What I Learned from Rodents



Spring is definitely here….

My allergies are already going crazy, I've gotten my first sunburn of the year and even more taxing is the spring cleaning bug that shows up around  this time every year .

As you may remember from my recent article (Picking Through Scraps To Find Gold),

This is a fantastic way to stock up on many different items for free that might cost you an arm and a leg otherwise.

There is one thing that I forgot to mention.

Before you toss something out, especially items that are broken beyond repair,  you need to give it a final once over to see if there is anything you can cannibalize and re use.

Before i get rid of any old electronic device I will take it out to my garage and strip it of any screws, nuts, wire,  and bolts that could be useful later.

The same goes for any broken piece of furniture.

It never fails that when you need a certain size screw or bolt for that project you've been working on, you never have the exact one you need.

I always get strange looks when I open my toolbox and others see it littered with screws and other miscellaneous  odds and ends, but I cant tell you how often these scraps have become invaluable to me.

I learned to do this from my father and he learned to do it from his father.

My grandfather has dozens of old aluminum coffee cans filled to the brim with old screws, nails, bolts, etc.  Each one is labeled by size and material ( IE: 1″ wood screws, 10mm bolts)

When i asked him where he learned this habit from, I expected him to say his father…. I was wrong.

Growing up on a farm there were plenty of rats that needed to be dispatched.  So many that even the Barn Cats they had could barely put a dent in the population.

In the spring when the number of rats boomed, it became Papa's job to take care of the problem.

He said that he was always dumbfounded at all of the little things that these rats brought back to their hidey holes and packed into their nests.

Ever since then he figured if they could do it so could he.

He even had a name for his collection, Rat's nests.

I have always found it ironic that the pest he was charged with getting rid of ended up teaching him a valuable and money saving skill.

Think about it, If that bolt is hard to find now, what will you do when TSHTF and you need to repair a broken door, cover a broken window, or build a raised bed garden?

I will say that I am no where near as organized as my grandfathers collection or rat's nests, but he has had  half a century more than I to perfect it.

So when you get ready to do your spring cleaning this year, make sure you take  a good hard look at what you're throwing away.  You will be kicking yourself later if you are one bolt short of fixing something that is vital to your survival.

Do you have your own Rat's Nest?

Do you think that having this would be beneficial to your survival?

Know what to throw away and what to keep, check out these for inspiration:

How to Make Rope from Recycled Plastic

Picking Through Trash to Find Gold

Make a DIY Raft Out of Trash Bags

Continue Reading


  1. Fructuoso

    March 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    I have been doing for the last fifteen years what you are doing. Collecting things others don’t value as invaluable. Nuts, bolts, screws aluminum scraps, cast iron from any scrapped machines, electronic parts from old equipment, copper and magnet wires, etc. I sort these things in a wooden box with compartments. When the time comes for disposing the big ones, I just sell them to scrap buyers.

  2. mariowen

    March 14, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    I have learned this lesson the hard way many times over. When it is time to do the big spring house cleaning, or I have helped my husband clean up his shop, invariably I will need exactly what I have discarded. I will get into a clean-the-house-at-all-expenses mode, only to find out that what I just threw away I have to go to the store and re-buy, or try to makeshift something else to make it work. Now I repurpose absolutely everything, but not as much as I will if the SHTF. You know, if it is something you will need if everything falls apart, then it is something worth saving. So what if your kids have to call in a dumpster after you die. If they were smart, they would use what I have saved and add to it. Some call it hoarding. Others call it survival. The perspective changes depending upon the situation.

  3. ron

    March 14, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    save all of it. not that you need it today [as mentiond ] but IF and
    when you need it, you got it. good subjest and would like to hear more on it and other ideas.
    thanks, take care.

  4. Lester Chasteen

    March 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    Also buttons from clothing that’s about to be discarded.

    • Joe

      March 15, 2013 at 1:12 PM

      Ah thanks Lester, I cant believe I forgot that, my Nana was the one that had tupperware and ziplock bags full of buttons, clasps and all kinds of little things that always came in handy.

  5. cindy

    March 15, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    I used to sew for the public, and am about to embark on another sewing-related business. I have been saving all kinds of buttons, trims, closures, zippers, etc etc for years. Some of the stash actually gives me creative ideas, for their use; and I end up with a finished product unlike any other. It could be an art piece, something functional, or to simply repair something. Repurposing clothing, furniture, decor, whatever is becoming big business, and mine will help fund our preps.

