17 Things Our Grandparents Did When “Green” Was Just A Color

green grandparents

I recently came across an article on Mother Nature Network that discussed things our grandparents did that we all could take a lesson from. Especially those things that saved precious personal and natural resources.

This got me thinking about things MY grandparents (and PARENTS for that matter) did that I really need to rediscover and recommit to. When you think about it, our parent and grandparents did many “eco-friendly” things long before we knew our ecology even NEEDED a friend! Yet another case of “everything old becomes new again.”


“Eco-Friendly” Things Our Grandparents Did


Used A Clothesline For Drying Clothes

Clothes dryers have come a long way in energy efficiency over recent years, but the average home clothes dryer has a carbon footprint of about 4.4 lbs. of carbon dioxide per load of laundry. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “the biggest way to cut the environmental impact of cleaning clothes is to stop using a clothes dryer.”  Besides, there’s nothing better than sheets and pillowcases hung in the sun to dry. Clothes last longer when they air dried too.



Grew Their Own Food

Not only is there an incredible sense of accomplishment in growing your own fruits and vegetables, but you also ensure that your crops aren’t sprayed with pesticides and you can control the types of seeds and transplants that you sow and grow. Choose heirloom varieties whenever possible. My grandparents ALWAYS grew their own food. All you need is soil, water and sun!



Preserved Their Own Food

Canning the food your grow in your garden is a great way to preserve fresh foods without having to invest in an enormous freezer. I would love to have a “root cellar” full of home-canned goods like my grandmother did. Very little food was wasted. If people today practiced even a portion of what our parents and grandparents did, there would be a lot less food going to waste.



Collected Rainwater

A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Also, diverting water from storm drains can alleviate stressed water systems and conserve limited resources, especially if you live in an arid climate (like I do!)


cooking at home

Cooked At Home

Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, and if you prepare your own food, you control what goes onto your plate and into your body. You can ensure that you are eating an organic, non-genetically modified diet.


fast food

Saved Eating Out for Special Occasions

Nowadays, it is not uncommon for people to eat out several times each week. For our grandparents, eating out was saved for special occasions. Even fast-food, which wasn’t as common back then, was considered a treat. My parents even packed food for our road trips, no fast food stops, just roadside picnic tables.


backyard entertaining

Entertained at Home

Today we spend lots of money going out. Our grandparents spent more time outdoors during the day, and in the evenings their families enjoyed playing board games, reading, and time devoted to hobbies. Going to the movies or to a concert was considered a luxury. By finding more free activities to do and spending more time at home as families, we can save a lot of money and maybe even get to know one another better.


glass of water

Drank Water From The Tap

When our grandparetns were thirsty they drank from a tap instead of drinking from a plastic bottle of water shipped from the other side of the world. Bottled water would have seemed ridiculous 100 years ago, but now people it wherever they go.


brown bag lunch

Brown Bagged It

When grandpa or grandma went to work, they took a pack lunch from home – they didn’t eat out during their lunch-break from work. Leftovers became a whole new meal.


playing jacks

Played More Games

Bridge, checkers, hearts, scrabble, crosswords, red-light/green-light, jacks, hide & seek, roller skating, hopscotch…..and on and on and on….



Bought Less

Our grandparents spent less because they didn’t buy as much as we do today. If something had a hole in it, it wasn’t thrown out–it was patched or mended. Instead of always buying presents for Christmas or birthdays, gifts were often homemade. Things were frequently handed down from child to child to save money. The kids didn’t always get new things. These practices not only saved money, but they were eco-friendly, too.


outdoor play

Spent More Time Outdoors

In our grandparents day, being indoors meant you were grounded or sick. The outdoors was everyone’s playground from dawn ‘til dusk!


grandparents laughing

Cultivated Community

There was no Facebook, there was no reality TV. Grandma and Grandpa just talked to people in actual reality. About real stuff.


home remedies

Used Home Remedies

Many of us have been taught home remedies that have been passed down from generation to generation. Learn how to combat a cold with garlic, ginger, and onions. Soothe a bug bite with Lavender essential oil or a plantain poultice.



homemade cleaning

Made Their Own Cleaning Products

This is something I have already embraced that my grandparents did. Have you looked at the ingredients in the cleaning products that line the shelves of your grocery store? Can you pronounce any of them? Say goodbye to toxic household chemicals and say hello to baking soda, vinegar, lemon, castile soap, and essential oils for most of your cleaning needs.


bicycle riding

Relied on Traditional Modes of Transportation

It was common for many of our grandparents to walk or bike to and from work, and more people used public transportation because they didn’t have a car to drive. People took the bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of moms turning into 24-hour taxi services.


vintage bottles


Our grandparents didn’t have a single-stream-recycling center in town, but they knew how to make something into something else. Dresses became quilts. Coffee grounds got added to the next day – not brand new ones every time you made coffee. They returned milk bottles and soft drink bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilized and refilled, so they could be used again and again. Everything had a secondary use and nothing of value was thrown away.


