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Living Life the Old Fashioned Way

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

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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. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 🙂

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

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