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Mary Vradelis: Lessons from the Attic

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Every now and then, our old habits could use a review and a refresh. Here’s a Perspective from Mary Vradelis.

Sometimes it feels like there is a fine line between thriftiness and hoarding. For me that line blurred because of my parents, who both grew up during the depression. There were stories of my father hiding cash under the bed. And my mother never replaced the furniture that they bought for their first house. In fact, my sister now has some of that furniture, almost seventy years later. So, I thought thriftiness was a core value in my family, but sometimes core values are tested when you least expect it.

For me, that test happened when we had our attic floor insulated. The attic had been the repository of everything we weren’t using, but thought we might need someday. This storage process started when we combined households twenty years ago, and it continued with each household appliance upgrade. I always thought – what if I need one of the old ones as a back up? So, I kept them, thinking that I was avoiding waste. But that changed after the workers in the attic were done, and I saw all our items in a few overwhelming mounds–cherished, duplicated, books and breakables.

To rescue them, I had to go through each item from the top to the bottom to decide what to do. For many things, I realized that I might not ever use them. And more importantly, all this time that they were in the attic, these items could have been useful to somebody else. Even the electronic equipment could be recycled or rejuvenated. So, now I only keep things in the attic that I use regularly or cherish. If it is extra or unused, I quickly donate it to a thrift store or a community garage sale. I’ve already noticed how much easier it is to find and appreciate the remaining items.

If I find myself at risk of returning to those old thrifty habits, I remember how wasteful it is to keep it out of circulation, and I picture someone else using it. I think of it as my Thriftiness 2.0.


With a Perspective, I’m Mary Vradelis.

Mary Vradelis supports leaders and organizations in transition, to help them do their best work.

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