There you go….17 eco-friendly ideas from the past that were born out of necessity but that we would all be smart to adopt today!


What eco-friendly actions did you learn from your parents and grandparents?



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  1. Mindy says

    I can honestly say I do every one except the transportation. I love having my own farm. We live off our own and only buy what we need.

  2. Rebecca B says

    I remember how much fun it was going to gramma’s. We didn’t necessarily go places, except the occasional matinee, (never bought snacks at the theater, neither do I) and we always played games in the evening. Gram was a great card player, (bridge) till she passed. She had a note paper pile made from the backs of recycled envelopes that she got in the mail.

    • kathy says

      Popped corn from a cast iron skillet beats ANY microwave popcorn you can buy in the store. And for some reason..it taste better the next day.
      I don’t understand it..back in the day, we smoked,drank water from the garden hose,rode our bike or walked everywhere (without the worry of being kidnapped or molested by some pervert) found ways to entertain ourselves without electronics, went potty in the outhouse, ate veggies from the garden as we were picking them without washing them off, played outside till dark (and then played hide and seek in the dark) got sunburned, had class outside when school started up and it was hot out…AND we lived through it all, healthy as ever…go figure !

      • Jenny says

        I was talking to a man at work ( I’m mid 20’s he’s in his mid 70’s) who told me no one EVER wore suncream when he was younger. He was silent a few moments and then said “Of course I’ve had skin cancer 3 times, but they cut it right off.” and laughed. It was so funny! :p

  3. Susan says

    I live in Europe and when we just bought our new house – it has three 10,000 Liter rain tanks buried in the ground that gets filtered but we can use the water to flush toilets, wash car, water the lawn, etc. So clever. The gutters go straight into the ground!

  4. says

    In a word… YES! I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in a remote country area, so these things were just everyday life for us, even in the 1970s-1980s.

  5. Denise says

    I love all your articles but this one seems so natural to me as i do 99 % of these things. Keep them coming. x

  6. Rachel Loveridge says

    From my grampa/Kaitlyn’s grampa, who was born in 1899: “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Commonly quoted, probably, by a lot of people from his generation. It helped me get through my ex’s time in grad school, realizing how much we really did have, and thinking of my Grampa who decided not to go to law school because it was too expensive in his day.

    I’ve also been reusing cardboard boxes from groceries as organizers in my bathroom by cutting out the base. I don’t remember where on the internet I learned it, but it sure has been helpful, and I didn’t need to go buy any plastic organizers!

    • Wendy says

      Yup – and now it’s a controlling, political movement with subversive, far-reaching implications that should be questioned at every turn. Very sad. Read Holly Swanson’s “Set Up & Sold Out: Find Out What Green Really Means.” It is an OUTSTANDING book.

      • Susan says

        Just requested it from my library.And I agree completely. I live in Co where ‘green’ has taken over. We can’t save groundwater. By law, once water starts falling from the sky, it falls under CO water law jurisdiction and we can be prosecuted if the ‘water police’ find out that we have a rain barrel.

      • Oldtimer says

        I never heard of anything so asinine! So what about ponds, lakes, etc.? What if your pool catches water? OMG–water thief!

      • Rebecca says

        This law is not actually to punish people who are making such choices. Water law in Colorado is very regulated for a reason. There is not much water. People who have prior water rights have legal right to the water that falls as rain, snow or runoff. If you were to catch the water the falls on your roof, you would be interfering with the water right holder’s right to use the water. Lots of people reason that since it falls on my roof or runs past my house, it should be mine. That is not the way water law is set up in Colorado. If you were to take the water that runs off your roof or past your house, the downstream user may not have enough water to produce a crop. That water is already allocated to someone else, someone as close as your next door neighbor, your public water system or a strawberry grower in California. There are ways that farmers could be more conservative when it comes to irrigation practices, but please, don’t change the water law system in Colorado.Hundreds of farmers and rancher would be without their livelihood and lots of people would be without local groceries.

      • Beth says

        That’s… that’s… I have no words! (And I’m a writer!)
        Please, PLEASE start a petition or do something, anything, about this.
        I am seeing more and more of our basic means of survival taken away and it makes my stomach turn!

