Left-on lights and discarded bread crusts may drive me to drink.
Some members of my household are flagrant offenders on both counts. I won’t name names because this isn’t really about them – it’s about me. (Surprise! #narcissist)
That is, I’m not especially passionate about protecting the planet, feeding the hungry or saving money. Yet I’m a raving lunatic when it comes to household waste – if it can be called that. Dumping down the drain excess milk from a bowl of cereal makes me see red. (Why wouldn’t you just drink it?!) I’m downright militaristic about turning off lights, tracing the foot steps of others to make sure they’ve turned off lights and televisions immediately upon leaving a room. (Do you know what that does to our electric bill?!) An empty box of pasta that’s not properly broken down before being put in the recycling bin causes me to cuss under my breath. (It takes up so much more space in the bag!) I lecture frequently, earnestly and sometimes condescendingly on these and other banal subjects.
You’d think I was a survivor of the Great Depression or something, and, frankly, I think that’s where most of this started. My grandparents did live through that difficult time, and it clearly impacted them throughout their lives. My late paternal grandfather owned a hardware store, making a living off being resourceful. My maternal grandfather earned an engineering degree one semester at a time, starting and stopping college courses as money would allow; it was often in short order with as many as five kids to feed. Still, neither of them could be classified as classically cheap – more like conservative.
Best I can tell, those values were passed on to my parents and then to me, although perhaps fading a tad with each generation. There’s no other way to explain why I would stress about chucking bread crusts or wasting electricity. I suppose it could be a money thing except I have no idea how much a kilowatt costs yet the thought of using one indiscriminately irks me to the core.
There was a time when reusing Ziploc bags was the norm – but not in 2012. Modern society is disposable for better and for worse. I’m very much a part of that even if I don’t have any hobbies that, say, cause my carbon footprint to swell to an unreasonable size.
Perhaps it boils down to convention. Frugality once had an urgent place in the life of the average American to the point that it became engrained in my DNA. Same with going to church every Sunday or holding a job – just one. It should be reliable and profitable, legal and respectable.
Except times have changed. Newspaper men, for example, can make a living online, through freelance work or by stringing together several part-time jobs. To me, that seems risky and scary. But is it risky in a legitimate financial sense – my family is counting on me to put bread on the table, bread they’ll strip of crust before eating – or a merely practical sense? Have I been conditioned to go to great lengths to do certain things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done?
Or, to apply that more globally, have we, the supposedly educated and privileged people, lost the capacity for truly unique thought, hence all the movie sequels and book adaptations?
Maybe. Maybe. I hope so. Otherwise, I’m just a cheap control freak with a closest case of OCD.