click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Conservation Conversion

Conservation Conversion

In another era they would have called us miserly. Now we're environmentalists.

by Melanie Chartoff

What's all this meshugas lately from these crybaby ecologists? As if they have discovered something brand spanking new. Puh. They're Green all right! Why, my late father was a seasoned saver and recycler well before it was fashionable. He could have taught them a thing or two.

My late father was a seasoned saver and recycler well before it was fashionable.

My dad, a child of the Depression, would conserve everything. As so many of our Eastern European elders, he had a cellular memory of celebrating small bounties, of making do with what one had, inventing what was needed. But, oy, how we ridiculed the distance he'd go to save a dime. In our youth, when gas was not at such a ghastly premium, we'd drive to a distant farm stand for fresh vegetables that they sold at the local A & P for a few pennies more. My sister and I were given half napkins for our lunches and used the other half as coloring books, filling in the embossed flowers with our teensy, frequently sharpened stubs of Crayola Crayons. We used the decorated halves for dinnertime and he praised our talents to the skies. Such a colorful character, he saved beet juice from the beet borscht to color our scrambled eggs orange, and turned our worn and holed socks into puppet shows.

In retrospect, reusing food was another of his big gifts. He salvaged stale matzah and bagel crumbs for breading, got a take out bag from the local diner for ketchup and mustard. He loved saving bones for the possibility of a visiting dog, or a future soup, making his own relish from kosher pickle pieces, reusing leftovers for lunches and leftover lunches for supper.

He would use Cracker Jacks toys to decorate the aquariums and turtle tanks, solar dry our clothes on the line, or age/dry them in the basement, defying the neighbors and their new fangled clothes dryers. He'd dry our mittens from wet winter exploits in the bonnet of my mother's hair dryer so he wouldn't need to buy us another pair. Not surprising when I recall that my father's father invented a rotating shelf which became the Lazy Susan!

Of course, in his time, he was called a hoarder, even miserly for his troubles, instead of creative, frugal, thrifty, innovative, progressive, ahead of his time. Sure, I disliked having to share my dolls, but like Solomon, he offered to split them in half, so we shared. My sister resented having to wear my hand-me downs, but Dad dyed them new colors, so she enjoyed them far more. Hence, our retrospective respect, globally warmed over time, has organically grown, especially since he left us a tidy inheritance, all saved from the coupons he had us clip, Mom says. He prepared us well for this era.

His influence was not lost on my sister, who became a stage designer for plays and musicals. She'd create the illusion of size and distance through the use of perspective, turn soda bottle caps into pseudo rivets for stage bridges.

I, too, find myself taking pride in doing things with a minimum of expense. I turn empty tissue boxes into space shoes for kids. I'm the one who thaws the frozen foods next to the boiling tea kettle, who warms my lunch on the hot dashboard of my car instead of in the microwave. I bucket brigade my bathwater to the rose bushes. I invented and patented a valve that allows one to irrigate gardens with used shower water. Like my father, I'm a toothpaste squeezer, brushing with the last dregs of elusive paste throttled from the very corners of the tube.

Some might call me self-righteous: I brag about hiking to my agents and attorneys, biking to restaurants and tipping the parking attendants to hold my two wheeler and two sneakers. I demand carbon credits for wearing no perfume and banning potpourri and mothballs from my home and for having a short, petite carbon footprint. I'm the one who talked the policeman out of giving me a ticket for doing 50 mph in a 35 mph zone because my Prius was coasting at an economic 45 mpg at the time. He let me off with a warning to shut me up -- thereby saving us both even more energy. Obnoxious, you say? Merely ecologically conscious, I respond.

Some might call me lazy for my style of energy conservation.

Some might call me lazy for my style of energy conservation. I'm the one waiting for you to push into the revolving door first so I can hitch a ride. I don't bend down until there are several things to pick up from the kitchen floor, stepping over them all day long. I also pride myself in making my bed while still inside it. No muss and fuss, no folding, flapping and fluffing. I merely spread eagle the sheet and quilt to the far corners of the queen-sized, then crawl out the top, having gotten in my stretch for the day. Okay, so it's not a Hilton Hotel, bounce a coin off the taut-as-a-drum, French corner kind of bed-making, but if the bed's tucked in too tightly, I can't slip back in for that late day nap. Lazy, you say? I think not. I'm just saving energy.

I'm sure the energetic and economic challenges in the years to come will drive us all to even greater creativity. And like my late father, out of our limitations will emerge our genius.

November 15, 2008

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, November 22, 2008 1:03 PM

confessions of a child from depression-era parents

That was great! I learned how to smash the small remaining piece of bar soap into the new bar, making it look like a whale with child from my depression-era parents. I could get arthritic pain from squishing the last bits of toothpaste out of the tube, running it along the edge of the bathroom counter. I turn bottles upside down to insure that I get last drops of stuff. I hate to waste and wait for the day when we will take away tax credits from companies that produce disposable products. Do razors really need to be disposable? Let's not even talk about diapers. (Of course I can say that now that my kids are adults.) How are you?

(6) Anny Matar, November 19, 2008 11:16 AM


I think that we, born before dated food, dryers,ball point pens as give aways, refrigertors, washing and dishwashing machines, can well understand Melanie's father, one just doesn't forget the "good old times" when everything was done by hand and our clothes couldn't be washed but dry-cleaned only- those were the days you were naturally frugal, you had "no brere" Things were expensive and so it was up to you to be careful and keep yourself and your clothes clean. Where I came from there were few cars, just horse drawn carriages, the air was clean and clear. In winter you could hear the horse drawn sled's bells for miles and miles -no pollution and no global heating, seasons were seasons no flooddings. The world was different and looking after your money came natural, because one thought that one had a future worth saving for and you had energy because the way of life and the rat race was much slower. So, I am still airing my bedding daily and do make my beds afresh. Anny

(5) paul rollins, November 18, 2008 11:40 AM

fond memories

Very clever and entertaining.. Funny how the stuff we rebelled against when we were kids become fond memories in our later years. My Dad was very frugal as was necessary at the time. I learned many good habits from him and it looks like I will be having to put more and more of them the use during these trying economic times.

(4) laurie levin, November 18, 2008 11:05 AM

a joy to read...

a joy to read...and it took a next-to-nothing amount of energy!

(3) jenny, November 18, 2008 11:01 AM

Used plastic bags

Great! I remember a few of these things myself. I always assumed they were perfectly normal. I found myself filling up every drawer and cabinet with used plastic bags because you never know when you might need them. My mother gave me the tip off when I found her entire dishwasher full of them and It hit me. Not normal.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment