life in a tiny apartment.

February 27, 2017


Tip #149 : Use What’s Useful

“Bread with butter. And jam. Yes.” Faye repeats the phrase, smacking her lips in the identical way almost every morning of her life. Jam gets spread onto bread and cheeks and fingertips. Rinse. Repeat.

James’s bread baking habit, and Faye’s lip-smacking habit means that lately we have a preponderance of Bonne Maman jam jars in our apartment. (No time for homemade jam in this season of our lives.) I’m not complaining. All it takes to give a jam jar a second life is a run through the dishwasher. The hot water lifts the paper wrapper from the jar and washes the glue residue away, no scrubbing required.

The short and squat size of the jars make them useful for anything from stashing half a lime to mixing salad dressings. There’s almost always a leftover portion of morning oatmeal tucked into one in hopes that a 6:00 am call for breakfast can be quickly satisfied. 

And of course there are the dry goods: Used up half a mason jar’s worth of rice? Pour the remainder into a jam jar and I gain a larger jar for storing an extra night’s worth of soup. Overconfident in the bulk section? I pour the overflow tablespoons of dried beans into a smaller jar. Stopped myself from eating the last handful of almonds, but now I need the quart-sized jar for self-care tulips? Whither the Bonne Maman? 

If you’re beginning to wonder, the answer is yes, I rather enjoy spending an undisclosed amount of time shuffling the contents of jars in the name of space efficiency. 

More than only being helpful for food stuffs, jam jars are helpful for kitchen miscellany of the non-edible variety. Like the tiny bags we use to keep cabinet clutter wrangled, glass jars get put to work as tiny kitchen storage. Most recently, I rearranged a kitchen cabinet to pull glass baby bottles and nipples and bottle caps from the impossible-to-reach top shelf where they’ve been hiding for the past year and half, to one that’s more readily accessible. (Can’t climb on a stool every time I need a bottle; can’t have those damn nipples flying out of the cabinet every time I open it.)

Outside of the kitchen, jam jars store toddler pencils and pencil shavings. They wrangle combs and hair elastics. They give an air-tight home to that last bit of paint, just in case a wall needs touching up. (And there’s a toddler in the house. The walls need touching up.)

But for all of my love of jam jars, there’s a caveat: One can become compulsive about saving jars or other maybe-I’ll-use-this-one-day things. Before you know it, you’ve got a cabinet (or a basement) overflowing with neatly stacked jars awaiting their eventual use.

So here’s my advice: use what’s useful, but don’t let yourself drown in potential usefulness. Jars piling up? Plop a few flowers in them and surprise your neighbors with a spring bouquet, no need to return the “vase.”

Everything in moderation, including jam jars.

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  • Reply finja February 27, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Oh, yes moderation is what it seems to be. 🙂 Lovely read.
    xx finja

    • Reply Mun February 28, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      I’m longing for a cabinet full of clean jars! I have none available at the moment… 🙁

  • Reply Kelly February 27, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Oh my gosh!! I love those jam jars, too!! I cannot believe that for years I had simply thrown them into the recycling. Another idea: gather in a box and donate to Goodwill etc.

  • Reply Sarah February 27, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Ha! This made me laugh! I love a good glass jar, and my mother in law collects jars for housing her huge quantities of homemade jams and pickles. Except she has about 4 times the quantity that she ever needs, resulting in multiple cupboards overflowing with empty jars. Opposite end of the spectrum…!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 27, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Ha! My dad used to save mayonnaise jars and coffee cans in his workshop!

  • Reply jane February 27, 2017 at 10:13 am

    I have a healthy collection of Bonne Mama jars too. We use them for drinking cups, take along food jars + now I freeze tomato sauce from our garden in them too. I did have one friend notice that we used them for all sorts of things + instead of taking the tip for herself, she started to leave them in front of my door…now that is just a few too many! 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 27, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Haha! The best intentions…

  • Reply Erin February 27, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I recently started saving all my glass jars and I find I use them for everything from kombucha storage to wrangling errant pencils my kindergartner leaves all over the place. I am an environmental consultant and I love taking home extra 8 oz soil sample jars. While I will not use them for food, they are lab grade and perfect for storage of all kinds (small trinkets, hair bands, bobby pins, reusable cloth rounds for make up removal…)

    • Reply Kelly February 27, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      Can you explain a bit more why you will not use them for food? Thanks!

