One of the phrases I carry with me from my childhood is “Use it up, wear it out, make it do!” I didn’t like it. I hated hearing my mother say it. Still, it became a part of me from hearing it over and over. Over time I have come to actually love the phrase. It symbolizes as well as embodies the wisdom of my parents, now both gone, and moreover it embodies the wisdom of their community and forebears.
As I’ve said elsewhere but not here, until now, I grew up on the edge of the 19th Century in the heartland of the U.S.A., in the middle of the Twentieth Century. My brothers remember Dad using horses on the farm before he had a tractor. Until the head of the REMC moved in next to my parents just before I was born, in the late 1950s, and brought the infrastructure of electrification to within a short distance of the farm my father had deemed the bill he would have to foot for “light poles” and cable and stringing to be just too prohibitive for a small mixed crop, subsistence farmer. My parents started their married life during The Great Depression and then started their family during the rationing of World War II. I was an afterthought born in the 1950s after my brothers were 10 to 18 years old. Frugality was simply our way of life.
Our farm property was 100 acres. By no means all of it was arable. There were woods and slopes and wetlands and creeks on it. Slightly over 60 acres were regularly farmed. That is not a whole lot of land from which to make a living. Sale of crops financed the continuance of the farm. Day to day expenses were largely funded by “egg money.”
Even though I live on a small city lot in central Tucson, I carry much of what I learned on that farm with me. Use it up. Get every bit of use out of any item. If it is food, eat it. If it is paper, use both sides. If it is cloth from old clothing, weave it into rugs. Compost your trimmings. Purchase only what you absolutely have to. Well, I don’t do as well as my folks did at this. I live a far less on the edge life than my parents did. Financially my little family is more comfortable than my parents ever hope to be. But with all the upheaval of markets and mortgages in our world over the last few years, I am paying closer attention to what we can do live well within our means. There have been challenges. I stayed home with our daughter and worked at odd writing jobs once she entered the ‘Tween Years. I needed to keep a closer eye on her moods, challenges and victories as she approached and moved through adolescence than what I was able to do working all the time and being on call 24/7. It hurt us financially. Now as a mature woman I find that the economy has changed, the market is skeptical of someone my age, and I’ve found that working part-time has many draw backs in a Right-to-Work, which I like to call a Right-to-be -Fired-without-Notice, state.
One of the things I can do, and do rather well, is to write. So I’m building this site and blog to talk about, and hopefully to discuss, the small network of large hearts that is the basis of a successful local economy. Local economy is so much more than money, although in our contemporary world money plays a large part of it.
Tucson has very low wages overall. There are exception to this, as some employers pay well but these employers are nearly always military-related or industrial employers. Overall, Tucson does not stack up well in comparison to other places to live when we look at income, “[T]he average wage in the Tucson area is more than 10 percent below the national average but its living costs are barely below average, meaning that its average wage after adjusting for living costs is significantly below average.” according to Arizona Indicators, a project managed by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Additionally, women whose income in Tucson is depressed even more than the national or state averages of wages for men also face the now common disconnect between time and income.
These factors undoubtedly factor into why Thrift Shops are so numerous and so highly accessed, why innovative programs like Freecycle started in Tucson, and why community seems stronger here than in other metropolitan areas. But I also think there is something special about a place that has had communities of one sort or another living within it for over 10,000 years. You really can feel history if you are very quiet and still and breathe in the air of a place.
I want to encourage everyone here in the Old Pueblo to be kind to our home and to those who live here with us. Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Sensible culture starts with us.