World War II poster "Use it up - Wear it out - Make it do!"

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Timeless advice from a World War II era poster.

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  1. That’s an old New England saying:

    Use it up
    Wear it out
    Make it do
    Or do without

    Thus, my mother removed my collars and cuffs, turned them inside out and sewed them back on. A table cloth that got ratty became an apron and eventually a laundry bag.

  2. @3 My mother (who was from the south) used the same saying when I was growing up. I believe she learned from her mother, who was also from the south, so it’s probably more widespread than just New England.

    If I ever have kids, I’ll probably use it with them, too. For me, though, the important principle is less about saving money and more about avoiding waste. It seems like the saying could take on new life with current generations by appealing to “greener” sensibilities. Though the thrift message is prescient too, given the global recession.

  3. very cool, but this is cooler:

    i needed lots of free art and ended up illustrating a law firm’s website with public domain posters from the Works Progress Administration and WWII

    http://www.ikplaw.com

    p.s. one of the partners of the firm won the larry flint (hustler magazine’s) first amendment case at the u.s. supreme court

  4. My favorite WWII posters are compiled into a short video here:

    I had a T-shirt made of my very favorite which shows a picture of an oil tanker breaking up at sea and reads, “Should brave men die so you can drive…?”

    We were serious then.

  5. Compare to the current “cash for clunkers” rebate offered by the U.S. government: http://www.cars.gov/

    Scrap your current car even if it runs perfectly well (or could be sold to someone needing a used car), and buy a new one.

  6. I wonder why that had so much more effect than “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Yes, there was a war on (we’re in one now, too), but I do think there’s something to be learned by comparing the two.

    Any linguists out there wanna take a stab?

  7. Goods are inexpensive and getting ever more inexpensive because of improvements in manufacturing, distribution, mechanization, automation, technological capabilities, and other economic activities.

    In all likelihood, your time (via division of labor) is better invested on whatever you typically provide for others in exchange for money, rather than the effort and overhead of rationing goods in this way.

    Remember George Gilder’s point about “wasting transistors” because of Moore’s Law?

    Well, if not for the inflationary monetary policy of central banking such as the Federal Reserve (and, more importantly, the fractional reserve system), everything would be getting less expensive in precisely the way Moore’s Law does for photolithography of transistors on silicon chips. (i.e. deflation)

    … conversely, not that we should waste resources purely as a make-work scheme or to “stimulate aggregate demand”, either.

    Basically, price signals shouldn’t lie to us. Without meddling from bankers and the government, they would inform us whether it’s more worthwhile to repair or buy new.

    Unless someone totals my car by smashing into me and ruining the body frame, or unless a revolution in fuel efficiency is invented, I have no good reason to ever buy a new car from the one I have. The 4-cylinder Toyota engine should last at least 200k if not 300k miles. When that dies or starts burning oil, there’s about 5 other engine types that are bolt-up compatible, including the subsequent generations of the same model. There’s much less uncertainty in finding an engine from another totaled car than in finding another whole other used car in solid condition. And an engine replacement is the largest expense. For a $5000 used car, I might spend another $5000 on it over the next 20 years of its life for repairs, not including car insurance. (This is the value of not buying an “American” car.) Together, $10k is still less than any new econobox sold today (which start at about $13k). (Again, assuming fuel efficiency isn’t significantly deviating from my current 30mpg.) New cars are for suckers.

    However, computers are another matter entirely. No amount of repairs that doesn’t harken to the Ship of Theseus will keep it useful to me for more than 2-3 years from new. (Precisely when AppleCare runs out.) In that time I’ll upgrade the hard drive and the RAM (limits permitting), but new software and new technologies will demand that I buy a new, rather than repaired or upgraded, computer.

  8. I get what they are trying to promote here (I think – its being frugal, not spanking your man while he wears saddle oxfords), but having grown with a family of ‘make it do’-ers I got kind of an opposite message: Don’t ‘wear it out’…take care of it and make it last. Don’t ‘use it up’…use the teeniest amount possible so you’ll have more for tomorrow.

    kind of a flipped look at a similar philosopy i guess.

  9. The question these sorts of things present to me is this: why weren’t the WWII generation better able to instill the values of saving/doing without to their children (the baby boomers)?

    I’m tempted to suggest that it was as a response to the enforced poverty of the Depression coupled with WWII, but you wouldn’t know it from my grandparents… they walked the walk.

    Lanval

  10. Shorter Zuzu — Being frugal is unamerican and those unpatriotic commie liberal fascists from WWII hated America.

  11. on a happier note, those cast iron push mower monstrosities have long been replaced by lightweight, alloy models that are a silent pleasure to use. Indeed, it is now completely fair to say that only a filthy deviate traitor would use a power mower.

  12. whiree-wheroo I can hear those old lawn mowers now. I started pushing one of those monsters when I was nine years old. Man, it used to beat the shit out of me! By the time I was big enough to wrestle it and win, they came out with the motorized version.

    Antinous, I never want to get into a poor-mouthing contest with you; and I’m pretty good.

    1. I never want to get into a poor-mouthing contest with you; and I’m pretty good.

      We weren’t poor at all. Just insanely fucking frugal. Which is odd because my maternal grandfather did fine during the depression and they were the people who ended up handing food out to everyone around them. And yet, somehow, my father built our furniture and my mother upholstered it. My mother made half her own clothes (when she wasn’t working 60 hours per week as a scientist.) And we didn’t get a color television until ~ 1972. And, of course, we recycled paper, glass and metal. It’s a mindset. I don’t mind spending money for something that’s going to make me happy, but I’m not going to throw out a set of sheets just because of a couple of little holes.

  13. on a happier note, those cast iron push mower monstrosities have long been replaced by lightweight, alloy models that are a silent pleasure to use. Indeed, it is now completely fair to say that only a filthy deviate traitor would use a power mower.

    Only a filthy deviate traitor would have a lawn at all. I look forward to the End of Suburbia.

    Shorter Zuzu — Being frugal is unamerican and those unpatriotic commie liberal fascists from WWII hated America.

    Noen, enjoy your Brezhnev stagnation.

    I’m all for frugality; artificially cheap credit has made that virtually unheard of in the modern USA. (Does anybody know how to save money anymore?)

    But don’t be like grandpa who doesn’t see the need to upgrade to a 1080p HDTV until his 13″ black-and-white RCA television stops working.

    When new things provide features and abilities that old things couldn’t, that’s just as good of a reason to upgrade as that the old thing stopped working. Think of it as that the new features in the old things “stopped working” (since they never did work to begin with).

  14. Also, no one yet has addressed “Our labor and our goods are fighting”.

    In other words, the wealth you would have had is instead being destroyed in the process of destroying other people. That “fighting wealth” is stolen wealth.

  15. Scrap your current car even if it runs perfectly well (or could be sold to someone needing a used car), and buy a new one.

    On the other hand, some might say that a car that gets less than 18mpg doesn’t actually run “perfectly well.”

  16. This has made me realize what has always bugged me a little about this site. On one hand items like this are posted and heartily cheered for it’s message of green living and stopping of waste, and on another it feels like they are hawking small plastic toys.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling anyone here a hypocrite. It just feels weird to me. To embrace so much technology that really is not honestly needed by the bulk of the populace (cell phones spring to mind) then to cheer the sentiment of re-use or non-use of unnecessary items just feels disingenuous.

  17. I mean, I understand that they’re saying “he only has the one pair of pants, the pair he has on,” but…can’t he still *remove those pants* in order to have them mended?

    All I’m sayin’.

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