Let’s Ration Like It’s 1941


I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “Buy Nothing” challenges since reading Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping in 2007. Since then, I’ve read about many people pledging not to purchase anything (except necessities, except used, except from ethical companies, except…) and I’ve both admired them and said to myself, “No way! I LOVE stuff! Stuff isn’t bad! It’s wasteful and unnecessary and harmful stuff that should be avoided!” but never got much past that. I love to make things, I love to thrift shop — certainly I’m not the one with the problem here!

Well, I’m sorry to say that I really don’t know that for sure! I still unconsciously pick up a lipstick at the drug store although I have 8 tubes in various places around my house and in my purse. I have 15 pairs of shoes. I have lost count of the number of black opaque tights in my drawer. My tea cupboard is an embarrassment of riches. I’ve struggled with telling myself “No more! This has to stop!” (and then a few ounces of tea finds itself following me home).

Then one magical day, I ran into the blog of Tom of Holland when I was searching for mending resources. And THAT lead me to the blog The Double Life of Mrs M and her Wartime Wardrobe Challenge. She also turned me on to The New Materialism pamphlet! Everything started to come together in my mind. Here is a challenge I could get behind! You can still buy things — but smart things. Things you’ve thought over and determined you really need and things that come from a good place. I think tracking these types of purchases for a year will be really good for me, and I’m excited to share what I learn about the way this works and myself in this next year. I hope you read along!

Why rationing? Why harken back to a system equated with horror, deprivation, and war? Well, I’ve long thought that all of the things that drive me crazy about our culture (plastic, disposable everything, an abundance of chemicals, the eschewing of frugality and making do, buying instead of making or growing) happened post-WWII. Crazy as it seems, the values that I cherish were last widely present in Western culture during wartime. Using this ration system and couponing is a way for me to see if my ideas hold any water. I think I believe in and operate in this world, but do I truly? The next year will tell!

Without further ado, the coupon system, based on 1941 British rations and updated for environmental concerns by Meg. I have 66 coupons to clothe me for the calendar year 2014 (I know it’s January 12! I haven’t purchased anything yet this year!).

I am also going to ration my toiletry and tea expenditures.

On the blog Frugal in Norfolk, I found wartime soap rations:

Soap Rations 3 coupons each per month – For 1 coupon you can choose just one item from the list below:
4 oz hard soap – (green scrubbing soap)
3 oz toilet soap – (hand washing soap)
1/2 pint good quality liquid soap OR 1 pint cheap liquid soap
6 oz soft soap – shampoo/conditioner etc.
3 oz soap flakes – (Lux wool flakes etc)

6 oz good quality soap powder OR 12 oz cheap soap powder – (this today would be laundry powder and cleaning powder such as Vim or cleaning sprays etc)

This doesn’t get into lipstick, powder, etc. (which were around but hard to find during the war) so I am going to make stuff up 🙂 For 2014 I will have 36 coupons to buy soap, shampoo, lipstick, and even the items I use to make my own toiletries (coconut oil, shea butter, etc.) I’m thinking lipstick, powder, mascara, jojoba oil, etc. should be two coupons each and 6 ounces of shampoo, 3 ounces of hard soap etc. should equal one coupon, as above. Those that know more about rationing, please tell me if I’m going wild with the coupons here and have too many.

Now, for tea. The most common ration amount I found was two ounces of loose tea per person per week. That’s 104 ounces of tea a year. The problem is that I have over 60 types of loose tea in my cupboard right now some of them in 4 or 8 ounce tins. I could probably not buy any tea for this entire year and still have tea in January of 2015! BUT. This challenge is not about buy nothing but buy less and buy smart. So I am going to give myself 10 tea coupons, with one coupon equaling 2 ounces of tea. This gives me some purchasing power if I run out of a favorite type of tea without continuing to add to my Tea Problem.

I’ll record any coupons spent here, my thinking process about how and why I use them, and I’ll also write about what I do in order to spend less or no coupons. I also hope to include some historical information about rationing, instructions on how to make things, and anything else that pertains to this project that reveals itself to me.

I’ve got my imaginary ration book and lots of hope. Let’s do this!

(image: American rationing poster, 1943)


  1. Good luck with this exploration! I shall follow your journey with interest.

    I know those ‘soap’ allowances. I’m trying to stick to them too, which mostly work as long as I do the bulk of the washing up. Mr M is very kind in this respect but he does believe that bubbles equal clean…

    You are very brave to ration tea! In the UK the wartime ration was typically 2oz per person per week (roughly 16 teabags), which is a fraction of what I drink.

    By the way, if alkanet is a common weed in your part of the States, it might be useful for lipsticks. Boiling up the root releases a red dye which could be combined with shea butter or another type of fat and it is safe to use on skin. I remember reading that alkanet was actually used by some wineries to colour red wines so in terms of its chemicals it is probably no worse than a paraben ladened lipstick.

  2. That’s some challenge Jackie, and I’ll be following your progress with interest! If only people weren’t so consumption-addicted… How many coupons do you have for books? and does the fact that so many of mine are second hand count? 🙂

    1. It would be too painful to ration books! I should keep a tally of how many books I buy in 2014 though.

      Second hand stuff doesn’t cost any coupons which is good 🙂 🙂 🙂 and a relief!

  3. Wiii, I am so happy to see there are more people in the world that want to challenge their habits (in particular when it comes to purchases). My friend and I launched our take on this challenge last night – it is basically the same thing, a few more coupons and also a special star challenge each month that will encourage going green in various areas of life. Wanna check it out?

    I’ll follow your blog with great interest! Good luck 🙂


    1. Your project looks so cool! It’s fascinating that we were moved to start the same project inspired by Meg on the same day.

      One of the things I want to do during my challenge is sew some dresses. I will keep stopping by your site for inspiration 🙂 I’m so glad you commented!

  4. This is such a wonderful idea, and I wish you all the luck in the world. We are far too focused on owning, and I always try to remember that there are libraries, galleries, there is a whole world around me to look at. It works for a lot of things, but not for book buying.

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