Waste Not, Want Not

July 14, 2017

When I was 7 and a half years old, my family (parents + brother) moved to the United States.

At the time I only knew about 4 words in English. Kids learn languages fast, though, and pretty quickly my English was better than my parents’ (to some extent). In that first year in the US, I think, when my dad still confused “grapefruit” juice for grape juice, there was this pizza place we used to go to. I think it was called “Uncle Sam’s”, and it had an Uncle Sam illustration as its logo, on top of the building. I’m the only one that remembers the place – my parents and brother and American friends from the time have no recollection of it. They had this straw dispenser, you press down on a lever and one drinking straw neatly comes out. This dispenser had a sign next to it, which read: “Waste Not Want Not”. I was probably old enough to understand what it meant, and understood enough English, or maybe I asked my mom what it meant. They’re politely asking you not to waste straws, right? But if you think about the use of the word “want” – it’s an archaic usage, isn’t it. Nobody today uses the word want to mean what it means in this sentence.

“Want” used to mean to lack, to be in need of something essential. For example, to be in want of food, or shelter, or clothing. Wanting nothing indicates a state of well being, where your basic needs are met, and you are content. “Want” doesn’t mean that today, does it. “I want an iPad / boyfriend / bigger house / snack”. It means the opposite, in a way. “Want” is used today to express a desire, a craving. Something that is definitely not essential, or necessary. “Want” incessantly nags at you, making you feel as if something essential is missing from your life. You’re missing out. You don’t have this really important gadget / designer item / car. Nowadays to express the old meaning of “Want”, we’d say “Need”. I need a bicycle. I need new shoes. Though even then, we might use the word “need” interchangeably with the new meaning of the word “want”. “I need the new iPhone”. Gotta have it.

When I was 25, I moved to “the big city” (Tel Aviv) and got my first full time adult job. After about a year or so with this sort of arrangement of getting paid way more than I ever was before, and feeling emotionally drained and unhappy at the job for the most part, I would “compensate” myself by going to the mall and spending 1500 ILS (about $375 in 2003, which is the equivalent of about $500 in 2017) in one evening, on clothes mostly. I would joke that “there’s no reason to go to the mall, I’m up to date with all of the shops and I need to wait a while before they stock new things I can buy”. I also coined the term “re-shopping”, which means going back to the shop and buying new stuff with the store credits you have for items you’ve returned. I had a lot of these store credit slips (at the time you couldn’t get a money refund for stuff) – showing just how much I “loved” the stuff I bought just a few days earlier.

In one of these clothing shops, the sales lady would bombard me at the changing stall with tons of clothes, out of which I would buy “only a fraction” – that fraction being several articles of clothing that I probably didn’t need.

At some point, I realized that just walking through the mall was like a process of osmosis – there is so much stuff out there, that at least a fraction of it needs to be acquired by me in exchange for money.

Those days are long past.

At some point, quite a few years ago, I realized I hated going to malls and shopping. It may have started when I gained a bit of weight and age and all of the teen/20-year-old clothes didn’t look so nice on me. Or it may have been when I got tired of the noise, the saleswomen, the parking, the people, the browsing the merchandise and trying things on – I just wanted to wear my comfortable clothes and not be bothered with shopping or style. This aversion lead to a few years of looking kind of scruffy, but I didn’t care. I still don’t care. I no longer worship the fashion gods, or the gods of beauty, makeup, cosmetics, or accessories.

I’m 39 years old and I no longer work for a living. Despite my crazy spending, despite wasting 2 years of my life as do most women in Israel at compulsory army service, despite many tens of thousands of ILS spent paying for years of therapy and other ineffective “cures” for my issues, as well as restaurants, cafes, and just normal life like rent and groceries, despite not living in the USA and not having access to all that’s available there so easily, I was able to retire after 14 working years. I am financially independent. And I want (lack) nothing.

More on that in a future post(s).

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