There’s a vintage phrase I have always associated with my grandmother and with the Great Depression: “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without.” The mother of six, she was the master of making the most of the things she had, an essential skill when raising her kids, the first four of whom were born right before and during the Great Depression. It turns out it’s not a Depression-era saying, but one from World War II, the economic driver that turned the United States economy around. It was coined by the US War Advertising Council during World War II to discourage Americans from shopping so that raw materials could go to the war effort.
I had this phrase in mind earlier this winter when I was organizing my gift-wrapping materials. After letting my kids grab what they wanted or needed from my stash for the past few months, the neatly organized boxes of ribbons, bows, gift bags, and more were a bit jumbled. As I put things in order, I also discovered I had a lot of small bags that would be perfect for my kids’ mishloach manos: bags we bought for mishloach manos in years past, bags we got mishloach manos in that were in excellent shape, even some goody bags left over from birthdays. They don’t match, but they do fit two bags of chips, some candy, and a soda–the planned contents of the kids’ mishloach manos. Score one for using it up!
My very first blog post–two years ago this week–was actually about Purim. I called it “Cleaning Up from the Messiest Holiday,” and in it, I wrote that while Purim is my second favorite holiday, “what I don’t love is the tremendous amount of waste we generate each Purim. The extra bag of trash on the curb that week takes a little bit of shine off the day.” I really enjoy making and sending mishloach manos, so I strive to find a way to send nice packages to friends without generating a ton of waste. My ideal would be to send mishloach manos in packaging that is both reused and reusable, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. I planned to send soup and a baked good, so I had been putting aside those blue plastic cartons that mushrooms come in every time we make pizza to hold the baked good. I thought starting to save at Chanukah was early enough, but apparently, low-waste mishloach manos should be conceptualized sometime around Sukkos! I’m saving those for next year and will keep adding to the stack over the next few months. I had also wanted to reuse glass jars to hold the soup, but I wanted jars with no branding on the lid. I don’t think it looks so lovely sending soup in a jar that says pickle relish on the lid! (As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that there is probably a way to paint or decoupage the lids, but that’s not a project I’m going to take on a week before Purim.) I set the jars I have saved aside for next year, and I’ll continue to hold onto those throughout the year.
With reused packaging off the table, I still wanted packaging that the recipient could reuse or recycle. I went with Mason jars (thank you, HaShem, for the fantastic sale at Walmart.com that I heard about from kosheronabudget.com), deli paper, which can’t be recycled but can be composted, and brown bags with handles that can be reused and recycled. I will make sure to tie my label to the bag with ribbon rather than taping or stapling it on so the bag can be used again.
For me, being organized is the key to making it successfully through the hectic weeks to come. Many years ago, I developed a system for tracking mishloach manos that is the most efficient in terms of time and also helps us not waste gas backtracking to streets we’ve already been on. (Here’s a sample Google sheet with faux data so you can see how it works and copy it for your own use.) With gas at $4.09 a gallon here and probably going up by next week, that’s key.
About a month before Purim, I open up this list and look at it with each family member. We update who we are giving to, if needed, and change any outdated addresses. When I’m planning my mishloach manos, I just sort the list by the “Who” field so I can see at a glance how many kids mishloach manos I need, how many for our family friends, and how many I need for our rav and rabbeim, since those are different. The day of Purim, I sort the spreadsheet by Town, then Street, then Address. With the data all sorted, I print out several copies to take in the car. That way, we can go down each street in an organized fashion, and the kids know when it is their turn to jump out and go up to the door. Such an improvement over the complete balagan that was Purim deliveries when my kids were little and I went out with a list that required me to spend a lot of time scanning the page searching for where I should go next, and inevitably missing a house or two. The only way I could burn less gas on Purim day is if we started delivering on bikes. Hmmm, that’s actually not a bad idea!
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