Living Life the Old Fashioned Way

Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
Living Life the Old Fashioned Way

There is a tendency in all of us to compare the old to the new.  This is especially true in the preparedness community where in anticipation of hard times ahead, we look to our parents and grandparents for ideas for living a self-reliant and sustainable life.

I have been thinking about that a lot lately; even to the extent that I have considered sewing up some long skirts and pioneer-style aprons that will hold up to a week or two of wear without laundering.  Seriously.

Living Life the Old Fashioned Way | Backdoor Survival

Anyway, the following piece has been circulating the web for awhile.  I thought it was worth bringing back since it describes a not-so-long ago time when the term “green” referred to the color of your grass or the money in your pocket (green stuff).

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that many of these old-fangled ways of doing things fall right in line with what each of us would be required to do in a crisis or emergency with limited sources of power, few goods available on the shelves, and a cost of living so high that there was little left for discretionary spending.

Perhaps it is time to redefine “green” in old-fashioned terms as we strive to live our lives the old fashioned way.

The Old-fashioned, Old Fogey Rules of Sustainability

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day. In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for them.

In summer, they slept with the windows open, perhaps even out on sleeping porches, because most homes and apartments lacked air conditioning. Some people still live in those archeological relics in most cities today.  When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.  But she’s right; they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink  instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn’t have the green thing back then?


The Final Word

To use a cliché, there is some serious stuff going down.  My tin foil hat is rattling itself as it sits on the shelf, and I am at full-time alert waiting for the next shoe to drop.  Because of that, I chose to lighten things up today.  Stay tuned for more of our regular programming on Wednesday!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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48 Responses to “Living Life the Old Fashioned Way”

  1. The attitudes of the ignorant, protected younger people is, sometimes, amazing. In the event of a grid down situation, or economic collapse, or any of a dozen other disasters that reduces life to what their parents lived, they would not be able to survive.
    Sometimes I have to shake my head and give a chuckle, other times I want to give them a good shaking.
    But then, I guess there have always been people like that.

  2. Great timing on this post Gaye.
    I’m up in central Minnesota visiting my older relatives who were farmers. Their parents were homesteaders before them. The stories have been coming fast and furious about what life was like back in the day and I have been gobbling them up with a spoon taking notes.

    My family is making the transition back to that way of living and it’s been wonderful to see how our family did it and thrived.

    It’s ironic that I now work at a big gym where people pay money for the chance to lift heavy things. On our Homestead, hard work will be a part of our daily life instead of something we have to schedule between work and commuting. I can’t wait.

    Take care!

  3. I’m hoping there is only “the other” shoe to drop…your “next shoe” reference is disquieting; though looking around, I suppose ‘next’ makes more sense. I always look forward to checking in here…keep up the good work!!!

  4. My favorite example of “old fashioned” skills being beyond the ability of many younger people nowdays is one that happened many years ago…post Hurricane Hugo in 1989! We were not nearly so electronically attached to the world then as we are now!! I can only begin to imagine how stymied some of these people would be today under the same circumstances.

    We were many days without electricity, but when grocery stores finally opened up, selling only non-refrigerated goods, I ventured out to the local Piggly Wiggly. I collected the few items I needed and went to the check out. The poor young girl checking the groceries was in way over her head. She not only couldn’t add the purchases up without use of her calculator, but even with it couldn’t do multiple purchases of the same item (ie, 3 cans of beans at $.89 each) without many restarts, but had to ask for help figuring out how to come up with “2 fer” prices when I only bought 1. There were 2 people working in the store, both older men, who could add with pencil and paper! Very sad and very frightening on many levels!

    I can only imagine how few stores have employees who can operate without their computerized equipment … especially with frightened, agitated, and armed shoppers standing in line to get their items and get home.

    • I have known a couple of people that could go through the store, tossing things in the buggy, seeming to not be paying any attention to what they get. But when they went to check out they had the correct cash, to the penny, waiting before the cashier was halfway through ringing everything up!
      I usually have a general amount figured up, but not exact. Why not? Because I’m lazy and will let the register tell me the exact amount. Maybe I need to quit being lazy!

