COLUMN: Changing priorities in challenging times

A lovely little antique oak table stands in a corner at my mom’s place. Usually covered in books and papers, it’s where her laptop rests while it charges. It’s been around since I was 13 or 14, when my mom inherited it after my grandmother passed away.

It has ornately carved legs and a gorgeous textured wood grain that has darkened over time, though it’s been marred by a few nicks and scratches over the last 90-plus years. I must have wondered aloud at some point during my youth whether it was worth some money. Nope, said my mom, before telling me a story that has probably given me the most enduring mental image I have of my late grandmother.

The table was originally crafted with a decent-sized square top, she explained, but at some point grandma decided to move it to a new location.

It was too large for the space she wanted it to occupy, so, rather than rethink her plan, she simply took a saw and cut a big chunk right out of the middle.

Problem solved.

All of its antique value may have dissolved into a pile of sawdust on the floor, but I imagine the now-compact table rolled quite beautifully on its casters into the corner she’d picked out.

To her, the value of an item was determined by its utility, not by its beauty or some brand name sewn into a label – a pertinent lesson today from a woman who lived through the Great Depression (followed immediately by a world war).

Waste not, want not.

In addition to its usefulness, of course, an item’s value is also determined by its availability – or lack thereof. We’ve seen that with recent foiled attempts to start a black market for, among other items, toilet paper.

Rold gold – it’s not just a brand of pretzels anymore.

One thing I will say about this whole pandemic is that it’s made me a slightly more frugal individual.

I confessed to a friend during a recent tele-walk (we each walk alone in our respective neighbourhood while chatting on the phone – it’s incredibly therapeutic and I recommend it) that

I’ve now taken to cutting sheets of paper towel in half. She replied that she’s been doing the same with her dryer sheets for years – no pandemic required to spur that little cost-saving measure. At this point, it’s less about the expense of the towel than the question of if there will be any to buy when I eventually venture out to replace it, but, still.

I’m also trying to mend my wasteful ways in other areas. For example, rather than let perfectly good food rot in my fridge while I spend money dining out several times a week, I’m “enjoying” more of my own, admittedly mediocre, cooking.

Once this is all over, rest assured that I’ll be among the first in line to help our friends in the struggling restaurant industry get back on their feet.

Perhaps I’ll save cash by buying fewer fresh vegetables to slowly mummify in the crisper drawer. Although, in all likelihood, those savings will already have been eaten up by the vats of hand soap and Aveeno I’m currently buying.

At the other end of all this nonsense, aside from being squeaky-clean and well-moisturized, my hope is that I will maintain a better sense of the value – and utility – of, well, everything.

A few weeks in, I’m already learning just how much I can easily live without. I’m guessing that as this strange situation carries on, we’ll all discover there’s plenty that we can cut right out of our lives and just keep rolling along.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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