Thrift and Thrive – Let’s Not Waste

This post would have rotten in my drafts folder for another thousand years had I not read MySoul’s post, Waste, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle on Panderings to Ponder. A big thanks for reminding me of this one and bringing it back it back to life.


I was born in Kerala. I belong to the land of coconut palms, jackfruit, and banana plantations.

“What’s so special about it?“, you may ask.

Each of these trees, every single part of it, is used in some way or the other.

Take the coconut palm. The thin stem of the palm leaf is used as a tongue cleaner. The dried leaves are used for burning the earthen stove. The palm leaf is also used for roofs by the not-so-rich. The fruit, its water, the outer shell and the inner shell. All are used in one way or the other.

Now let’s take the jackfruit. The leaf is used to make spoons using which kanjhi or rice porridge is relished. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked in various forms including the famous chakka varattiyathu (jackfruit preserve). The seeds are either buried for seedlings or cooked as a dish. The outer thorny covering of the jackfruit is used as fodder for the cattle. The wood from the tree happens to be widely used in furniture.

The banana plantain. From flowers, to leaf, to fruit, to stem, each and every part of a banana tree is again used widely.

My grandmother’s house did not have electricity till I was in seventh standard or so. We used medicine bottles with a wick made of old rugs stuck into the middle of the cap as kerosene lamps at night. This was irrespective of the economic condition of the households. The old curtains went on to become bedding filled with cotton.

You would have seen the ad on the television in which the lady asks, ‘Kya aapke toothpaste mein namak hai? Kya aapke toothpaste mein charcoal hai?‘ On our trips to Kerala, we would only be given ummikari (burnt and powdered rice husk) with a pinch of salt to brush our teeth. And trust me that was far better than any of the IMA prescribed toothpaste they show on TV. It’s a different thing that at that age I used to wonder if we had suddenly turned paupers.

In short, anything that entered the compound of the house would be used thoroughly without wasting much. A quality I am glad we were taught from the beginning.

A guest would mostly arrive with a few Parry or Kismee toffees. The green and red covers we used to make dolls and paste in our scrapbooks (prior year books with a few blank pages). The quality conscious ones would bring in Melody or Cadbury eclairs. Some will bring in a dozen bananas. And those who brought apples, grapes or mangoes were considered as ‘rich’. But the regular visitors would come empty-handed. Still respected and loved equally.

My books, the textbooks, went from me to another teacher’s son, from him to one of my neighbours and from her to my little sister and so on. Uniforms were passed on among sisters and cousins till the threads of the fabric finally refused to stay united. Same case with the footwear and schoolbag.

Torn clothes including vests, socks and underskirts were carefully cut, stitched and kept aside for dusting or to be used as kitchen wipes or mops.

And then I got married. On the very first day, I saw my mother-in-law throwing away 4-5 tomatoes because they were either too ripe or they had a black dot somewhere. I was shocked beyond words. I was never used to so much wastage. Mom (convent educated she is) was a teacher and I have seen her buying only enough to survive a day or two. The vegetable grocer did the rounds every morning. So she was sure she could buy more when required. And Dad was one person who had struggled without a father and lived with support from his uncles. He used to wear shorts to school made from his uncle’s thoroughly used Khaakee pants. Thanks to both of them for teaching us to value everything, however small. I used to pray to Almighty to make us rich enough so that we could buy a Chatmola or Crax from the shop in the neighbourhood without having to ask Mom, “Amma, did you get your salary?

Fast forward to this generation. It is considered cheap by most people around if I make the  girls share each other’s clothing. The fit is slightly loose for the younger one, I admit. Sometime ago, a friend brought in a Dairy Milk chocolate each for the girls. They were in school. While coming back, I told them about some surprise waiting at home. When they finally found out about what it was, the little one said,

What’s the big deal? It’s a just a chocolate.”

These kids have excess of everything. The abundance I feel is making them careless and less grateful. I do try to instill the importance of being thankful for what they have, being grateful for what they get and respecting the fact that they have whatever is more than enough. It is not that we get them things in abundance. They get gifts from friends and family, plus the return gifts from school. I am glad that the school has finally banned anything that is priced more than ten rupees. A chocolate or a colouring book or a story book from NCERT is what I have been sending so far.

It’s not that I don’t waste anything. I do happen to throw away food if it gets stale. Mostly I prefer to give it off to the sweeper or the house help the very next day. Only if it is consumable. Saves their time in the kitchen and keeps me content.

My mother who has taught me all these years about not wasting food now tells me that whatever goes into the dustbin is also consumed by microorganisms, so it is not actually wasted. Of course, the reason is that I should not get angry with her granddaughters. My intention is only to imbibe the need of valuing what you have and being grateful for it.

