Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waste not want not.

My husband's grandma always impressed me. Her house was ceaselessly tidy to the extent you could probably have eaten off the garage floor. I remember we were visiting once and I needed to throw something away and asked where the trash was. She pointed under her kitchen sink cabinet to a tiny, less than knee high, waste can. It turns out, that was her trash for the week!

I suspect she secretly may have been appalled when we gathered at her home for Christmas dinners and she watched all that wrapping paper, the boxes, packaging, ribbons and bows being shoved into large, black, plastic garbage bags moments after gifts were opened.

I wish I had gotten to know her better when I had the chance. As I've gone down this road to try to simplify for economic, environmental, organizational and other reasons, she would have been a wonderful source of advice. As it is, her memory keeps some of those lessons in mind as I go about the week.

I've come to believe there is a big connection between waste and wealth. Wealth both in the sense of dollars and in inner contentment.

Benjamin Franklin told us "A small leak will sink a great ship." The New Englanders admonished us to "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." And the environmentalists tell us to "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle."

So what is waste? Some of the definitions according to the dictionary: To use and expend thoughtlessly and without return; squander; to fail to take advantage of opportunity, not under cultivation, unproductive, unoccupied.

To my mind that includes not only celery and lettuce that went into the trash uneaten (did you ever notice chocolate never seems to end up this way?), but also wasting the chance to giggle with my two boys who are splashing in the bath and instead getting aggravated and pointing to wet spots on the carpet.

There are so many areas of waste in my life and I'm looking at this next seven days as a challenge to see if I can discover ways to recoup a bit of what is sometimes lost.

There is one area I know I've "got it" as far as not being wasteful and that is my garden.

I now have over an acre of flower beds and many of the perennials in those gardens came from what I found tossed at our town's compost dump. I've learned the art of division and easily doubled and doubled again those original starts. I've learned about seed saving and not only save seeds for my own use, but to trade through the mail with others to expand my plant collections.

I have more than my share of trash picked planters and tools. And when my neighbor Bud was taking down his rock wall, I was lady on the spot with my wheelbarrow hauling those stones back to my own yard to edge paths. When someone on freecyle wanted to get rid of some pretty nasty carpet, my ever expanding garden empire used every scrap to kill the grass to make new beds, then put those carpets to use again under wood chips along woodland paths. Many, many times the flowers from my gardens have been shared with coworkers, friends, family, and neighbors and a compost pile gathers all the banana peels and grape stems right off the back deck. I collect my neighbors' leaves and clippings for mulch. And I'm giving some thought to offering to head up a plant sale at our church as a fundraiser.

So despite the fact I came home from an errand this morning to find four outside lights burning away, and tossed one bad apple this morning, I have hope that inside me is that uber thrifty, prudent New Englander waiting to get out.

What are your areas of waste and those areas you've totally "got it"? Care to join me this week? Antoinette, Committed Recycler that you are, maybe there's still some areas of waste??;-) For anyone who wants to waste less or share their "got it" areas, I would love the company. Eileen


  1. Eileen, thanks for singling me out. I completely agree with you about waste. It's difficult for someone like me to see the other side, that worrying about how to reuse an item can take undue energy, and I have real priorities, like Family and Life. A wasted opportunity can sting for ages (which reminds me that there are a few people I need to touch base with before a window closes and another chance is wasted). I try to express thanks genuinely and whenever I can to people in my life -an even strangers who show kindness. I will never forget a teenage boy that I helped find a Mother's Day gift for, in his budget, at a jewelry counter. We found something and I suggested that he ask for a ten percent discount -which he got. As I walked away he turned back to me and said, "Thank you so much for your kindness". I was so touched. And proud of myself for being able to help in a very small way. I also feel that the positive ideals of recycling and avoiding waste are truly ideals of citizenship and community that we are fortunate enough to live on a much grander scale because of our expanded virtual communities.
    And you can start at anytime! If your work place doesn't have a bin for recycled cans, collect yours to take home, and suggest that they get one. Stop using disposable wrapping and learn how to wrap items with fabric (I use handkerchiefs and bandanas in themed prints and the newspaper comics pages) or reuse gift bags. Think before you throw it out. Your good habits can be infectious! Go, start now. If you already do all these things, can you do more? Take Eileen's cue and influence others, or reinforce your own habits. But also, don't use up all your energy telling the kids not to waste shampoo! I dilute it and use foam bottles. They cost a dollar [or can be reused from purchased products] and use a tenth the amount of product diluted with water. And they are fun. It pays to think smart, not fanatical, and be creative everyday.
    How'd I do?

  2. Well done indeed! Thanks for the thoughtful reply Antoinette. Glad that message in a bottle made it;-). Eileen

    Anyone else??