resurrect it and give it a new life, feel free to reach out to your friends, family members and neighbors. You never know who has use for items that are hogging valuable space in your house and will be more than thrilled to take them off your hands!