    • I was one of those who knew to one or two cents how much my groceries would be. Life got in the way and sometimes we must let go of some things in order to get others things. My way of saying a major car accident with TBI shut that down, but allowed me to discover other things. We are never too old and for sure, just because a shoe drops, doesn’t mean we can’t find a use for that one if or when that ‘other’ one stops by. 😉

    • so true. i saw a piece online where someone made a couple of simple modifications to an old tennis shoe, then nailed it to a tree trunk, and birds nested in it!

    • not necessarily, my friend. it was katrina that made me realize that the government won’t necessarily rescue people (especially if they’re poor and black, but that’s another issue). by the time sandy blew through long island, and we couldn’t get gasoline for 2 weeks because of spotty power outages, i just stayed home, nice and comfy with enough food, water and meds to last even longer. and i’m sure i’m not the only one.

  5. What a wonderful post today. Thank you for all the memories it brings back. I am one of six children. Our family went through a lot of milk. I remember walking to the store about a mile from the house. I had an empty gallon milk bottle in each hand, swinging my arms back and forth. Can you guess what happened? Yep. Both bottle arrived at the same spot behind me at the same time…and hit. That bottle deposit for new jugs came out of my 13 year old allowance. I never did that again.

    Things are supposed to be easier now, and I grant you that some things are. But I do not have pleasant memories of going to the store or putting my wash into the dryer, do you? It seems we are either hurrying to get somewhere or hurrying to finish something.

  6. LOL *In my best ole lady voice crackling with age*
    “Why sonny, I AM that former generation. It’s not about generations, it’s about where you live or have lived…citified or country. You see, in the country, when we went to town we took baskets for the small items we needed. Usually those baskets contained produce and eggs we exchanged for ‘store bought’ necessities like thread and needles or a sharp bladed axe.

    Bags? That’s what flour, feed and other items came in because we bought those by the 10, 25 and 50 pound bags which when emptied, we turned into dresses, shirts, quilts and other things we used. We didn’t call it “green” we called it “surviving and practical.”

    I am an ole woman (64) but I don’t get upset or offended when I hear remarks like the young man made. I simply laugh because as the oldest daughter of 10 children, I learned to teach others. I still do that. Now I teach how it used to be done, how I do it now, and then ask how the student would change it.

  7. I love this article! I grew up learning the frugal ways of my grandparents. I have many friends who think I have a screw loose for doing things the old-fashioned way, such as reusing, repurposing, etc. They also think I am crazy for wanting to live more self-sufficiently. One day they will understand and then it will be too late, I’m afraid.

  8. I regret that there was no one in my family to teach me the old ways. Knitting, making soap, sewing, etc. The only people that will survive around me will be the Mennonite families.

    • You don’t have to regret, find out where you can learn then use that as part of your preparing. You might be surprised who also knows or wants to know how to do these things.

    • You may want to check the local nursing homes. The people there would love to have someone come by and just talk about old times!

    • O you got that one right. Take video too because you’ll learn a lot in watching and reviewing not just their words but their body actions.

