Spendthrift, Foodthrift, No Thrift


My parents grew up during the privations of World War Two and it’s aftermath. Everything was used to its max and sometimes beyond. My mother particularly inherited the can’t-waste-it mentality; she uses pots that must be pushing 50 years old. And I learned at her knee.

I thought it was common to cut the leg off a pair of nylons when I got a hole. Then pair it with a similarly mutilated one. Wearing two midriffs held my stomach in well and of course I got some more life out of the healthy legs that were left.

I mentioned this apparently brilliant notion of thrift to my friends one day only to have them fall about laughing. They had never heard of such a thing.

So I asked them if they didn’t cut open bottles of face cream and scoop out the dregs that collected around the bottom and the top.

They did not.

They also didn’t save scraps of soap and squish them together nor did they swish water around a bottle of shampoo to get a couple more latherings. These were just regular people too, not rich or snooty.

So, I don’t know, maybe I’m out of step but I still do all these little things. Seems commonsense, cost effective and quaint. I’m proud of my mother for doing these things. Nowadays, she’s considered green.

However, I have developed one habit that isn’t so sensible, a bit weird and maybe even slightly pathological.

I can’t throw away food.

Nope, can’t do it. Just can’t bear to. I can’t even write why. Because I don’t know.

I tell myself it has bacteria in it or on it. I tell myself I could make myself sick. Then I tell myself these people who make up the guidelines for throwing out food err on the side of caution, are in cahoots with the food manufacturers, or just plain ridiculous.

I can’t throw away food.

Instead, I cook the food to death (for the second or third time,) I refreeze it, I smell it, I move it around the fridge or ignore it sitting there.

But mostly I serve it up and cross my fingers.

I’m sure many of you are aghast, disgusted even, but the thing I do that I consider worse than crossing my fingers is eating when I’m not hungry just because I can’t bear to throw it away. I see it in my fridge, know it’s time will soon be up, tell myself it’s perfectly good food and in it goes.

Instead of going to waste, it goes on my waist.

My weight creeps up and then I have to work at that. Could I make life even more difficult for myself? Enough already!

I can’t even begin to analyze why I do this, take these risks, and I don’t want to. Who cares why, lets work on what.

I set myself a goal of throwing something away everyday. Yesterday it was chicken with spaghetti. Today, it was cream cheese. I have the suckers identified for at least tomorrow and the next day.

I’m hoping that this aversion therapy will cure me of the problem. Because, truly, holding on to things that don’t support you isn’t helpful. Holding on to things that can hurt you is self harm. No doubt with deep, painful roots.

So in time I’m hoping I can develop new habits. That I see food past its best before date for what it is; trash. It’ll take some time, some effort. And when I do, I’ll start work on the next thing. One day, I’m gonna be just perfect. 🙂

(I wrote an update to this post. You can read it here.)

Do you find it easy to throw away food? How do you do it? Or do you wait for it to become a science experiment? Let me know in the comments!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex June 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I remember the two tights very well! As for food, the sniff test is always best. I am getting better at dealing with stuff as it comes in, the 2 for 1 offers are put in the freezer and I try not to let things lurk at the back of the fridge. However waste seems inevitable and my friend Andrew summed it up when he said to his wife “Shall I throw this away now dear, or next week?”


alisongolden June 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Would those be my tights or the idea in general, Alex? 🙂


Giovanni June 7, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Composting at home can help ameliorate the pangs of guilt when food goes bad or is questionable. The benefit is that the compost can go into the garden in a year rather than sit in a landfill for one hundred years.


alisongolden June 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm

This is a GREAT idea. Thanks, Giovanni!


Melissa Dinwiddie June 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm

OMG this struck a chord with me! I hate wasting stuff, so I will hold onto toothpaste tubes and the like so that I can squeeze the last little bit out of them. But it’s such a $*@& pain to try and get stuff out that they mostly just accumulate in my drawer until I have a pile of them. Only then will I finally toss the bunch! Utterly ridiculous…

As for my fridge, I have a similar aversion to tossing food, so I end up storing it until it becomes a science experiment and *then* tossing it. Which doesn’t really accomplish much..

Thankfully, although this was a hard one for me too, I’ve (mostly) gotten the lesson to put it in the waste bin, rather than on my waist. 🙂


alisongolden June 16, 2010 at 9:38 am

A science experiment: yes, can relate to that, totally. I am still working on throwing things out slowly, bit by bit. When we came away on a month long vacation, I did ask my husband to clear out the fridge. It was simply too hard for me to do that. 🙂


Melissa Dinwiddie June 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

Having someone help can be GREAT! When I had a live-in boyfriend, he took charge of the fridge-cleaning, and helped me purge stuff that I couldn’t figure out what to do with.

I need another one of those…


alisongolden June 17, 2010 at 9:06 am

A helper is a good idea, in fact, I think I could train my kids to do this. I could get out of doing it myself AND teach them about doing it so they don’t grow up with my hangups. Now that would be good parenting!


Melissa Dinwiddie June 17, 2010 at 10:26 am

What a fabulous idea! Excellent parenting indeed, and great help for you. 🙂


Mary E. Ulrich
July 8, 2010 at 4:20 am

Alison, your stories made me laugh.

I went to high school in a convent and yes, we 13-17 year olds not only had to wear our double stockings, but we had to wear a girdle on top (tan during the week, black on Sunday.) I can also remember saving the soaps. We would meld the new on top of the old. For some reason, we would use the bottle cap of a soft drink (god, I really am old to remember bottle caps) and this would help hold the soaps together. I remember one time I forgot my soap after my bath and someone turned me in. I had to do “penance’ to get the soap back. Geez, no wonder I need therapy.

Just wondering, did your mother also make you collect the neighbors’ jack-o-lanterns after Halloween so you could bake them?


alisongolden July 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Hi Mary:

No, didn’t bake the leftover lanterns. Yikes! That sounds like an epidemic in the making. You remind me, though, that I haven’t achieved my daily goal today. Must go find some food to throw out. Good to see you here, glad you were finally able to subscribe 🙂 Oh and I still smoosh the left over soap to the new bar…



Kristín Jóna September 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

hahaha I do all those things, grew up doing them too. Why let it go to waste? Did you know nylon stockings make the best hair bands? 🙂
I can throw away food but I try not to, so about two years ago I started buying less so it wouldn’t go bad and I would actually eat what I bought!


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