by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" was the Depression era mantra. "Reduce, reuse, recycle" popular when I came of age. The idea never really goes away, and with the resurgence of the simple, frugal mindset in today's economic distress it seems more important than ever.
Salvage operations can run the gamut from huge to tiny, depending on what you have, what you can find, and what kind of space you have to store those finds. A few years ago, a 1940's-era trailer park below us was taken out in order to build a new strip mall. We watched as the residents left, and the trailers still movable were taken out. I checked with the project manager about salvaging what was left. Other than the office building, wrapped for hazardous asbestos remediation, he told me to help myself. They were going to bulldoze everything, and had to pay for everything hauled away by weight. If we wanted to "lighten their load," we had a couple of weeks to quietly help ourselves.
Wire fencing we rolled up - fencing always comes in handy around gardens and chickens. A few dry-stacked cinder block walls and cement patio blocks also found their way up to our place. The few remaining trailers, too decrepit to move, were pretty heavily vandalized by local teens, but we did find a couple of exterior doors we could use. One now graces our chicken coop, its sliding window providing welcome summertime ventilation.
Even more important, to us, were the trees in between the now-empty spaces. We gave a friend with access to a tree spade first chance at them, but he could only take out a couple because of the crisscrossed mess of electric, gas, and water pipes buried over the years. Then, it was our turn. We heat with wood - chunks of 50-year old apple, sycamore, and locust soon added to our firewood stacks.
Of course, you don't need a truck or lots of land to salvage things for reuse. Many of my canning jars came from Freecycle offerings. Mom had her junk drawer in her house in the suburbs; Dad had an old coffee tin filled with odd little bits of hardware out in the garage. When I inherited my mother-in-law's button box, she'd obviously cut sets of buttons from worn clothing, then tied them together with bits of string. Even the rubber bands from the daily newspaper and twist ties from bread wrappers have their spots in my kitchen drawer; plastic freezer bags are washed and hung up to dry over my sink.
Just a couple of caveats: anyone that's seen the reality TV shows about hoarders knows that sometimes people can go too far. Creative people are most at risk of this mindset - they're the ones that can come up with all kinds of reasons something "might" be nice to have. You have to balance what you find with what you really can use (fabric stash-busting, anyone?). And beware that upholstered piece of furniture out on the curb - it might not be such a good find after all. You certainly wouldn't want to bring bedbugs or other pests into your home just because it's free.