Monday, December 5, 2011

Living as our grandparents did

I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘green’, more ‘old-fashioned’. But the more I research, the more I’m convinced they are almost the same thing. I was reading this article in a great new magazine I have out from the library:

Living Lightly and Saving Money

The article compiles many ways our ancestors went about life and were thrifty in the process. In the eighties we went away from this in favour of conspicuous consumption. Thank goodness thrift is back in vogue again.

Aside from the saving money aspect, I feel disrespectful if I waste food or throw away something that could have been used by someone else. In fact I just can’t do it. When we were moving I drove my husband nuts, sifting through everything we were decluttering, figuring out where it could be donated to.

As much as I love those decluttering programmes on tv, it really upsets me to have the solution be a big skip outside, where everything is thrown in. If an item is in good, usable, clean, unbroken condition there is always someone who could use it that otherwise might not have the chance. I think it is our duty as a caring human being to try and find that person, via thrift shops, to charities that assist others or simply directly, by asking around.

Other ways I am like our grandparents?

I scrubbed our kitchen floor and entrance-way with hot water and sugar soap not long after we moved in (it was pretty filthy). Strongly-scented floor cleaners aren't for me. Normally I use hot water, white vinegar and a squirt of lemon dishwash. A few drops of essential oil are added if I'm in the mood. And I hang washing outside. And cook many of our meals from scratch.

Even when eating, the question could be asked ‘would my Grandparents recognise this food?’ when choosing what to eat. The world’s population would be a much healthier place if we ate according to this.

Many of the things listed in the article I do, and they were originally done in the name of thrift or making do. This is what I do! And now it’s green! I do these things to make the most of my resources, and also because I feel disrespectful to the Universe if I waste things.

I simply cannot throw something in the rubbish if it can be used by someone else (so I donate it) and I feel terribly guilty if I throw out food. If it’s vegetation I throw out I feel bad that the Universe grew it for me and I wasted it. Even more guilt is felt if it’s meat or eggs I throw out. An animal died (or laid) for me and I can’t even be bothered to appreciate it?

As a result I throw out practically nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I threw out food. If I don’t eat something as leftovers for lunch the next day (like our creamy chicken and mushroom pasta from tonight, which I’ll have with salad for lunch tomorrow), I will tuck it in the freezer to have another day. If it’s something like a small piece of blue cheese or half a chopped onion, I will freeze to include in a casserole or soup.

Another aspect of living like our grandparents did is mending something if it’s broken. There is much satisfaction to be gained from utilising our grey matter and working out how we can fix a problem. My sister was telling me today how she hemmed a pair of jeans shorter, and in the process used the excess denim to almost invisibly patch a hole in the knee. Result: one ‘new’ pair of jeans which are currently receiving a lot of wear.

I understand not everyone sews, but really, in the olden days it was just something you did. If one is really interested in living a thrifty life, at least knowing how to sew on buttons, hand-stitch a hem or sew up a small hole is mandatory.

Reading instead of tv watching, going for a stroll after dinner, eating real food, being a good steward of our finances, appreciating nature, growing herbs or even vegetables, making things with our hands: these are all ways we can enjoy life by living as our grandparents did.



  1. Fiona,

    I couldn't agree more...

    although I have never turned my husband's collars or darned his socks...
    which my grandmother did regularly.

    I have never heard of sugar soap...can you tell us more about what it is and how it's made. Did you make this yourself?

    I have often though that it would be better and greener to make one's own cleaners.

    The image that you have used looks very much like the lunches that my Gran used to serve us...fresh veggies and a homemade mayonnaise on the side with a big pot of tea.

    Take care,

  2. Good morning Fiona :)
    this was such a lovely post to wake up to! I very much agree with what you've written here and although I'm guilty of breaking some of these rules on more than one occasion, I am trying. Wasting food is something that I've had a habit of doing due to one strange mannerism or another but now I'm trying to keep it so that my eyes are not larger than my appetite.
    the other one that really hit home with me is reading more than watching tv. I am earnestly trying to work on that one as well
    enjoy the rest of your [green] day!

  3. Hostess, I don't know much about sugar soap but it seems to have been around forever. Here is a link to the one I use:

    Lenna, bonjour!

  4. Totally agree. I cook from scratch for my boys, and freeze/soup make relentlessly. (Can't bear waste having grown up in a single parent family in the '70's)
    REAL is what counts, in whatever format it manifests itself!

  5. Thank you for this lovely post. The older I get the more I want to salvage, save, reuse, pass on, create...everything except buy new (unless absolutely necessary). Two things I have been thinking more and more about doing is getting a used sewing machine and starting composting. ~~Bliss

  6. Hostess, I looked up sugar soap and apparently it's what we call TSP I usually use it for cleaning walls etc. before painting, but I think I'll try it on my kitchen floor. Fiona - lovely post, thank you!

  7. Hostess - I just checked further and apparently the 'p' in TSP is for 'phosphate', which is not good for the environment; although something else I read said that nowadays TSP may not actually contain phosphates - need to do further research!!

  8. I remember Amy Dacyzycn (sp?) did an editorial in her newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette, about how being frugal was very nearly always good for the environment. She mentions a case where she hired staff to prep her newsletter for posting whilst she was hanging her laundry to dry...protecting the environment over her pocketbook!

    My grandparents did all that you've listed. I remember helping with the mangle washer before we took the laundry out to hang. Grandpa and Grandma sat in their rockers in the screened back porch on summer nights. Grandpa always counted out correct change if he could at the grocers (I grew up thinking this was what was meant by 'being careful with money'). More than anything, they had everything they needed, but not one jot more, and everything had a place (and was in it). Their house was tidy, serene and well-ordered. If the arms of the chairs were a little ragged, well, that's what slip covers were for. Their TV was rarely on - it went on and off for appointed programmes on the occasional evening. Otherwise there was housework, yard work, sewing, knitting, reading, checkers games, spades and hearts (card games), letter writing and Bible study, not to mention food to prepare and eat. We visited the shopping mall mainly to marvel at the number of cars there, not to look at the stores. Eating out was the occasional ice cream cone for 5 cents (I'm 55) or their Sunday BBQ at our house. They had a great life and I'd like one very like it.

