Friday, November 07, 2008

Green Living Tips from the Great Depression

My maternal grandmother has to be one of the most frugal people on this planet. She was the eldest of 11 children, and her family was hit hard during the Great Depression. The ways that she learned to save money during that time became so ingrained that she still practices them today just out of habit. It has become somewhat of a family joke over the years - making fun of the lengths Grandma will go through to save a few cents here and there.

Recently, I've begun to re-examine some of the "crazy" things we used to make fun of Grandma for. To my surprise, many of these ideas don't seem so crazy to me anymore. Rather, they seem like great ways to live a more green existence. Many of them are the epitome of the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra at the very heart of the green movement. Although some of them don't directly apply today, there might be some way to tweak them to be relevant and if not, maybe just be inspired by the lengths that she goes to to be frugal.

So, here they are - green living tips honed by my grandma during the Great Depression:

* reuse-reuse-reuse. She almost never throws anything away. She can always see a way to reuse it. The most obvious example is Ziploc bags. She even fashioned her own wire frame for hanging the bags to dry after she washed them. One of the more "crazy" examples is nylons. When she got a run in her nylons, she would cut off the leg with the run leaving the good leg attached to the waistband. Then, she would wear two of the single-leg pairs together as a "new" pair. That "bad leg", the one with the run, would not be discarded. She found many uses for old nylons including using them as "rubber bands" to keep things tied together.

* She is fanatical about saving water. She would make a fresh basin of dish soap water in the morning to wash the breakfast dishes. But, after the breakfast dishes were washed, she would not throw the water down the drain. After lunch, she would put the water on the stove to reheat it in order to wash her lunch dishes. I'm not sure if the energy used to reheat the water is worth the savings in water. She also never used water to rinse off the dishes. Plates were scraped with a spatula and then put aside to be washed. I think this is a great idea in the era of dishwashers to scrape dishes before loading them in. I am guilty of rinsing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, and this is totally unnecessary with modern dishwashers. I am particularly interested in this one because after peak oil, I think our next challenge will be peak water. What I take away from this is to consider water a precious resource. How little can we really use to accomplish a certain task? Can that water be saved and reused?

* Use less soap - Grandma didn't really buy many commercial cleaning products. I remember her using ammonia and bleach a lot (though never together because this could create toxic chlorine gas!!). She would add a drop of bleach to the dishwater so that she could use less soap. She would also dilute her shampoo 1/2 with water to make it stretch.

* Composting and Gardening - There was always a used milk carton next to the sink to hold food scraps waiting to be taken out to the compost. My grandfather did the gardening. He would grow so much zucchini that he had to offload it to my mom and aunts. They would shred it and store it in the freezer - perfect for making zucchini bread and adding to soups. The tomatoes he grew were canned for making spaghetti sauce.

* Use only what you need, save the rest - I remember making orange juice by the glass with the cheapest frozen concentrate - one spoonful at a time!

* Use less energy - My grandfather created a master light switch in their bedroom so that they could turn out all the lights at night with one switch. They would also turn down the thermostat to frigid levels and wear sweaters and slippers to keep warm. Speaking of wearing slippers - we were never allowed to walk around in our socks without slippers, because it wears them out faster.

* Buy in bulk - She would buy almost everything in bulk. The thing I remember most is her buying a huge barrel of granola to eat for breakfast.

* Take your vitamins - Grandma was the ultimate preventionist. She took about a hundred vitamins a day in order to not get sick. Getting sick was just not an option for her!

So, what do you think? Are you inspired by my Grandma's frugal ways? Which of these tips are still relevant today? What are some crazy lengths you go through to be frugal or green? I would love to hear them! Please share them in the comments.

Note - A huge shout out to my awesome sisters for helping me remember all these anecdotes about grandma.

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6 comments:

  1. Such good tips! Our grandparents' generation really can teach us a lot about being green, even if they don't call it that. Thanks for sharing them.

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  2. We have become water conservation freaks in Georgia due to greater awareness caused by our drought. Just scraping before putting dishes in the dishwasher was a new tip to me and I think it's huge! My husband is an engineer who has water conservation projects - I'm passing this one on to him to share too. I honestly have not seen this one before and feel like smacking myself on the head. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. @Tsh - Thanks so much for visiting!

    @Mary - I'm glad you brought that up. Those of us living in non-drought areas of the country forget that some areas are already experiencing drought. Pretty soon, we'll all be in the same boat (dry docked?).

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  4. I followed you from your comment on Simple Mom. I love your blog! I hope to include your blog on my Tuesday's Top Pick soon!

    Check out my blog at http://www.JustPlainJoy.blogspot.com

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  5. I came to your blog via a series of others and am really glad I did!
    After having a second baby this year, I have been very minimalistic and have thrown out quite a lot of good stuff, like paper, jugs, plastic spoons etc because I felt there was no room for them. After reading you and others' bogs, I feel guilty of having wasted these precious resources... I could have re-used them in so many different ways!!

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  6. @roshni - I'm a big fan of minimalism. I read the unclutterer every day! So, I definitely wouldn't advocate holding on to everything on the remote chance that it might be useful someday. One thing about my grandma that I don't want to emulate is a basement full of junk that she couldn't bring herself to throw away, yet had a very small chance of actually using.

    I would recommend saving things that you have an immediate or specific use for. Other things, I would recycle or give to someone who might use them. In the future, though, you may consider buying things with less packaging so that you aren't stuck in the position of accumulating that type of clutter.

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