When I was growing up–much to my dismay—my mom never threw anything away.
Her rationale was, “You never know when you might need it” or “That can be fixed.” It didn’t matter if that broken toaster sat in a cupboard for decades, the fact that it “could” be repaired was reason enough to allow it to occupy valuable real estate in the cabinet. If the time came when that space was needed, the broken toaster would get sent to the basement which was a sort of purgatory for items that had not yet been sent to their final resting place. Eventually, these items would be laid to rest in the garage ensuring that they would never again see the light of day; a cemetery of sorts for all manner of dead items. If you asked my mom why she kept all this stuff, she would repeat the manta, “Well, you never know when you might need it.”
My mom reused, repurposed and recycled long before it was cool. She was also a “hoarder” back in the days when it was considered to be “normal” and not a sickness to be highlighted on a television reality show.
Throwing food away was unheard of back in the day. Tonight’s mashed potatoes morphed into tomorrow’s potato pancakes which became the following day’s bathroom caulk. Nothing was wasted.
I was amazed at the number of uses that my mother could get out of a single sheet of aluminum foil. I’m pretty sure that the first box she ever bought lasted for 30 years. She wasn’t the only one; everyone did that. I don’t know how the company stayed in business with all of that reuse.
My mom believed that expiration dates were just a thinly veiled plot by food companies to make us buy more of their product before we needed to. For perishables, the “smell test” was thought to be far more reliable than the random and arbitrary date suggested by the manufacturer. Another of her favorite mantras was, “That’s how they gitcha…”
“Save that. It will come back in style eventually.”
That might have been true, but I doubted that the saddle shoes from 4th grade were going to fit my 16-year-old feet. Some of her notions only worked in theory.
My sister is 8 years older than me, so it seems logical that I would’ve escaped the dreaded hand-me-downs. But, used clothes would magically appear anyway. The problem was that they never really fit. I was tall with freakishly long arms. Sleeves were never long enough, but my mom could convince herself that they would lengthen by merely tugging on them. The sleeves, of course, immediately crawled back up my arms after each downward pull. When I put on my winter coat to go out, she would spend 10 minutes playing “tug-retract-tug-retract.” Eventually, she would just send me out in the cold with 4 inches of skin showing. The hand-me-down clothes probably came from the neighbors who saw that poor child with the ill-fitting clothes out in the snow on the verge of getting two 4-inch patches of frostbite on her arms. Between that and all the expired food I ate, I don’t know how I made it to adulthood.
I can remember vowing to never become my mother. I couldn’t wait to be on my own where I could throw out wrapping paper and egg shells with reckless abandon. Yet, strangely, the older I get, the more like my mom I become. I’ve grown to appreciate the value of things. There’s something about getting a job and making your own money will do that to you.
It’s kind of sad that we’ve become a disposable society. If something breaks, we just go buy another. The concept of “hand-me-down” clothes is a quaint notion from the past like rotary dial phones and manual push mowers.
When I buy new clothes, there is often a spare button attached. I have a large tin of these buttons and I’m convinced that they breed and multiply as soon as I close the closet door. My sister asked me if I was saving for the “Big Button Shortage” that economists keep warning us about. I have never had the occasion to use even one of these buttons and yet I keep them and continue to add to the stash. After all, you just never know when you might need one. And, I don’t want to have to go BUY a button, because as we all know, that’s how they gitcha.Tags: Becoming My Mother, Recycling