      • Marina says

        I have friends in CO that told my about the water collection regulations. Husband looked it up and it is becoming more and more prevalent in many towns or cities. Even came across it in a subdivision bylaws we had looked at. I’ve never understood how you can regulate something from nature.

  7. Karin Carson says

    There are many things on the list that I do, in our subdivision of over 20 homes I am the only one who has a clothes line, I hang in my basement during winter months , I can our fruit/veggies .we can learn a lot from our elders.

  8. says

    My grandparents in Latin America didn’t use plastic bags for groceries; they used reusable cloth or nylon bags for shopping at the market. With all the chic shopping bags you can buy now, why would you ever use plastic bags?

    Also, in Latin America, people often had to haul potable water, which means it didn’t get wasted. This is something I’ve resurrected living in dry Denver.

    • silverdust says

      Fabric bags have been shown to harbor bacteria and cause foodborne illness.

      If you regularly use reusable fabric bags for your food, there are some safety issues to note.

      “The Canadian Environment and Plastics Industry commissioned a study to determine the presence of bacteria, yeasts and molds in reusable grocery sacks. The researchers reported that nearly two-thirds of the bags were contaminated with some type of germ. About 30 percent of the bags had unsafe levels of bacteria, which could promote foodborne illness. About 40 percent harbored molds and yeast that could trigger allergic reactions and infections.

      According to the researchers, reusable cloth bags could be contaminated by meat juices. The moist environment of a cloth bag after hauling fresh fruits, vegetables or frozen foods can be conducive to the growth of a variety of germs.

      In a 2011 University of Arizona study of 87 reusable bags, researchers noted a large number of bacteria in nearly all the bags and E. coli in about 8 percent of the bags. Microbiologist Chuck Gerba recommended washing the bags in hot, soapy water as a means of removing 99.9 percent of the germs.”


      My local grocery stores recycle plastic bags as well as give a 5-cent bag credit for reusing brown paper bags.

      • Carrie says

        I never thought about that! Thank you, Stardust! I don’t use those fabric bags, anyway, but I definitely won’t now.

        I guess you could wash them every time you use them…but that contradict the whole “Eco-Friendly” stuff.

      • Melissa says

        There is nothing wrong with reusable bags. One load of laundry compared to a LIFETIME of plastic in the world that uses petroleum/fossil fuels? Go grocery shopping once per month, and wash them that one time after grocery shopping. When you make 3-4 trips /month to the grocery store and use plastic “just-because-they-can-be-recycled”, it is more harmful than conserving gas/energy & resources by using cloth bags. The shopping cart you put your food in BEFORE you buy it is contaminated with tons of bacteria & viruses. Do you wash your box of cereal before grabbing it to pour in your bowl? Worry about building up your immune system by avoiding harmful chemicals & food additives, use what you have and quit the “so-in-so-research said” about viruses and bacteria to weigh your case against using reusable bags!

      • Susan says

        Self-righteous much? Not all of us can only make 1 trip a month to the grocery store due to lack of funds, storage space, etc.

        Let’s see…do I reuse my plastic grocery bags for liners for my trash containers, emptying the litter box, carrying school lunches, in the care for emergency ‘galoshes’, to use as a trash container when someone throws up on the floor or do I donate them to my library to give to patrons who have ‘too many books’ to carry?

        Or do I purchase liners to use for my trash containers, emptying the litter box, paper bags to school lunches (for field trips when they cannot take their reusable lunch bags) or to give to the library?

      • jaimi hollister says

        Thank you…..some one else that sees that we are killing our immune systems…..

      • Mercy says

        I have three words for you – Washer and Dryer. They are fabric, aren’t they – most intelligent people would be able to figure out when the bags need to be cleaned. The only issue really would be with meat, but there are plastic bags in the stores to put them into, to protect your fabric grocery bag from any of the meat “juice”.

        I am sorry, but post like that really annoy me.

      • Rhonda says

        I have to agree with you on the annoying part, you can’t please everybody all the time but you can use a little common sense. We talk about carbon footprint, recycling, etc, and yet we continue to use all this plastic crap…..just the other day I watched a news clip that talked about something as simple as the microbeads in our body wash and face wash that is ending up in the bodies of water and therefore getting into the stomachs of the fish in these bodies of water….what goes around comes around. Many times I have said I wish things were as simple as they use to be……

      • Rochelle Kay says

        I am sure the Plastics Industry has “totally unbiased” view about the conclusions they make from their studies. Also, isn’t that why you wash your fabric bag from time to time? You don’t leave your groceries in your bags for a week (or do you?) and when bags are hung out to dry, it eliminates the moist environment.

