Waste Not Want Not

Frugality is a Lost Art

Where do we go from here? (my photo)

My brothers wore hand-me-downs.

Well, it’s fairer to say that my younger brother wore hand-me-downs. If you had siblings older than you, back in the day, you often inherited their clothes.

Furthermore, moms mended clothes regularly.

It was a skill that demanded a packet of needles and rolls of different colored thread. Sewing on buttons, patching the knees of pants, and lowering or shortening hems was a way of life. Nobody thought anything of it

My grandmother raised a lot of their food.

She canned, dried, and froze as much as she possibly could every summer. They had a summer kitchen where glass jars of green beans, creamed corn, tomato sauce, sour kraut, jams and jellies, and apple butter lined the shelves. Cured hams hung from the ceiling.

Both my mother and grandmother could stretch a dollar.

They cut coupons, planned menus for the week, and specialized in one-pot recipes that fed the family for several meals in a row. They cut our bangs and often cut my brother’s hair.

We didn’t have a lot of toys but what we had we cherished.

I still have a few of my toys from bygone days. Gifts were not abundant nor were our closets packed full of clothes. We didn’t buy a lot of stuff and what we did own, we used.

We were practical.

Women gave small items like little glass shoes or trinkets as gifts. They sat on the mantle of our fireplaces or on the windowsill. I still have a few that my grandmother gifted me as a kid. They were cherished objects of sentimental value that young people today have little interest in.

We rarely ate out.

On those rare occasions when we splurged on a family ride to the local Dairy Queen, my brothers and sisters and I knew that we could order either a Dilly Bar or a small ice cream cone. Once my dad bought a banana split and everyone got to have a taste or two. As far as restaurants, well, that just wasn’t done. If we were forced to grab a bite on the go, it was a drive through like MacDonalds. Once again, we knew what we were allowed to purchase.

My mom kept a clean house and was well organized, but there was nothing flamboyant about our lifestyle.

The American Dream was beginning to emerge in the 50s, however, and consumerism was moving toward hyper consumption. Things were going to change.

The American Dream was a promise that if you worked hard that you too could live like the rich.

Americans began to buy stuff they didn’t need. In fact, our economy moved gradually toward a throw-away world where we shopped just for something to do. Thriftiness no longer seemed necessary.

What defined us was an endless array of stuff that started to fill our basements, closets, and garages.

Much of what we bought was no longer designed to last nor were we that interested in keeping it for a long time. We threw it out and bought replacements without a second thought.

The newest thing on the market always tempted us to upgrade.

We loved the glamorous commercials on our black and white TVs depicting the upper class in their fine homes, driving swanky cars, and wearing clothes by famous designers. They had more than one home, well, more than one of everything.

Theirs was the summer house on the lake, the clubs, dining out, and spending without a care.

As time progressed, the truly rich became so wasteful in pursuit of opulence that the newly emerged middle class began to dream of living their own version of a wasteful life.

Frugality was reserved for the desperately poor. Everyone else was taking out loans and using their credit cards to buy, buy, buy.

The envy of the rich has gotten the middle class into trouble over the years.

As people struggled to keep their noses above water, fewer have been able to save money. More and more embraced cradle-to-grave debt. Sure we have a lot more stuff than average people did in the past but much of it is worthless junk that takes up space in houses with little to no practical purpose.

Yet, Americans continue to struggle to keep up with the Joneses even though the Joneses were never admirable people in the first place.

When we hit hard times like high inflation, recession, and job losses, we have nothing to fall back on and curse our existence as some kind of evil plot perpetuated upon us by the government to take us down. Yet, we bought into it when things were rosy. The very idea of cutting back, practicing even a measured amount of frugality, feels like we’re being persecuted.

When in fact, we should have been practicing frugality our whole lives.

But then we’d be like our grandparents rather than the rich and wasteful who our culture has elevated to the height of envy and godlike status. We hate them but we want to be them.

The bottom line?

Well, Americans have so much stuff that they’ve lost any reasonable rationale to guide them. We have no idea what it means to live without because we’ve been a privileged country. We’ve lost perspective.

Practicing frugality makes sense in a world of limited resources, however.

The more you have the more you want is a hedonistic perspective. Sure, we can party till the ship goes down, throw caution to the wind as we feel it sinking all around us. Maybe, however, we could have saved the boat from sinking if we’d practiced a little frugality. Maybe we’d have a little money in the bank, a few extra meals in the freezer, room in our garages to park our cars.

But frugality is not fashionable in a world where flash and fun, waste, and wishful thinking rule.

Waste not want not is an old fashioned proverbial saying that went out of fashion many years ago. We’ll waste food, water, even the air we breathe until there’s nothing left to piss away.

Waste and want everything is the new meme.

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.



Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.

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Teresa Roberts

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.