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Use What You've Got, and If You're Not Going to Use It . . .

"If you're not going to use something, give it to someone who will. No sense sitting on it when it could do someone else some good."

~ My mother

"If you continually give, you will continually have."

~ A friend of mine

"Give. That's where your blessings come from."

~ My mother-in-law

Summer's finally here! Yay! I've got tomatoes ripening on the vine in my little garden, roses blooming out of control, some barbecued chicken and burgers and cilantro-lime grilled corn in the fridge that BMNB grilled yesterday, as well as a pitcher of sweet tea with lemon. Life is good!

Because there are a few trips I'd like to take this summer that I hadn't really planned on, I'm watching my budget closely. My personal theme for the summer is, "Use what you've got." When you think about it, how often do we buy stuff that we really wouldn't need if we poked around our garages and pantries a little more or used what already works? I had this experience a few months ago when I saw a George Foreman grill on my local Freecycle listserv and decided I wanted it to grill fish and veggies. I got it as well as a grilling cookbook. Sometime later while going through unopened wedding presents in my garage -- yes, I'm ashamed to say I still had some unopened wedding presents 7 years later -- I found a -- you guessed it -- brand new George Foreman deluxe grill.

What makes matters worse is that it was a wedding gift from my own sister, The Writing Diva. I sent her a nice note thanking her, if I had not done so already, for the wonderful grill. I then gave my Freecycled grill to someone in my own family. I got to thinking, "What else do I have in my own garage that I've been buying or acquiring from Freecycle?'

I am annoyingly good at stocking up on things I think we'll need when they're on sale (Solar lawn lights @ $1.oo apiece from the Dollar Tree -- SCORE!), and I store them for when I'll use them. The problem is that I often forget that I even have them. So before I step foot into a store to buy something, I'm checking my pantry and my garage first.

I'm not good at finding a way to use the food I already have in my pantry to make a dish. I usually decide what I want to cook, look in the pantry to see if I have what I need, and buy what I don't have. I'm going to try to be better at making what I cook fit what I already have in my pantry. Why throw out food? I did this recently when I was cooking a dish that called for red wine. Although I didn't have the specific type of wine called for by the recipe, I did have a bottle of red wine that someone had given me. SCORE! I used what I had and the dish was not any worse for the use of a Cabernet instead of a Zin.

I'm also using what I already have that works, even if it isn't the most up-to-date version. Sure, I could join a gym or buy a bunch of exercise DVDs. I already have a bunch of weights, yoga mats, yoga pillows, and exercise DVDs, though, and, even more, I still have an entire series of Yoga, Pilates, Tae-Bo and other exercise videos on VHS. Since my DVD player also plays VHS tapes, I'm using what I've got. Time to reconnect with Billy Blanks, Susan Powter, Rodney Yee and the like.

And as much as I want an iPhone and despise my Blackberry for its lack of apps, I've told my husband not to purchase an iPhone for me as he had planned. For the moment, it works, and I want to use the money for our travels.

I've also started going into the depths of my closet, pulling out old summer clothes, and dressing accordingly. Sure, I've picked up a few new summer things to supplement what I've got since much of what I have doesn't fit me, but I'm also dragging out what still fits -- skirts, sandals, t-shirts and the like -- and wearing those, too.

I'm also invoking my late mom's credo: If you're not going to use something, give it to someone who will. As I finally start cleaning out closets and clean out my garage to make room for a home gym (I have a never-used weight bench in a box in my garage and I can't get to it because I've got boxes up to the rafters -- and we have a three-car tandem garage!), I'm going to let go of stuff that neither I nor BMNB use. Mind you, this is much harder for BMNB than for me. He believes that if you paid for it, you hold on to it because you might need it someday and you might not be able to afford to buy it again. I recently got him to budge on this a bit by getting him to let go of a Black & Decker electric edger that he never uses because he uses a weed eater to edge our lawn. At first, he wasn't sure. "Honey," I said, "You know you don't use this. What's the point of hanging on to it? Give it to someone who will make use of it. Besides, we need to free up space in the garage." Luckily, the person we gave it to is someone my husband likes alot -- our handyman.

As I watched our handyman drive away with the edger riding shotgun in his car, I saw that wistful look in my husband's eyes, like that of a child made to do a good deed by his mother that he's not quite on board with. I then reminded him of something one of my friends has in her signature block in her email: "If you continually give, you will continually have."

I have to admit that BMNB also successfully let go of some of his Bill Cosby-esque sweaters from the '80's that he had not been wearing. At first I offered them to my nephew who has a son about BMNB's size, but he declined, saying he didn't want his son to get laughed at at school. My niece and her husband, however, snapped them up happily. "We love old school stuff! We'll take them." Knowing that something he wasn't even using made one of his beloved nieces that happy made it easier for BMNB to let go.

I've been on the receiving end of this giving, too. My brother moved this spring and gave me back a gift I'd given him long ago -- a poster commemorating the Henry Ossawa Tanner exhibit at the DeYoung Museum, which he had later professionally matted and framed and was going to throw out because he didn't want to take it to his new digs. It now hangs proudly over my fireplace mantle. That day, my brother also gave me a framed Toni Morrison poster, a framed poster of the Apple computer ad with a black and white picture of Jackie Robinson and the caption, "Think Different," as well as a chain saw, a power saw, and a printer. My brother also gave away camping equipment -- a tent, a stove, lamps, cookware, tarps, inflatable mattresses, and the like -- to my niece, who loves to go camping. Clearly he was living my mother's example of giving stuff you aren't going to use to someone who will.

I would imagine that I'm not the only one who will be cleaning out my closets and my garage this summer. If you have something you're not using, give it to someone who will, whether it's to a family member, to your local Freecycle group , to the Goodwill, the Salvation Army, your church, or some other organization that will make use of it or sell it in their thrift shops. You're keeping stuff out of landfills and bringing joy to someone. No sense in sitting on it when it could do someone else some good, as my mom would say.

As my mother-in-law wisely says, "Give. That's where your blessings come from." And when you're giving from your closet or your garage, it doesn't really cost you anything. What could be better?

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