A writing friend of mine has taken up button sorting. I know, it sounds like a strange hobby. But in her quest to de-clutter her life and write a devotional for hoarders like herself, she has begun sorting out the accumulated trove of buttons she has collected over the years. Some go back as far as two or three generations in her family. So at night, while her daughter and husband watch television, she sits with them and sorts buttons, sewing them onto cards and listing them on Ebay. She has buttons made of shell, actual metal and rubber buttons and other odd materials. As I looked through her pile, seeking a few matching ones for a jacket I’m knitting for my daughter, I felt like an archeologist sifting through layer after layer of history. I’d only known those extra buttons that come in the tiny zip lock baggies attached to new clothes. I’ve only sewn on a handful of buttons in my life, and not very well.
I realized that saving buttons, quilting scraps and household rags has become part of the past. Now when a buttons falls off, we stop wearing the item until we forget that it has lost a button, and then eventually give it to the Salvation Army or even throw it away. Old clothes get thrown away, rarely cut up into rags for cleaning. Cleaning is done with disposable paper towels. Quilting is a hobby, not a necessary life skill and rarely can I find someone under 40 who really knows how to sew on a button. So is this trend simply a side affect of a disposable generation too used to fast food and cheap clothes to bother replacing a button? Or is it a torch waiting to be passed to the right person? These domestic tasks were pivotal parts of our past; lost arts. A part of living that has gone by the wayside, that doesn’t necessarily need to be lost. I keep a small basket on my dresser for buttons. Whenever I buy a new outfit, I put that little baggie of buttons into the basket. At least then, if a button gets lost, I know where to look for a replacement. But it isn’t really about the buttons, it’s about a philosophy. Waste not, want not.
At a time when “being green” seems to be a societal trend, the old ways seem to be new again. What could be greener than replacing a button rather than a shirt, using that old T-shirt to make rags instead of buying a bag of rags at Home Depot and giving away that which you don’t need or use to someone to save them buying a new item. So rather than obsessing over carbon footprints and researching windmills and solar panels, we can be better stewards of what we already own and learn to sew on a button.