Use It Up, Wear It Out

My husband would make a good Amishman. He goes dumpster diving. Not because he is a thrifty Amishman but because he’s a non-Amish hoarder. Although I tease him about his dubious hobby and his “inventory,” I am glad that he shares my tendency to use it up and wear it out.

I recently helped him load up our white minivan and head off to the recycling center with half the contents of our back porch. Rather than get in his way, I stayed in the van as he sorted and dumped. In the midst of the dumping process, though, he suddenly opened the door beside me and thrust something at me. To my blurred vision it was a rustling white mass. As I took off my gloves to feel it, he said, “Can we use more of this? The paper bin is stuffed with the stuff.”

“Ah-h, I don’t know. What is it?”

“It’s packing paper. This is only one small bundle, there are scads more. Shall I get more?”

“Well,” I hesitated, “Are we planning to move any time soon?”

“No, not that I know of, but I didn’t know if we could use it for something else.”

I told him that the one bundle was enough and obligingly smoothed and folded it after we got home, adding to a box that I keep designated for the purpose.

My husband not only scavenges from dumpsters, he also stockpiles cast-off building materials. Previously used doors and windows, countertops, sinks, random pieces of plastic, composite materials, and any number of other odds ‘n’ ends are stored in a chaotic mess that occasionally yields the most surprisingly convenient, and sometimes beautiful, items.

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A piece of pricey Corian countertop makes a great desk.

A rejected piece of Corian countertop makes a polished desk tucked into the corner of my daughter’s living room. Fluorescent-orange plastic playground components that almost clean themselves embrace my pots and pans on pull-out shelves in a kitchen cabinet. Short lengths of red oak boards make a beautiful kitchen cart that delights a friend. And those are only the few items I can easily recall.

I, on the other hand, was once a thrifty Amish person who is now just thrifty, but, I am not a hoarder. Weird things happen in our house, though, I have a cedar chest full of partial skeins and odd bits of yarn that seem to have accumulated all by themselves through some mysterious reproductive method of which I am unaware. There is no other explanation. I am not a hoarder.

The same thing applies to the plastic storage containers stuffed with odd pieces of fabric, laces, appliqués, and rainbows of ribbons that magically transform into the most fashionable doll and teddy bear clothes my grandchildren and I can imagine. But I am not a hoarder.

I am, apparently, still Amish enough to use it up and wear it out. Now before you gag on this self-righteousness gobbledygook, allow me to remind you that nowadays it’s quite the fad to recycle and that’s just a fancy word for using it up and wearing it out, isn’t it?

Amish thriftiness may not be the answer to our ever-growing mountains of garbage nor am I implying that the Amish do not add to landfills, but, it is my observation that the simple Amish lifestyle stands in stark contrast to this generation’s consumer-driven lifestyles. Did you know that in the United States, the national average for the amount of garbage we contribute to landfills is four to five pounds per person per day?1 Could we, perhaps, all adopt some thrifty Amish tendencies? Will our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren be paying more than they can afford for our wastefulness?


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