I don’t know where my frugal nature comes from, and it certainly isn’t consistent. I can save, but I can also spend. I’ve been in debt, and I’ve been rolling in cash. The one common theme in all of this inconsistency is my ability to not waste things. I truly love the phrase, “waste not, want not.” I believe that if I can use the tools and resources at my disposal, I can use my money and time for more important things.
Notice the use of the word disposal above. That was on purpose.
In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a disposable society – and it’s killing me. Seriously, actually, hurting my soul. I can’t stand to throw something away if it still has value.
While something may have lost its usefulness, if it still has some value left in it, I can’t bring myself to toss it. Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not a hoarder. But I am a bit of a pack-rat. For instance, I have this coffee can in my tool room where I toss loose screws, mismatched nuts and bolts, and random pieces of metal and plasticdoo-dads. When I’m working on a project, trying to fix something – or invent some Mickey Mouse workaround, I know I can go to that can and find something to make my project work. Not only is it cheaper than a trip to the hardware store, it is definitely more time efficient (see my post on Energy Efficiency from a few days ago).
Sometimes I’ll look at a piece of metal, a s crap of plastic, or a butter tub and wonder what I could use this for. No, I didn’t grow up in the depression, but I’m only two generations removed from that. My Dad grew up very poor, and though we lived comfortably, we didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. I’ve just learned not to waste things – one never knows what use they might find for some doohickey, or widget.
”We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~C. S. Lewis
That’s what makes this transition in our lives so hard. We are liquidating everything – except bare essentials (eg; clothes, toiletries, and other stuff) and memorabilia. What doesn’t sell will be donated to charity or tossed into the dumpster. I don’t mind liquidating – and I have little fear for the future. I know my needs will be provided for (see Matthew 6). I just hate wasting things.
Already we sold much in last Friday’s moving sale, and I expect to sell much more tomorrow. Though it’s hard selling $200 chairs for $40, I feel better when the people really want them. It was much harder selling my Canon AE-1 and a bunch of lenses and accessories for $40 – when I originally spent close to $2000 on all that gear. Not to mention 35 years of memories. But again, much better than tossing them into the wind at the Goodwill or in the trash.
What is hard for me is seeing stuff that still has value, but will have to be thrown away. My bucket of nuts and bolts for example. It’s not worth anything, but it is. In fact, I can live without this stuff. Seriously, I’m not afraid of being without a random nut, or bolt, but I just have trouble tossing them.
Yesterday, I threw away one nail, two screws, some sheet rock anchors, and a rubber band when I cleaned my desk. They hadn’t quite made it to the coffee can yet – but I just threw them away. In the trash. wasted. Almost 9 cents of usable product – and I just tossed them!
Then there is our bedroom furniture. Solid oak – I mean solid. Well built, quality furniture. The two dressers are heavy – and did I mention solid? The two dressers, two nightstands, mirror, and headboard were given to us out of love by some dear friends. I planned to keep them the rest of my life. Though they scream disco, water-bed, 70s – they are quality furniture. Our friends probably paid well over $2000 for the set 35+ years ago. I’m asking only $200 for the set – and no one has shown any interest.
And why should they? They aren’t stylish – and they aren’t cool. Anyone could go to Ikea and get cool, stylish furniture for just a few hundred more – and if they put it on their credit card, it will only cost about $5 bucks a month. Besides, who has an extra $200 cash lying around?
This seems to be the case for a lot of our stuff. Why would anyone pay a dollar for our very fine, working toaster, when they can buy a new one, in the box, at Wal-Mart for $6.00? I have tire chains, coil springs, ladders, couches, chairs, and a bunch of stuff. I’d like to sell it, but not because I need the money – although money is good and we don’t have a lot of it right now. I want to see it because I can’t stand to see it wasted.
We gave away our piano – another loving gift from some dear people. I was happy to give it away to a good family who will use it and treasure it. We have actually given away a lot of stuff to friends and family – and that feels really good. I’d give away more if I thought people would take it and appreciate it. Our king-size mattress is only a year old, and I’d love to get some of our $1000 back out of it, but more importantly, I just don’t want to see it tossed.
Small stuff, big stuff, junk, or crap – I just hate to see things wasted. I don’t know why – it just is.
A couple of months ago I binged watching a show on Hulu. It was about the US Marshall Service Witness Protection Program. The thing that struck me was how people would have to leave everything, including photographs, in a matter of hours, and relocate in another life and location. In one episode, the whole family looked at a door with the kids heights marked on it. A lot of families have a wall, door, or door post marked like this. With great regret, they had to leave the door. Stuff like this is hard.
I can’t even imagine walking away from all my stuff; but in a sense, this is what I feel we are being asked to do – with caveats and some flexibility. So, I think, what if this area was being swept by a wildfire, like the recent one in Colorado Springs, and we had 45 minutes to evacuate. Obviously, we would lose everything that wouldn’t fit in our car – and maybe more. Including the board that measures the kids heights through the years. We, like many, would have no choice but to walk away – or run, as the case may be.