  9. Hurricane Ike in Houston-Galveston, Texas area displaced hundreds of thousands of people permanently and millions who RAN Northward prior to the BIG STORM. FEMA was useless upon return to our homes. I received no $$$ but a bag of ice and a case of MREs for 3 weeks without electricity, and lost ALL that I owned, but I digress. I was stunned as millions of people left before the hurricane heading North. I had my van loaded, my pets and their needs, and my most precious family momentos, important documents and photos protected and with me. I add I also carried a weapon that I prayed I would not need to use. I filled up my tank before gas stations RAN OUT OF FUEL, GOT CASH FROM THE atm BEFORE IT STOPPPED WORKING (some many thought their credit cards would work, WRONG), prepared travel food, and followed my son in another van with more pets and a child, my DIL in yet the third vehicle with pets and another grandchild. We traveled together in wagon train fashion. The going was slow on jammed freeways–many times travelling at 5 – 10 mph for hours in the heat of Texas. Shocking was that most people had no common sense at all and had not prepared before striking out. That day, as we drove along at a snail’s pace, fearing to get out of the line and not allowed back in by other drivers, I passed over sandwiches and bottled water to children in cars next to me, who passed to kids on over to the next lane. One little child asked if I was an Angel as she gorged on the PB&J handed to her. People were drawing guns at others who tried to get into the line, some people had not gotten cash and sold cameras and other valuable items for a $20 bill, and waited for LONG gasoline lines to re-open. With no gas, no cash, no food, they had thought that fast food places would still be opened, forgetting that eventually food would run out, AND workers have families too)…it was pandamonium. One poignant event…we had headed off to back roads hoping to avoid such violent goings on, AND discovering them to be just as crowded. We stopped in an abandoned gas station for a quick rest and a potty stop. A car came into the parking lot as I was feeding my grandchildren. We found that these young men & women were Doctors, interning in a Galveston hospital. They had loaded all patients into ambulances and vans to be taken to other areas earlier for safety. They had remained until the very last moment, still wore their lab coats, and had nothing for themselves. We shared our lunch, prepared salads in mason jars (had packed in the ice cooler), boiled eggs, cheese and crackers and fruit! Our departing gift was a roll of toilet paper of which they were most appreciative, and some home baked cookies made the day before. Lots of lessons were learned that day and the most important was IF I ever evac’d again, I would bring a portable toilet and large disposable, plastic cups–this is NOT a joke. One could not get back in line on the road as I mentioned earlier…and only allowed back in by God’s grace and the kindness of a stranger. The trip to Oklahoma usually took me 6-7 hours, and during this crisis, it took steady driving (with only 1 stop of 1/2 hr.)just over 37 hours, yes thirty-seven, we were exhausted. We eventually found a decent hotel that allowed our pets and had a basement laundry they allowed those fleeing to use. All refugees seemed to band together and help one another with all things. A church in Oklahoma had set up their kitchen to help feed people, so some of my new found friends and I went to volunteer to cook and clean up. We wanted to give to those helping feed people. Life is a challenge in the best of times, and in the worst, we saw the worst of people floating to the top like scum, and the BEST of humanity surfacing and overcoming the bad. We all have choices to prepare or not, and I choose for my family NOT be a victims, but to help no matter what. Guess this came from growing up on a farm and being prepared at all times for life’s detours. I know you guys are like this too from what I read and sense on your FB pages…Be strong and courageous, God will NOT leave us nor forsake us EVER. Pray that our country returns to having some common sense, it is sorely lacking and most needed. Actually, it could NOW be considered a superpower, read a post I saw recently. I AGREE!!!

    • Thank you for sharing. Your story is prime reason we need to be teaching what we can to people who may only be willing to learn a bit. That bit may save them at some point grid up or down.

  10. This story has been circulating for a while. Obviously made up, but it does illustrate a good point – one that many folks seem to lose track of. The previous generations HAD to do tasks manually for the most part – because many modern conveniences had not been invented yet. I believe the decline of common sense has a lot to do with us not having to use our minds to problem-solve, and innately KNOWING how things worked.
    As far as being “green”, I do believe the previous generations outshine us greatly in their way of living. Gardening, preserving food, raising livestock for meat and milk, Chickens for eggs, etc…
    I’ll take the “old fashioned” way of life any day!

  11. Great article! I’ve been trying to teach myself some “old fashion” basics like sewing, making my own detergents and cleaning products, etc. Never hurts to be prepared!

  12. Anything “old-fashioned” is considered not-as-good-as today.
    I hope the younger generation, or actually even mine, revises their outlook before certain situations force them to, or they will not be prepared.

    • Many, many things that are “old fashioned” are built to last. Unlike todays products that are made to be disposed of. Most tools used around the house, I would rather have the old ones – they just work and don’t break! Same for “old” furniture, it was made for people to use and miss-use and still be in great shape. Todays furniture falls apart after a few years of normal use!

    • You are so right,Jim! When I got married, my grandmother gave me her vacuum cleaner, which she had already had for about 20 years. It probably lasted me another 10-15. 2 years after I bought a replacement, I took it to a repair shop since it wasn’t working properly. The guy told me to buy a new one, and when I said that it was only 2 years old, he said that they were only designed to last a year or so, so I’d actually gotten good use out of it. Sad.

