My parents were products of the Great Depression. They took it out on us kids.
“Turn it off, use it up, wash it out” -- we heard versions of this throughout our lives. My dad would blow a gasket if we left a light on in the basement while we ran upstairs for even a minute. “What do you think we’re running here, Pauley (this is what he called me) -- a bank?”
Waste, in our household, was a serious crime.
My parents saved everything: bottles, newspapers, cans, leftovers, rubber bands, packaging, clothing, hangers and paper sacks. And not to get picked up by a carbon-spewing truck, but to use right there in our house.
I remember having to use torn sheets of misprinted invoices from my dad's gas station as our only home notepaperfor decades. On both sides.
Obviously, this was a humiliating way to grow up in the 1950‘s in the USA. I so wanted to be one of the students whose teacher notes were written on paper clearly intended for that purpose. People who actually bought stationery.
Oh, I thought, when I grow up I will never live such a miserly existence! I’m going to buy my rubber bands from a store! I’m going to throw newspapers in the trash! I’m going to let the porch light burn all night long!
But . . . ahem . . . guess who, it turned out, had the sustainable lifestyle?
So here I am, in my mid-fifties reconciling with my eco-friendly past -- which, of course, was not so much about saving the planet as saving money. But, as it turns out, they’re one and the same.
I realize that there are a host of green products and technologies nowadays. But there’s a lot you can do by just living like Alice and Mitch.
Here are some green living tips they taught me:
Cook your own food. Not always, but most of the time. Alice & Mitch hated the packaging that comes with take-out food, which produces a mountain of trash, usually not biodegradable. Plus they hated the wasted huge portions and the processed food offered at traditional restaurants.
Turn out the lights. Okay, you’re just one person, but -- the more electricity you use, the higher your power bill, the more those generators run, the more carbon we burn. You don’t have to live by candlelight, like Abe LIncoln and me, but you don’t have to light up your house like a Christmas tree either (guess who I’m quoting here?).
Re-use your old plastic bags. As a proud citizen of Houston,Texas, I respect the average polymer. And I’m am not about to give up my zipper bags, either. My point is that you don’t need to pull out a brand new bag for your sandwich, leftovers, or wet swim suit, and especially not for your garbage. Use up the all polymers you’ve got.
Use rags instead of paper towels. And by rags, I mean the odd bits of cloth you reclaim from old sheets, towels and clothing. The natural fabrics are super-absorbent, and they offer a nice little trip down memory lane on cleaning day. I love mopping up with my kids’ old pajamas -- if only to remember the superheroes of the 1980’s.
Cut bad bits off fruits and vegetables. If you’ve done any natural gardening, you know that a Snow White apple is rare -- and really the work of agribusiness. Most un-sprayed, un-fertilized produce has little specks, and dents, and even a wormhole or two. Don’t insult Mother Nature by throwing imperfect produce away. Work around it. Like we do with people : )
Probably because of my background, I still hate wasting anything, especially time and energy. I like to believe that keeps me focused. And for this I thank you, Alice & Mitch!
Her Point of View
Designer Paule Hewlett takes on design, culture and modern life.
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"Life is too short for ugly dish towels. Really, ugly anything."