homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Green vs. Green

So, here's a quandary.

I'm all about the reduce/reuse/repair/recycle kind of lifestyle. A large part is, yes, environmental awareness. An equally large motivation, however, is plain old frugality. I didn't get this way by joining a recent "green" trendy bandwagon. Rather, it was encoded in my DNA by two Depression-surviving grandmothers and several generations of family living at or below the poverty line. "Waste" is the cardinal sin for my people.

(I am also, therefore, a packrat. I save all sorts of small scraps of things--especially craft supplies--with the notion that someday I may need them. And in my defense, sometimes I do find uses for them. But finding storage in the meantime is another issue altogether...)

I tend to think, and rethink, before considering replacing an old item which may still prove to have some "life" left in it. It's wasteful to buy a new item if you don't *need* it. Not only are you spending money that might be used toward other purposes, but you're keeping the current item out of the landfill just a little while longer.

But what about when those possibilities overlap?

Case in point: a while back, my digital camera died. Well, not really. Only the flash died. Now, digital cameras are apparently a bear to repair. Very little useful information could be found online or otherwise for a DIY job, and the only camera repair shop that would even consider handling the job charged almost as much for the *estimate* as the replacement cost. My other option--manufacturer repair--was a mere $15 cheaper than buying a new camera, which was a later model with better features. By the time I considered the cost of shipping/handling plus the repair, it made more sense to go to the (local) store and buy a new camera than to fix the existing one. I sighed, paid, and passed my ailing camera on to a friend who hadn't yet gone digital (it still photographed well in good light)--so I hope that its life was at least extended a little while.

Now I'm faced with a similar situation. A favorite pair of shoes are falling apart. The soles are cracked, but the rest of the shoe is in good shape. New retail cost is around $115, but I have found a similar style (same manufacturer) at an online outlet for around $35. I have not yet gotten a repair estimate (I just discovered the damage and all local shops have closed for the evening), but I suspect that it may work out to be nearly the same price.

And if it's more? Ah, there's the rub. It's very difficult, when bills are tight, to say "let's throw more money at a repair rather than buying new" just for the sake of keeping material out of a landfill.

I hate that we've become such a throwaway society, but sometimes it really does come down to the bottom line. I suppose at some level we can blame shoddy manufacturing and poor quality materials. (In this latest example, however, the shoes are very high quality and simply a result of normal wear.) What really saddens me is that we as a consuming public aren't more outraged over this. My mother is still using several appliances that she received as wedding gifts in 1970. In 7 years of my own marriage, I have already replaced two irons, a toaster oven, a blender, and three food processors. Sickening.

They say that the best way to influence the marketplace is to "vote with your dollars". Which is easy to say when you have the funds to choose a more expensive, better-made product from the get-go. Yes, in the long run it may end up to be the more frugal choice since you won't be replacing it. But in the here-and-now you might not be able to wiggle your budget enough to justify spending twice as much (or more). It's a sad reality for many.

So what to do? I'm honestly not sure. The motivations to save stuff and to save money are equally strong with me. I wish that it wasn't so often a choice between.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Danger in the Animal Kingdom

Theo's most recent animal obsession is Komodo Dragons. A few weeks ago, we visited the Pittsburgh Zoo and his imagination was captured by "Noname"*, the 16-year-old dragon on exhibit there. This was followed by day after day of his insistence upon playing zoo...with him playing the role of the dragon and yours truly as zookeeper. We checked out a few books from the library and searched for videos online. When this kid gets into an animal, we immerse.
This past weekend, we returned to the zoo for "Zoo Boo", a costume party and trick-or-treat adventure through the exhibits. Theo nearly ran to Noname's enclosure and was met with disappointment and a large sign explaining that the animal has been moved for the duration of the season, to return with warmer weather.
Lucky us, though, we found a very detailed Komodo Dragon toy in the gift shop. Of course it had to come home with us. Theo named it "Danger", and the two have been inseparable. Danger has been taken on several trips (to the woods, the playground, the grocery store) and has its own special bed. He is the Special Toy of the moment. It hasn't been long, but with the intensity of Theo's love, he has a good shot at being made Real.
Danger is also featuring heavily in imaginative play. Imagine my delight (not only as a mom but also as a word-nerd) when I came out to the living room to find this little arrangement on the castle playset, and Theo announced, "This is the Animal Kingdom!"
I love double-entendres. Danger, naturally, enjoyed the role of King of Animals...protector of all within his realm. He is assisted by a loyal group of crocodile cousins and a motley group of assorted other soldiers.

*True confession: When I first read the signage at Noname's enclosure, I mentally pronounced it "no-NAH-mee" and thought the name quite exotic. It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that it was far more simple than that...