What a pandemic has taught me – Lesson 2

I was born in 1972.  Which means my parents were born during or post WWII.  

My mom was born in 1949 and grew up in Ajax, Ontario in a very small house for 5 people.  They led a very simple life; had the basics, didn’t travel much but had family gatherings for entertainment.  My mom’s side has a music gene that I didn’t get…but for the purposes of this blog, I digress.  

My dad was born in Mariahout, Netherlands in 1943.  My grandfather was fighting in the war and each time he came home, my grandmother got pregnant (those frisky and fertile Dutch!).  For most of the war, she was a single parent raising an increasing amount of kids.  They had little to no money and during the war had to make due with whatever rations they could obtain.  My grandmother once told me that fruit was very hard to come by and she once got an orange that she had to share amongst 5 of them.  Think about that for a moment and we’ll get back to that.  

Anyway, my grandparents owned a store and the Nazis took it over.  So, eventually they decided to pick up and leave.  They flipped a coin to decide between Australia and Canada and you guessed it, Canada won.  They migrated here without knowing the language, and having a fairly large family (at that time they had 5 kids; two more came after the move).  

Why am I telling you all this? Well, my parents grew up in tough times with a very frugal lifestyle.  My grandparents instilled in both of my parents that you do not waste anything.  I mean anything.  I used to eat a yoghurt and clean it out as well as I could with the spoon and my dad would still ask why I wasted so much.  My dad, who might be a hoarder, has kept any container that something came in and has repurposed it; his shop is full of baby food jars, sour cream and yoghurt containers and peanut butter jars full of screws, nails and other trinkets he’s kept over the years.  Almost nothing gets thrown out because we might need it someday.

My mom used to ration food for all of us.  We actually had our names on our portions of food products and there was hell to pay if you ate someone else’s food.  A bag of chips lasted us three weekends because my sister and I each had our Tupperware “snack” bowl and we got to fill it up once on a Friday and/or Saturday night.  You never opened the bag and let it be a free for all.

Anyone who’s ever lived with me and didn’t know this stuff just had a lightbulb go off…(I still have a Tupperware chip bowl).

So, needless to say, for many years I did the same thing because that’s all I knew.  When I moved out of my parents’ house, I was also poor for many years; first being a student on OSAP and then starting an accounting job at the bottom of the ladder.  I understood the waste not, want not attitude.  

But then something changed.  I paid off my student loans.  I climbed that ladder and was making decent money.  And I saw how other people were living.  Huh, not everyone has the waste not, want not attitude.  So, I decided one day that since I have no kids and I make good money that I should be able to buy what I want and waste it if I want to.  You know, just like the good old American (meaning North America) dream!

Likely just like many of you, I threw out milk the day after it expired without smelling it.  Actually, just kidding, I don’t drink milk.  But you know what I mean; same rule applied to any dairy product.  Ew, expired food.  When fruits and vegetable start to look even the slightest limp I’d promptly throw them out, or even if I thought they’d just been in the fridge too long.  My grandmother was rolling in her grave each time I threw out an orange that still had perfectly good sections to it.  

Side note: apples seem to last a really long time in the fridge; I should do a science experience to see just how long it is before they start to look like the beginnings of an apple doll (remember making those!?).

But then a pandemic happened.  And if you read my last blog covering lesson 1, you know that I had surgery on my respiratory system a week before the emergency order so I was a little freaked out about going out.  The line ups were also long to get into stores and the whole thing felt like a giant pain in the ass. So, my husband and I agreed that we’d grocery shop once a week and alternate who shopped each week.  

My husband doesn’t like to plan meals.  He likes to “live in the moment” and see what he feels like eating that day.  (Yes, I’ve created a bit of a mindfulness monster). So, we used to stop at the grocery store at least every other day to pick up odds and ends.  How were we going to get through a week?  You need to plan, you need to stick to the plan (mostly) and you guessed it…you can not waste.  

It amazed me when we had to start to make do with what we had and the things I could come up with.  (FYI – there is an app called MyFridgeFood where you can put what ingredients you have in your fridge/pantry in and it spits out recipes that you can make).  Suddenly, I had to salvage celery that was starting to go limp if I wanted to have vegetables in my life.  Put it in a glass of cold water and a little while later, presto, crunchy celery.  My coworker and I compared notes on how we conserved and made sure we saved precious fruits and vegetables during this time, him especially because he has two small children who love fruit.  We talked about how we used to throw out the plastic container of spinach when it started to get a few wilty (I think I just made up a word) or had a few slimy pieces.  Now you pick them out and wash off the rest…good as new! I started to think of what my parents and grandparents had gone through and realized that as much a many people were complaining, we didn’t have it rough at all.  “OMG, I have to stand in line to get groceries or can only go once a week, or wear a mask.”  Let’s get over ourselves.  We, I, have become entitled.  And a waster.  

So, the lesson I’ve learned during this pandemic is just that, I was a waster.  Not only have I come to realize that I wasted food but also other resources such as my time, space, money and other material items. Because I had the time to clean out some closets during this time at home, I found things I bought and forgot about and have never used.  I’ve now put a plan in place to make sure I either use this stuff or donate it to someone who can use it.  As a result, I’ve not got more space in my house.  I can find things better and I have a little more space to breathe, if you will.  

I also wasted time.  I was going through the motions of life and didn’t realize, until a pandemic happened and I stopped to think about all this, how much time I wasted doing things that didn’t really matter like stopping at the store all the time or just plain old being busy (see previous blog) when I could have been spending time doing things I loved and appreciating and being with the people who matter to me. THAT is time well spent.  

So, my friends, I put it to you to notice what you are wasting.  The next time you throw out food because you couldn’t eat it all or part of it was starting to look sketchy, remember my grandmother (or perhaps yours), or anyone who was or is trying to make ends meet, who was so incredibly happy to have an orange to share with their family. Once you start to notice, you too will have more time and space in your life and money in your bank account.   I would even venture a guess that you’ll feel better about yourself.  Now, that’s a pandemic win!