AT RANDOM: What’s old is new

So many people say they think of September as the new year.

So many people say they think of September as the new year. It’s hard not to. Even if you are not going back to school, you know someone who is or you remember when you did. Kids complain about the start of a new school year, an important step in their lives with new teachers, friends, subjects, and sometimes schools, while happily getting their clothes and supplies together.

Organizations that took a break over the summer get back together with new projects and goals. People think about trying something new, a class, training for sports or fitness, volunteering for a group they had been wanting to help, finally simplifying life. It might be a time of quiet re-evaluation for others as they move to a new stage of life through retirement, loss of a partner or changes in health.

It’s more than half way through the official new year so it’s time to think about those goals set in the dark of winter — what has been achieved, what was unrealistic or unnecessary, what could be adjusted to still work towards an objective, even if goals need to be changed entirely. And to think about what has been learned so far, likely without our even being aware of it.

One thing I have learned about so far this year is recycling. It’s not something I think about much, other than following the rules as much as I can. I was visiting Ottawa recently, and there is a program there called FreeCycle. People put usable items they don’t need out on the curb on a given day and others are free to take what they want. The next day the city takes away what is left over. It becomes a social activity and people don’t mind saying they got something at FreeCycle. Since the items can include everything from books and magazines to household items, furniture and even building materials, there is something for everyone.

Of course, people in Vernon practise a kind of spontaneous freecycle by putting things out with a sign that says free, or just setting out things that are still good in the hopes that someone can get more use from them. Just in my own neighbourhood, I have found a nice wooden desk, an attractive small planter and some bamboo poles to use in the garden. I personally put things out and make donations to thrift stores and charity garage sales.

It seems that here, though, there is still a general reluctance to admit to having any kind of second-hand things unless they are fine antiques. Maybe it comes from thinking that re-using anything is admitting you can’t afford to buy new.

It’s good to see things changing. There are some things we will always want and need to buy new and I enjoy a good shopping trip to new stores as much as anyone, but sometimes using again is just as good or better. As reduce, reuse and recycle becomes more common and more necessary, we should remember that it wasn’t that long ago when our grandparents and great-grandparents lived by the saying, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

It is only recently that disposable everything has become common. Recycling has always happened — that’s what makes archeological and historical artifacts so fascinating, that they somehow survived. In the past, people reused everything with no consideration for the museums of the future. They made clothing last as long as they could, then made it into children’s clothing, quilts or cleaning cloths. The materials from old buildings — palaces to peasants’ huts — were used for new ones. Everything was recycled. In cities, the rag and bone collector came around regularly, even dog poop was collected as it was used in some manufacturing processes (maybe some bright student can do a science project on how to make use of this ever-present commodity). I remember my grandmother sending old wool clothing to a place where it was made into blankets and returned to continue to be serviceable.

My mother shopped at thrift stores long before it was fashionable and I used to be ashamed of it and hoped no one knew, but now it has become stylish, not to save money but to find both functional and unusual items of clothing.

We can learn from Ottawa where recycling takes place on a regular basis, including with people in political positions turning up again and again with new titles.

I hope Vernon will officially take on a FreeCycle program but in the meantime we can do it ourselves. Happy new year.

—Cara Brady is a reporter for The Morning Star