Reprinted from March 8th, 2009
Speaking as a Baby Boomer – Why do we have a hard time throwing things away? While some of us consider ourselves “collectors”, others consider us “pack-rats”.
Remember the saying “Waste not, want not”? That’s the credo we live by. But when does it become just too much? Look at all these self-storage facilities around town. Some of us are actually paying to rent out storage units to store our stuff! Wouldn’t it be more economical to just dump the stuff? And if you need something you had previously dumped, use the money that you saved by not renting out a storage locker and buying a new one?
Don’t tell me we’re all sentimental fools and that the meaning of our “stuff” is the reason why we keep it. Or is it?
Let’s take a look at where we Baby Boomers are. Most of us in Hawaii are sansei or of the 3rd generation. Our grandparents immigrated here with hardly anything. They worked hard in the plantations to provide barely enough for the family to get by. Their children, our parents who are of the 2nd generation, worked to provide a better life for us. But most of us grew up in a single income household as our moms stayed home to raise us. With mostly only enough to provide for food and shelter, we grew up with very few luxuries. And the few luxuries we did have, such as a bicycle, we learned to cherish it and fix it if it broke – as there wasn’t money to buy a replacement.
We leaned to make do with what we had. And that’s the key: what we had.
So we throw nothing away – because the more we have, the more we can make do with. We may never know when the stuff we saved will come in handy. But if/when we do need it, we’ll know that it’s always there – somewhere.
Our parents taught us to throw nothing away. From the old aluminum Zip Pac containers – which could be used for storing anything from desserts to jigsaw puzzle pieces, to old bread wrappers which make for excellent lining in the slop pail. And of course the slop pail was the plastic tub that Royal Danish ice cream used to come in. To this day, we save the plastic bags from the market that’s used to put your produce in. Those too make terrific slop pail liners.
Remember when mom and pop grocery stores used to pack the groceries in boxes? And they’d flip the flaps of the box up and tie string around the outside to make the box that much deeper to hold more groceries? And when we got home, the string was always neatly untied and wrapped around the huge ball of string from previous visits to the market. Because who knows when we’ll one day need that piece of string.
We grew up observing our parents keeping everything, so in turn, we keep everything.
Now if that theory is true, wouldn’t our children also keep everything? No, because our society has become a throw-away society. So it appears that the pack-rat cycle has been broken. Our children are better educated and can afford to replace rather than repair. And technology has enabled goods to cost less where it’s more economical to replace rather than repair.
So when people say that our generation are pack-rats, there’s good reasoning behind it. That’s how we were brought up and that’s how society was back then. We worked hard for our stuff and we treasure our stuff. We don’t throw it away because it reminds us of how far we’ve come to enjoy these things that we didn’t have growing up.
And we mask the fact by calling ourselves “collectors”.
What do you think? Any truth to my theory? Do you have as hard of a time throwing away your stuff as much as I do? Do you sometimes look at your accumulation of stuff as a symbol of how far you’ve come? And does it bug you – like it does me – when your children simply throw away their stuff – almost like a lack of appreciation?