    • O so true Jim. I have an old small chest freezer. It was old when I bought it at a yard sale for $20 in 1990. It still runs and when that old motor finally quits, the freezer will still keep going because it will transform into a small outdoor root cellar. 🙂

  13. My parents taught me many old fashioned skills growing up. I’m trying to pass them on to my son so that they won’t be lost.

  14. My grandmother kept and reused everything. After raising a family during the great depression she had many stories that she loved to tell and I loved to hear. The older generations could certainly teach all of us a thing or two.

  15. I grew up in the 60’s. We lived in the country, walked to the farm next door for milk and didn’t have a lot. Sadly, my parents and grandparents didn’t teach me any of the “old-fashioned” skills that we need today. Now I’m relying on my husband and friends to teach me these skills.

  16. I am in the process of re-learning the practical skills my grandparents taught me while growing up on the family farm in the 1950’s.
    We ended up moving to the city where my father worked as an artist.
    I remember the milkman delivering milk and dairy products in glass jars.
    Now it is almost impossible to find gallon or larger glass jugs and containers for storage purposes.
    We have almost perfected the throw-away society. Almost everything is designed to break and be tossed into a landfill.
    Our society has seriously lost its way, and is in danger of becoming a trow-away thing in its own right.

  17. Great article! I don’t think that I ever really thought about all those things in this way. Really puts things in perspective. Thanks!

  18. You do realize that the single television used more electricity than all of today’s modern gadgets put together, right? And the reason we stopped reusing milk and soda bottles in the 1970s was because the cost (energy used) to clean, sterilize and transport the empty bottles back to the plant was much more than the cost of switching to plastic and cardboard?

    Let’s not forget the massive increase in efficiency brought about by switching to electronic delivery of news. Yes, you give up packing materials, but the idea that somehow sending newspapers is more “green” than using the Internet for delivery is absurd. Yes, reuse packing materials from your last amazon delivery, but don’t think that just because there was a ton of newsprint laying around it was somehow better for the environment (or the economy).

    There are a lot of problems with living today, but please don’t try to sugarcoat the past into some sort of panacea.

    • Yes, that single TV might have used more electricity – when it was on! Many people now leave their TV’s (multiple) on 24 hours a day. I don’t think they are using LESS energy/day than the old TV that was on for a few hours a day. And when it was turned off it was OFF – not in standby, still using electricity.
      So, plastic milk bottles use less energy? What about the fact that the plastic is polluting the entire planet? Which is more green?
      Newspapers, that would have gone in the trash and to the landfill (or been burned) cost nothing to use as packing, so it was used for getting the news first then used as packing material. Those plastic peanuts go all over the house (especially if a youngster opens the box), then you’ve got the energy usage, and irritation, of cleaning the stupid things up! At least newspaper, unless it was shredded, was a simple pick up and a vacuum cleaner was seldom needed.

      No, the old ways may not have been “GREEN” but you would not be able to enjoy the “green” of today without those old ways laying the groundwork for today’s lifestyle.

    • plastic bottles and newspapers can be recycled in almost every part of the country. for that matter, you can take “ghost poo” (styrofoam peanuts) to package stores and they will recycle them. each era has its plusses and minuses; what makes the difference is peoples’ attitudes and willingness to make the most of whatever system they must work with.

    • Actually, those old vacuum-tube TVs, with a small screen, and one small speaker, were quite efficient- and used only a fraction of just what someone’s 300-watt home-theater sound system uses today. Also, it was not uncommon for those old TVs to last for decades- whereas one is lucky if the average modern TV lasts 3-5 years; and if the modern job is still working when it’s 10, it’s probably going to be thrwon out to be exchanged for the latest & greatest; bigger & better; etc. And when we had those old TVs, instead of having them constantly blaring all day, and watching for endless hours, we only watched when something worthwhile was on- and if we were home when it was on.

      Today, it’s not just modern TVs vs. old TVs- but today, you have to figure in: The TV with a HUGE screen; a mega-watt sound system; cable box; video game system; and computer w/ internet- because it is all of those things which have taken the place of that old TV- and people spend exponentially more time using them- which is not only using MUCH more energy, but is contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, which is resulting in exponentially higher resource useage for tretment of the resultant medical problems; and ultimately reducing people’s quality of life and longevity- and that alone kind of dwarfs any energy concerns, even if the modern were indeed allowing us to use less power- which they are not.