Then I think of time, circumstances, and opportunities. Millions of people lost everything during various wars. I think of all the houses bombed, burned, and looted. The lives lost – the opportunities missed. It simply happens.
The other day a man died alone in his home. His body wasn’t discovered for a month. He had no family so Realtors, neighbors, and city officials were cleaning out the house. They discovered $7 million in gold coins. What a waste!
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would I be concerned about wasting my stuff? Of course not! If I knew I was going to be offered a wonderful job on another continent, I’d gladly part with it all. If I knew I was going to live here for another year, I’d certainly not part with it. If I knew I were going to spend eternity in Heaven, and on the New Earth, with no needs ever – I’d gladly part with it.
So really,time, again, is the crucible of character (see this recent post). If I knew I had a lot of time to part with the stuff, I could find the right buyer, or right recipient and I would feel good about passing on my stuff. If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I’d walk away from it all and spend the day with my family at the beach. If I knew I had 45 minutes to evacuate my house before a raging wildfire swept through, I’d grab my computer, kids, and other valuables and flee (not necessarily in that order mind you). If I knew Jesus would be arriving tomorrow, again, nothing here has any value.
It’s the unknown timeline that throws me. Like running a race without knowing how far it is, or where the finish line is located – I don’t know what I’ll need, or what I won’t.
Lessons from Michael Weston…
Another favorite show on Hulu is Burn Notice. Michael Weston is a burned spy trying to restore his career, reputation, and life’s calling. As you can imagine, I really relate to this show. In the process of restoring his life, Weston becomes a freelance spy, or fixer of sorts. He helps people, asking nothing in return – just because he is a good guy.
The lesson I learned from this show was particularly poignant for me. Weston and his team use resources to fit the need, regardless of the value or scarcity of the resource used. If they have to blow up his prized, vintage Dodge Challenger, they blow it up. If they have to use up the last of their bullets, they use them. They hold nothing back and they approach everything with a total disregard for saving something for later.
This is exactly my problem. Sometimes I look at my resources and wonder if I should use them now, or save them for later. (Remember the whole energy conservation post?)
I once went backpacking in Arizona with friends. It was a beautiful trip. We hiked in a narrow creek bed, cut through the desert, which put us in the shade, in the water, and out of the heat. Parts of this slot canyon were so narrow we had to float our packs on inner tubes and swim in the icy cold water. Most of it though, we were able to hike. We wore sandals so we could easily walk on the rocks or through the creek
Unfortunately this hike took two days longer than expected. The guidebook told us it would take two days. We planned on three, but it actually took four and a half days. By the end of day three, we were out of food. I don’t do well without food – especially when carrying an 80 pound pack. The challenge was, do we eat all our food and reduce our pack weight, or do we ration our food and make it last for the next couple of days? We chose to ration it – but truth be told, I had some power bars stashed in my survival kit. When we got out of the canyon, we went out for pizza and ordered five large pizzas – one for each of us.
This is my tendency. I evaluate my resources (ie; emotional, financial, social, or physical) and estimate the costs and benefits. Then I ration those resources to get maximum benefit and ROI (return on investment). But when the destination is fuzzy, the finish line is unclear, and the results are unknown, it is really difficult to know how to use one’s resources. Being the good Boy Scout I am, I tend to take a conservative approach and save my resources so I can “be prepared” for what may lie ahead.
Sometimes one has to go full speed ahead and ignore those damn torpedoes.
We don’t know what lies ahead; we have no resources to speak of; and we are being asked to liquidate it all. My hesitation to do this is purely my issue. Waste, or not, it has to go – but man this is hard!
When I replaced my aging Gore-tex parka several years ago, I discovered a tool that helps. I looked at the old parka, which cost $300, and divided that price by the 15 years use I’d gotten out of it. I realized I’d received plenty of value for $20 a year. It didn’t seem like such a waste to toss it aside when I looked at it as rent. For $20 a year, that was money well spent. On the other hand, it was still costing me $300 to replace and it still had a lot of life left in it.
When I was in seminary I read an article about Lot and his family leaving Sodom. It’s said the angels actually had to grab them by the hand and drag them out of the city. On their departure, if you recall, Lot’s wife turned to look back at her old home and she was turned into a pillar of salt. This author said the reason she hesitated was because of Lot’s failure to lead – and his hesitation when they were first told to leave. This story has haunted me since.
I do not want to be the cause of hesitation in my family. When God gives direction, I want to boldly proceed.
Though I hate to waste resources, in the end, it’s all going to burn anyway. And what good would $7 million in gold do me at my death?
Really, in the end, it isn’t the one with the most toys that wins. The one who wins is the one who found peace, serenity, and value in their family.
“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” ~ Solomon