When I was in high school my mother and I had an ongoing feud over paper towels. I would find one crumpled up on the kitchen counter and throw it out. She'd be furious. "It was still good! I could have used it again. Paper towels are expensive!" I just didn't get it. Paper towels are meant to be disposable. You use one; you throw it out.
She got so ticked off with me, in fact, that one year when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas she shot back, "A roll of paper towels!"
Through the years I have come to understand her behavior through the lens of her childhood during the Great Depression. It shaped how she looked at material possessions. She was the sort of person who carefully saved bakery string, shirt cardboard from the dry cleaner's, margarine tubs, and old birdseye cotton diapers from our babyhoods--the best for washing windows, she claimed.
Waste not, want not.
She absolutely would have used that paper towel one more time, for a spill on the counter or a spot in the floor. And just as I couldn't understand her need to do that, she couldn't understand my profligate attitude. I had grown up in a throw-away culture. She had not.
A few months ago I was startled to see a crumpled, lightly-used paper towel on the kitchen counter. But I knew right away how it had gotten there. My mother had somehow managed to rise up out of my subconscious. The next time I noticed a sticky spot on the floor, that paper towel came to the rescue. And I didn't feel quite so guilty about using paper towels, now that I knew how wasteful they are in the grand scheme of things and how bad for the planet.
My focus is on reducing the amount of waste I produce. Reducing the amount of harm my family does to the environment. In that sense I see paper towels as being expensive in a whole different way. And yet I still can't quite give them up. So I'm using them more than once to reduce my guilt.
You can do your part to reduce waste in our community today by shopping at the Oakland Mills Village Community Flea Market. Give some gently loved items a second life. Keep them from ending up in a landfill. Save some money, see some friends, support the community.
I can't guarantee that you'll come in contact with the spirit of your mother, but you might...