Pinterest (uh) What is it Good For? Absolutely Something

pinterestAs you may know, I like to view my very-nearly-fifty-year-old self as all hip and early adopterish. I have an unnatural dread of youngsters snickering as I hold up my new-fangled thingamabobber and look at it over the rims of my glasses, saying something like “tell me again, what button I push to see the grandkids in their space pod?” So when I started reading about Pinterest, I begged an invitation and checked it out.

As it turns out, Pinterest can be a useful tool or a waste of time and energy, or both. I am finding it tremendously useful, but it took some time and tinkering to sift out what I really wanted to see and “pin” to my virtual pin boards. At first, I saw no point in looking through hundreds and thousands of pictures and picking those that struck my fancy. A lot of what I saw seemed like nothing more than an extension of the bumper sticker or the Facebook profile - one more way to show off a little and tell the world that one had read (and liked) “Bleak House,” or spent time in Uruguay. There were also hundreds of cute animal pictures, cute kid pictures, and inspirational sayings of various kinds, things that might be diverting for two seconds but I am unlikely to “pin” and revisit anything along the lines of LOLCats.

The beauty of a good “pin,” though, is that there is a narrative portion that can tell you whether a picture is just “for pretty,” or whether one can click through to a recipe for that cupcake, or directions for making wall sconces from Dollar Store funnels. For me, the recipes and how-tos have been amazingly useful. I admit that I “collect” pretty pictures of things that I like, moons, owls, birds, flowers, and Paris street scenes…images that make me smile when I am stuck someplace for fifteen minutes and want a reminder of the beauty in the world. That’s good, but that’s the fluff.

pinterest-foodThe useful stuff is the game-changer. I have recipes in twenty million places, including my computer (Inbox, “favorites,” recipe boxes on several sites), purchased recipe books, foodie magazines and my own tabbed and indexed binders. Have I but world enough and time, it’s fun and relaxing to look through eight thousand sources to find recipes. More often, I am rushed, planning menus for the next week or for work, looking for new, healthy snack ideas, and I just want something to jump out and bite me. On Pinterest, it often does. Many of the recipes are not my thing; there are an awful lot of cakes, desserts, cookies, processed foods and “E-Z” crockpot versions of things that really need to be made sizzling fresh in a pan.

When they’re good, though, they are very, very good. In the weeks since I started “pinning,” we have enjoyed a spicy Cajun pasta, healthy beef and bean burritos, chicken with red curry sauce, spicy mac and cheese, homemade granola bars and probably things I’m forgetting. I have also become obsessed with roasted garbanzo beans; they are the central jewel in my Pinterest cooking crown, they are tasty, easy, cheap (an 88 cent can of beans gives me three healthy portions), healthy and easily varied with the use of different seasonings.

I have also, because of Pinterest, made my own spray cleaner, laundry soap, laundry spot remover, dishwasher soap, air freshener, shower cleaning spray, body lotion and shampoo. They all work, and none of them contain anything environmentally gross to offend my nose, my skin, or the lungs of the animals sharing my living space. The shampoo recipe is simply castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) + coconut milk, and I am now making my own coconut milk, which saves money, keeps cans out of landfills, and provides me with an ingredient for baking, drinking, making curry, making shampoo and that lovely little plug of solid coconut oil that forms on the top and moisturizes like nobody’s business. I have made storage containers out of cereal boxes and soup cans, a purse from an ancient pair of blue jeans, and a “nest building station” for the birds with lint from the dryer and snippets of leftover fabric and ribbon.

Am I carried away? Turning into some Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rachel Carson hybrid monster? Ranting? I totally am. I’m sure all of these ideas could be found in books and magazines, or by hunting on the internets, but for a person like me who is cheap, vain, busy and “green,” Pinterest is a one-stop source of inspiration.  For various reasons, most ecologically sound products cost the earth (no pun intended) and I feel more smug every time I use my own vinegar and baking soda mixture to clean a countertop, knowing that I have spent pennies instead of the dollars it would have cost to buy Mrs. Meyers or Seventh Generation at the health food store.

pinterest-aspThere is also a very satisfying social aspect to Pinterest; it feels good when someone “re-pins” your pin, or “likes” it, or comments, or (most exciting of all) “follows your boards” not because they actually know you, but because they think you choose cool stuff to pin. It’s also a quick way to see who your soul mates are in terms of taste – I have a friend whose pins are almost always things I love, and I almost always “repin” them all. Another friend, from high school, shares my love of hedgehogs, beautiful nature photographs, paper dolls, and the color red. I think of myself as “playing” with her when I find something I know she’ll especially like, or come upon one of her choice morsels of loveliness in my feed. It is also very useful to see the recommendations of friends about products from dresses to baby carriers. I am much easier about paying $70.00 for an Athleta skirt if I know two people who have bought, and loved similar products.

That being said, “Pinteresting” seems to be dominated by, and more useful to women. My husband belongs, and he pins images of things he’s interested in, but there is not a lot of utility going on. I am not saying that men do not cook or craft or up cycle milk jugs, but I don’t see much evidence that they are using Pinterest to harvest recipes and DIY instructions in a central location for later reference. There is also a fine line between sharing one’s best stuff with the world and “marketing;” it is considered bad form to use Pinterest as a venue for hawking one’s own stuff, and I am quick to “un-follow” anyone who seems to be pinning only their own blog posts or items for sale from one specific business.

I waste some time on Pinterest, and it’s easy to do. I start hunting for the perfect something-or-other, or stalk someone’s beautifully curated inspiration board, and I’m gone. I also do some Look At Me stuff like finding interesting and unusual blogs and hustling to be the first pinner, the arbiter of taste, The Source of Cool. In the end, though, like your computer, your smartphone, or Facebook, Pinterest can be a source of frivolous fun or a damned fine tool. Check it out, and see what you think – I’ll be roasting some garbanzo beans and washing my face with olive oil and honey.

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Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Sprezzatura blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.