Monday, December 15, 2008

Disposable Values

I'm a big fan of Wenchypoo. Not only does she make it easier for me to narrow down my daily financial news reading, with handy-dandy links to financial articles, she has an interesting way of thinking. Does a good job typing up those thoughts, too. On more than one occasion, she's inspired me to put a little more thought into my day-to-day household finances. The grocery challenge is a good example. Today, Wenchy wrote about wasteful behavior.

From An All-Day Sunday Peeve-a-Thon:
Over the last three days, I've lost three neighbors to various reasons--one was military, and had orders to Florida, one lost his job, and I don't know why the third one left--probably a rent increase.

Their leaving doesn't piss me off so much as how they went: all three households saw perfectly fit to sweep nearly everything they owned into the dumpsters here, filling them to the brim with things that other families would've been grateful for in these times. Of course, they threw the "best" things on the dumpster FIRST, then piled mattresses, box springs, broken down cribs, and other assorted large, heavy, and/or unwieldy things on top of it all.

I took my car down there and grabbed what I could get. Thank god someone left a double stroller and a tricycle out beside the dumpsters, and some pieces of clothing within my reach just inside.


I'm just PISSED OFF that this hideous waste of perfectly usable stuff from THREE FAMILIES went straight to the trash without a minute's concern for anyone else this holiday season!

Oh well--SOMEBODY'S going to get a like-new double stroller, a tricycle, some clothes, and a livingroom rug tomorrow from the thrift store. I only wish I had an SUV or truck so I could also get the colonial-style triple dresser with mirror that was alongside the dumpster, along with the two ironing boards, the bookcase, the flat part of a sectional (someone else was carrying off the hide-a-bed part), and countless other things too bulky and too heavy for me to deal with alone and with one car. As it was, the double stroller filled my trunk!

Wenchy wondered if the waste was due to decadence, or stupidity. I think it's a case of expediency, fueled by a distorted set of values. A couple years ago, I read Something for Nothing, by Brian Tracy, in which he talks about both the good and the bad side of laziness, greed, etc.

Instead of lazy, think of people as being expedient. When you look at a situation, you weigh the cost to you in time, money and effort against the benefit you gain from acting. In the case of the inventor who came up with the agitator basket for a machine washer, freeing up hours of time for housewives everywhere, expediency is a great thing.

In the case of these three families, the cost of their time to drop the items off at the thrift store, along with the hassle of having to think about sorting and boxing was greater than the benefit of a tax deduction and a sense of satisfaction at having made the items no longer useful to them available for others.

There was a great comment on an article I read at NPR recently. "there's no legacy in a throwaway society" It followed an article on Workman Cycles, a US company which manufactures heavy duty work bikes (delivery, ice cream vendors, transportation) which last for decades. That commenter was right, in many respects.

Our society has gained so much from easy access to inexpensive goods. Our standard of living has been greatly improved by labor saving devices. In my head, I know this. In my heart, I can't help but wonder about the quality of the lives we're living, and the messages we're teaching our children. If the goods we buy aren't worth taking care of, and passing on when we have outgrown our need of them, what does it say that we spent so much of our time earning the money to purchase these "things" in the first place?

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