03 September 2010

Waste not, want not

Following on from my post about the staircases, it does not strike me as at all odd that I have reached the ripe old age I am, without having achieved the perfect house. I was born in a post-war London (just inside the 1950s) when rationing was still very much de rigeur. My mother recently produced my ration book from the caverns of her wardrobe, although it is hard to think that at the time as a six-month-old I demanded my ration of whale meat or parachute lining!

I do remember as a small child that there was nowhere near the choice of shops on offer today. If you needed a dress, there were only one or two shops to choose from - and that was in a very busy quarter of London; not the overload of boutiques and chain stores there are now. Not only that but everything was still in short supply. What you needed, let alone wanted, was just not available. Furniture was bought on hire purchase- a sort of forerunner of credit cards - where you paid weekly instalments at the shop where the item was purchased. There was not much choice in furniture either, apart from can I afford it or not? To this day, my mother still has her utility sideboard in her dining room. Fridges or washing machines were relatively unheard of; there was only one channel on the television (BBC1), although ITV was just coming in and I used to go to a neighbour's house,whenever I wanted to watch Noddy on ITV, as we only had BBC; and phones and cars were for the very wealthy. Housing was in short supply too - the bombing had seen to that. My grandparents had moved about 6 times in the space of 4 years during the war, as each house was blown to smithereens. I remember bombed-out houses and gaping holes here and there in the terraced streets, where I played. (That was another thing - then, I played on the streets. Shock, horror, nowadays.)

People's expectations of life were a lot less and they were more accepting of their lot . My parents had lived apart for the first two years of their post-war marriage, as they had nowhere to live together and the only hope of getting somewhere was to get on the council housing list - and for that you had to be married!!! So they married and then lived with their respective parents on opposite sides of London about an hour's bus and undergound journey apart. They never did get that Council flat, by the way, although an offer did come in about 8 years' later by which time they had already put a deposit on their first mortgaged house.

Used to these wartime shortages, I grew up in a family where everything was kept and recycled if possible. Nothing was thown away - just in case. Certainly not furniture. That has definitely rubbed off onto me. Being a student helped too, having to live frugally in the late 1960s/ early 70s. Greg came from a similar background too. He and I were both horders. I wouldn't throw so much as a piece of string away, as it might come in handy and Greg would reuse nails or screws. Over the years we have squirreled away quite lot of stuff - just in case - until every drawer, cupboard or cellar space is now groaning. Last week, I replaced our fridge/freezer which had reached the grand old age of 22 years. It was a bit battered, but it still worked and I did not see the point of throwing it out. The salad drawers were held together with duct tape where they had cracked many years ago, the handles had come off and I could not find replacements, but the fridge still kept things cold. It was only because the seal on the door had recently gone, that I felt forced (yes, forced) to replace it. And I tell you, the new fridge-freezer is bigger in size than the old one, but it doesn't store as much. How I miss that old one, already.

I recall some years ago when I was at work, that a young single twenty-something was buying a flat for herself and she wanted it freshly-decorated, furnished with all the mod cons (washing machine, dishwasher, TV, telephone, fridge, the lot) all BEFORE she moved in. My parents' generation would have saved for years even decades, for such things, had they been available. My generation had to gradually amass them too, as and when we could afford them. The young generation of today take so much for granted.

There currently is a must-have culture that buys now and worries later. I am sure that's why there are so many house repossessions , as people just do not think beyond the present and cannot contemplate that interest rates might rise. When Greg and I first bought our current house in 1988, we started on 16% interest rates!!! It is a throw-away culture too. Watches and computers are past-it when they are only three years old. As for mobile phones - they HAVE to be replaced each year - so that you can flash the lastest gimmick around in the train. My Nokia 3410 is still going some three hundred years since I first got it. I get funny looks when I use it in public, as if I have just exposed myself. But it works beautifully. Why do I need to replace it? I managed before without photographing everything in sight or ruining my hearing with i-tunes. Why do I need to upgrade it (that wonderful little word which suggests you are missing out, if you don't!) People even seem to replace their furniture every five minutes too to match the wallpaper. What happens to the old stuff? Does it go to some big warehouse in the sky, get dumped on a rubbish tip or get handed down to some lesser mortal?

Times are changing:sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I am not sure if all this hyperconsumerism is necessarily a good thing. Yes, we have more choices, but we are in danger of becoming greedy and complacent, particularly when half of the world has very little, including a roof over their head and something to eat. As I start to tackle some of the decorating projects, I shall naturally brighten and clean the house up, but I doubt whether I'll manage to upgrade furniture or de-clutter to the extent that it has that minamalist unlived-in look. It will pain me to throw things out - just in case. Anyway the cat and the dog won't stand for that either, I know.


Fat Grump said...

I can relate to everything you say, having been born in 1954. My children are so fortunate to have the things they enjoy today. As I was growing up, and there wasn't much money around despite Dad working three shifts at the factory, I didn't feel in any way as though I was missing out. There was no one-up-manship then and life was much simpler. My daughter (in her twenties) has in her lovely, shiny bright home, all the things it took my ex husband and I years to save for or acquire gradually.

Oh, and how nice to know that someone else owns an old phone. My mobile phone is five years old and still works wonderfully. It's very basic - but isn't a phone used for calling people anyway? Why would I want extra gizmos and gadgets on it? I pay as I go and spend about £40 per annum in top-ups. I tell my children this is the way to save money but they tell me they have more friends than I do! :)

I recently found my first mobile phone. It's almost as big as a breeze block!:)

Kelloggsville said...

