My mother was born on April 22, 1903, 67 years before Earth Day was born on the same day. She was a “senior citizen” by the time Earth Day was established. Mom lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and because she had her children very late in life, she raised my brother and me during the tumultuous ’60s.
My mother was a fiscal conservative and social progressive. I do not think she ever used the word “environmentalist” to describe herself, but conserving was in her DNA, partially because of the world she grew up in, partially because she was not an acquisitive person. She liked ideas and books, opera and art (and Elvis Presley!); she walked all her life–right up until her death at the age of 92–and loved spending time in the country or at the ocean.
In general, her approach to life was Zen-like: live in the moment and enjoy it; do your best at and pay attention to the details of any job you take on; and, take care of the ones you love.
Some of her daily habits seem particularly timely as we face all kinds of environmental challenges, including climate change. I think this is true because my mother hated waste and, if you think about it, much of the negative impact we humans have had on the environment has to do with our wastefulness, our excesses.
Here are four ways my mother limited waste in her life–four ways all of us can reduce our own wastefulness and help Mother Earth:
1. Buy only what you need when you go shopping. My mother would say she was going to the store to buy a pair of socks and that’s what she’d come home with–a pair of socks and nothing but a pair of socks. I promise you she could spend an afternoon in Macy’s (the world’s largest department store during most of her adult life in NYC) and return with, yup, just that pair of socks.
2. Closely related to #1: Don’t worry about what “other people” have. As I recall, my mother owned the same television set for something like 20+ years. She could get PBS and the evening news on it and she didn’t care about all the other channels and shows her neighbors talked about and watched. She only acquired what she truly needed or wanted.
3. Closely related to #1 and #2: Reuse things for as long as possible, and avoid buying things that have limited usefulness. A simple example: use an old tee shirt as a cleaning rag (which can be washed and reused repeatedly) rather than using paper towels.
4. Whenever possible, walk. When walking isn’t possible, take public transportation. I can remember only a very few times that I ever rode in a taxi with my mother. We walked or took the subway or the bus. Granted, it’s easier to do this in NYC than virtually any other place on earth, but I think all of us in rural areas could do better with car-pooling or using buses and trains for long-distance travel.
None of this is rocket science, but imagine if everyone in the United States and Canada reduced their consumption of paper towels by even 50% or their solo time in a private car by a third? My mother, who was a tax consultant by profession, would always say, “it all adds up.”
Happy Earth Day.