I'm Not a Packrat; I'm Frugal!
By Ken Sloane
When I’m not writing articles for my newsletter, participating in a Zoom call, planning webinars, or facilitating online courses, I spend my non-work hours happily doing woodworking or some other house-related project. No pity from the reader, please! There is nothing I would rather do on a weekend or after work. I love house projects. We recently distressed and stained boards to make a great accent wall (no, it’s not a Zoom background) in my home office, and I couldn’t be happier than when we were working on it.
Once projects like that are done, it’s time to clean up the garage (my workshop) so we can get the vehicles back in there. There is always lots of sawdust, scraps of wood, leftover screws, pieces of unused wire, swapped-out electrical outlets, and switch covers. In the process, I came to a realization: I save everything.
Maybe you know someone like me. Maybe you are married to someone like me. Or maybe it’s you who is like me.
I came to a realization: I save everything.
Small scraps of wood can come in handy, you know—when you need to prop something up. The long slivers of wood that come off the table saw can be used as shim when you need them, and the skinny ones work as paint stirrers. I spent fifteen minutes pulling little pieces of wire out of the electrical outlet that I replaced with a new, custom-color outlet. So, I put the old outlets in a drawer in case I need them someday. And the plastic covers for the outlets—I might need those someday.
Here’s the confession: I am the youngest child of parents who grew up during the Great Depression. My Dad never threw away a paintbrush in his life. (This was before we discovered latex paint.) He would put the brush in a jelly jar with about an inch of turpentine, let it sit on his workbench while the turpentine evaporated into a gummy mess that welded the brush to the jar, then just push it to the back of the workbench. My mother had a shoebox; and written on it was, “String Too Short to Save.” She never in her life threw away a plastic margarine tub. It was like a religious thing.
Now I know in my heart of hearts that when a new project comes our way, I will go to Home Depot with my list; and if an electrical outlet is needed, I will probably splurge and spend the $3 on a new one—even though I will think I have one somewhere around my workbench. It’s always good to have another, you know.
So, the saving of things is not really logical, and it’s certainly not the most economical use of time and energy. That’s not really what it is about, I don’t think. I think it is more of a spiritual decision than an economic decision.
I’m not a product of the Depression, and I can afford to buy new wood, new electrical outlets, and new spools of wire. I was mentored by people who lived through scarcity, who lived through scrap-metal drives, and who grew up before the world became so obsessed with making everything disposable. So, saving something – and even better, putting something that might have been thrown away to use – has a spiritual quality for me. It honors what I learned from my long-departed parents. And I think it honors God, the source of all the blessings of my life and the architect and creator of this amazing world that sustains us!
Hopefully, with the arrival of Earth Day near the end of April, your church will set aside some time to help people reflect on how discipleship might call us to be better stewards of the world God gave us. You might want to consider ways to take better care of our world, of one another, and of the generations of children and grandchildren who will inherit the Earth. I can’t get all the plastic out of the ocean or all the carbon out of the atmosphere, but I can rejoice in using my wood leftovers and maybe saving just one tree that can continue to take carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into oxygen.
Reuse, reduce, recycle. I’m not a packrat.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.