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Make It Do

14 September 2014

A few days ago, I was hanging out at a neighbor’s house while she was putting newly washed pillowcases on her pillows, which she had set out in the sun for a few hours (to protect against mildew in this damp climate). She said, “These pillows are so old that the insides are starting to fall apart, so I put two pillowcases on to keep the dust in. My mom gave us these when we got married, so I guess they’re at least 10 years old.”

This information caused me to consider: If I had 10-year old pillows which were falling apart, would I not simply replace them? I might replace them well before they were falling apart, simply because they were old. Or because I was bored with them. Or they weren’t as comfortable as new pillows. This is how affluence shapes our thinking – why put up with something old, ugly, and semi-functional when you can replace it with something new? The culture here often reminds me of the old war-time saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Understanding the local culture’s value system, including making do with what you have, has helped considerably as I encounter things that annoy me. We are constantly amazed at the lack of maintenance of hotels, restaurants, and businesses. A new hotel will be lovely and nice for approximately 1 year, after which time it starts to feel grimey. The towels, once soft, are now like sandpaper. The sheets, once crisp, now have some disconcerting stains. The air conditioner, once a source of sweet relief, only breathes out slightly cool sighs of exhaustion. Why?? Well, the towels, though coarse, still dry wet skin. The sheets, though stained, can still be washed and slept on. The air conditioner, though weak, does still cool the room a bit (and even if it doesn’t, people have lived for centuries without it). It is the principle of “waste not, want not” taken to its logical conclusion. And when I consider this, I find it to be a virtuous way to live, as it promotes good stewardship of the resources we’ve been given and allows us not to be wasteful, even if it makes hotel stays a bit less luxurious.

I have been pondering this cultural value and seeking to nurture it within my own value system. In reality, it is my own heritage as well. My great-grandma Elsie (whom I was not fortunate enough to meet before she passed away), was well-known for her hospitality and her frugality. My mom used to tell me stories about her, including her use of yogurt cups as drinking glasses and margarine tubs as cereal bowls. When you have lived through the Great Depression and have 50 grandchildren, you certainly learn to “make do!”

I’m not always very good at this, but I did have the opportunity this week to put this principle into action:

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This blue pair of sandals has been at our house since the day we moved in. Who knows who owned them previously? But they have been a perfectly good pair of sandals for use in the backyard, where I hang up our laundry. During our last stay in the States, the right sandal got paint all over it (though I suppose it’s still usable). Then, the left sandal of my black pair broke in a rather unfixable way, so I tossed it and began using this mis-matched pair around the backyard. Then, just yesterday, alas! The blue strap broke! So, I decided to “make it do” by stapling it together again! Voilà!

I’m not promising to never purchase anything new ever again, nor am I condemning people who replace 10-year old pillows. But in the spirit of this ‘one is silver’ thing, I am seeking to more deeply accept the culture around me and be transformed by its virtues.

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