My mom, a child of the depression and WWII, is the queen of re-purposing things and making stuff last. “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without” was a command she took to heart, proudly demonstrating it to us kids as we grew up.
She made my apron out of re-purposed, retired curtains. My potholders are from sewing project remnants; the interior heat-resistance an old blanket that had seen better days.
Socks with holes? Mom darns them. Jars and food containers others might throw out? Mom finds new uses for them.
Very few things are ever “single use” in her household.
When she needed a dress for a fancy party—at a time when the budget was slim and had to be creatively stretched—she pulled together some fabric, designed a dress to maximize the cloth, and cut and sewed away. Her gown was the hit of the evening. When the ladies asked where she bought it, they were shocked to hear she had made it. With no pattern. Straight pride for her; no shame.
The “use things up” concept was a track laid down deep in my psychology. My translation of the message was, “everything has another use, even things most people would throw out.”
It was interpreted as “good people don’t throw things out.”
That piece of 6” twine? Save it to tie up the tomato plants. The lone washer? It can level the rocky table. The empty baby food jar? Store screws in it.
Its purpose might not be immediately obvious, but a use existed.
Don’t get me wrong; most of the time I value this lesson. It’s consistent with today’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra and something I agree with.
But it has been known to get the better of me. I’ll find myself staring at something that looks like it should go in the trash and…hesitate.
Maybe it’s some specialty shipping material a product was delivered in. Most people would throw it in the trash without a second thought. Me? I’m not as sure. I give it a second thought. Maybe I could use it for…ummm…there must be something.
No, I decide. This is trash. I toss it out. I let it go. The garbage truck comes; picks it up; hauls it away.
But you know what happens? My mind—the part applying the re-purpose message—didn’t let go of it when I threw it away. It anxiously held on, continued to process, to consider possibilities of how the thing could be re-used.
And almost as soon as the garbage truck pulls away from the curb, that part of my mind announces:
“That thing you just tossed? It’s exactly what you need to fix problem Y!”
“Wait, what?” says another voice within. “You figured out I need that trash? No No No!”
And with that, an angst is triggered that I haven’t lived up to my momma’s teachings.
I want to re-purpose things. I try to as much as possible.
But I also don’t want to end up saving every odd length of twine or ribbon or piece of wrapping paper that comes my way. I do not want my home to become a candidate for some hoarder reality tv show.
And I don’t want to feel anxious when I throw these types of things out. I don’t want to sit with dread that the day after I throw something out, my mind will find a use for it. Because even though I don’t want my mind to do that, historically that’s what it’s done.
So, I’ve had to get sneaky. My solution has been to trick my mind by hiding things from it.
I call it “Trick Trash.”
When I want to throw something out without angst-ing over it, I put it in a brown paper grocery bag under my desk; a bag I can’t see inside. It sits there. I add things. It sits some more. I add more things. Time passes. Eventually I poke it and realize it’s full. On trash night, I carefully fold over the top and seal it shut, never looking inside, and deposit it in the trash bin. The next day, off it goes.
And because my mind has no idea what I just threw out, it can’t imagine uses for the stuff.
The funny thing is, it really isn’t the stuff that’s the issue. It’s the mind.
It’s pretty mind-boggling I have to trick my mind this way; that I have to be sneaky to override a mental cyclone I get into from a reasonable childhood lesson. But I finally just accepted that that cyclone is there and this little mind trick both works and is way simpler, and cheaper, than therapy.