Of string, sealing wax, and other (not so) fancy stuff

By Helen Serebin

Sam Alfano, a WWII vet,  saved everything. He died on Tuesday, just shy of 92.  Packing up his apartment, below is a sample of the items we found, all meticulously stored and organized.

  • Old stove burner grates and handles
  • Floor waxer brushes and spare parts (no floor waxer though)
  • Small plastic bags from the weekly grocery store fliers
  • Twist ties carefully bundled
  • String and twine lovingly wound
  • Scores of small paper bags
  • Zip-lock and sundry plastic bags, washed and reused

For those of us who came after the Depression we see this saving as a sign of those who lived through the times.  Perhaps.  But even in the Depression (or any time thereafter), how many twist ties might you need, really?

Rather than see the thriftiness as something thrust on this generation, perhaps this proclivity toward Pack Rat-edness derives from a wisdom we are short of these days.  A recognition that these items aren’t waste and that waste is wasteful.  These objects, carefully and lovingly saved, were resources, solutions…materials that would be needed for fixes yet to come.

Now, after Sam’s death, were we going to consign everything to big black garbage bags and throw it all away?  All those items he had laboriously and painstakingly saved?

The answer to that question is where Sam and this entry on a business school blog intersect.  Sam sustained himself on a meager pension and his frugality.  He had everything he needed – and more.  And he had this ‘all’ because he was self-sustaining and perceived the value and worth in every thing.

If sustainability is the mantra of the 21st century then we need to be like Sam – we need to sustain ourselves.  We need to put on the ‘Sam spectacles’ and ‘see’ that the only thing that should be trashed is our short-term (that’s for your finance people out there who think this column has nothing to do with you), throw-away mentality.  We’re in this for the long-haul, just like Sam was.

In memory of Sam Alfano, 1919-2010


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