  19. …and how come, today, all of the stores have computerized bar-coded inventory control and scanners, and yet, back when they merely had price stickers on items, and a cashier rang them up by hand on a real cash register, the stores were better stocked, and the check-out lines moved faster?!

    I hate this high-tech world they’ve created. I was blessed to grow-up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, so I was able to get a glance of the former world- when things (and people) were real- and I MISS those days! I continue to do most things the old-fashioned way, as life is just so much better that way.

    One of the worst things today, is seeing every 8 year-old with a cell phone and the ability to text and use the internet, and have a TV in their room. They basically have unlimited access to the world, without the guidence of parents- this is going to be the worst generation in history!

    • Wait until those youngsters are somewhere that there is no cell service, no internet, and no TV. Every few minutes you hear the “I BORED!” when there are a thousand things they could be doing to be NOT bored.
      The really scary thought is – what are they going to do if there is a massive grid failure!?!?

    • The scary thing is, they don’t HOW to do anything. They can’t do even basic math without a calc/phone/computer; they can’t read a normal map; they have no skills at fixing things, or even using the most basic tools and equipment- if they can’t do it by pressing button and having it done automatically for them…they can’t do it. All it’s going to take to render them all completely helpless, is to turn the power off, or stop the flow of/or access to gadgets…and I often wonder if maybe that is the plan.

    • Add cooking to the list. I now lots of young people 35 and under that eat out 90% of the time. The rest of the time they eat microwave dinners and top ramen.

    • It’s not all the youngens. More and more are getting back to real world basics. As they do so, they are teaching some of us oldsters how to blend the old and new. All is not lost. These kids are smarter and wiser than what appears on the surface. As with many other generations, it’s far easier to see those who need a little ‘fixin’ than to see these awesome aware youngsters in the 20s and 30s. They are seeing how to be in the world and not of the world. 🙂

  20. Hurricane Ike reached into Southwest Ohio.

    By the time it got here the winds were down to between 70 to 80 miles an hour.

    It still took off roofs and knocked down power lines. Lots of downed trees causing damage and making it dangerous.

    My Mom grew up on a farm without electricity on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. Electricity had not yet reached the countrside then.

    I know lots of this stuff to do, but am on a mission to do better.

  21. I love this story about our past generations not “having this green thing”. Unfortunately what many generations, including my own (I’m in my thirties), lack is common sense. I am grateful every day to be a member of my family- while they wouldn’t be considered preppers, they are skilled. Not many people can say they have use able spinning wheels, let alone the ability to actually sit down and use them. I have a pantry full of canned foods we grew in our garden. Our youngest is wearing a cloth diaper. In the New England winter we do use oil heat but dont even bat an eye at the power going out, our woodstove and oil lamps may look silly and old fashioned to some but they work wonderfully! Even the fact that people are lost without their microwave or electric stove during a power outage is ridiculous to me- like I said, just a little common sense. Dont get me wrong, I enjoy the modern conveniences, but I absolutely have an immense appreciation for the skills and simplicity my family has passed down the line. The world will be in a sorry state if that shoe does ever indeed drop!

  22. I’ve worn jeans most of my life. Last year, I just got tired of it. I bought the Folkwear Walking Skirt pattern (which I’ve wanted for years). I sewed up two cotton skirts from it and a petticoat using another Folkwear pattern. I thought I’d try it out for a year and see how I felt about it.

    I’m still wearing one of those skirts and the petticoat. I need to get around to making a second petticoat, but I’ve managed with just one. The skirt is great to wear and looks classy. I don’t look like some old lady in pajamas. Folks seem to treat you differently and no one expects me to do really dirty jobs (although I’ve worn these skirts on dump runs.)

    • Oh my gosh. I did a search in Google for the Folkwear Walking Skirt and want one. I am not talented enough to sew one myself and I didn’t see anyone offering these as a custom design on Etsy. I will just have to find myself a talented seamstress.

  23. Oh, and one other note about leaning old ways. Use You Tube! There are short videos on spinning, knitting, splitting wood and a lot of other useful skills. If you have internet, you should be able to access those videos.

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