WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
I would be thrilled to host you as a guest in my home. If you do come, however, I must make one thing abundantly clear: If you feel the need to use a paper towel in my kitchen, PLEASE use only one. And please make sure you tear off the smallest pre-sectioned section possible.
Paper towels are not to be wasted on frivolous purposes such as simply wiping your hands dry after you wash them. That’s what the kitchen towel is right there for. The paper towels are for things like wiping grease off the floor, or wiping the dead fly off the counter that you just swatted. And for the love of Pete and all things reusable, if you feel you must dry them with a paper towel, say if there is greasy residue or the possibility of contagion or contamination on your hands, then it is allowed. Otherwise, use the towel.
This is what we learned as kids. Not overtly, not dictated word-for-word, but slowly, methodically over a period of years. We all learned that paper towels are expensive, and should not be used unless absolutely necessary. Thus, I have stocked up on them, but only the brand that comes apart in small sheets, and only purchased when they were on sale.
Gail and Suzanne have confirmed the same feelings, and the same policy in their homes. Feel free to visit them as well, but expect the same rules about paper towels.
We grew up in a farming family with seven children. Nine mouths to feed, nine bodies to clothe, and nine people to shelter. Our farmhouse was small and old, but big enough. It was always full of love.
We always had enough of everything else, too. Enough, but not much extra. Thus, the need to conserve, economize and save. We practiced the most original form of reduce, reuse and recycle before we even knew what we were doing; before it was cool. It was out of necessity, and never questioned.
Laundry for nine people seemed to be a full-time job for Mom. Some of my most vivid memories of her were in the laundry room for hours on end. Sorting, washing, drying, sorting, folding and putting away.
Drying was an outdoor affair whenever possible. The dryer produces heat, thus requiring more energy. Whenever possible, the clothesline was the dryer.
Gail and I have faithfully carried on the clothesline tradition—even in the winter. Wednesday, in the 60 degree January heat, this was the scene on my back porch:
The very next day, this was the scene outside.
Therefore, this was the scene in my basement. Welcome to our fickle Kansas weather.
Gail had a similar scene in her home:
Her plants love the humidity from the damp clothes, she says. I think the humans do too; the laundry acts as a humidifier in the dry winter weather as it dries.
And the socks–she shudders at the idea of her college-age son drying his socks in the dryer all the way when he does laundry in the dorm, and so do I, now that she brought that to my attention regarding my son. That, as we should all know, weakens the elastic, thus reducing the longevity of the sock.
My husband built our house, and when we moved in 21 years ago on March 1st, I said, “just string me up a temporary clothesline on the back porch. When the weather gets warmer, you can put one up in the backyard.” I changed my mind. It is now known as our redneck clothesline, because I hang our clothes on the porch. It was just too easy to step out the back door, hang them up and call it good. And, by the way, I am proud to call myself a redneck. Its origin is the fact that hard work in the sunshine may create a sunburned/suntanned neck.
When Gail and her husband moved into their home as newlyweds, she issued an ultimatum: Either replace that rinky-dink umbrella clothesline in the backyard with a REAL one, or else…He quickly complied, she reported.
I do use my dryer when I cannot hang clothes out, but not to fully dry each load. Call me crazy, but I use it as little as possible. I may give each load a bit of a whirl to minimize wrinkles, but then I hang them on the bar stools, or wherever they will go. I even purchased a deluxe drying rack, which probably hasn’t paid for itself yet, but it will in time. It’s the principle.
Gail will concur; she, too hangs out laundry whenever she can. Suzanne, however, is not the clothesline enthusiast we are. And that’s okay.
When Suzanne’s daughter was about three, they visited and stayed over. They did a load of laundry, and used the dryer. This was in April. In October, when I used the dryer again, I found a pair of her daughter’s pants.
Mystery solved, but she had likely grown out of them by then.
Speaking of appliances that generate heat—and are thus more expensive to run—I baked a turkey breast for dinner tonight on this cold, snowy day. When I took it out, I turned off the oven and opened the door a bit to let the heat out, hopefully to give our heater a miniscule boost. Every time I do, I hear Mom’s voice: “We’ve already paid for it. We might as well use the heat.” So we do.
Gail attended a baby shower yesterday, and when the guest of honor stacked up all the gift bags and proceeded to the trashcan with them, Gail swooped in, saving them from a certain, wasteful death. She told me today she even saves the tissue paper, giving it the royal steam treatment to make it wrinkle free for its next incarnation. If she doesn’t use the bags or the paper, she will pass them on to someone who will.
She’s brilliant and frugal.
I took my boots off–one of several pair of perfectly-fitting winter-weather boots I now own–this evening after a long, cold, busy Friday, and smiled at my own handiwork: the sloppy, yet effective mending job I had performed on each sock around the big toe was still holding, and here’s my secret:
Socks were not to be simply thrown away when they became holey. Oh, no no, they were to be mended. Mom taught us to simply insert the lightbulb, push it down to the toes—or the heels, wherever the hole was—and use the hard surface of the bulb to make the stitching easier.
In my continued efforts to purge, however, I must confess I actually threw away an otherwise perfectly good pair of black knee socks several weeks ago. The guilty pleasure was worth it, but I have another pair I plan to mend with the bulb. I can’t let myself waste more than one pair.
Speaking of footwear, my husband delights in retelling the story of his childhood that lacked overshoes. They, too, were frugal out of necessity, and snow boots were a luxury. They simply saved plastic bread sacks, slipped them over their shoes, secured them around their ankles with a rubber band, and it worked. It had to. There were four kids to feed, clothe, shelter and shoe in their home.