      • Reply Erin February 27, 2017 at 1:52 pm

        The sample jars are lab grade but I can’t be sure they’re food grade, so in my mind, it’s just best to use them for non-edible storage. I could be totally wrong on that but, I am more comfortable keeping food out of them.

        • Reply Anna February 27, 2017 at 2:07 pm

          If they’re lab grade and glass, they’re fine for food as long as they’ve been cleaned and sterilized. My husband’s a chemist, and he says so. 🙂

          I love jars. I do a lot of canning, so we keep a lot of those around, and they get used for all the things. I’ve been accused of having a jar obsession.

          • Erin February 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm

            I think it’s what we use them for in our line of work (putting contaminated soil in) that I can’t get over. Lol. Mental block!

  • Reply Sasha February 27, 2017 at 11:34 am

    We use jam and jelly jars for drinking glasses, leftovers, all the usual + actual jam and Apple butter. And they work great for starting spider plant babies in water. I’ve got way too many of those sitting in every possible sunshiney spot.

  • Reply Annie February 27, 2017 at 11:42 am

    “If you’re beginning to wonder, the answer is yes, I rather enjoy spending an undisclosed amount of time shuffling the contents of jars in the name of space efficiency. ”

    This part made me chuckle, and if you’re wondering… I enjoy the same. Great post, Erin!

    • Reply Jana February 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      I can so relate to that! My son in law named my jar-obsession activities ‘jarring’ 🙂

  • Reply Erin February 27, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Oh! Another awesome thing to save – Grolsch bottles (if you’re a dutch beer drinker). They are amazing for storing liquids and homemade tonics!

  • Reply Natalie February 27, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Been using Bonne Maman jars for homemade body scrubs! No more fumbling with two piece mason jar lids while in the shower. The lovely lid makes it very easy to gift scrubs as well.

  • Reply Cynthia February 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Those particular jars are so awesome b/c of the paper/glue situation and the lovely lids. I was once in a grocery store in a small town on vacation, picking up hot dog fixings for a beach BBQ. I saw a French’s mustard jar in real glass with the bright yellow lid. Could not resist taking that all the way home! It resides happily in my glass leftover containers/jars drawer and is perfect for take-along salad dressing for potlucks.

  • Reply Kim February 27, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Haha…. you forgot to mention the charming gingham patterned lid of a BM jar!

  • Reply stella February 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    I love saving jars as well, and to do some reorganization in there once in a while. We just moved and before then a lot of them were recycled but now i’ve slowly started to re-build my collection. I will have a piece of land this spring to grow things on, so planning on filling all those jars with tomatoes/jams/etc etc…

  • Reply Suz February 27, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    I just recently purged a large amount of jars to the recycling bin. I love a good jam jar to reuse, but there reaches a point when enough is enough. This goes along with your recent post about things in a 250 sq. ft. space for 2500 sq. ft. space. We will always fill it. Which is why I am a believer in “continuous editing”. The editing never ends with small kids, but it makes life much more clutter-free and manageable. Keep up the posts! Love them and thrilled you are continuing them during “maternity leave”. Congrats and I wish you & your family nights filled with sleep!

