Valuable in some way.

January 12, 2014 § 4 Comments

Our daughter, Josie, would hold out her hand to show us her latest find: a shell, a nail, a dozen small red cardboard discs. “Are these valuable in some way?”

She never asked if something was undeniably valuable, just whether the object in her hand had any value at all.

It turned out that everything was valuable “in some way.”

With thought and imagination, the red cardboard discs became “salami rubies” and for days we bartered them for things of more obvious worth.

Button box.All living beings are hard-wired to look for the value of whatever comes along. Survival depends on it.

But for humans, abundance has caused that thrifty intelligence we once relied on to atrophy.

This is my grandmother’s button box, passed down to my mother, then me. In it are buttons that once closed the fly on my grandfather’s long Johns, and a showy button from an Easter coat I wore in ’67.

All were saved because, through reuse, they would become valuable again. A 1967 button still works. You just have to sew it to something and stitch a buttonhole for it.

Around here, we keep screws in jars, and re-washed plastic bags in a kitchen drawer. Do this with enough commitment and you offer yourself up for public humiliation on a TV show about hoarding.

But the instinct is still good, especially if you consider the alternative, which is to commemorate our time here with garbage dumps filled with things whose value has been forgotten.

Unlike those who lived in times of scarcity, once an object is separated from its purpose our first instinct is to throw it away.

Check out your neighborhood curbs on bulk trash day. You’ll see a high chair that is still serviceable once given a good scrub, but for its owner the value is gone because its occupant has outgrown it. And a set of book shelves too big to stick in the car when the owner moved. And a vacuum cleaner in perfect working order, only it needs a new cord.

Cat with button-box featuresGiven throwing-away on that scale, what chance does a button or a single screw have of being reunited with the purpose that once made it valuable?

Maybe when abundance is as bloated as it is today, nothing has value.

In a world of too-much, why would we expend time and energy looking for the value of things for which we have no immediate use?

But finding value is a form of respect, not just for the objects we put to use, but for ourselves. Are we ingenious enough to reuse? Can we make things last?

There are too many of us to continue discarding what has  no use in the moment.

This planet? Is it valuable in some way?

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§ 4 Responses to Valuable in some way.

  • KM Huber says:

    Were that many contemplated that we are too many to keep discarding “things.” It seems the current generations–young to old–will determine whether or not this planet has value. I think of this when washing out plastic bags and cleaning up/repairing items to donate. There is value in determining value, I know, but I do not know how to make that point palatable.


  • craig reeder says:

    thank goodness for thrift stores that perform that useful function of recycling, plus provide hours of entertainment on those sunday drives to nowhere, not to mention yielding up valuable costumes for performing vaudeville artists!


  • O what a joyful essay this is to me.
    My parents taught me to wash out tin paper (alum. foil) & reuse fabric items. We had no paper towels or napkins until I was about eight. Our unnecessary paper from magazines & newspaper was burned in an old metal storage drum by Dad, way, way, way out back. Not good, releasing polluting fumes, but there was garbage collection at the little red house in those days! The drive to the dump was far. But I do remember that trek, too.
    I remember my mother’s button box, from her mother, & the old buttons, mainly fabric ones, & we have our family button box as that one didn’t make it, to me. I do keep my grandmother’s pin cushion, broken tho it is. I love your wood button box photograph Adrian.
    Here I rewash plastic bags, re-use rubber bands & well…. you know the drill. What lifts me up is how our city, which has a sustainability office where a coupla pals of mine work, recycles so well citywide, making it easier than decades past, to put paper/plastic/glass out for collection & correct repurposing into… I dunno, quite a bit of things. Your interesting essay reminds me that I’m hopeful about young people today getting the message on reuse. It’s in the schools, on the street, around town. And right here, at this mighty fine blog.


  • carolyn says:

    I also have a button box & my mom still has her mom’s…. and I love thrift shops, you never know what you’ll find, like today found a Star Trek Cookbook….. can’t wait to sit down and find the recipe for gagh!!


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