I once had a cheap, yellow magnet shaped like an incandescent light bulb. It had black letters that
said “Waste Not, Want Not” and reminded me of my roots. We were dirt poor, as the saying goes, and could afford to take nothing, absolutely nothing, for granted. Nothing was thrown away until all avenues of further use had been explored. I recall only two dresses in my first twelve years that hadn’t first belonged to someone else – or that my mother hadn’t made me from remnants. Our clothes, Salvation Army issue, were handed down to my sisters when I couldn’t wear them anymore. When Mom couldn’t re-envision a purpose for something, then and only then did it hit the wastebasket. That magnet on the refrigerator door was also about food. We didn’t have much food either, and sometimes none at all, except for what friends gave us. We threw almost nothing away, even if we didn’t like it. That would have been wasteful. A sin. “People in other parts of the world are starving,” Mom used to say, “Be grateful you have something to eat.” It was cooked cabbage, making it hard to be truly grateful.
When I had children of my own, I, too, became a practitioner of thrift. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Bill would say (sorry, Bill’s cliché, not mine – and a favorite of his at that). Saving empty boxes, cans, jars, used paper when the other side was still blank were ingrained by then. I saved scraps of material to make clothes for my children when they were small enough that remnants would do. I glued together broken cups, used Kleenex more than once, turned the shower off while I soaped up, and kept the heat down, wearing extra sweaters to keep warm. Food wasn’t wasted either. I bought only what I needed and made certain it was used before purchasing more. Leftovers, an obsession by then, were a mainstay. My kids wore their pencils and crayons down to the nub.
The price of abundance in today’s world is waste. I can’t believe the amount of food that gets tossed out while “people in other parts of the world are starving.” Trash heaps abound filled with things whose shelf-life is often still half. The homeless sift through dumpsters and are rewarded for their efforts with things people throw out simply because they don’t want them anymore, because they want the upgrade, they’re tired of what they have, or they’ve purchased something new to replace an item for the sake of having something new.
But more than food and consumer goods gets wasted. We squander our time on mindless television shows in the name of entertainment. Entertainment is fine. We need it. We do. But what does that contribute to the family of man of which we are all members?
We squander our energy and concentration on video and computer games. What’s that you say? What about me? Oh, I’m as guilty as anyone. When I couldn’t turn on my computer, even once, without playing just one game of Solitare before I did anything else, I realized I had a serious problem and finally deleted Solitare from my computer’s hard drive. At least I’m getting some work done now. Sure, I miss it, but the tremors have subsided and I don’t fixate on it every waking minute of the day. You’ll get over it, I did.
We talk too much just for the sake of talking, repeating the same kinds of things over and over. How often do our words contain nothing of real value?
Silence might be better, but we can’t seem to handle that. Instead, we shove ipods in our ears as we walk, jog, or run the wrong way (with traffic instead of facing it as we are supposed to) on busy streets. Remember – reflective clothing might just save your life.
We rarely stop to hear the birds, listen to the wind in the trees, tune into the crickets on a summer night, or be calmed by the water in a brook or stream as it spills over the rocks.
But by far the biggest waste is a denial of our families and closest friends because we are not present in the moment, their moment. When we multi-task, we take them for granted, relegating them to our periphery. We think we can do it all – type an email, play a video game, work on the computer – all while they are trying to have a conversation in which we can only half-heartedly participate. Our attention is divided, often by more than half. We are not present with the daughter on the phone, the dog at our feet, the husband in the other room watching the news alone. Why?
Because we haven’t got the time.
We’d better fine-tune our waste management skills right now. Evaluate what, and who, is important, then proceed accordingly because time’s a wastin’ and – to waste not is to want not.