    • Reply Jana February 28, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      The editing never ends. Perod. 🙂

      • Reply Jana February 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm


        • Reply Cussot March 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm


  • Reply Trish O February 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    we also use these jars for everything. I recently got rid of my proper wine glasses and we just use these…my hubby, friends and I always reached for them anyway. They are perfect! they hold everything. love them

  • Reply Chloe | Conscious by Chloe February 27, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    I love Bonne Maman jars.
    We use them as drinking glasses at home, and I recently used a couple to pour DIY candles. They make for a perfect hostess gift!
    I don’t buy them any more, but my grandpa back home in France has a big collection for jam making, I might steal a couple on my next trip back home 😉

  • Reply Erika February 27, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    We also use as drinking glasses, for our soon to be 4-year-old. They are the perfect size and they’re tempered glass and don’t break as easily as other glassware we have. We keep two in our bathroom for water glasses for ourselves 🙂

  • Reply Izzy | pinch of delight February 27, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Lovey read – I love those jam jars! x

  • Reply Laura February 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Yes, this is something that I’ve so enjoyed in the past few months – collecting jars and storage containers, and spending the time to rearrange them as we use an item, it’ll then go into the smaller jar. I think it continuously infuriates my husband, as he is forever not knowing which jar belongs to which item, but there is something so satisfying about freeing up a jar or container for something else!

  • Reply Dana February 27, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I love these jars too but I don’t eat enough jam. 🙂

  • Reply Jennie February 27, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    OMG ” If you’re beginning to wonder, the answer is yes, I rather enjoy spending an undisclosed amount of time shuffling the contents of jars in the name of space efficiency. ” i thought I was the only one. I get such a thrill out of shuffling the contents of jars on a regular basis. I think I now have more jars than contents but I love my obsession dearly.

  • Reply Deborah February 27, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    My grown daughters would laugh out loud thinking about “drowning in potential usefulness,” as I have amassed BOXES of Bonne Maman jars (luckily I have a large basement with plenty of storage). With college-aged girls at the time, I somehow envisioned collecting enough by the time one of them got married that we would be able to stuff them with fresh farm flowers and/or candles. One wedding down, and in the boxes they stayed (there was a slight issue with schlepping them from Michigan to Rhode Island, but also that they just didn’t quite fit the aesthetic). I’ll probably hang onto them for now…just in case they make sense for wedding #2. But there are 24 fewer after this past Christmastime–those found their way into my first-grade classroom, glue-painted with multi-colored tissue squares and filled with tea lights for the sweetest little homemade “stained glass” holiday lanterns. Elementary school teachers have “potential usefulness” issues like no others, hehe. I have also left those pretty labels ON some of my jars, because I like that look, too!

    • Reply sam-c February 28, 2017 at 5:02 pm

      The stained glass holiday lanterns sounds like a fun project for kids. I may have to start saving more jars.

  • Reply Alycea aka Piddlewick February 28, 2017 at 12:48 am

    A throughly enjoyable read, with just the right ambiance to start my morning with over coffee.

  • Reply Jinna February 28, 2017 at 4:39 am

    Slightly off the real topic of this post…. but would James be up for doing a ‘guest post’ about his bread making? it always looks so delicious and I’m just getting started myself.

    • Reply Trish O February 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      I would love to see a bread post, too. I would like to start this habit but not sure how to start.

  • Reply JP February 28, 2017 at 5:52 am

    Very timely post for me, too. We just spend our Sunday refilling and re-organizing our great collection of spices and dried goods – which I thoroughly enjoy as well.
    Having a household of 5+ adults who are all keen on any kind of seeds and spices and cooking and having leftover, the only rule for us is – if it is not nice to look at (especially the lid) or too unique so there is only one lid that fits, it goes.
    Sadly my minimalist dreams are shattered here since we have a giant basket full of glasses (it helps that they actually all get used in rotation, but it’s still a big load to store).

  • Reply Barbara Slegers-Hudson February 28, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Those jam jars are the perfect size for so many things. And when we find a stockpile growing, perfect for gifting homemade vegan pesto, or a wonderful rub or seasoning or possibly an opportunity to share some homemade granola. Oh so pretty!

  • Reply Sarah February 28, 2017 at 7:36 am

    I was immediately reminded of Bread and Jam for Francis by Russell and Lillian Hoban, reading about your daughter’s affinity for the above! If you haven’t already read it, your little one might like it:)

  • Reply Sarah February 28, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Ah — Frances not Francis!

