Could it be the recession that’s making us a bit more mindful of our consumption and spending habits -- what we need, what we don't need, and what we waste? I, for one, have made a number of adjustments to my spending routine.
I no longer buy coffee at the deli. I make it at home and carry it in a thermos to work. We eat more meals at home, making from scratch things like soups and sauces, which we used to get ready-to-eat in a can or jar. We travel more by train and bus and less by car and plane.
What's curious is that almost every small change I have made reminds me of my parents -- their thriftiness, how they took care of things, how they wasted nothing.
This past weekend, I was at my dad's and made soup stock from the remains of a chicken we'd had for dinner the night before. Once the stock was ready, I gave the bones to my dad who then ground them up into meal for the dog. Not a bit of that 3-pound broiler went to waste. My father used every part to feed some member of the household at least one meal, if not two.
My dad is a true waste-not-want-not sort who appreciates the value of things. He repairs before replacing and patches before discarding. He works hard and he expects his things to work hard, too. I've yet to figure out how to fill the dishwasher as well as my dad. His loads are tightly packed with plates, bowls, and glasses. I have a tendency to mix in pots and pans, which don't fit together so hyper-efficiently. Even when I'm loading the dishwasher in the privacy of my own kitchen, I hear him in my head, ribbing me about how much more he could fit in.
Today, I'm wearing a shirt of my mom's, well-worn but in good shape nonetheless. It was a Christmas present from my dad, and I like it as much, if not more than, if it were new. My parents were "materialists" according to Wendell Berry's definition -- they conserved, were thoughtful about resources, mindful of what value they provided and what wasting them cost. Their lives were organized by the old World War II motto: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
Thriftiness when we were growing up was in equal parts about saving money and not wasting it. My parents installed solar panels on our house during the oil shocks of the seventies and composted food scraps for as long as I can remember. My older son once asked his grandfather how much of the household energy expense did the solar panels defray. His answer was "pretty much everything but the hot water," meaning a pretty good savings on the monthly energy bill.
But it wasn't all about saving money. Being conservation-minded and efficient with resources was just plain smart. And I don't believe our family is so unusual. Americans aren't wasteful by tradition. In fact, the very American ethic of self-reliance is deeply tied to conservation, at a level that transcends political allegiance.
Are you reminded these days of the wiser ways of your parents or grandparents, of the things they would say or how they would do things? Share your stories, or theirs, with the OnEarth community. We can all learn from them.
This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.