This past summer, my two sisters Ellen and Jill, my father, my brother-in-law Shane and I drove down to Alabama to clean out our 88-year-old grandmother’s house.
Our grandmother now lives in an assisted living home here in Raleigh. So, after 50 years of residence in her home in Huntsville, it was time to put the house on the market.
The contents of her 1,600 square-foot home, 400 square-foot garage, 100 square-foot utility shed and 1.5 acre yard were going to be cleaned out, packed up and trucked up to Raleigh in the span of seven days. We had no moving company, so my sisters’ twiggy arms, my father’s old back, my brother-in-law’s limited patience and my waning energy were the tools we used to complete this enormous task.
The theme that threaded itself through the spine of our seven-day packing adventure was proper waste disposal. “What in the world should we do with this?” was the question we continuously asked and had to answer as we packed up the house. If you stick with it, by the end of this story, you will be able to identify the many waste disposal themes and lessons that we ourselves discovered during our seven-day packing adventure.
A large contributor to the enormity of the task of packing up my grandmother’s house was my dear grandmother’s lifelong tendency to keep everything. Shoe sole inserts, laundry detergent caps, plastic cereal bags and shoe strings are just a few of the items she held onto. You may now have visions of a house full of mountains of junk like the houses you may have seen on A&E’s Hoarders.
But, the situation is not like that at all. As long as I have been alive, my grandmother’s house has been the tidiest, cleanest, most organized abode I have ever stepped foot in. Her house was neatly filled with every possession she, my grandfather (may he rest in peace), my dad and my aunt had ever owned. You would never know it though, because all of these accumulated possessions were precisely placed in labeled boxes and bins and stored behind closet and cabinet doors.
My grandparents lived by an unspoken philosophy of Waste Not, Want Not and Buy Only What You Need that they likely developed during their childhoods living on farms during the Depression. Nothing should be thrown out because every item could be used again for a different purpose. You never know when that scrap piece of wood will come in handy.
Without knowing it, my grandparents lived by the three Rs- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The first R- Reduce, played out in the fact that they would not purchase anything unless it was absolutely necessary. My grandmother decorated her formal living room in 1965, and the living room has remained the same since then. The quilts she spread on each of the beds in 1970 are the same quilts we took off the beds and packed up in 2010.
The second R- Reuse, played out in the fact that they gave a second life to every item they owned. Of anything that passed through their hands, they asked the question, “Could this item be of use in the future?” An example of this reuse is their pecan bayonet. To collect the thousands of pecans that fell from the tree in the backyard, my grandfather fashioned the perfect tool by strapping an ice pick to the end of a broken broom handle. Without bending over, one could jab the sharp point into the pecan and then drop it into a basket.
The third R- Recycle, played out in the fact that since curbside recycling collection came to her neighborhood, any material that was recyclable in Huntsville was rinsed out and placed into the blue bin. Once a week, she would drag it out to the curb for collection.
Holding onto things so they can be used again in the future is a great way to reduce the amount of trash that piles up in landfills. The key is to be very organized like my grandmother so that you do not drive your family crazy with your Waste Not, Want Not philosophy.
Check back next week as I begin the tale of our packing adventure during which we find ourselves in unexpected places, we face unexpected dangers and we experience unexpected rejections.