    • mariowen

      March 18, 2013 at 7:10 AM

      Cindy, if you do sewing then you probably already know this. There is a lot more you can save when you re-purpose discarded clothing. All the buttons and zippers are good to save, but so is the fabric itself. Jeans can be used to make smaller jeans for children. Dresses are a real God-send because there is a lot of fabric in the skirts that is just dying to be used again. If the pieces get too small, use them for quilting. Pieces for quilts can be cut and stored so you can assemble them at any time. When the fabric is too badly damaged to use again, it still makes excellent rags, especially cotton. Shredded, it can fill pillows. There is no end to using things up when you change your mind and think outside the box.

  6. Tom Mehmel

    March 17, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    Saving is like the adages a stitch in time saves nine and a penny saved is a penny earned. Everyone can see the present cost for a button is outrageous. A good reason to save just about anything. I’ve been accused of saving, hoarding whatever. The truth is being organized with it. The problem is most of us have a wife or children who can’t seem to see value i what is saved. Being prepared is a Boy Scout thing and having many different tools and parts have been used by me in many repairs that I do for money or around the house. My only defense against the throw it out daughter mentality is to go through the trash bags, every one of them! Why? Because I have picked up coins, and pencils, pens, perfectly good clothes or whatever. If I don’t want to save it either St. Vincent or the Salvation Army gets it! Waste not want not. That sounds like good advice. How many years have I not paid for planter pots or plastic trays because if I need planting containers the cemeteries have paid big bucks to throw out/dumpsters filled with very good containers and many have very good dirt in them as well! We, that is many of us, are such a wasteful modern society at our core.

  7. mariowen

    March 18, 2013 at 7:28 AM

    Another place that I have learned the use-it-up technique is with cooking and with food. We waste so much that is usable that it is sad. When you think outside the box, you can eliminate a lot of waste and fill your storage locker besides. If you do juicing, all the pulp that is left over can be dehydrated and used for other purposes. I have used the pulp of making vegetable juice by putting the dried pulp into the blender or food processor and making “dust” which is really good additive in bulk and flavor in stews. A lot of vitamins and roughage are still in the pulp. The rinds of citrus fruit can also be dehydrated and ground into powder. I have used this in flavorings, too. Orange and lemon and lime can be used where you like to get that fruit flavor. I put the orange dust in with my chicken and it is wonderful. The vegetables go in soups and stews. I put it on my meat when it is in the sun oven or slow cooker or oven to flavor it. When the meat is eaten, it can be put over the meat with the juices to make a gravy-type of sauce, or blend it with cream and it makes a really awesome cream soup. That is my favorite. It is another whole meal in itself. The peelings of produce can be dried and used up the same way. I have even roasted the potato peelings by spraying with oil and then salting when finished. They are like french fries! Or add them to a soup base. When I can, I try to use up absolutely everything. If it truly isn’t useable, then the remains can go into the compost. In that way, it is still being used and will recycle into your next gardening bed. When I threw out an heirloom tomato and an heirloom squash that had not been used soon enough, I had squash and tomatoes growing in my garden bed. I didn’t put them on the compost but just buried them in my bed. I had an abundance of plants popping up, ready for planting out. That is true sustainability.

  8. TpC

    March 20, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    i also tend to gut electronics and other objects before junking the rest. The only time I tend to toss a bolt or screw is when it’s buggered or rusted and no longer useful. It has actually paid off over the years several times – however i would strongly suggest having a sorting system and not just toss every bit of hardware into a a couple of mason jars as a lot of people do. then every time you need something you end up spending way too much time sorting and getting your fingers stabbed and dirty.

  9. Mike

    March 21, 2013 at 4:58 AM

    Yeah I’ve got many nuts, bolts, screws, washers, springs, nails, etc. and occasionally, i might even be able to find what i need when i need it. But unfortunately I’m way behind in the organization/sorting of most of it and am slightly overwhelmed. I keep hoping to get around to dealing with it but damn it’s hard to get motivated for such a major chore. One day i will!

  10. Dave S

    April 19, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    I believe I have a nest building state of mind just like your grandpa. I save all the nuts, screws, bolts, etc, etc…that I can find, especially small ones or oddball fasteners.

    My neighbor was throwing out old electronics last month. I told him to put them by his garage and I’d take care or it. Old vhs players, monitor, comp towers, and a whole bunch of other has been electronics. I removed all the screws and copper to be found. Also the little motors. Think I’ve got a little hoarder inside of

  11. brent

    April 20, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    I have adopted a saying WWGD. What would granddaddy do. Think about it they reused everything. Old cars and tractors once bought stayed regardless of condition. In my family we called saving stuff “rat holeing” away. I only buy stuff now that I can fix or last for a LONG time. Leather shoes instead of plastic ones. Cast iron instead of cheap cookwear you think WWGD and watch your money go further. Our older generation was ultimate survivors going thru the real depression of our country.

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