It was over three years ago when I first heard the expression “Use it up, make it do, wear it out or do without” during a conversation about societal values on the home front during World War II. I immediately fell in love with the phrase. As a person who frequently feels real discomfort at throwing away items that have an apparent use (my imagination can get pretty wild on re-use possibilities), I felt a great connection to the motto and wondered how we got so far from the values of conservation that our predecessors had held so dear. I have family members who were old enough to have experienced both the great depression and World War II and can speak from personal observation as to their lifelong practice of sparing resource use – re-use, conservation, recycling, and doing without, not as part of some political statement but as a matter of moral character. To be wasteful was frowned upon and met with gentle chiding. As a child I was frequently reminded to turn out lights and be mindful of electricity consumption.
A few months ago, in an effort to utilize the expression to my best ability and finally realize my adult dream of clothesline use, I finally installed the clothesline I had bought almost a full year before. To be fair, I was spurred into action by comments made by a member of the Shepherd of the Sierra church during a town hall meeting at the Town of Loomis who emphatically extolled the virtues of clothesline use. It was time – no excuses could possibly warrant further procrastination.
The clothesline went up easily between a tree and my house and my new passion was born. Oh to be out with the sunshine (or clouds) and breeze listening to birds chirp and smelling the fresh air rather than stooped over in my basement. My clothes now jauntily wag in the air blown dry by wind that almost continuously blows in our area. I am converted and happily so. But in writing this, I wondered at the energy use reduction – would it be measurable? Well, the short answer is yes and the calculated answer is that using a clothesline has contributed to a 35% reduction in electricity use from the same two month period a year prior.
In addition to the specific actions I take to try to embrace the title phrase, there are a number of virtues I’ve learned from my betters born in the early 20th century: be sparing and considerate when using a resource, be mindful and careful when discarding a resource, and be thrifty and thoughtful when making a purchase. This thriftiness is commonly apparent in the homes of older generations born before the baby boom. It contrasts highly with more modern homes and highlights the changing values. My grandparents valued having a healthy savings account over having the latest décor trend in their living room. The culture of their day supported frugality. This ethic may still be widespread in some regions of the United States – the spirit of New England character comes to mind – but is no longer engrained in our society overall.
It can be difficult to buck the culture of the day, but in this case, I think we all have something to learn from the generations that came before us, and who knows – with the emphasis on conservation growing, perhaps will soon find ourselves having come full circle: use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.