Waste Not, Trash Not

June 18th, 2012

I just finished repairing a shoe. The sole, made of a rubbery compound, had separated from the body at the toe. So I pulled out some rubber cement and carefully glued the sole back on. It didn’t take long; perhaps five minutes.

Yesterday I dismantled an uninterruptible power supply that had failed after twenty years. I wanted to see why it failed; I found a burned spot on the PC board where it had overloaded. But I also retrieved lots of parts that might prove useful later: a power transformer, some connectors, and lots of tiny screws and nuts. Then I pulled out my soldering iron and removed some parts: a bunch of varistors, a few high-voltage capacitors, a 12 volt relay, and a big diode. The 12 volt sealed lead-acid battery still seems to have good capacity, so I saved that, too. All in all, I probably spent an hour taking it apart.

Two days ago I cleaned up some door mats. Two were particularly dirty and overgrown with moss. I took a steel brush to them and hosed them down repeatedly. I probably spent half an hour on them.
Why, I wonder, do I bother retrieving junk and repairing old stuff? The time I spent on it could probably could have better been used on more productive tasks. It surely would have been more prudent to just throw them away and buy new stuff. If I want electronic parts, I can buy them when I need them.

But I don’t do this to save money; my true motivation is disgust with waste. I have become increasingly intolerant of wanton waste. I don’t want to be an agent who spends his life transferring stuff from stores to garbage dumps. Environmental concerns are not my primary motivation, although I am certainly aware of them. A puritanical aversion to profligacy and waste seems to be the driving force behind my actions.
In my younger days, I was not so dutiful; I bought, used, and discarded stuff with little thought for anything other than cost. Why have I changed? I suspect that it’s a broader embrace of the totality of my existence. The biggest single lesson my life has taught me is that everything is tied together. This isn’t a philosophical rejection of consumerism per se: I don’t bat an eye at purchasing something that seems necessary and appropriate. No, this behavior reflects my more encompassing perception of my place in the universe.