by Harriet Cooper
Harriet saves bags. She's turned a thrifty habit into creative expression. Read what Harriet has been up to
How I Became a (Recycled) Bag Lady
I have always been frugal. Okay, cheap may be a more accurate way to put it but it doesn't sound as nice. I inherited the frugal gene from my grandmother who raised 4 kids on the shoestring salary my grandfather got working in a clothing factory. Like my grandmother, I am a firm believer in buying cheap, reusing, and stretching a penny until it screams for mercy.
But it's plastic bags that really define my lifestyle. I love plastic bags. I love them almost as much as I love my cats.
On some days, I love the bags more. When was the last time a plastic bag woke you up at 4:00 in the morning demanding breakfast? Plastic bags are quiet. They're unobtrusive. They're at your beck and call day or night. They live only to serve you. That's true devotion.
There's only one problem with plastic bags. They have more lives than a cat.
Even though I normally bring my own bags to the supermarket or throw things into my backpack, I still find myself surrounded by more and more plastic bags. I have a theory that they procreate during the night when we're not looking. So far, science has not backed me up on this but it wouldn't be the first time scientists have been wrong.
Since I can't throw the bags out, and there are very few places I can take them to recycle, I keep them. I have boxes and bags filled with, you guessed it, plastic bags. Big plastic bags. Medium-sized plastic bags. Small plastic bags. Each stored separately.
When my mother came to visit, after first asking me when I last vacuumed, she asked what all the boxes were for. Too embarrassed to tell her I'm saving plastic bags, the frugal gene having skipped a generation, I told her they were for storage. Some were for out-of-season shoes, others held craft supplies and the rest had knickknacks I was tired of dusting but didn't want to give away.
I think the line about not wanting to dust things convinced her. In any case, she was too busy happily dusting and vacuuming for the rest of her visit to waste time opening the boxes.
But now I no longer have to hide in shame, denying who I am and what I do. I have found that others also worship at the altar of plastic bags. They are proud of it. And I stand with them.
No, I haven't joined a cult. I simply bought a book by Vicki Lansky called The Bag Book: Over 500 Great Uses -- and Reuses -- for Paper, Plastic and other Bags to Organize and Enhance Your Life. Although I wasn't too sure about the last category, I had faith that the author would explain everything. And indeed the back cover clarified the mystery of "other" bags which include mesh and canvas.
However, it was the use of the word "enhance" in the title that told me I had finally come home. Other authors would have stopped with "organize," believing that bags are inanimate objects with no feelings. Here was a woman who understood the true relationship of a person and her paper, plastic or other bag.
I couldn't wait to start reading. I dove right in on the sections dealing with plastic. I know, paper and other bags also have feelings but my true love is plastic. And I wasn't disappointed.
There were tips on using and reusing plastic bags in every room in the house as well as in the car, the classroom, and the garden. Everything from storing wet bathing suits to marinating meat to stuffing the toes of shoes so they keep their shape.
I began to wonder if I had enough bags to do all the things Vicki suggested.
But it was the less conventional uses that really sparked my imagination. While anyone can store a paintbrush in a plastic bag, it takes a woman of daring and audacity to take the next step towards plastic bag nirvana. That's why guests at my house this year may find me sporting a plastic hula skirt made from a green garbage bag, whirling around the kitchen as I use a handled grocery bag as a salad spinner or exercising with my jump rope made from braided plastic bags.
At last, I am truly in plastic bag heaven. Just don't tell my mother. I don't think she'd understand.