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Save our Planet - How we used less and saved more in Poland

It might be a right time to compare the way how people live in Poland (simplicity) and in the US (overconsumption). The US is the biggest consumer of goods in the world. People use here more energy than anywhere else in the world. Now, when the gas prices in the US reached the level over 4 dollars per gallon - it is a time to modify our habits.

I was born in Poland sixteen years after the end of World War II which completely devastated Poland economically. Poland, "thanks" to Soviet occupation did not accept Marshall Plan which helped rebuilt Western European economy. Poles lived under the umbrella of Soviet-type socialistic economy. The development of Eastern European countries was slower than the countries of Western Europe, even if before the war they were better off since we denied any help from the US and since we embraced communistic economy.

 Since I can remember, there was never a surplus of products on the market. Our socialistic, planned economy did not even predict such a case. Our propaganda said that stores in capitalistic countries are full of products just because the hard-working people in these countries cannot afford many products they want! According to our economy rules the production should be always planned ahead in such a way that the supply should equal to the demand, so there would be never any excess of the products. The balance between the supply and the demand was rarely achieved. Many basic products (butter, toilet paper) were in short supply from time to time.  We had to learn how to live with less and save more and how to leave without some necessities.

The variety of consumer goods available in stores was very limited usually to the basic ones. The products did not have attractive package, the price was usually fixed, there were no sales or special bargains. For example there was just one type of sugar and it was sold in grey paper bags one kilogram each. Life was more grey but simpler. People were less spoiled. I did not know what shopping spree is before I came to the US. Instead of shopping for fun and filling their houses with useless things, Poles spend their free time in the parks or outside of the big cities on weekends, especially since the majority of stores were closed on Sundays.  Of course, not every Pole is an angel. The alcoholism was a common problem in Poland and it is still there.

Europeans in general are more restrained with their needs. They live in smaller houses, they have limited space. They cannot afford to store as much as Americans because they have not that much of the storage space!  They rather buy quality products than something which is just cheap.

 We learned early in life how to re-use and recycle. If we wanted to buy a glass of milk, juice or sour cream we had to bring empty bottles used before for an exchange, otherwise we had to pay a fee. In my household we never threw away any newspaper or a notebook. We kept them for recycling. My school notebooks had the information on the back page "protect the forests - recycle" and so we did! Children in my school competited who will bring the most recycled paper. I remember walking a mile with my father carrying heavy bags of paper to the recycling place. We were very satisifed to receive a toilet paper in exchange! Toilet paper was quite a luxury and it was not easy to buy on the market. Receiving a toilet paper in exchange for the recycling paper seems to be a very justified cause.

We did not produce that much trash. My family consisted of five persons. We had just one small trash can which was emptied just once a day.

 We had less material stuff, less variety and there was more of us concentrated in smaller space, therefore we used less.  Maybe this is something, Americans should learn from Europeans or Canadians, who have smaller houses and cars. 

Of course I do not envy the times when we had not enough basic food products available in the stores. I also enjoy more variety, more color and some competition in the supermarkets. But we should buy what we need and not just stack our houses with useless goods. We all live on the same planet, all of us should realize that our resource poll is limited and we have to behave responsibly for the future generations.

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
2008

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here


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