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I was cleaning out my mother’s garage with my ten year old daughter. Thirty years of living and indiscriminate storing of the no longer ‘useful’ has overwhelmed the space originally designed to house two cars. My mother is no pack rat, but in her desire for cleanliness she has the tendency to take things lying around the house and pile them away in a place out of view. Hence the garage of yesteryears’ discard-ables.
Like an archaeologist excavating an ancient city, my daughter examined the contents of the garage in attempt to uncover the mystery of our lives. She is not old enough to really understand what has happened in the past 15 years and grasp how much things have changed. She has seen movies and heard stories, but for the most part my mother’s garage might as well be an ancient roman city.
She was holding a box of Swiffer mop replacements, which to my amazement were still completely intact in their individual polymer wrappings, when she asked the question that best characterizes our generational gap: “Daddy what was this for?”
I answered: “These were disposable mop heads that some people used to clean with. They could only be used a few times before you had to throw them away.”
As she always does in response to my explanations to this question, she shook her head in confusion.
It is impossible to explain the need for 95% of the goods we consumed in the 1990’s and 2000’s and how we were able to manufacture a need for all of them at the time. There is nothing one can say that would justify this behavior to a generation that now sees waste as obsolete and the environment, both physical and social as the only measures of progress.
Those of us that were of age during the height of hyper-consumerism have lived through two completely contrasting eras: “The Great Waste” and “The Great Recovery”. We were the ones that changed the course. We were the ones that disrupted our path towards self-destruction. But as the revolutionary fervor has subsided and we settle into this new era we must now live through the environmental and psychological consequences of what we forever ignored.
My mother’s garage is emblematic of all that was wrong, but cleaning it with my daughter reminds me of how far we have come and how close we were to not making it.
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