Sunday, January 10, 2010

Superpowers 101: Provident Living, part 1

One of my favorite movies is "Blast from the Past", starring Brendan Fraser. It is about a quirky family from the sixties who build a HUGE fallout shelter and are mistakenly locked inside for 35 years. While the story is funny and kind of sweet, the thing that fascinates me about it is the amount of planning and foresight involved in keeping the family alive, underground, sealed in a vault, for 35 years. They have a greenhouse, fish tank, and TONS of "food storage" including fabric, toothpaste, books, power sources, tools, materials to make whatever they may need, the list goes on and on. Each time I watch this movie I am awed by the amount of time it would take to prepare in that way. Of course it is only fiction.

In reality, most people don't have anything stored. They buy little bits at a time, whenever they need it, they buy it. Sometimes they buy when they don't need it. If it breaks, or looses it's value in any way, it is often thrown away, wasted in the garbage heap for no good reason. Here is a case in point.

Years ago, my dad noticed an electric pencil sharpener sitting on the floor in the office where he worked. He learned that it didn't work and was there to be thrown away. He asked if he could take it home for my brothers to take apart. (Boys like doing that sort of thing sometimes.) When he got home, the first thing they did was open the little drawer on the front that catches the pencil shavings. It was PACKED!!! It was so full they had trouble getting it opened. After emptying the drawer, they plugged it in and, you guessed it, it worked like a charm. We used that pencil sharpener for many years. In fact, my parents may still have it!.

That experience alone taught me a great lesson about waste. As the years have passed, I have become more and more disgusted by the  wasteful attitudes that are so common in the world today. For example, we bought a new TV a few years ago. Our old TV was showing signs of age and we were sure it wouldn't lat much longer. We put "old trusty" in a spare room and used the new TV in the living room. It lasted 3 years. One day, we couldn't turn it on. After a few calls and internet searches, we learned that the average lifespan for that model was 3-5 years. Our experience with it was typical and there was nothing that could be done. "It wasn't made to last. "

Everyone seemed confused by our disappointment. "Now you can get a newer one." they said. WE couldn't seem to explain that we didn't want to buy a new TV every 3 years. We pulled out "old trusty" and used that TV for a few months until we bought another new one. Trusty has now died...after 12 years and several moves! What continues to make this whole experience frustrating is that we have been told more than once that the TV we bought a year ago is an "older model" and why haven't we upgraded yet?

I know what you are thinking. Technology is moving forward and we have to keep up. I can accept an extent. But what about non-technical things? My husband sometimes gives me a hard time about keeping too much stuff because I might use it one day. I have challenged myself to actually make good on this claim. Lately I have been careful to look at what I already have before going out and buying more. So if I need yarn, I need to use what I have on hand rather than buying new yarn. (I have WAY too much as it is... for some reason I can't explain.)

I recently took this a step further. A few years ago, my son wanted to be a pirate for Halloween. I went to the local thrift store and bought several pairs of pants for him to try. They were a few dollars each, of different sizes and colors. He chose one pair to use and the others went in a box, where they stayed for at least 2 years. 

As my daughters have gotten older, I have been disappointed in the choices available to them in the skirt department (I will talk about that more later). I decided to make some modest skirts for them out of old pants. I made one out of a pair of jeans that were too short but still fit in the waist. The other was made from one of those pairs of "pirate pants". I was able to easily take out the seams, sew the pieces together, add an elastic waistband, and hem. I was impressed with how well they turned out. The girls were very happy.

This simple act of reusing something I already had left me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Buying new things sometimes leaves me feeling empty, even when it is something I need. I find that I have sometimes settled. I got what they had, not what I really wanted. I have taken the easy way. 

In contrast, I love the feeling I get when I can go to the closet and pull out the hand-me-downs. I love the feeling of making something myself. I love trying a new thing to see if I can do it and I find that I can. Sometimes I think that is what is really missing in the world. Too few people ask "What can I do with what I have?" They don't exercise their minds and bodies in a way that is productive.

I have more to say about this but I will stop for now. In the mean time, I hope you will take the time to look at what you have differently. What would you do if you couldn't buy anything new for an extended period of time? Could you do it? For how long? I hope we never have to go 35 years, like the family in the movie. But what if we had to go a few weeks? A few months? A year? What would you need to have on hand to make it through a difficult time? What skills would you need? What knowledge? What supplies?

Think about it for a while. Maybe there is something simple you can change about your habits that will make a big difference later on. Good luck!

1 comment:

Emily said...

This is wonderful, and so true! My girls each got a beautiful dress as a Christmas gift from a friend. About the same time, I made them each a dress from my husbands old button-up shirts. I am always so excited when they choose to wear the dresses I made because I'm proud of my work and the fact that the dresses cost me absolutely nothing.

There was a time several years ago when I considered getting rid of all my fabric scraps because my husband was making fun of me for keeping such tiny pieces of fabric. Then at the last minute I got another idea for them and braided all the scraps into a beautiful rug. It's a pretty small rug, but makes a perfect mat to stand on and keep my feet warm while I do dishes. :)