  • Reply Swissrose February 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    LOL yep this is me, jam jars everywhere – but oh so useful!!

  • Reply MA February 28, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Yes! We are big consumers of Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry jam and use the leftover jars for everything – drinking glasses, storage, etc. My favorite re-use: transportation of cocktails to the beach. So civilized (glass!), and yet practical (lid!).

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 28, 2017 at 12:35 pm


  • Reply Lily Calfee February 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I loooove shuffling jar contents around, searching for the most efficient storage of all the things. It’s high on my list of mindful activities, along with repotting plants and prowling the garden. Such a Virgo—have to make everything efficient and clean!

  • Reply sam-c February 28, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Great post. those jars are great. Last time we had one, we used it to bring ground coffee to a cabin getaway with friends. After using the coffee, we refilled it with bacon grease. I protested a little when my husband threw it away (me being a compulsive jar saver). He looked at me funny, and said..’ i know where we can get more…” (still my concern being that we don’t eat a lot of jam! ) lol 🙂

  • Reply Delphine February 28, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    The article I was reading before your post : “Le fameux couvercle à carreaux vichy rouge et blanc, c’était lui. L’inventeur du célèbre pot de confitures “Bonne Maman”, Pierre Roche-Bayard, est décédé samedi 25 février à Bergerac (Dordogne)” !!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 1, 2017 at 5:59 am

      Oh my gosh! Quelle coïncidence!

  • Reply Resi March 1, 2017 at 6:32 am

    YES! I have a serious jam jar collection going on… and I have a lot of those Bonne Maman ones in use 🙂 they host all the nuts and müsli extras like cranberries, flaxseed, chia seeds… so I need many! Yay for practical and beautiful storage! Also congratulations on your newest addition to the family – welcome baby Silas!

  • Reply Amy March 1, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I loved that line at the end: drown in potential usefulness. What a great way of expressing that. I used to hoard jam jars, sometimes using them for homemade gifts like granola, but as we move so often, I realized the heaviness of this habit. Every once in a while, I go looking for one and realize I’ve quit the habit. I look forward to our upcoming move, as we will finally settle somewhere and be able to keep a collection of jam jars. Lovely post. Amy

  • Reply Elizabeth in Tennessee March 1, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I love those jars! I used them frequently to store spices: just add a bit of washi tape to the top (easily removed for washing), and add the name of the spice. I also use one or two to have pre-made porridge: just add the dry ingredients, and you’re ready to pop it in a pot in the morning! My 3-year-old LOVES to make his own porridge now! Terrifically useful things, those jars! And the jam is wonderful, too!

  • Reply Jennie March 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Remarkable how spot on this advice was for me today! 🙂 Thank you!

  • Reply Cate April 9, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    I’m so glad that mine is not the only apartment bursting with Bonne Maman jars. I love the cheery red tops! Ours are filled with salad dressing, leftover gravy from Sunday roast supper, and homemade sweet tea or lemonade.

  • Reply Maria May 19, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    I just came across your blog and it’s just too fitting that I read this particular post today! We, too, like the original contents of Bonne Maman as much as its ability to be reused. This morning as I was preparing toast I was delighted to see what I thought was jelly in the fridge. Moments later as I was spreading it on my toast, I couldn’t help but wonder where the delicious barbecue sauce scent was coming from… you got it. My husband had recycled the jelly jar for a bbq sauce jar. It made for good laugh!

  • Reply Kelly Libby October 31, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    While cleaning out and sorting the pantry, my sister “stole” my jars to use as extra drinking cups for her brood of 6. They are so perfect. A few weeks ago, while at Whole Foods, a fellow customer was looking at all the jam and jelly choices and I leaned over and said, “Those are THE best JARS!! You just peel of the label and can reuse them!!!”. I’m not certain as to why i was so excited to share, but by his raised eyebrows and expression, he certainly thought I was a bit odd. hahahhhaaa. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.

  • Reply Júlia B. August 29, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Love from a fellow jar-shuffler! 🙂 You described my (pantry) life so accurately, my heart jumped with happiness.

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