Lost and Found: A Parable In Socks

You know what was great about living in the desert all those years? Among other things–not having to wear socks. Ever.

Maybe occasionally with running shoes or hiking boots, if you were going out on a trail. Because, you know, rattle snakes. But otherwise, it was 10 months a year of sandals. Glorious, breezy, open-toed, sock-less freedom.

Sure, I love a warm fuzzy pair to wear around the house on a cold winter day. But even better was the complete absence of cold winter days. For the most part, I hate socks. And the only thing worse than wearing socks? Finding socks. I mean, what happens to them? Where do they possibly go? They go ON feet, they don’t HAVE feet! Why do I spend so many winter mornings digging through drawers, only to come up with sad, single socklings?socks-195674_640

I have trouble enough keeping my own feet clothed. Coming up with socks for two children? EVERY DAY? Forget about matching, I will settle for clean(ish). But combine the mysterious disappearing properties of socks with the hoarding tendencies of my kids and, have mercy… I am only a person!

A person who hates socks.

Anyway… I was at Costco yesterday. After yet another morning of the sock-hunt-dance, I was about to pick up yet another pack of the dreaded articles for each kid. But I stopped myself. This is crazy, I thought. I just bought socks. And they did not leave my house of their own accord. 

You may joke about people who buy new underwear rather than doing laundry…but I often buy new socks rather than hunt down the ones I know we already own. This is wasteful. Not just wasteful of our money–but wasteful in a more global, environmentally ominous kind of way. Americans generate more than 10 million tons of textile waste each year.

Yesterday, I made a conscious decision not to throw another dozen pair of socks on the pile.  It may be a small step. But it’s part of a larger awareness: that much of our excess is rooted, not in greed or vanity, but good old fashioned laziness.

So instead of buying more, I went home and staged a scavenger hunt. I told the kids I’d give them 10 cents for every sock they could find. I sent them to look under beds and dressers; to dig in the couch cushions; to mine the very bottom of the toy box (because, for the love WHY?, there are always socks in there). I sent them to the basement, the garage, the back seats of our cars. They combed the back yard, and back of the closet.

Two competing piles formed in the hallway. The race was on. At one point, I was shouting to my son, “Harper’s got more than you! Find one more sock and you get a whole dollar!”

Fifteen minutes later, we had twelve pairs of socks. Matching, even. They earned a dollar a piece, and I didn’t have to buy more stuff.

I’m sure there’s a parable in there, somewhere… some profound spiritual truth about how much of what we need is already ours, and we just have to dig through the junk to find it. But more practically speaking, I’m glad for the literal lesson in keeping up with the damn stuff you’ve already got, before you go and buy more damn stuff.

I paid my kids a grand total of $2.20. But those $2 saved me $14 that I might have spent in new socks. And who knows how much it has really saved me, in the long run? Because this exercise opened my eyes to how often I really do go buy stuff that I already have, just because I can’t immediately put hands on what I know is in the house. I’m going to take this scavenger hunt approach to all sorts of things now before I buy: cold medicine; crayons and markers; hair ties; hats and gloves (every dang winter, we go through at least 3 pairs of gloves each around here).

What about food? How many cans of beans, Spaghettios, and/or cream of mushroom soup can one pantry hide, in its darkest corners? How many legal pads have I started but not finished? How many phone chargers can one household hold? It’s a whole new world, I’m telling you. Scavenger Hunt Mondays are going to be a thing from now on. Before every trip to Target, the grocery store or the neighborhood yard sale, we are going to sift through our junk and acknowledge how much we already have.

In the meantime–whether you are thinking about spending less, or just taking up less space, we should all be thinking about where our stuff comes from; who gets hurt making it, what is the cost to the environment, and where does it go when it dies? I’ve started digging much deeper, especially, into the clothing industry. Tomorrow, I’ll share some “best practices” for simplifying and shopping responsibly. I’m still learning here, so I’d love to hear from you… How do you do more with less? Where do you shop, when you have to, and what brands can you feel good about?

And what in the world happens to all our socks??


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