“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” my Depression-Era father preached. We didn’t do without much because he picked up all kinds of stuff discarded along the way – screws, bolts, bits of rope, even an old fire hose and the broken-off arm of a replaced parking lot gate. He didn’t understand why anyone needed more than one pair of shoes, a few white shirts and a couple pair of pants – one to wear while the other was in the laundry.

Mother taught my father about dressing for occasions and variety in clothing. But the Depression marked her, too, especially regarding waste.

“Everyone wastes something,” said my mother, also a frugal New Englander, “food, clothing, something.” Clothes sit in closets year after year, she told us, stuff in attics, old suitcases, furniture, baby things, which someone could use, or the little nub at the end of grating fresh Parmesan, perfectly good cheese that Mother’s friend always threw away. “All you have to do is watch, but it’s easier to see what others waste than for you to see it in yourself.” We had closets and an attic full of stuff, too.

In the work/kids years, I rarely asked myself, “What am I wasting?” I was too busy to think, especially about time even in little ways, until recently.


During the recent snowstorm, a second burst arrived after we’d shoveled. Overnight, snow and wind whipped across the deck, overturning a storage box and blowing the cover open. Deck cushions flew out and disappeared into the next county, for all we knew. I wondered if I should even try looking for them.

While shoveling the deck again the next day, we saw two of the four black-and-white striped dining deck chair cushions in the woods to the north of the house, but no sign of the wicker bench and chairs set. After a few days of snow melt, I made a second expedition deeper into the woods following the trajectory of the wind. I found another dining chair cushion plus the fire pit cover, which had blown off over a year ago. My father would have been proud of my salvage efforts.

A week after the storm, warm temperatures and rain melted all but sun-shaded areas and snow banks. Heathcliff dog and I headed into the woods yesterday afternoon, down the slope into the ravine below our house. Freya dog watched from the deck. On our return trip up the mountain road, I discovered one of the green and white pillows peaking out of a snow bank and, scanning up the slope, spotted the last of the dining chair cushions.

Thinking the bench and other chair pillows might be buried in snow, I grabbed a broomstick from the garage and headed back down the road, poking the banks near my last find. Along came a neighbor, walking her dog Roxie.

“What ARE you doing?” Martina asked.

“Hum, well, yes, I must look rather strange…” and explained.

“My husband found those cushions on the side of the road and put them in his truck. There’re sitting on our porch.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” Now drying, the cushions will stay in the garage until we figure out how to anchor the storage box and protect it from wind gusts.deck_pillows

Even if I hadn’t found all the cushions, I had investigated wind, snow, rain and land patterns here at Vanaprastha, enjoyed the exercise and chatted with my neighbor.

Pillows or not, a pretty thoughtful use of time, I’d say.

What do you choose to waste?


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