Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tasks That Didn't Exist When I Was Young

Maybe I am just getting old and grumpy, or maybe it is just beginning to show a bit more. Yesterday, as I shredded paper and washed plastic bags I thought of tasks that didn't exist when I was growing up.


There wasn't so much packaging for starters. If you needed to buy a pencil, you went to the store and bought a pencil. (I still remember buying my artist's blue pencils for calligraphy layout as singles. Several sizes of leads, but one of each. Not packs. I still have the pencils.) If you needed screws or nuts or nails, you went to the hardware store and bought what you needed out of bins. There were no blister packs and the sacks that they came home in were made of paper, easily burnable in the coal furnace in the basement.

True, crayons came in sets in boxes, but the boxes had no other packaging, not even a sticker to keep them closed. Nobody would have swiped one crayon.

Plastic bags hadn't been invented yet. Our mothers made our sandwiches for us to take for lunch and slipped them into wax paper sandwich bags. Milk was delivered in glass bottles and the bottles, washed, were put back in the milk box on the back porch so the milk man could take them when he brought the new full ones.

We rarely drank soda, but when we did, it came home in glass bottles that had a deposit on them, so we took them back to the store. Sometimes, in the summer, kids collected bottles in the their red wagons to take back to the store to earn money for the ice cream man or some other small kid expense. The newspapers were tied up in bundles because sooner or later there would be a paper drive by the Boy Scouts to earn money for the troop. This was a vestige of paper drives during the war years when nothing was wasted.

Washing everything before it is recycled.

Obvious. There wasn't so much stuff; we threw out the trash and we didn't wash it first.

Sorting the recycling.

How many hours have I spent doing this in the last twenty years? I am so grateful to be able to read newspapers and magazines online now so that everything that I read doesn't have to be handled so many times before it clears the house.

Shredding paper

This one didn't exist a few decades ago either. The noise made from the shredder is about as pleasant as a leaf blower. One small good note of the recession is that at least there isn't as much junk mail this year as in the preceding years. I can at last catch up with all the paper shredding. Didn't even own a shredder until two years ago. After spending time sorting the recyclable parts (envelopes and such) from the shreddable parts of the junk mail, I find that I then spend about as much time cleaning the stuck paper bits out of the shredder so that I can feed it some more, as I do actually feeding paper through it. Definitely not time well spent.

Washing plastic bags to use them again.

This was one that I used to refuse to do. Yesterday, after cleaning three kitchen drawers, I found that I had the equivalent of a box full of zipper type plastic bags. All gently used since the really gunky ones had made it to the trash. So along with the dishes, I am washing the bags. (That will mean fewer boxes cluttering the pantry and fewer boxes to break up to recycle. Maybe there is more method to this than I thought.)

I have found that the easiest way to do this and to ensure that they will dry is to put soapy water in the bag, close the bag, shake and squish. Transfer the soapy water to the next bag or the dishpan to be used to wash the next thing and turn the bag inside out. Rinse it. When it has dried, turn it right side out again and dry the outside. Store open so that it will be easier to use the next time.

How much water, energy (to heat the water as well as our own energy) and dish soap does it take to reclaim the plastic bags and rinse out the recyclables? How much time do we spend doing these seemingly useless, less than productive tasks?

Still, I am grateful that I am getting things cleaned up. Even more grateful for the visit of my sister and brother-in-law that I am anticipating in two weeks. (The motivator for the clean-up.) Grateful too for the beautiful fall weather that we are having and the energy it gives me to do the clean-up.

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