Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

A Little at a Time

 

My Buddha by the sink

My mother was an artist. She went to art school and studied sculpture as a young woman. Later when my brothers were both in school she studied painting at the Boston Museum of Art. She had a studio over the garage where she occasionally worked. She also kept her art materials there along with lots of interesting women’s magazines. I loved to go up and read them. From them I learned many helpful household hints. I still remember one that told how to change a bed by walking around it only once. I used to do that. Now Stephen and I make ours together.

It may have been then or it could have been later on in my life that I came across the twenty minute system for accomplishing lengthy tasks. The article suggested allotting twenty minutes daily or whenever convenient, to a chore that was normally postponed because it might take too long or be otherwise tedious. When I tried the suggestion I was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked. One example was that instead of cleaning out all the bureau drawers, or every shelf in the pantry at once, take twenty minutes to clean and tidy one, stop and do another on another day.

At one time I practiced this technique quite frequently, however it slipped into the mists at the back of my mind. Recently I was reminded of it. What happened was this: For a very long time I had postponed cleaning out the refrigerator. Week after week each time I wrote out a new to do list, that particular task was at the top. Still I found reasons not to. Then I noticed how sticky one of the racks on the refrigerator door was. I decided to clean it off then and there. Because there were many small jars to be removed, washed off and replaced, it took me about twenty minutes or so to complete the task.

As I shut the refrigerator door I remembered the household hint from so long ago and laughed. The next day I cleaned off the second shelf of the door. Several days later I washed off the whole bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Today I cleaned the oven, and so it goes. Each task that takes around twenty minutes to complete adds up eventually to a thorough cleaning and tidying. I will probably go through my bureau drawers next, and perhaps after that a couple of other tasks I can think of that need attention.

I remember hearing someone say once that when he thought about what he had to do, it always seemed far more daunting than it turned out to be once he actually began to do it. The same holds true for me about the time spent doing something. Dividing a task into smaller segments works much better for me these days than trying to get it all done at once. As well, it spreads out over all the different times spent, the feeling of satisfaction I get from my small yet necessary accomplishment.

Tasha Halpert

 

Me and My To Do Lists

Poinsetta and water drops036My friend and I sat over breakfast at a restaurant near where I live. “I find myself getting very forgetful,” she told me. We commiserated a bit. I assured her that if it were not for my lists I would never remember what I had to do. I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember. I know that my grandmother made lots of lists. My mother told me that when she stayed at my grandmother’s home one year, she often found herself almost tripping over them. Nonny, as I called her, used to leave them on the floor so she would be more apt to see them.

I don’t need to write many as she did, nor to drop them on the floor. I get along very nicely with my two main lists. I keep one in the kitchen where I write down whatever food I plan to prepare, the next necessary errands, and the various household tasks it is time to do. I keep the other on my desk. That one reminds me of what I need to do on my compute–whether emails I need to write or assignments I must complete. It tells me when my deadlines are due, and what bills it is time to pay or what cards I need to send and to whom. Actually, these are not my only lists, just the permanent ones. As I cross things off I rewrite them and throw away the old pages.

I also keep grocery lists, health food store lists, and lists of other items i need to purchase. These are vital! When it was time to send out invitations to my birthday party I made a list of the people I wanted to invite. I also now have a list of the Christmas gifts Stephen and I received, and the people who gave them to us. I need that to write my thank you notes. My short term memory is not what it used to be, however it hasn’t been that good for some time. I am told this is nothing to worry about and is part of normal aging.

I also use my lists to practice recycling. Whatever comes my way that is a one sided piece of paper gets folded in three, torn into strips, and clipped together to form a pad to make my lists on. It is only a small gesture, yet every effort to conserve counts, no matter how insignificant. I also believe that any attempt to be mindful of the environment carries an impetus to help increase the totality of what will I hope and trust one day lead to greater participation for all in the conservation of planetary energy and resources.

I admire those who say they do not need lists in order to remember things. I prefer to use what mental energy I have to be observant, to remain in the present moment, and to notice when I need to participate in some way in the ongoing scene. If I have to waste time and energy remembering what I need to buy at the grocery store I may not have the mental focus to notice the hawk circling the highway above me or the interesting shapes of the trees’ bare branches thrusting their patterns against the blue of the winter sky.

 

A Light on the Subject

Having the correct tool for any job is a great help toward successfully completing it. I’m definitely a tool person; I have a large collection of implements that I have accumulated over the years. Some of my most important ones are kept in plain sight right on my kitchen counter. Most of these are assembled in several open containers where I can reach them easily when I need them.

However, if you were to ask me what I consider one of my most valuable kitchen tools, I would say, “My flashlight.” Does that sound odd? Perhaps it is, yet when I need to locate an item on my shelves or even more importantly in my overcrowded refrigerator, the small bright penlight flashlight I keep on my kitchen counter is exactly what I need.

I don’t remember when I acquired the penlight. I believe it was a gift, and I bless the giver every time I use it. It saves me a lot of time looking for items by helping me check the backs of the open shelves I use as my pantry in our efficient but small apartment. It saves me even more precious time otherwise spent removing items from the ‘fridge in search of what may be on another shelf or in another part of it.

My refrigerator tends to get crowded with useful leftovers, important condiments, and things I make ahead to provide for quick, easy meals. Then too it holds various things to drink, like iced tea, a staple for Stephen, and carrot juice, one of mine. As well it holds the ingredients for the foods I make from scratch: cartons of chicken and beef broths together with alternatives to dairy milk…the list goes on.

As well there are other uses for my penlight elsewhere in the apartment. If I drop something tiny in the bedroom it is much easier to locate it with the use of a penlight. The focused beam sweeps over the floor and helps me to locate that dropped earring back or small ring or earring without getting down on my hands and knees. I didn’t always know this, and I don’t remember when I figured it out, yet I am delighted that I do now. As I get older I appreciate discovering ways to make life easier and more comfortable.

Shedding light on anything increases its visibility. This can be metaphorical or actual. When I shine the light of my understanding on a situation I can see more clearly how to deal with it. Information is a form of light as is good advice. The more we can see, the better we can judge what we need to say or do.

There is an amusing teaching tale that goes like this: A man came across another man searching the ground. “What are you looking for?” he asked. “My ruby ring,” replied the searcher. The second man joined him in his search. Finally he said, “Where did you lose it?” “Over on second street.” “Then why look here on third street?” “Oh, the light’s better here,” came the reply. To me the point of this story is that effective searching requires light.

Door of Mystery

Door Into Mystery

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert