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03/05/08 5:55PM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST) In recent years, we've been told that shopping is practically a patriotic duty, but lately writer-commentator Leora Dowling has begun to question that point of view.   

(DOWLING) I just read a wonderful book by the historian and artist Eric Sloane called "The Spirits of 76.'  Written for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, it focuses on attributes and attitudes Sloane saw as important, but on the decline, in late 20th-century America.

One chapter is called "The Spirit of Frugality," and with all the talk of recession lately, his claim that thrift is essential not just for a
healthy family but for a healthy nation seems especially timely.

Sloane reminds us that when America was young its economy was based on the management of the individual household.  In fact, he says the word economy, from the Greek, originally referred to the business of housekeeping.  He writes, "An economy, whether public or private, cannot tolerate waste, and to base an economy on waste is insanity."

Sloane’s book celebrates people who approached things differently than we do. Although they might not have had much, they took care of what they did have.  They rarely threw things away.  They built things to last - with quality and integrity, and an eye toward the future.

These Americans were people who subscribed to the adage:  "Buy it new, wear it out, make it do, or do without."   Some versions start with "Use it up," an equally valuable reminder.

This is an aphorism I've heard often.  My much-older husband recites it to me every time I say something like "Honey, your wallet looks like it’s 100-years old, maybe it’s time to replace it."

Glen hates to throw anything away that still might have some use to it. His generation hasn’t forgotten that there are things worse than recession.

He’s always treated the things he’s saved for and then purchased with respect, not just because it was practical, but because he'd gotten into the habit when he was young and frugality was necessary.  There was a depression.  There was a war.

His generation, like all those who’d preceded him, saved and repaired.  They were frugal in the best sense of the word and it served them well.

In contrast, I come from a generation that can be symbolized by the Styrofoam hamburger box.

I grew up in a country whose appetite for material goods was - is - insatiable.  Awash in prosperity and planned obsolescence, we threw things away even before they began to look old - or whenever a new, improved model came along.

Credit cards made acquisition instant.  Shopping for fun became a hobby, then a habit.

So now we’re told that if we STOP buying things we don’t really need we’re going to be in trouble too.  We must buy - if we don’t the trickle-down effect hurts us all.  But since sources of money: jobs, credit, savings, are drying up, we won’t be able to keep shopping. Ouch.

The other day my husband ripped the pocket of his favorite winter coat. Our mothers would have gotten out the needle and thread. I got on-line to buy him a new one. But he got out the duct tape, and for now, that's where the matter stands.
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