Household linen is another of the temptations of the housekeeper. There is no pleasanter sight to her than piles of snowy sheets and pillowcases on her shelves, and piles of damask napkins and tablecloths, or of exquisite centerpieces and doilies, in her drawers. Yet the initial cost of these is often considerable. If she has in her linen closets and drawers $10 worth more than she needs (even in an emergency) of bed linen, and $15 worth more than she needs in table linen, that is not serious, but yet it is deducting from the family income at least 50 cents a year (4% interest on $25) and that 50 cents might give greater satisfaction in some other form.
A special method of conservation of table linen is the use for part of the time of a less expensive kind than the family uses as a general thing. Linen damask napkins and tablecloths are expensive not only in first purchase, but in the cost of laundering, since their beauty is brought out only by long slow ironing. If the family has used them for all three meals, will they not be content to use them for dinner only, and at the other two meals to use doilies or runners instead of the tablecloth? Napkins of Japanese toweling (to be had in many good patterns in blue and white), of cotton crepe or of unbleached muslin, with the rolled hem whipped in color and perhaps a decoration in cross-stitch, are very cheap compared to damask. The doilies or runners can be of similar material, or of other simple kinds. The expense of laundering them is slight compared to the damask, and the table can be most attractive with doilies. The doily sets made of an oilcloth stenciled in gay color are money-saving and labor-saving. If there is a summer outdoor dining porch they are particularly appropriate there, but indoors they are by no means undesirable for breakfast and informal meals. The use of any of these may add temporarily to the amount of table equipment to be cared for, but will lengthen the life of the expensive damask enough to justify that.
The specific instances given are only examples chosen as obvious among a multitude. There is many a detail of family living that is taken for granted which, if examined by this family or that family, would fail to prove its share against other claims on the money or the time it costs. If the family is sure the cost is justified, well and good. Undoubtedly there are families to whom the use of good damask at every meal is worth more than a few new records for the Victrola or a little more money to give to the Hospital fund or - whatever the choice may be. But there are comparatively few families with large enough incomes to do all these things and yet not leave the others undone.
So far the argument has been on the selfish basis of getting what the family wants most in return for its expenditure, but there is another consideration that should not be ignored. Everything that is grown and gathered or made has cost human labor, some part of a human life. That the labor should be adequately paid in money that can be translated into good living conditions should be our concern just so far as we individually can affect it anywhere. But even though the laborer received his just share of the money return, that does not justify destroying the product of his hands, his work, his living, by careless or destructive ways. There are still people who tell you it is "good for trade" that those who have money should spend wastefully, but no modern economist would for a moment accept that doctrine. There is enough really useful work to be done to occupy all the workers in the world for a reasonable number of working hours, and to pay them a wage enabling them to live in comfort. If our system of distribution is as yet so defective that some of the workers can find no work, others are badly overworked, some useful things are not produced in sufficient amounts, and useless and wasteful production still goes on, then we must learn how to reorganize our system. To waste any part of the labor already expended may help an individual or two somewhere, but harms society as a whole, and so in the end each member of it.
To many brought up to the more lavish spending of to-day the horror of waste that our grandfathers and grandmothers felt, and which still lives in some of their descendants, seems a laughable petty economy, an evidence that they did not know how to get all the fun out of life. But really back of that horror of waste lay the consciousness of what the thing had cost, not only in money but also in human toil. When they cared for a coat or a gown, darned the tears, made it last, back of their care lay the memory of how much time and labor it had taken to care for the sheep, shear them, clean and card the wool, spin the thread, dye it and weave the cloth. They had seen all this as part of their home life. Grandson or granddaughter has not these processes as part of the common memory of childhood, and thinks of the cost of the cloth as the money paid over the counter. But the cloth still cost the toil of the shepherd, the carter, the cleaner and the carder, the dyer and the weaver, even though machines helped most of them, and in addition it has cost its share of the overhead of the factory, of the work of the railroad employees, of the truck driver, of the pay of the wholesaler, the jobber and the retailer. It needs more imagination than it did once to visualize all this and to realize it as a factor in one's life, but imagination is a gift the fairies give to every child, to be fostered and trained by those who see its importance. "Waste not, want not" is as practical a lesson to teach the next generation as it was for the generation of our grandfathers or great-grandfathers. So is: "What you are using cost something in human labor - human life."