  9. This is a great post. Can you imagine how it would change the world if everyone lived like this? We'd certainly have healthier and more productive people.

  10. I have a wonderful old daybed in my home. I'm having a terrible
    time convincing my husband how awesome it is. lol

    It's amazing how far a good fitting pair of jeans and a black dress will take a person. We have it pretty easy now.

    We need so little; the rest is just for kicks.


  11. I am impressed that you do not throw any food away! I find I am stil doing that, such as with obscure yoghurts that the children insist they must have (lesson learned).

    Wendyl Nissen's book is a treasure trove of simple living and she has so many great recipes within in. I am seriously contemplating making newspaper bricks for the fire for next Winter. I know newspaper gets recycled, but how much energy does it take to do that? Apparently each newspaper brick burns for a few hours which I think is a fantastic use of old newspapers.

  12. Fiona, if you have not read Michael Pollan's books they are just your cup of tea. Particularly "In Defense of Food" and "Food Rules", the theme of which is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He makes the same point you do about eating only food our great grandmothers would recognize.

  13. Greetings, Fiona. I've been lurking for awhile, and I so enjoy your blog.
    I also hate to throw things away.
    I'm not sure about New Zealand, but a lot of cities in the US have a freecycle group on It's a site for posting offers and making requests, with no money changing hands. I've found new homes for a lot of things, even memory foam bean bag chair stuffing (without the bean bag). And who knew mosaic artists are thrilled to have broken plates! I am always amazed at what can be put to good use.
    As for food,we have several friends who raise chickens, so what leftovers can't be composted get scraped into freezer containers. When they're full, we take them over, and often go home with fresh yard eggs in return. I love trades!

  14. Fabulous article Miss Fiona! My great-grandmother worked hard, took care of 5 babies, started a business and lived to be 104. I need to write her story one of these days. I'm re-posting your article to my Facebook page as a gentle reminder that simpler living can lead to greater health and happiness.

  15. April, REAL is right. We can't really go wrong if we think 'Is it real?'. It applies to everything, food, relationships, our wants list etc.

    Bliss, go the used sewing machine! And composting, but I don't know so much about that.

    Patricia, I'm sad that sugar soap might not be good for the environment. It seems to benign! No acrid smell or anything. I am back to my usual vinegar floor cleaner now anyway.

    Shelley, thanks so much for your fabulous comment. I love reading things like this.

    Charlene, I agree. The seducing powers of advertising and crappy food get us all at some stage though, and some more than others. I mean, if you told your average (maybe younger?) person that it's much more fun/healthy/thrifty to go and buy from fresh veges rather than to to McDonalds they would look at your like you're daft!

    Sheree, I like the sound of your daybed. It's funny how we see a treasure and husbands see junk.

    Lucy, it must be hard with kids not to waste food. I know you won't become one of those mums who hoover up the leftovers and wonder how they gained all the weight. Lucky I don't have kids, I'd be one of those mothers.

    Jill Ann, I love his theme.

    Yoga Teacher, thank you! I must look into that. My family has/had chickens and it's great to be able to make them yummy meals with scraps.

    Jessica, you're too kind. And you definitely need to write your great-grandmother's story!

  16. Oh this is a wonderful post - I love the thought, "would my grandparents recognize this food"
    I do all sorts of stuff like make my shampoo, eat organic, cook from scratch...
    It's so funny that what was once common sense is now called "green"

    I wanted to say thanks again for having me on your sidebar. I get so much traffic from this site!

    A bientot!
    Parisienne Farmgirl

  17. Frugality is weighing heavily on my mind at the moment - the less I have the lighter I feel x

  18. I love your post. I have been cooking from scratch for years but have more wasteful than I should in the past. This year I have made a lot of changes to be more green and careful about what I do. When we buy chicken in the store, we don't always think of the bird that gave it's life for us and when we throw things in the trash, we don't always think about what it is doing to the earth. We don't waste food either. You can always put it in a container for the next day if kids don't eat it all or you don't. It makes lunches easy. I got rid of my toxic cleaners and decluttered my home and donated tons of stuff. It is so much easier to clean and I feel better. I don't feel like it runs my life! I love the smell of homemade bread in the oven and have even started using a lot of dry beans to reduce my recycling too. I am just trying to use less. We are doing a $50 per week budget for food and it forces me to stick to the basics and we rarely get processed foods, sodas, etc. I make most of what we eat. We also have a garden. I feel like it helps us to step off of the materialism treadmill and have a more peaceful life.

  19. Very true! Living in the way tyou described can be very fulfilling as well. :)

  20. Fiona I really love this. I think lots of us are turning towards a simpler way of life, consuming less things and taking better care of what we have- like our grandparents. Great post!

  21. Those "consumption crazy" 80's have a lot to answer for!
    If we could all be a even a little like our grandparents our world be a better place.
    Informative and thought provoking post!
    Carla x

  22. A really interesting post. It's so easy to get carried away with all the 'Best Before' dates and as a result throw away too much food .

  23. Angela, thank you for visiting. I love your blog.

    FF, ditto!

    Spendwisemom, thanks for such a great comment. I love the way you think.

    Tracy, your blog is very inspiring and calming to me.

    Jennifer, you are the posterchild for a simple and elegant life.

    Carla, thanks for visiting.

    Miss B, so true. There is a big difference between 'best before' and 'use by'.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...