Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

They're so small they seem to slip right away without your even noticing them: the little bit of catsup in the bottom of the bottle, the lonely heel at the end of the loaf of bread that lies around until it grows green with mold, the leftovers that get tossed into the trash when they're still perfectly edible. But over time, their cumulative effect is like a slow leak in a tire that eventually leaves it completely flat.

One of the things that really sticks in my mind about all my relatives who lived through the Great Depression is their ability to make sure those little bits and pieces got used up. Not just food, but everything: the crumb that's left when a bar of soap is almost used up, the last bit at the end of the roll of wax paper which is skinnier than what you need it to cover right now, you name it.

Why? Because in those desperate days, being able to squeeze every possible speck of use out of things often meant the difference between squeaking through and being left without an essential survival item. If you had no money, you couldn't just dash to the store when you ran out of something, so being able to make a passable tomato soup by putting water into the catsup bottle and loosening up those last clinging tablespoonfuls might well mean the difference between eating and going hungry that night.

As things grow tighter, it's time to think about where resources are slipping away unused and start getting hold of them. Every time you can eliminate a bit of waste, whether by keeping better track of perishables so they don't spoil before they're eaten or just learning ways to reuse leftover odds and ends, it's like having that much more money free to use on other things you may need.

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