A Thought on The Great Depression – or – “Waste Not”


The Great Depression of 1929-1939, or more specifically, the Recession of 1938-1939, created a breed of humanity that was pinch-penny, no-nonsense and frugal to the point that, never again, would “back to basics” be more important. In fact, “Waste not, want not” became such an influential mantra that, three generations later, the great-grandchildren of that era still quote it.

In our day, the children of the children of the Great Depression, camping and vacations or weekends in nature were probably more fun for us than our parents…at least those parents who suffered the most want. Or perhaps not.

Surely many did not enjoy camping or day-long picnics because it was a painful – even subconcious – reminder of the days of not being able to afford the means to cook, wash daily or use the bathroom inside; then again, maybe doing without the amenities on purpose, and knowing that they could easily manage the feat (considering their long exposure to being forced to do so) became a source of pride.


All I know is that preaching against waste ranked right up there with “chew your food 29 times”, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Waste not…” was one of the standards against which our parents weighed their child-rearing success.

But the Great Depression also resulted in a harsher, less compassionate outlook on life, relationships and familial love, because during that time it was of utmost importance for people to be tough – to be able to withstand disappointments and setbacks without giving up…to learn the futility of ‘crying over spilt milk’ or whining about how unfair life is.

Our parents were nicknamed “The Greatest Generation”, and if you’ve ever studied them (or read the book), you will easily see why. But it took years, and the incredibly emotional wave of the Flower Power/Hippie movements, to point out that the Greatest Generation had lost its softer side, sometimes to the severest detriment of their progeny.

Many of those parents who lived through the Depression suffered (sometimes only subconciously) all their lives; they became bitter and settled in the belief that it was only their brand of toughness that was keeping their families from starvation, even when debillitating want became less of a threat. They were afraid to adapt even a little bit. Completely understandable when, at that horrible time in history, it was so completely true.


A lot of us were fortunate that a fair few, while not relinquishing their ‘waste not, want not’ sense of frugality did, however, learn that it was okay to show the softer side of their nature…just a bit, of course. We carried a sense of self worth, work ethics and a heart for our fellow man throughout our lives.

We who learned from that lot, the Greatest Generation who experienced the hardships of the Great Depression, and who, ourselves, were children of the hippie era, had the opportunity to raise a more well rounded generation.

Some of us succeeded in instilling the balance between both the ‘waste not, want not’ and “Love is All You Need” mentalities in our children, but some of us seem to have reverted to the pre-civil rights era of hatred and mistrust and an ever increasing sense of entitlement.

Either way, the lessons learnt from the Great Depression need to be taught again, but tempered with the love, compassion for all life and tolerance that the era of Flower Power tried to bring about. The whole earth is falling into another recession and we all need to re-learn that, if we would ‘want not’, we must ‘waste not’…neither our resources, nor our deepest humanity.


(With a ‘nod’ to Ava Robbins, mother of Moira Sophia Wahl of “Folded Dreams”. Copyright © 2015 by PL Pearl Kirkby.)