Susan Strasser’s Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

In my never ending quest of discovering what makes me happy (and books is totally high up on that list), I took a peek into minimalism. I am fully aware that I will never be a minimalist, but I did step back from that concept and looked more closely into less is more, which I took toward the direction of the environment. As an advocate for less food waste and more recycling (in general), this book was really exciting. I know, a history book on trash, who’d have thought that would be a riveting piece? Susan did. And so did I.

Susan Strasser's History of Trash

Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash by Susan Strasser describes a timeline of how Americans went from recycling and using (and reusing) everything to throwing everything away. It describes how the common household became focused on the consumer culture through the rise of capitalism. This book details how we used everything, from making soap, to collecting rags for money, how wars made households become creative again, and the social stigma today (as of 2000 when the book was published) surrounding those who decide to operate out of the immediate satisfaction consumerism ideal.

Susan Strasser

I really enjoyed this book! I tend to enjoy the little details about history and this one had enough pop culture references (that are still recognizable today). I loved reading about we went from a society of bartering and using everything we had to survive to the point of deteriorating objects to a society of if something breaks or spoils – we’ll just buy a new one. It definitely makes the reader take a hard look at what they waste and what they reuse, and whether they feel like doing more. I also have to exercise caution though; I don’t want to be come that hoarder that doesn’t throw anything about because ‘it can be reused someday’.

I recently went into an arts/crafting store in Portland, Oregon last week: Scrap. The whole idea behind the store is that it is about reusing what other people had left over from arts and projects and crafts. I immediately thought of this book! This story had everything from fabric scraps to fairly used markers to bullet shells to mannequin legs. I was immediately jealous too, that this store is basically one-of-a-kind; none exist in California. (If you know of any store similar to this, located in California, leave a comment below about it!) As an artsy crafty person, this store was just like a Wonderland to me. Costuming and photography ideas exploded in my head and I just wanted to take it all home with me. But also, the voice in the back of my head says, “Unless you have a project in mind, you don’t need to buy it now.” Also also, there was so much camping stuff and things from the rest of the vacation in the car that there wouldn’t be any room for a mannequin.

Susan Strasser's History of Trash3

Susan Strasser has written other novels from the historian perspective, but this is probably the only other one I really want to read. I don’t expect much to change in this department as I do from the use less/recycle more department, but I wouldn’t mind reading about this. I’m curious and since I enjoyed the other book, which I picked up out of curiosity. Hopefully the library will pick it up soon!


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