I sent a draft of this to Gail and Suzanne, and they reminded me that our family did that, too. It seems there were never enough snow boots/overshoes to go around, so whichever kid(s) had a pair that fit, they wore them. The other kids wore bread sacks. Suzanne claims that she remembers me always fitting perfectly–Cinderella-like–into one of the more deluxe pair of boots. Perhaps that’s why I don’t remember the bread sacks.
Given these reports of my wasting not, I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled I was to find this utensil:
It is a miniature spatula that gets up inside the neck of a condiment bottle to scrape it out, as well as deep inside to scrape the edges, thus leaving no ketchup/mayonnaise/mustard behind.
When I spent the summers with Tana and Amy (Swheat Girls, July 9th), they would ridicule my efforts at scraping a condiment container clean. “It’s empty–just throw it away!” I can still hear them saying this all those summers ago. Much later, when they were on their own and realized the importance of wasting not, they both acknowledged they now realized the importance of scraping the jar clean.
Recycling as we know it now wasn’t in vogue when I was a kid, but we had our own ways of taking care of business on the farm. Whatever would burn was burned, and the rest was taken to our own personal landfill not far from the house. There was no such thing as trash service on the farm. Table scraps—there weren’t many besides bones–were fed to the cats and dogs. We ate whatever we could; clean your plate was the spoken and unspoken rule for every meal. We weren’t allowed to be picky eaters; no such thing at a table for nine. And whatever is left over needs to be eaten at another meal before it spoils. Knowing full well that some of the food on my plate now would look better in the trash than on my thighs, I still struggle to leave anything there. If I took it, I’d better eat it.
In the last twenty years or so, I have become very faithful about recycling what I can. Plastic, glass, newspapers, cardboard, office papers and aluminum are never thrown away in my home now.
Until about a month ago, my small city had a wonderful, self-service, privately-owned recycling center. In a cruel twist, it was closed. I, and its other patrons were left wondering what our options were.
It is true that when God closes one door, he opens another—but the hallways are a bitch. In the last month or so, I found myself in this hallway. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away all these recyclable materials; that would be so wasteful, not to mention ecologically irresponsible.
I had heard through the grapevine that a nearby town—Abilene, my Someplace Special (September 10th), and the town I work in almost every day, has a fabulous recycling center operated by the city. I was going there anyway, so it was a no-brainer. I loaded up my car like I always did, but took it a bit further down the road. This door that opened was even better than the one that closed: It is a drive-through; no need to get out of the car because it is full service.
If, like me, you live close to Abilene, please consider taking a little trip over there with your recyclables. There are many restaurants and shops in Abilene too, and of course, the Eisenhower Museum. Make it an excursion. You won’t regret it, and I would be happy to give you advice on all the wonderful places to visit.
Mom’s kitchen frugality was not limited to paper towels. Aluminum foil was wiped down and reused, and plastic storage bags were washed out and reused as well. While I am not as hell-bent on reusing plastic bags as I am limiting paper towels, I do wash and reuse them sometimes. I rarely reuse aluminum foil. Shame on me.
Suzanne tells me she is faithful to Mom’s policy of reusing both foil and plastic bags.
The paradox here and now is this: I can afford to use multiple paper towels. I can afford to throw away a pair of socks. I can afford to buy all the Zip-lock bags my heart desires. But the need for frugality in these particular areas is so deeply ingrained in me, that I likely never will.
And that, my friends, is not a bad thing.
Other things, perhaps, may need to be revisited. Many of us who grew up with little extra learned—out of necessity—the value of hard work, and a lot of it. This, too, is a good thing.
Until it’s not.
Many of us no longer work to survive, although most of us have been at that point in our lives at one time. Many of us work for more than the necessities: we work to pay for our lifestyle choices, myself included. Many of us keep working more and more to pay for what amounts to less and less. Again, sometimes this is a necessity. It is up to you to decide, in your personal/financial life, if it is. It is up to you to decide if the time you are spending at work is time well spent, or time that could be spent better. Recall that the standard eight hour workday is a product of the Industrial Revolution. We are well into the Information Age, which doesn’t always require three eight-hour shifts. Perhaps it is perfect for you, perhaps even more than that is what you need. Maybe it’s less. Just think about it.
Money is a renewable commodity, time is not. If we could bank time like we can bank money—with interest—we would all be rich.
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.
Nobody puts their net worth, the hours they spent at work on their tombstone. We’ve all heard that before. We etch our loved ones, perhaps our hobbies or pets in stone to make a statement about who we were. We don’t inscribe our possessions, nor can we take them with us. As the legendary George Strait sings, “I ain’t never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.”
Just think about it. I think about it, and I see how, perhaps I am talking out of both sides of my mouth. I speak of getting rid of stuff, the beauty of purging. I write about deciding if the hours I work, and the things I spend my money on are aligned with my values. I see how hard it is for me, and probably for most of us.
Yet, as soon as I finish writing this, I am leaving to go to my small city to meet Suzanne at Marshall’s, one of my favorite shopping meccas. Their semi-annual yellow-tag clearance is going on, and I want to go shopping; perhaps I want more stuff.
I want to WANT NOT, but I’m not there yet. I am thinking about it, and thinking about what I need to change. Awareness is the first step. And with Suzanne, she will do her best to make me shop like a minimalist, just like she does. At least I can say I am doing pretty good at WASTING NOT.
We welcome your comments about how you wasted not in your youth or adulthood, or both. Perhaps more challenging than that, please let me know how you want not.
Oh, and if you need a gift idea for my April birthday, consider paper towels–you saw my favorite brand in the picture. The toilet tissue was a great gift idea for Suzanne (Be Careful What You Wish For, August 13th), so I thought perhaps I would ask for paper towels.