Waste not, want not

“ Those old ruts run pretty deep, and we fall into them when we are not paying attention. The bright side is, we have a better idea about how to climb out again. ”
– Eponymous Anonymous


From the archives: 1998

My granny always said, “Waste not, want not, Epanon” (that was her nickname for me; cute, huh?) Well, I took her advice to heart, generally, and though at the time I rebelled against many of her non-wasting measures (like, washing out and reusing all plastic bags until they got holes—why, I resorted to poking holes in them deliberately, when she wasn’t looking! just to get out of washing them!), once I was keeping house for myself, I found that granny was right about lots of things, including that “waste not, want not” idea.

Now, once I had my kids and was trying to make ends meet, I really tried to get into the spirit of what granny was talking about, with the waste thing. I’d make those little buggers eat up everything on their plate, I decided, and to wear those hand-me-downs whether they’d like it or not (well, until they just couldn’t be mended anymore). It’s fine for a boy to learn to ride his sister’s old pink bike with the purple butterflies on it: those neighborhood kids who would make fun of him just don’t know the value of “waste not, want not”, apparently. Just showing their lack of learning, I thought.

I took the kids over to the library to pick through the used books that they sell real cheap there, you know? And as I was rifling through the stacks of periodicals one day, I ran across a black-and-white paper journal called Taking Children Seriously and bought it for a nickel real quick because the baby was wanting to go. It got buried in the piles of stuff on the kitchen table for awhile, but when I ran across it a few months later, I sat down and read that thing from cover to cover. I could not believe that people really thought that way, but on the other hand, some of it made real sense to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so we got a computer and I read more about it on the lists and the website. And wonder of wonders, one day that “waste not, want not” adage came up … like there was something wrong with it!

It was on the Taking Children Seriously List, and one gal was complaining about a child wasting time watching TV, I think it was. Well, you can guess what kind of a fuss that kicked up amongst the folks on that list! There was lots of defending of TV as a good source of information, and advice on rooting out entrenched theories about how people spend their time, all of which I’ve since found very helpful to my thinking process by the way, but this one fellow really brought me up short when he made the observation that the only time really wasted is time spent doing something that you really don’t want to do, something that makes no sense to you and you’re stuck doing it only because someone else is making you; or conversely, when you’re being prevented from doing something that you really want to do. And you are bored, because of this. Now, that is wasted time.

Somehow, that really made me sit up and take notice about this waste issue, and the good and the bad of it. It took me quite some time after this to gradually come to notice and observe the occasions when I was worrying about waste and taking that out on the kids, to no good end. And it wasn’t just them, either. We do it to ourselves! My ever-lovin’ partner grew up in a huge family, one where if you didn’t get to the table on time at dinner, you would miss out on having any food at all. So my partner is inclined to eat up any of the food the kids leave, and any food experiments that don’t turn out so well—all in the interests of quelling waste (to the detriment of his girlish figure, if you catch my drift). I myself have realized that I need to only eat things that I really want and like, and I’ve come to give myself permission to do this only after years of being under the influence of Taking Children Seriously notions, as I am learning to extend that courtesy to everyone everywhere in the interests of autonomy. Ooh, I like that word, autonomy. Kind of rolls off the tongue. And the respect thereof surely does improve lives in this family.

But I’m meandering off-course here. In figuring out my “waste not, want not” issues, I just had to apologize to the oldest child in our family, for comments I used to make about how he uses his room—which is mostly for storage, it seems, in a whirlwind fashion; he thinks the floor is just a big shelf, seldom spends time in there and even sleeps in a sibling’s room. With some hard thinking, I found that I had been coveting that space. I could use some more space for a music room or an office or a sewing room or a retreat or a padded cell! Ok, just kidding about that last one…sort of…. but once I changed how I thought of waste and respected his choices in how he used his room, it somehow freed me up to consider the vast range of choices I have in using the rest of the space that we have! It was right there in front of me all along, but being stuck in that “waste not, want not” rut hid lots of options from my blinkered mind.

We still run up on plenty of hard places, where we find ourselves kvetching about how money is being spent or how time is being used. When that happens, one of us eventually has the light bulb turn on in their head and remembers, “Oh, yeah! It’s time to go over priorities again and figure out what we really believe about what is happening and what could be better ways to get what we really want out of this!” Those old ruts run pretty deep, and we fall into them when we are not paying attention. The bright side is, we have a better idea about how to climb out again. Like granny always said, “Epanon, there are two types of people in this world: those who watch things happen and those who make things happen. Which one are you?”

See also:

Eponymous Anonymous, 1998, ‘Waste not, want not’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/waste-not-want-not/