Scrap Story #8: DIY

Monday, September 19, 2011

I’m talking to Ann today, I say I have three more stories to write, I know what two are, I don’t know what to do about the third. What should I write about?

She throws out a couple of suggestions, none of which I remember because they all sounded either completely unworkable or not very interesting. It was like when I was little and I would say I was bored and my mom would say things I could do and I would say no, no, no, I don’t feel like doing that.

She said, “Write about your class.” I said, “What’s the point of that? How does it have anything to do with bigger picture stuff, why The Scrap Exchange is important?”

She said, “Because it’s about teaching people how to do things differently, how to use less resources, how to work with what they have. It spreads knowledge. It helps people. That’s what we do.”

Okay, I’ll write about my class.

I bought my house in September 1999 and shortly after moving in was at The Regulator bookshop looking through books on home-type stuff and saw the book Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond. It had recipes for pretty much everything you could ever imagine needing or wanting around the house, including cleaning products, personal care products, hobby items, and more — from grout and whitewash to toothpaste and deodorant to finger paints and play dough.

It looked intriguing but I didn’t buy it because that’s not what I was there to get and I wasn’t sure I would actually make anything out of it. It didn’t seem like a good expenditure at that moment.

A few weeks later hurricane Floyd came through town and flooded the entire eastern half of the state of North Carolina. The Raleigh News & Observer printed an absolutely stunning aerial photograph of the aftermath that showed our state’s beautiful coastline covered by a vast rainbow of chemicals — every cleaner and pesticide that every person in eastern North Carolina had ever bought and left in their garage or under their sink had washed out of the garage or kitchen and into the ocean.

I was in a new house that didn’t have dozens of bottles of leftover things in the kitchen or garage; I decided I should try to keep it that way. I went back to The Regulator and bought Better Basics for the Home.

I don’t actually remember what I started with, but after a small amount of trial and error, I ended up with a repertoire of cleaning products that did pretty much everything I needed them to, and that were very simple — and extraordinarily cheap — to make.

I do a lot of things that other people aren’t going to do. I’m aware of that, and I generally try to keep my mouth shut about them. Most of my friends are gainfully employed, they are not interested in figuring out how to eat for less than $100 a month, they do not want to know which approaches to making toothpaste work better than others. Nearly all of the very interesting things I’ve learned in my life are of no consequence to them.

In spring 2004, when I was working at an event in Asheville with Ann, we had some Americorps volunteers helping us. They were totally great. Americorps volunteers get almost nothing to live on — they have a stipend of a few hundred dollars a month.

I was talking with them about some of the things I’ve learned, the type of things that I don’t even bother to discuss with my friends, and they were fascinated by it, they were totally hanging on every word. They were like “Wait! Let me go get my notebook so I can write this down!”

It was nice for a change.

On the drive back, Ann said, “You should teach a class on that at The Scrap Exchange.” It didn’t seem like such a good idea and I wasn’t sure how I would work it, but as I thought about it more, I decided that teaching a class on making cleaning products was self-contained enough that I could come up with something that made sense.

So I started teaching the class in the fall of 2004 and have taught it on and off ever since. (This session is off; I’m overloaded right now, need to cut out what I can.)

And it’s actually been very rewarding to teach the class and to be able to talk to people who are interested in learning about it and who find it valuable. Last year, I taught the class to a group of employees from the Environmental Protection Agency; someone who worked there had taken it when I first started giving it and thought her colleagues would find it useful. That was especially rewarding.

The main point of the class is to teach people how to make cleaning products so they don’t have to buy them, but a more important point is to teach people that there are other ways to do things that they might not have thought of before. And that’s really the point of The Scrap Exchange in general.

What do you need? How else could you do that? What could you use instead?

That’s why we’re here.


Help! The Scrap Exchange Needs YOU!

Visit the Scrap Exchange website for full details on our fundraiser, or to make a tax-deductible, online donation through PayPal or Network for Good.

Rather go old school? Checks can be made payable to The Scrap Exchange and mailed to 923 Franklin St, Bay 1, Durham, NC 27701.

2 Responses to “Scrap Story #8: DIY”

  1. Ruby Leigh Says:

    Love what you are doing with the scrap exchange and hope that it can continue to be successful. I was day dreaming that it would be cool to have something like that here in MN. Making something useful or interesting things with basic ingredients is such a great feat and is so empowering to the creator. Also, I’d love to learn those cleaning product recipes, so maybe you could share those here at a later date.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, will put up more about the cleaners. I actually want to revise the document I use in the class and post it for download. But I need to review and make sure it’s really “my own” — I started out referencing other books that I used and I want to make sure I source everything properly and it’s fair use, not plagiarism.

    I did actually put up a post last year with the recipe for my favorite cleaner. You can find that here:

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