How do you manage in this era of abundance? Are there tips you would like to share on teaching the children the habit of thrift?



18 Replies to “Thrift and Thrive – Let’s Not Waste”

    1. There’s lots of similarities between the functioning of traditional Bengali and Keralites households. If we look closely, life is indeed similar in almost all native lands. And yes! Great minds think alike! Looking forward to reading yours. 🙂

  1. Oh, I can so relate to this, Rekha! I have been raised the same way, in fact I remember my Grandma stitching a petticoat from a bed sheet and gifting it to me after doing some embroidery work. I was on cloud nine! Such was the time! Thanks for the post.

  2. I can identify with the small wick lamps made out of medicine bottles which were used in my granny’s home too. She used to recycle her old and torn sarees by getting ‘sitting mats’ made out of them which appeared like pieces of art to me.
    I am learning the art of being a decent homemaker and at times I have been guilty of not optimally utiluzing the stuff in the kitchen. I try to reduce the wastage by buying smaller quantities of ration and vegetables at a time but still sometimes the pilferage happens. I am particular about not wasting food by leaving uneaten food on the plate, a thing my mother was highly adamant about. One thing that I do regularly is to give away old clothes from time to time, no point hoarding them.

    1. We are all learning all the while. Something or the other. I guess as long as we have the intention to save and spend carefully, things are absolutely fine and on the right track. Wishing you more and more wisdom to use and spend judiciously and contentment for life. 🙂

  3. I have been through similar stuff. Me and sister would share all clothes, books, ribbons. Books were shared to the next standard students staying in our building. And all used to do it, irrespective of economic status. I feel sad that the children today living in abundance have no respect for it.

    1. Absolutely. It hurts. Everyone tells me that I keep scolding the girls. But I can’t stand quietly watching them tear blank pages of a book to make aeroplanes or sharpen the pencils to make butterflies from the scrappings. That way, I consider myself old school.

  4. Sad but true… We live in a world of abundance… During my growing up years Clothes were probably bought once a year only during festive times and toys..welll… When parents decided… But these days.. I realise the occassions they get stuff are more.. As parents me and my husband consciously try to limit and sit with them and tell them that they have enough… Sometimes they whine and cry… Sometimes they listen…

  5. Well put, Rekha. Our kids are growing up in a world of abundance – but I believe every little thing that we do can help. Since I was an only child, I did get my own stuff for most – but I also remember sharing some of my stuff with the others too. And even now, we give away Rishi’s old clothes (Along with ours) to charity or someone who needs it; Food is another one that we consciously avoid both overspending and wasting.
    A much need post for the present day, Rex

  6. oh, I loved reading about your upbringing there,the trees- how lovely… I have tried to rise my kids to not to waste, take things for granted – in general good qualities that I think we all need to be reminded of from time to time. Good post on an important theme:-)

  7. I can relate to your post – the oil wick medicine bottle lamps, textbooks shared, those green colored Parry chocolates (Do we get that now). I have a 3.5 month old and her newborn clothes don’t fit her anymore and we have clothes in abundance, mostly gifted. I am planning to donate them. Like you said, kids have plenty now. It is important to teach them to be frugal.

  8. Thank you for writing this very important post. We have been so spoiled by this ‘use and throw’ mentality that is encouraged by our so-called ‘modern’ lifestyles. We knew and had developed some of the best approaches to reduce our burden on Mother Earth, to reuse things as much as possible and to generally live in harmony with Nature. But the more ‘modern’ we became the more destructive we also became. And look where have we landed! This Earth simply can’t bear the huge burden humanity is putting on her. We must reduce our consumption and our destruction of Nature if we want to survive as a species.

    In my home, I try to recycle almost all of the waste. It is also possible because I live close to Auroville which is now a zero-waste community. They have developed some great ways to reuse and recycle pretty much everything. They have a free store where we can drop off all our old clothes, shoes, pretty much any old household item. They have a network of companies which can re-use pretty much everything. They also have good recycling facilities for paper and plastic. So I just sort them out in separate bags at home and take them there once a week. And for organic waste, I do composting in my little garden. It is really important to do our little bit to help the Mother Earth.

  9. We’re all from the generation where throwing anything away was considered an absolute sin. And I think that worked well for us. You’re right our kids have too much of everything. We really have to work extra hard to teach our children to be thrifty.

  10. Great post Rekha. Your legacy for reducing waste is rich.Even I believe strongly in reducing wastage and reducing consumerism. I am sure that it could be construed as stinginess by some people, but well, we have to live our life dont we 🙂

  11. The problem of having plenty… thats what it is.. Hence our kids seldom value what they have. But yeah the effort of teaching them to recycle things lies predominantly with us- the parents.

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