'Waste not want not' for a new generation

As proverbial belts are tightened, the waste-nothing attitude adopted by previous generations suddenly has renewed relevance.

Make Do and Mend attitudes are becoming trendy again as the global slowdown forces us to re-evaluate our spending.
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It's not a slogan we've heard for a while, but Make Do and Mend, the British Ministry for Information's wartime plea for sartorial stringency, may be due for a comeback. As proverbial belts are tightened, pennies checked and carbon footprints reassessed, the waste-nothing attitude adopted by previous generations suddenly has renewed relevance. We may not be about to hang our tea bags out to dry for reuse just yet, or share our bath water with the entire family, but such attitudes are becoming increasingly chic. "Waste not want not", they said, and it may be time we took a leaf out of their book. Trained consumers that we are, it's a little more complicated than simply learning to darn, so we hit the streets of Abu Dhabi in search of inspiration from the past.

"My mother used to see a blouse in a shop window," says Hilary Coull, a housewife from the UK, "then she would go home and make it. She used to make lots of our clothes, and I in turn used to make some of my daughters." This, she explains, was partly out of need, but also out of want. "Children appreciated things more if they had been made for them, especially when it came to toys. My husband's grandfather made him a wooden rocking chair out of pegs - he loved it. And nobody bought dolls' houses back then. You simply made them."

For many people in the UAE, dining out several times a week is par for the course. Not so for Celene Duckworth's grandparents. "My grandparents used to have date night once a month," says the 17-year-old American student. "Then they would go shopping once a week, portion their meat and vegetables and cook all their other meals. That was just how they lived." For Nathan Masrulla, an 18-year-old Lebanese-Australian student, his standout memory of his grandmother is her proud insistence on saving chewing gum. "She used to chew the gum, and then take it out and put it on a plate where there were other pieces of chewing gum. And then when she wanted one again, she would help herself to an old piece off the plate. She did that for as long as I can remember." A mere drop in the chewing gum ocean, of course.

Beauty products, the financial scourge of many a youth-obsessed woman, have dropped a little further down the shopping list since fears of economic gloom started to spread. But ever resourceful, wartime women came up with natural alternatives that were conveniently interchangeable. Hannah de Figueiredo, a lawyer from the UK, remembers her grandparents concocting a highly effective homemade moisturiser. "I don't know exactly what was in it," she says, "but I know it contained olive oil. They liked it so much they continued using it even after they could have easily bought the ready-made stuff."

Similarly, saving soap, something many women did in the past, may be well worth considering if domestic budgets start shrinking. "My granny was awesome at saving things," says Emma Towers, a British lawyer. "She used to save all the old odds and ends of soap from the various bathrooms and put them in an old stocking so they could be used down to the last inch." Such penny-pinching behaviour might have seemed risible in the past, but when times are tough, a couple more showers out of your family-sized Pears bar adds up.

Stockings, often seen as the preserve of the wartime generation, could also become de rigueur once more if people start taking De Figueiredo's grandmother's advice. "She thinks tights are a total waste of money," she says. "If one leg ladders, the other has to go too. It was stockings all the way for my grandma." We may be wasteful consumers of the first degree, but all is not lost. Ros Alston, who is from the UK and works in community management, has inherited her grandparents' flair for economy. "My granny used to draw a line around the bath," she says. "It was never higher than five inches." Her mother still uses the washing up and bath water to water the garden, and both her grandfathers used to finish every evening by literally counting their pennies before entering the total into a ledger. Alston refuses to buy a dishwasher and is now planning on buying some chickens for her garden in Khalifa City in order to have access to a free and on-demand egg supply.