“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
Some of us still practice the frugality of that New England proverb. We wear a favorite sweatshirt until it’s falling apart, we keep our fingers crossed and hope our 10-year-old pickup truck has another year or two of life, we patch up a favorite recliner with duct tape and sink into it for a nap.
Overall, however, we’re a throwaway society. Some people purchase a new car every couple of years. Others shuck off their old phones every time a new one comes to market. A bank executive rummages through her closet, ridding herself of perfectly good dresses and skirts, and then goes shopping to replace them.
Often this same process of eradication prevails in our relationships. Friends hurt our feelings, and so we quit calling or seeing them. A wife determines her husband isn’t earning enough money or showing her enough attention, and moves on. A boss fires an employee for a mistake rather than working with him to rectify it.
We can find valid reasons for some of these discards, but is it possible we are too inclined to toss out possessions and relationships?
Decluttering: Is It Always Wise?
That many of us have too many possessions is beyond argument. Our closets hold sweaters and trousers we haven’t worn in years, our shelves are crammed with books we’ve never read or have long forgotten, and our attics and garages hold all sorts of furniture, kitchenware, and other “treasures” that will likely never again see the light of day.
For the past 30 years or so, books and articles have appeared urging us to pitch or give away the clutter in our lives. Clean up the mess, rid ourselves of useless objects, these writers tell us, and we’ll become more spiritually and mentally healthy. So the argument goes, and I would agree with some of their proposals.
But I’ve also found that when I junk certain items, I soon find myself regretting it. When I’ve given the old heave-ho to certain books, for example, a month goes by, and then I need that biography or novel. Two years ago, I threw away a coat I’d worn for 15 years. The lining was falling apart, all the buttons were missing, and the pockets were nothing but holes. Come the cold and snow of the next winter, however, and I missed that old friend of a coat.
Shoes to Slippers
Though that coat was probably beyond mending, we can sometimes find an alternative use for some worn-out object. That old dress shirt with its stains and frayed collar is perfect for wear when staining the deck. Those T-shirts with more holes than a sieve make ideal dusting rags. A friend who recently visited a museum in California learned that in the old days, when a dress or some other garment became tattered and worn, women and their daughters would make rugs of them.
As the New England proverb tells us, we can truly use it up.
A case in point: Last summer, my favorite pair of shoes became too battered to wear in public. The heels had almost disappeared, one of the soles was coming off, and no amount of polish could hide the scuffs and cracked leather. So, off I went to purchase another pair of shoes. While selecting the shoes, I also looked for slippers, but found nothing I liked.
Returning home, I nearly deposited my old shoes in the trash when a light bulb popped on. I removed the laces from the shoes, and Voila! I had my slippers. I’m wearing them even now as I write these words sitting on the front porch of my house.
“Wear it out,” the adage tells us. I figure my shoe slippers have another few years of life in them.
Repairs can be hard work. Anyone who has stained a desk or a chair knows this effort requires hours of sanding before you can even think about applying a brush.
Even more difficult are the repairs sometimes required to keep a relationship intact. In a troubled marriage, for instance, one spouse or the other, or both, may believe walking away is easier than putting in the time and effort needed to mend their broken union. Sometimes, this assessment that repair is impossible may be correct, but the passage of time may bring regrets. In fact, as Audrey Jones shows us in her article “Restore Marriage After Divorce,” 6 percent of couples who divorce end up remarrying each other, and with a much higher chance than others that their remarriage will last.
Keeping family relationships and friendships in good repair can also be tough, particularly in this age when so many people buy into the slogan, “The personal is political.” Many of us have either experienced, or know someone who has, the explosions that can occur when we defend one president or the other, or decline to take the vaccine, or question systemic racism. Because of such quarrels, Uncle Thomas is suddenly persona non grata, or we dump a longtime friend.
One woman I know lost her best friend in large part because of her friend’s lack of charity. The friend was hurt by what she regarded as deceit, and lacked the charity to try to restore the relationship.
“I forgive you,” she said, “but I don’t want you in my life anymore.”
Just as a needle and thread, glue, and carpentry tools are some of the equipment necessary for mending clothing and furniture, certain tools are required for mending relationships. These include such virtues as hope, love, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, and patience.
That last item of this list is often overlooked. To mend a friendship or a marriage gone sour, we must be willing to work long and hard if we are to achieve success.
And we must have a vision of where we’re headed. When we begin refinishing that aforementioned desk or chair, we see that piece glowing and shining in our den or living room. When we try to mend a broken relationship, we should also have a goal as to our destination. Of course, shoring up broken or damaged relationships is a much tougher proposition than redoing furniture, and won’t work at all if the other is unwilling to meet us halfway. But failure to make the attempt guarantees failure.
For centuries, the Japanese have repaired broken pottery with gold, celebrating a defect while making the piece even more beautiful. In an online article “Kintsugi: Gold Repair of Ceramic Faults,” Curtis Benzele, a professor and sculptor, is quoted as saying, “Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious, than before it was fractured.”
The same may hold true for us when we practice the arts of repair and mending, particularly with our friends and family.
If you wish to share a story about an object of significance or a relationship that you mended, we encourage you to write to us at and tell your story. It may be published. Write to us at: tradition@ epochtimes.com, or Life & Tradition, The Epoch Times, 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001