We have a towel floating around the house that bugs the shit out of me.
It once was a really nice, well-made towel from Restoration Hardware. I only bring up the brand name, because it depicts a certain level of value - stay with me on this (spoiler alert: perceived value). Back in the day, my husband's best friend Nicole, bought him a giant set of RH towels (giant because he is tall and the towels are huge, also giant in quantity.) which we love and use to this day. A good towel can be hard to come by, hard to afford, and is not something I throw out when I'm sick of the color or pattern. Even though these were not my first color palette choice, I can recognize them as fancy af towels. They have sturdy cloth hooks sewn into them, commanding that one should hang the towel instead of fold. You know, that type of towel. Bygone are the days of haphazardly folding and tossing a mishmash stack of ratty towels in the back of the bathroom cabinet - these new towels are a part of the whole bathroom vibe.
A few months ago one of the towels got bleach stained on them. Visually, it bugs the shit out of me, and every time I see it pop up in the bathroom, I feel like I should throw it away or cut it up to use as a cleaning rag. There have been no fewer than a dozen times that I have held the towel in one hand, and scissors in the other - only to fold it up and put it back in the bathroom. For some reason I just feel badly for the towel - and gross at myself for giving a shit.
I'm sure I'm overthinking this a bit. OK - Hold on, let me rewind back to 2016.
I was in Belize - actually a small village slightly north-east of Punta Gorda to be exact. I had just been on a hike in the jungle, noting a certain grove of Theobroma cacao that grew wild in a part of the jungle that bordered Guatemala. I was working with a small organic farmer, specifically learning about the fermentation process of cacao beans, prior to drying and roasting. When we got back to the family's homestead we sat under the thatched roof and relaxed, drinking boiled corn cob water and eating red beans and rice with a bit of stewed chicken. After lunch we worked on splitting the cacao pods open and emptying out the beans to put in the buckets for fermentation. As is part of the process in most fermentation cycles around the world, we routinely sucked and lightly chewed on some raw beans, then spit them into the buckets with the other beans (saliva aids the chemical process, plus the raw pith of the bean tastes exactly like Mentos candy). The fermentation bucket had an innocuous white towel tied to it, for wiping down the lid and your hands after filling the bucket. The towel was stained with chocolate, dirt, sweat and god knows what else. Since these buckets stayed outside in the elements, rain often cleaned the towel, and day after day it was used again.
As I looked around the workspace, I noticed every station had the same white towel or rag tied to an object. The clay hearth had a tea kettle with a worn, thin rag around the metal handle. The broom had a small, frayed towel strip covering the worn section of the wood. The neat pile of chopped wood had a towel tied around the ax, resting on the ground, red clay staining the edges. There was a tea towel soaking in lemon water that hung from a brass hook near the hand washing station. It felt so good to wash your hands and face, and then "dry off" with the lemon water. With the weather so hot and humid, citrus water feels like a luxury.
Obviously these were not RH towels. They were whatever you find at the local bodega, a bus ride from the village. A thin, cheap towel that lasted, until it didn't. Thread count was not exactly offered up in a sales description, nor was a corporate strategized nudge to choose this year's current Pantone color. There is no Instagram ad to follow your every scroll, urging you to replace your current towels with a newer set. And despite them being worn and stained, I fucking loved those towels.
We had them, they worked, and that was it.
At home when I'm holding my perfectly good, bleach-stained towel, I have such a conflict of interest in my instinct to toss it. Why would I throw this out? It's perfectly usable, despite looking a little funky.
We are conditioned to buy new, buy often and buy what is trendy. A stained towel is considered disgusting and disposable. But in my fondest memories of my trips to the jungle, I often think about the little objects that made my days so much easier. A rag that was so worn and thin that it was the best to swat mosquitos away with. A towel that could roll up so small I could hike with it, and dry off when my face was covered with sweat and dust and sunscreen. I totally remember the feeling of finding a raggedy towel in my backpack, reaching down and soaking it in the river, and cleaning my body when it was so hot I was seeing stars and ready to pass out. That strip of cloth wrapped on the neck of the rum bottle at The Pickled Parrot, that kept the bugs out. A welcomed drink after an exhausting day.
I love having experiences of needing so very little, and being so appreciative of these simple objects - especially when I'm back home, emerged in a culture or "shopping season" that commands the exact opposite.
December is about needing more, buying more, having more - right?
For now, I'm keeping this lowly towel. I will not let RH or Anthro or Nordstrom's tell me it's time to buy a new one. As it is - stained, dull in color and slightly worn - it's still working for us. It's still of value.
Side note: I have recently fallen head-over-heels with the movement of visual mending. I know this isn't a new thing by any means, but there are some amazing artists who are slaying by changing the tone of what is trash vs. treasure. As someone who loves to discuss value, culture and use within everyday objects, my little story dovetails nicely with this artistic darning.
Double side note: Thank you to all of our friends and community that shops with Garden Apothecary. Please know that with every item made and sold, we are hoping you enjoy our objects enough to love them, keep them, and extend the value for as long as you can. Reuse the skincare bottles in your own unique way, write notes on the packaging or use as scratch paper, recycle the packaging material we ship with in your garden or compost pile. You're money and time is of high value - get every damn use out of your purchases as you can.