Waste Not, Want More

July 6, 2023
Reading time: 4 minutes
Appreciation, General, Motivation


In Japan, there’s a tradition known as Kintsugi, in which broken objects are mended using glue mixed with finely powdered gold. The results are stunning! Rather than tossing or replacing them, these objects carry their golden “scars” like precious prizes… becoming all the more valuable for having them. In a related practice called Sakiori, old clothes or rags are torn apart and are then rewoven to become beautiful, one-of-a-kind fabrics.

The lesson? Rather than disgracing or replacing things, we, too, can learn to see the possibilities they hold.

Consider the natural world, where nothing is ever truly wasted. There’s always someone or something else that can make use of another’s discards. A hole in a tree, forged by a woodpecker last season, might become the perfect home to an owl this season. Fallen trees may host plant life and shelter all sorts of creatures… who will, in turn, pave the way for future growth. Even stones erode into sand, and that sand forges new features in the landscape. Everything is created and recreated–often carrying out multiple roles in the cycle of life.

Now apply that to the physical objects we interact with every day. The idea that everything has not just one purpose, but potentially many is at the heart of a “waste not” mentality. Kabbalah teaches that everything in our lives serves a purpose and becomes part of our wholeness. Yet we still get to choose how and what to include in that “everything.” In other words, we can enrich our lives even more by seeing possibilities for renewal in things–just as we do in ourselves.

From a material perspective, that means rethinking our relationship with “stuff.” Sure, we all love to acquire things… and we rely on many of them daily. Some things fill real needs–think clothing, food, and shelter. Others are beautiful and bring joy to our senses. But there are also things that are neither necessary nor beautiful… say, the layers of packaging for those things we want or need. Or odds and ends we’ve kept stashed in drawers or boxes for years. So what can we do to reduce the waste of all. This. Stuff?

Start with this exercise: Whatever the object, think about where it came from, where it is now (i.e., how you plan to use it), and where it could go next to a) do the least amount of harm and b) to be the most useful for someone else.

Once we begin to think this way about things, we gain awareness of our interconnectedness and make more mindful–and perhaps more creative–decisions about the items in our lives. Maybe we can reuse that wrapping paper… compost those table scraps (if the dog doesn’t get to them)… avoid buying over-packaged items… and so forth. And creating consciousness around our relationship with “things” will also help us gain more awareness of other types of waste we may encounter.

Among the greatest of these is time. My mother-in-law, kabbalist Karen Berg, once said, “The only thing in this Universe that does not diminish is energy. In its raw form, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Whatever we put out in terms of energy is what we can receive back.”

In other words, nothing we’ve done–especially our perceived mistakes (which are, in fact, among our greatest gifts)–has been truly wasted. Like those golden veins that make a broken bowl more beautiful, our mistakes and setbacks always make us wiser and stronger. They help us redirect and elevate our lives.

So, while we needn’t regret anything in the past, we do have a choice as to how we will fill our days ahead. And from that perspective, where and how we choose to expend our energy may be worth a closer look. In a recent U.K. poll of 2,000 people, the average person reported wasting a whopping two hours each day! That adds up to 12 hours per week and almost a month a year of time less than well spent. According to those surveyed, some of the biggest time wasters included waiting in lines or traffic, scrolling through social media or related content, and watching tv.

Of course, deciding whether something will help or hinder your growth is always up to you. What’s most important is that you think it through! Consider, too, that even small bits of “extra” time can be used in productive or creative ways! The line at the store can become an opportunity to make someone smile, to update your calendar, or to mentally rehearse those interview questions. And traffic can be your jam with a good audiobook or spiritual podcast to keep you growing (might I suggest Spiritually Hungry? I happen to know that one well!). While you’re at it, why not trade an hour of Netflix or cute cat videos to learn a new skill?

Most of all, take time to NOTICE where and how you are spending your time. As the Rav often said, “Consciousness is everything”–how true it is!

That said, it’s important that we schedule in play or exercise or meditation–all these help us recharge and are both healthy and important! But wasting hours knowingly only keeps us from the experiences that will help us grow to meet our full potential. As Benjamin Franklin noted, “Lost time is never found again.”

So this week, let’s find more ways to create wholeness from brokenness, to waste less and appreciate more, and to see our time for the treasure it is!

Because while everything in our lives has a reason and a season, there’s no end to the ways we can improve tomorrow–both for ourselves and for the world.


  1. Miriam Dorfman : July 24, 2023 at 1:03 pm

    Love this post. Been working with kintsugi a lot lately. I’m on an ongoing mission to reduce reuse and recycle- most of my focus has been on the “stuff.” To think of it in terms of time and energy- much higher value and awareness. Thank you!!

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