Be Your Own Rag and Bone Man

Survival is often a frame of mind.  Nothing can be counted as useless, (well, very few things anyway.) Reducing your needed inputs usually means reusing and re-purposing the things you already have.  Whether it’s something as obvious as a tarp or as subtle as scrap cloth. You need to cultivate a mindset like those of the 19th century peasants who literally made their living out of other people trash.

In the UK, 19th-century rag-and-bone men scavenged unwanted rags, bones, metal and other waste, from the towns and cities where they lived. Scraps of cloth and paper could be turned into cardboard, broken glass could be melted down and reused, and even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes. Bones could be used as knife handles, toys and ornaments, and when treated, for chemistry. The grease extracted from them was also useful for soap-making. Metal was more valuable, and is still today.

What does this mean to the practical survivor?  Cloth scraps and clothing scraps should be kept, they can be used as patches, or be resewn into other items, or smaller sizes of the same item.  I’ve made sturdy bags out of old jeans, and made my valentines this year out of cotton scraps. Scraps of cloth can be knotted to make rugs.

If you’re really creative, you can break down old clothing into fibers and make paper out of it. Before the advent of mechanized paper mills, that’s how a lot of people made their paper. Linen, cotton and hemp make high-quality paper. Here’s some simple instructions, if you’re interested, but there are multiple ways to go about it.

Metal scraps, like cloth, can be used to patch other items, or reshaped into new ones. My grandpa used to make the coolest airplanes out of aluminum pop cans. If you have enough scrap and need to off-load some, prices for scrap metal can make it worth your while to gather a load and take in to a recycler.

Bones as mentioned above can be carved into useful items, or can be ground into meal for agricultural applications.  A good meat grinder will handle small uncooked bones, I’ve heard of people using wood chippers for larger deer bones.  You can compost them if they are a larger size than the powdered “meal” and they will break down in a proper compost pile into useable forms. I keep eggshells, and powder them into a calcium rich addition for tomato plantings.

Keeping around glass jars is useful, especially if you can buy things in bulk. Be it spices, or soaps or cereals.  Most places have a method/procedure for weighing your container before you fill it so that you only pay for what you put in it. Usually all it takes is a smile and asking the cashier beforehand.  Keeping them around to collect dust is not as useful.  In my house jars that are not in use for whatever reason get packed in a dedicated rubbermaid container.

Keeping things organized can keep things from getting into the “hoarder” zone.  In my sewing room I keep fabric scraps organized into different bags, by color and by fiber.  The bags themselves are made to coordinate with what’s in them, so I know at a glance which one I need to grab.  Eggshells are kept in old egg cartons until they are thoroughly dry, (and overflowing the storage area) at which time I’ll grind them down and store them in a repurposed glass jar.  Newspapers and old phone books get stacked next to the worm bin (we don’t get many papers, so this works for us) where they get shredded into bedding.   I also use newspapers as mulch in the garden, so the pile never really gets out of hand.

The more you can make yourself, the less you have to buy.  The less you have to buy, the more money stays in your pocket.  Do you have things you’re really good at recycling? Anything you need to work on doing better at?

– Calamity Jane