Lessons from the past

Growing up, at all of our family celebrations where gifts were involved, my Grandfather had an eclectic habit of carefully folding and saving all of his wrapping paper for future use. My siblings and I on the other hand were rabid in our efforts to shred through the careful folds, interested only in what lay behind the packaging. And even then, we immediately jostled to get through the next.

Though I often asked, my Grandfather never gave me a clear reason why he took such great care in saving the paper. Now, years later with my own home and children to care for, I certainly understand his thriftiness, but his effort was founded in something deeper than simply saving a buck or two.

My Grandfather was raised with an understanding of resourcefulness that has, in only a few generations, slipped past society’s consciousness. But his teachings are not lost, and a generation’s knowledge of the benefits of reusing items is making a surging comeback.

Deconstruction, which is the practice of hand-dismantling built structures in order to salvage and reuse materials, is an ancient method of resourcefulness that needs to be the first step in any sustainable building project.  Current practices of bulldozing a home and tossing it in the dump before starting anew has stressed our nation’s landfill capacity, not to mention the burden of releasing toxic materials into the environment. Today, over a third of all landfill waste comes from home demolition material alone.

By deconstructing a house, material that would otherwise end up in a landfill now has the opportunity to be reused in new construction, or repurposed to fit some other need. Cabinetry, light fixtures, doorknobs, stair treads, tile, and even window-weights become treasures for a new generation of artists, tinkerers, and do-it-yourselfers.

Whatever my Grandfather’s reasons were for saving wrapping paper, I don’t think his actions were meant to save the world. Nor do I think that deconstruction is the be-all, end-all solution to a sustainable future. But taking pause to consider all of the ramifications of our actions gives us the opportunity to see the options that are available to us, and that certainly puts us on a more sustainable path.