Monday, November 9, 2009

Waste not, want not

posted Mon, 22 Nov 2004

I have had two nights on my new – new to me – mattress and so far, my back is fine. I was a little scared about taking such a big step. Mattresses and shoes are two things you don’t want to skimp on. You get what you pay for and you will regret going cheap in either one. But after 17 years on the same mattress, it was time for a change.

My friends Aimee and Allen are converting their guest room to a nursery and didn’t want to throw away the mattress from the guest bed. Aimee asked if I knew anyone who wanted it – free – and of course moi popped into my head. Free is my favorite color when it comes to expensive items.

[My old mattress is going to Amvets. It is NOT going in the trash. It is still clean and in good shape. But I had the chance for a newer mattress for free and I jumped on it. Not literally, but you know what I mean.]

Any organ meats or other leftovers like that can go to these kids.

I hate the idea of throwing away something like a mattress as well. Actually, I hate the idea of throwing away almost anything. My people do not waste. That’s why there are Slovak recipes using things like gizzards and pigs’ knuckles and other parts of the animal that I, as a Slovak-Norwegian-Flemish-Prussian-French American, have no problems discarding. The Slovak not-wasting part of me gets a little diluted when it comes to weird animal parts.

OK. So I don’t mind throwing away some kinds of food, but chocolate will never go to waste at my house. I do, however, hate throwing away things that are still useful. It about kills me to get rid of old running shoes. When my feet start to hurt too much, the running shoes become work-in-the-mud shoes. Old t-shirts become dust rags. Not that I dust. But if I ever wanted to, I would have the equipment to do so. Old toothbrushes are saved for polishing silver. Except I don’t have any silver. But if I did, I would save my old toothbrushes for polishing it.

OK. So I don’t save that much stuff. But I don’t throw good things away. I give my old clothes to charity and try to repair other things. I hate to waste.

I lived in Chile for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was almost impossible to find used furniture or appliances there. There was no secondary market for these things because if you had them, you kept them until they could no longer be repaired and used. It took me three months to find a used refrigerator (rental property does not come with appliances there – rent a house but bring your own stove, fridge and lightbulbs).

Selling the refrigerator was easy except the buyer never paid us. That’s what I get for selling to one of my co-workers, even though there were other people – cash in hand! – begging to buy it. She told me she needed it to keep the baby’s milk cold and that she would work out a payment plan. Carolina, you still owe me $100 and I want it.

The good thing about Chile in this respect, though, was that you could get things repaired. Here, if your Walkman breaks, you might as well buy a new one. Even if you could find someone who could repair it, the repair would cost more than a new Walkman. When mine broke in Chile, I found a guy to fix it for one dollar.

I could get my shoes fixed easily there – when the sole separated (the dearly departed) from the leather upper on my white Keds, the shoe guy fixed it for about a dollar. Ha. You can’t even get your shoes polished for a dollar here.

When I returned to the US, seeing the waste was one of the hardest changes to adjust to. (That and seeing obese people. You don’t see obesity in Latin America. Stout, yes. Obese, no.) I couldn’t bear it. I would walk to the Metro in DC on my way to my flunky temp job at the World Bank (where I had been shocked, shocked to realize I would be the one putting the mail in the slots every morning at 10:00 – but that’s what you do as a temp secretary) and see items left for the trash collectors that were still perfectly good: typewriters, beds, sofas, lamps. These people couldn’t even be bothered to take the stuff to Goodwill.

I still see it, but I guess after being back in the US for several years, I am less enraged by it. It still bothers me, though. People just waste, waste, waste. And then they complain about not having enough money. Go figure.

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