We were reducing, reusing, and recycling in my family long before it became a common phrase. It was partly out of necessity, partly learning to be good stewards of resources in our home and throughout our farm.
It is a lesson fully appreciated and practiced as I have moved through my adult life. It appalls me at times how wasteful and reckless we can be as a society. I try not to judge others too harshly, but I have little tolerance for those who have little respect for using resources wisely and sparingly. I try to make sure I am not one of those people either, though there is always room for improvement.
I am spoiled, as is pretty much everyone I know, compared to how a large portion of the world’s population lives. As a child growing up, however, I didn’t feel spoiled. We got a cake and usually a small present on our birthdays. Between our parents and Santa, we would get a couple things on our Christmas wish list, but not the whole list. We didn’t expect to get everything; that’s why it was called a wish list.
Granted, I didn’t feel like I was deprived. It is what we knew and our basic necessities were always met and then some. It was only as I got older that I realized how others had more and nicer material goods than I did. I can’t say I was never jealous. I was. But I can say thank you to my parents for instilling in us an appreciation of what we had. It was more than they had growing up.
Reducing waste played out in numerous ways, but food was a consistent example. There usually wasn’t much food left after a meal, but any scraps went out to the “scrap dish” for the cats and dogs. Or to the chickens. Or on the garden areas as compost and fertilizer. When a pig or cow was butchered, the excess fat was rendered for lard. Taking the lid off a kettle on the stove and seeing a cow tongue boiling in it wasn’t appetizing to me, but it was to some of my family. Very little went to waste.
In order to stretch limited resources in a large family, hand-me-downs were common. Reuse until worn out. As the youngest of 8 girls, I was definitely the recipient of previously worn clothes and already played with toys. Two examples I readily recall are the letter jacket I wore in high school and a doll I had as a little girl. They may not have been new, but they were mine when it was my turn.
Recycling may have been the area we had the most room for improvement. But it was also before the emergence of recycling programs. Garbage was burned in the burn barrel a few times a week. Things were likely burned that shouldn’t have been. Farms had their own junk piles where metals went and stayed for a long time. We got better at recycling when programs became available to support our efforts.
It could be said that we were good at recycling emotions however. We didn’t learn how to reduce or express them effectively, so we reused and recycled. With some emotions, and silence, that was to our detriment as we grew up. As recycling programs emerged in our local community and county, they also began to emerge in our family. Discover. Discard. Accept. Many of us have donated unwanted baggage in the last decades and we live a simpler, more peaceful life because of it. We donated it to a good cause-the past. It serves no purpose here and now.