There are two ways of thinking about the saying ‘waste not, want not’.
Firstly, there is the idea that if you don’t waste some resource now – such as time or money – you will have it left to use at some other time when you do need it.
The second way of thinking about this saying is that ‘waste’ and ‘wants’ are the same thing. In other words, anything that is unnecessary (wanted but not needed) is a waste because it uses time, money, space, energy and other resources that could have been saved.
Of course what some people call a want, others might call a need – and vice versa. There are arguments both ways. At Econation we advocate sufficiency which is defined as ‘enough for a life of well-being’. Sufficiency can be surprisingly little especially if you realise that the best things in life are generally not things.
We have basic physical and emotional (belonging) needs. After that, our needs are psychological and trying to fill these needs with ‘stuff’ is like trying to fill a limitless hole – a complete waste of time and money.
There is an enormous amount of waste in modern societies and yet there are times and places where there is scarcity. You have probably had situations when you could really use something that you had previously wasted. I certainly have.
A very common case is with money. If only you hadn’t spent all that money on something you really didn’t need. Then you would still have that money now when you actually need it.
Money can be perplexing and perverse. To get more money than you need, you have to waste time that you didn’t need to. Yet, if you have less money than you need, you can still waste it, and therefore waste your time. This is the insidious nature of a society that provides much more than people need – even when they can’t afford it!
Talking about wasting time, in the United Kingdom people spend 10 mins a day on average looking for misplaced objects. Over a 65 year period that’s 237, 250 minutes, or 3,954 hours, or 164.75 days. Another way to think of it is that it is 99 (40 hour) work weeks. That’s a lot of time wasted.
In the USA the average adult watches 3 hours of TV / video a day – every day. Also, the global average of social media use is 2 hours and 24 minutes – every day. That’s a lot of time. You might argue that it’s ‘down time’ and people need down time, that’s fair enough but it still seems excessive, at least some of it is a waste!
If you weren’t wasting all this time, what could you use the time for? Much better things like relationships, exercise, personal development, hobbies, sleep, meditation, DIY, gardening, playing, reading, writing, dancing, music, the list goes on. But don’t use the saved time for work, we do enough work already. One of the top five regrets that people have on their deathbed is that they wished they hadn’t worked so much.
I have written on this subject many times but it is worth repeating. In New Zealand, as is the case in many other countries, a new house in 2024 is over twice the size of a new house built in 1924. We have all this extra space for god-knows-what and yet our houses are emptier than ever. On average, there are less people living in houses now than a hundred years ago. Also, in that time women have joined the ‘paid’ workforce and are no longer working in the ‘household’. So our houses are emptier, and ironically, this is how people can afford bigger houses.
People own caravans (travel trailers) that they might use a few weeks a year. They own fishing boats, second and third cars, holiday houses and lots and lots of other stuff that they barely use. It is worth not having the burden of too many possessions and not wasting the ones you do have.
Waste Not, Want Not
In conclusion, ‘waste not, want not’ is the attitude that the most important thing is not consumption but rather it is to live a full life of well-being. We don’t need to have everything, because this is a waste most of the time. We can rent, borrow or make do when we feel the need to. We need what we need but not more. This is what we call sufficiency.