Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

What I Own; What Others Do Not

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My granny washes styrofoam plates and reuses them. A little gross to me but true for the frugalness of her nature. I cannot bring myself to do that, and I feel bad about that.

Today, Dad and I pounded out 99 nails that the previous owner of the farmhouse had put into a piece of plywood. My forearm still aches, but this effort will save us some money. More importantly, it will keep that piece of wood from become cinders or trash. Now, it’s part of the subfloor in my mudroom. Part of me really just wanted to go and buy a new piece.

I recycle printer paper as much as I can, and I have as separate trashcan for plastic, glass, and aluminum cans. I try not to throw away something that someone else can use – clothes, picture frames, the cat paperweight someone gave me years ago; all of those things go to a local thrift store – today’s run to the SPCA shop here in the county. But sometimes I just want to chuck everything into a bonfire and save myself the time and gas money.

I only own one pair of jeans worth anything at the moment. All the clothing I own for every season is in 9 drawers and a three-foot long closet. I so badly want new jeans and some really cute shirts.

I’ve never owned a new car. I would love to drive a Fiat 500 (despite the J-Lo commercial)

Part of this is economics on my part. I’ve just never had the money for that great wardrobe (until someone nominates me for What Not to Wear – hint. Hint.) But part of my focus on this is driven by guilt. I feel bad for owning too many shoes, let alone spare houses or cars. I’m frugal because I feel it’s a responsibility.

Sometime just after college, I read a Thomas Merton quote that I have been trying to track down since. The gist of it was this – “For everything we own, someone else goes without. There are limited resources in the world. For me to own, means someone else does not.”

I think of this every time I see a child in Guatemala or Kenya wearing a Pokemon t-shirt or pleated shorts that even my limited fashion sense wouldn’t allow me to wear. I remember this quote every time I’m inclined to just toss my old cell phone or tennis shoes rather than sending them somewhere to be used by someone who not only wants them but needs them. I still sometimes want to just toss them into the trashcan and let someone else deal with them. But most days, I fight against this inclination.

Consuming less, recycling, reusing, donating – those things are not only about green living for me. They are about serving other people, recognizing the way my wealth can mean the poverty of others, and honoring that I can – at least in some microscopic way- change that. Even when I’m tired and it costs me more to do it.

I don’t wash styrofoam or reuse Red Solo cups. . . but maybe Granny was on to something.

Any tips on how I can use less and reuse more? Any things I can recycle that I might not know about?

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • Donna

    Wisdom from a relative that lived through the depression. The inner bag of a box of cereal can be reused as a freezer bag. If you use them double thickness close with tape = heavy freezer bag……really, I’ve seen it work.

    Of course washing things like foil and plastic bags to reuse.

    Newspapers=excellent tool to stop weeds under berry bushes, between rows of gardens vs. landscape cloth. Put them under mulch and you rarely have to pull a weed and it will incorporate into the soil.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Oh, I’m definitely trying the newspaper idea, Donna. Thank you.
      Andi recently posted…Cato’s HopeMy Profile

  • http://denisedilley.blogspot.com Denise Dilley

    This is convicting = “For everything we own, someone else goes without. There are limited resources in the world. For me to own, means someone else does not.”
    Denise Dilley recently posted…Come Alive by Elora Ramirez: A Book ReviewMy Profile

  • debra

    Well girlfriend, at least you have a cell phone! I drive a ’96 Cherokee Jeep that I can only pray will get me there and back ;-)
    Poverty is a blessing for me. That’ll be my next post. Maybe. I’ve pondered the thought for days now. I think of the poor folks I’ve known all my life… some have even visited me from the grave with messages (that maybe I’ve supposed to write about).

    I wash and recycle plastic forks and cups after birthday gatherings at our house. If a paper towel isn’t too grimy, I may even reuse it to clean off a spot on the kitchen floor. You can’t be too frugal. Confession time. I have gone out with friends who didn’t touch their potato chips, and felt it a sin and shame to toss food, so I asked for to-go box and shipped it home.
    Love the Thomas Merton quote. Love your message here. Hugs.

    http://debrasblogpureandsimple.blogspot.com/2012/09/of-hobbit-holes-and-cafes.html

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Hugs back at you, Donna, and thanks for being an inspiration that I can be more frugal. Here’s to reusing paper towels to clean up dirty puppy paw marks.
      Andi recently posted…What I Own; What Others Do NotMy Profile

  • http://youngaspiringwriter.blogspot.com/ Chihuahua Zero

    You might be grossed out, but I’ve been using the same paper plate to eat my waffles while at the computer.

    Since I eat them dry (and drink milk before heading upstairs), all I do is to brush off the crumbs into the trashcan afterwards and put it to the side.
    Chihuahua Zero recently posted…1st Guest Post Blitz: The Other Side of the StoryMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Not grossed out at all. I actually applaud you for that. Bravo for being so conscientious.
      Andi recently posted…Live Small; Love BigMy Profile

  • http://www.busonomics.blogspot.com Katy

    My husband and I lived in our converted school bus for two years. Now we live in a little house. Here are my thoughts on trying to be content in order to save money and “the environment”: http://busonomics.blogspot.com/2012/09/tiny-homes-and-ascetisism.html

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