I'm not old enough for a ration card but would it help if I told you my suite is from my first marriage and I am 10 years into my second. My loft is floor to rafters with stuff saved "just in case". But throw away I agree : about 2 years ago I was eating toast and stood up in a fit and threw the toaster into the bin. My husband looked gone out. It was a first wedding present was 20 years old and a hated everything it stood for. When I burst into tears and told him he said "why on earth didn't you replace it years ago?" "because it cooks toast beautifully" I said - and I've never found one that good since!!!!!

Nota Bene said...

What a lovely post...I could picture everything in my head (albeit in sepia)...I'm sure that the modern way is not the best way myself...but 'I can resist everything except temptation'!

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post. My husband was born in 1949 and grew up the way you describe whereas I was born 1969 and even though my parents didn't have a lot we were still fortunate, a lot more so than many of our third world countries will ever likely understand. It's when one looks at the pitiful amount they have do we really think about how much we have.

CJ xx

Flowerpot said...

I so agree Addy! I was horrified recently by my nephew's Must Have approach to life - and he's only 12. All of our furniture is stuff we've had for years and ditto mobile phones (not often used). Husband used to live n boats so is used to having very little and I think that's a good way to be. But Iknow we';re in a minority!

Eliza said...

I agree Addy, I just keep thinking to myself when I see friends buying new everything, they must be in debt, and I'd rather be solvent in my old age. Having said that I have succumed to a new mobile this year, and I love it :-)

andrea said...

I agree .. me too have a gopod week end

Working Mum said...

I really enjoyed that post. Even though I am a different generation (I grew up in the 70s), there was still a "make do and mend" attitude around.

My mum made my clothes, we didn't have a car or a phone and my dad took to growing veg in the garden because food prices were so high. Picking blackberries was a necessity in those days if we wanted a pudding on a sunday or jam on our toast.

It is amazing how things have changed in just the last 15 years or so - when I got married (in 1993) we had second hand furniture which friends and family had given us, but now people go straight out and buy new stuff straightaway whether they have the money or not. I am lucky that I can afford lots of nice things, but my "waste not, want not" attitude stops me from replacing things until they are unmendable (my moblie phone is absolutely ancient!) and anything I can pass on to others rather than scrap, I will. Even the only decent carpet that we inherited with the house (and I hated) was given to a local homeless shelter.

I can't help but think that more of this attitude would have prevented our country ending up in the mess it's in financially.

Retiredandcrazy said...

I know what you are saying Addy, but it's a different world now. The younger generation have gained such a lot but lost more along the way. Great blog.

Achelois said...

I relate also to everything you say. Freecycle is good for me. If I could get in the loft I would find so much 'stuff' I worry one day it will all come crashing down on me. I must be honest though one thing I would really really like is a brand new sofa, never having had one, I get totally mesmerised by adverts for them. But I am allergic to credit cards so unless I were to turn over a new leaf and really save for that elusive sofa instead of putting away for car services and bills it is unlikely in my lifetime my dream sofa will ever be sat on. I wonder if I would find in reality that I preferred the dream!

I actually think the pressure to consumerism makes life stressful for youngsters these days.

My children laugh that I cannot throw bread away and freeze breadcrumbs but they appreciate the yummy toppings it makes on stuffed peppers, tuna bake etc. If my mother had not taught me to be frugal, because of her war experience I would not do this.

I find comfort in the home stitched eiderown that my grandmother made and despite its worn state I could never ever throw that away. Despite looking at magazines and wondering if I de cluttered my home whether my mind would be at rest, I feel it would be the opposite for me and clinical tidiness and minimilism would in fact stress me out!

Anonymous said...

what a trrifically powerful piece you wrote. After reading it I sort of had to wander off for a few hours lost in thought.
It reminded me of when my husband and I had to clear out my mother's house after her death. I was struck by the amount of appliances in the house that had been wedding presents, the murphy richards kettle, the kenwood chef, an electric carving knife, things I just took for granted growing up with them.

Furtheron said...

You tell the kids today... etc. :-)

I agree with you though... we never had a car when I was a kid, in fact the only car my Dad ever bought was when he bought my brothers old Avenger for me as my first car when I was a college. He never learnt to drive.

We didn't have a phone until I was about 16 - my first girlfriend was about at that time - I had to walk the streets to find a working and not too smelly phone box to call her to arrange dates etc. Like you say now the moment you are in a relationship there are 1000s of text messages, email and facebook status changes!

One thing though - we always had what we needed and some luxuries. My Mum and Dad used to run a "catalogue" - remember them? Like Argos but you waited for it to be delivered then Mum paid it into the bank on a weekly amount over so many weeks. My first two guitars came via that route and thinking about it £75 was a lot for them in 1975 when they got my first electric for me.

Good to be reminded - we forget don't we.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Hi, here from the link at Eddie Bluelight's roast post. :)

Enjoyed your thoughts on the must-have-now generation. So true.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Well said Addy - I agree with you too. Born in 1944 I also remember the ration books and my parents having to save hard for everything. Neither can I understand this "throw away" society when there is so much poverty and hardship in parts of the world. I am thankful that my children (now with children of their own) save and wait for what they want, they appreciate it so much more that way. A x

Anonymous said...

Hi Addy,

I liked reading that. Can't help but think for that although people had less in the 50s in some ways they had so much more than we have today- ie playing the streets for one as you mentioned.

It is very much a throw away society and a society driven by the need to have the latest, bestest and most glittering things. That has a knock on effect to how people treat each other and probably why there are so many people willing to step on anyone in order to get what they want. I think everywhere we turn we are bombarded by advertising and pressured into needing what we don't actually need.

Good to you for sticking to your ways, don't ever change.

All the best


dulwich divorcee said...

I think we have all been very spoiled by the recent years of ease. I noticed it coming back to the UK four years ago after 8 years abroad - there seemed to be coffee shops on every corner. I'm still amazed that people shell out so much for mediocre coffee. Maybe the recession will get everyone round to saving string again!