We found a kitchen drawer swollen with masses of elastic bands. Closer inspection revealed them to be the elastic bands that come wrapped around supermarket chickens.
Granny had meticulously washed and boiled the elastics that prevent packaged poultry from performing unruly chicken dances and she had a whole drawer full, in case she ever needed an elastic band. Surely the epitome of the reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle that we should all be living by?
I don’t retain old chicken bands, but any time I go to throw one away, I think of Granny and imagine a slightly disapproving crinkle around her eyes witnessing my wastage. I get my endless supply of elastic bands from buying bunches of spring onions!
Granny made oven gloves out of old towels, by folding them into the required shape and running over them with a sewing machine. Long before we knew anything about carbon footprints, she made her own version of briquettes by mixing leftover coal slack from the bottom of the coal bunker with a tiny bit of concrete and pouring this, surely slightly dangerous, mixture into empty one litre milk cartons. Once they were set hard, they could be lobbed onto the fire for an easy, and practically free, source of fuel.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Amazon had not come to rural Tipperary and the DHL man would not deliver a new clothes item or a replacement part in 5-6 working days.
Which is why the old fridge (she had a new one and an old one) in her kitchen was kept closed with a precise length of twine. That fridge was kept going for another decade at least by this simple hack.
However, the line between keeping something that might be useful in the future easily veers into having a house full of stuff that will never be used again.
Under the stairs we found boxes of old newspapers, the most interesting ones declaring the death of JFK in November, 1963. I can’t remember what we did with them.
At some point in a big clear out, the amount of stuff becomes so overwhelming that the urge to upcycle, repurpose and restore an old piece of furniture is replaced by the urge to put a match to the lot of it.
Some of the gems we unearthed were only special to us. The hat she wore on her wedding day was at the back of a cupboard in its original box. Ordered from Arnott’s on Henry Street Dublin, 60 years later it was still in perfect condition and went to a family member with a similarly sized head.
An antique pine dresser was revived and repainted and sits in my kitchen, filled with Granny’s good china that comes out for Christmas Day.
Alas, my granny was a larger woman than me so I don’t have any of her good quality wool coats or cardigans, but I do have one of her handbags that gets the odd night out.
It’s Second Hand September, an initiative by Oxfam to encourage consumers to give fast fashion the cold-shoulder and acquire a slow fashion habit.
Oxfam is asking consumers to “Say yes to second hand”. According to the charity, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions - more than the global aviation and shipping industries combined.
I have been rummaging in the Oxfam charity shop on Cook Street since I was a teenager and on a recent visit I happened upon a pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans. For the uninitiated, these are premium brand jeans that would set you back €200 if bought new. They were barely worn, in my size, and cost €6.50, so I snaffled them up.
Buying staples like jeans and coats second-hand, either in charity shops or on apps like Depop or Thriftify, is a good way of reusing clothes that others no longer want, but my real love of old clothes is when they contain a little bit of history as well as quality and craftsmanship.
In Cork, we are blessed with great vintage shops like Miss Daisy Blue and Eva May Vintage, but I keep an eye on other vintage shops around the country like Vito Vintage in Limerick and Dirty Fabulous in Monaghan. A recent Instagram post by Dirty Fabulous epitomised the beauty of vintage clothing in one white dress. The photo was of an Irish linen 1950s wiggle dress that was made with Moyagashel Linen from Monaghan. The linen company is no longer in operation but the dress, which was originally sold in Jamaica, is back in Ireland 60 years later, in a shop 40 minutes where it was originally made, ready to grace the shoulders of a future Irish bride.
As Kathy Sherry the co-owner of Dirty Fabulous said: “If that’s not circular fashion, I don’t know what is! This is why I love vintage.”
This September, resist the fast fashion splurges and embrace the world of second-hand and vintage clothing - a more planet friendly form of retail therapy.