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Green Thoughts: Waste Not, Want Not

Jan. 11, 2012

Wisdom from our grandparents … we have spent the last 50 years chucking such wisdom in the name of progress, prosperity, technology and comfort.

Now, some folks are re-evaluating the wisdom of past generations, as well as their home-grown ways.

Canning foods, chicken-raising, brewing custom libations, baking bread - these are all trendy now, but were everyday duties of American life for generations.

One of the proverbs I have been revisiting in my mind lately is "waste not, want not."

I grew up in a family of convenience - it was a sign of our having arrived to not have to save a torn shirt or eat leftover food. It proved we had plenty coming our way tomorrow, so we didn't have to save today. It was also really convenient, at least on the surface.

We never really thought about the inconvenience of going to buy more stuff, or of having to cook daily since we weren't eating any leftovers. TV dinners saved mom cooking-time but cost us money and grocery trips to keep the freezer stocked. We took the trash out several times a week and "cleaned our closets" of perfectly good clothing twice a year, and then went out to refill them all.

My husband Ty, on the other hand, comes from a family of arid-country farmers, where waste is not an option. Everything gets saved and reused.

My grandmother-in-law even fashioned dozens of miniature parasols from the cigarette packs she gathered from her teenage children (this was decades ago) even though she didn't like them smoking in the first place. She would gather the packs, sort them by brand so that the colors would match, press and fold them into shape and then glue them to 8-inch hand-stained chopsticks with painted toothpick fins to create the fan.

Each one has a unique pattern built around the marketing and logos of the particular brand of cigarette on the packages.

The fans are stunning - a work of art made from very common trash. After Grandma Michiko passed away, a box of the parasols was brought out. Each of the families got one to take home. These little guys are STURDY - the care and attention Grandma Michiko put into them brought not just beauty and craftsmanship but durability. They are over 30 years old and as perfectly crisp and glossy as the day she made them.

This is a particularly poignant example of reuse (although perhaps not a practical one for today's crafters). It was a hobby sprung from a different mentality - one of thrift, self-reliance and creativity. On the farm, there was no easy way to get rid of waste, nor extra materials for wasting.

Packaging was designed for reuse. What couldn't be reused was reinvented.

My husband still uses all his holey socks as rags. Much to my embarrassment, he has been known to use old (clean) underwear, as well. He's a generation removed from the Arizona farm, but the values have been passed down and are deeply ingrained. What I initially rolled my eyes at I have come to marvel - it's such a logical, practical way of living.

Thrift isn't miserly; it's smart planning. My grandmother-in-law wasn't thinking about reducing landfills when she saved those cigarette wrappers. She saw something of value in them still, and made the most of it. The result is beautiful as much as it is frugal.

Juliana Tadano is a certified green building professional and project assistant at MAK Design-Build in Davis, Calif. She daydreams about relocating to Hood River as a result of childhood visits here.

The News invites community members to submit columns and story ideas for "Green Thoughts" addressing sustainable living lessons and information. Contact jrgobbo@hoodrivernews.com with your ideas.

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