“waste not, want not”

Up until now, I have had a deeply-rooted fear of wasting. The concept of waste was vague enough to encompass a great many things, like so many concepts upon which fears are based.

My fear of wasting behaved like other fears too, in that if I tried to challenge the fear just by thinking through what it actually meant and what it actually included, some sort of Thought-Stopping Platitude would pop up, often with a good dose of shame, and that would stop the thinking in its tracks.

Habits based on the fear negatively affected my life, but when I tried to think through these habits and think about perhaps stopping them, then the Fear of Waste would pop up and would send me running away from it, sure that Wasting was obviously inferior to practicing these habits I had.

I have been what is called a pack rat. I have heard this term again and again, but it’s usually said quite nonchalantly. “Oh, he never throws anything away. He’s a pack rat.” “Pack rat” seems defensible. Some people don’t throw things away often, and some people do. That’s just life.

What is the difference between a pack rat and a hoarder, though? Where is the line crossed? A hoarder to one person is a pack rat to another. Have I been a hoarder? My house has not looked like the ones on the reality shows where an intervention is performed. But my habit—compulsively keeping things I do not use—is based on fear. It is not healthy. I don’t care what the term is to describe it and if some people are OK with it or what. I don’t like it. Any compulsion based on fear is going to negatively impact your life.

Living with collections of useless items that filled me with shame when I saw them (shame of not making use of them, not shame of keeping them) and filled me with shame when I thought about getting rid of them seemed preferable to the alternative, Wasting. Anything seemed preferable to this. I disliked the clutter, I disliked having things I didn’t use, but I didn’t seriously examine the reason I kept these things. All the focus was on why don’t I use these things more? Why can’t I use what I have? instead of on Why do I keep these things?

If I feel shame looking at a collection of objects every time I pass them, or in other words, if my shame is triggered by some visual cue, then actually getting rid of them will remove the shame.

Do you know what else getting rid of them does? It faces the fear. It puts it through its paces. It is an experiment. Fear, your hypothesis is that if I donate objects that I bought or otherwise acquired and then never used, then I will continue to feel shame after they are gone because I wasted them. I will under no circumstances feel better, is that right? That is your hypothesis, Fear. It can only be a hypothesis because it has never been tested.

I have tested this and have seen that the Fear’s hypothesis was completely incorrect. I felt better because I actually acknowledged the truth. Keeping objects around is based on an excuse I tell myself: I will use this someday. Getting rid of them knocks that down and admits: I will never use this (again).

If you have kept something for a good amount of time and had opportunities to use it but didn’t, you are not going to ever use it. If you keep seeing an object and keep telling yourself that you will use it but then continue to never touch it even when you have the opportunity to use it, you will not use it.

This triggers the fear though, because then the logical next step is to just get rid of the objects, and that means you are Wasting.

Wasting is a character flaw. Wasting is ingratitude and an entitled disregard for the value₁ of things. Wasting₂ is wrong.

  1. If you paid for an object, then that money is gone whether you use it or not. You do not get the money back if you use it a certain number of times.
  2. How do you avoid wasting anything? Do you have to use it until it breaks or is otherwise unusable? Does that not count either, though? Should you keep repairing or mending it until it becomes literal trash? What counts as trash? People through away things that other people would use. What counts as trash? What counts as waste? These terms are so murky and undefinable that you will always fall into them as long as you are basing your actions on fear.

I used to have an elevated opinion of things that lasted longer. There was an obvious inferiority to me for things that were only temporary. But I have realized that many, many things get their value from being temporary. Flowers have their seasons, and they would not be as admired if they bloomed the whole year.

I embroider, and it is easiest to make french knots with a long amount of thread. Most of the thread doesn’t actually become the knot, though. I have tried to use less thread and the knots are very arduous to make. Some thread is just used to make the thread that stays on the project easier to finangle. That thread is not wasted just because it is not part of the project.

I could buy 100 little packs of thread and use half it it in the actual french knots and half of it to form the french knots and then throw away. If I stuck to my fear of wasting, though, I might only use one pack and then give up because it was too hard to make the knots while also scrimping on the thread. Then 99 packs would be wasted. There would be no project at all. That is Waste, to me. Not using half for a purpose, albeit a temporary one.

Some things have temporary purposes. Their value is not determined by length of time used. Some things have the purpose of remaining strong over time. Their value is longevity. But these are different things.

I thought I would feel even more shame if I got rid of objects I have kept around for years and years, afraid of wasting them. Often I have kept things that I did use for a good amount of time but that I stopped using. I actually feel so much better with empty spaces where heaps of unused objects used to be. It is better this way. The fear was wrong.