      • Marie says

        Put the meat into plastic bags. You should be washing produce before you eat it. Everything else has germs on it anyway. Boxes, cans, and bottle have been handled by multiple people before you even get it home. Do you wash those before you use them? I doubt it.

        Exposure to everyday germs is what builds your immune system.

        “The Canadian Environment and Plastics Industry” is really going to be unbiased. Right.

      • Mindimoo says

        Yep, I’m with you on that Marie. Why are we so scared of germs? They’re everywhere! We really have to be reasonable and use some commonsense. I use fabric bags and can’t remember when I last washed them. No one in our has suffered from any kind of food poisoning or illness.

      • Marilyn says

        I used to wash my cloth bags religiously, but since I wash my produce in acidulated water (little vinegar in it), carefully handle all packaged goods, I am not so particular any more. I still will not let my unbagged produce be put on a dirty conveyor at the checkout.

        We grew up quite poor…or so my miserly father led us to believe….and Mother’s motto was: USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE IT DO OR DO WITHOUT. I also love to see something and try to figure out how I can make it cheaper. I have a decorator friend like that and we have a great time coming up with our own solutions or duplicates.

      • Ophelia says

        Please note, the study on plastic bags outlining the “dangers” of using cloth shopping bags, was paid for by the Plastics Industry. Before making a decision to reject a common sense idea, follow the money. I for one will continue to use reusable grocery bags.

      • Oldtimer says

        Well, I guess I’m old enough to be some of you youngsters’ grandparent. We did a lot of “green” stuff when I was growing up in the 50’s because that’s what my parents did in the depression and after. I’m sure generations before them did also. I did all these 17 things along with many others. It was a way of life for me that I still do. I’d have to think about what I do that would be weird to you that have lived nothing but a city life. One that wasn’t mentioned was having a compost pile going all the time to put your kitchen waste in so it will compost back to dirt and use it on the garden. There’s an art to it, though, you don’t just dump junk on top of the ground. Look it up if you want to do it right.
        Another is have cats outside to catch the mice before they got into the house. We also set traps inside to catch the ones that did get in. We never used poisons. We used boric acid under the kitchen cabinets so insect pests would get killed by it, but not be a concern for children. We turned off the lights in a room when we weren’t in it. We didn’t heat rooms that nobody lived in. We opened the windows in the good weather at night to freshen the house and stay cool, sometimes closing them in the morning for half the day to keep cool longer. We burned our trash paper if it was messy. Newspapers got used to start the woodstove, mulch the garden, pack boxes for shipping or whatever we could repurpose them for. We didn’t throw anything away unless it really didn’t have another use. The dumps weren’t filled up. In fact, when we went there only a few times a year, we usually found some kind of useful thing that someone else disposed of, took it home and made good use of it. Today that’s called recyling or repurposing. We just used it.

      • Oldtimer says

        I also forgot to mention we had a well that wasn’t good for drinking, but we also had a cistern my dad dug, concreted and built a filter for from gravel, sand, and charcoal. It also had another filter block wall in the center of it before we pumped out our drinking water. When we first started it he poured a gallon of bleach into about a thousand gallons of water caught off the roof, after letting the rain wash off the dirt before diverting to the cistern filter box. We used a wringer washer, heating water in a copper boiler over a gas campstove. That didn’t waste water. I didn’t the wringing, being thankful for not having to do it by hand. Then hang out everything on multiple clotheslines. Life is easier today, more wasteful and we are weaker from not working hard. We didn’t go to gyms or run for miles. We WORKED–all day and up until sundown and was grateful to sit down to eat together a good meal and kick back to watch some tv before going to bed. Forgot to mention the outhouse. It composted over time, didn’t stink if you limed it. Even took a shower outside in the summer with the water hose.

      • Oldtimer says

        We also didn’t have swimming pools, we swam in the quarry or in the creeks. No clorine poisoning that way. Part of our land was pasture and we also raised our own hay. A large garden took up yard space so we didn’t waste gas on mowing much. Horse manure was composted and used on the garden. Mom didn’t take me anywhere, I rode my bike or my horse. I worked my first job at 11 yrs. old cleaning the church and basement for $7/wk. I also didn’t get lessons, I taught myself to play piano when done cleaning. I didn’t have a piano at home.

      • Rhonda says

        oh don’t forget….drank from the water hose and we are still alive …..as well as rode in the back of pickup trucks, rode bikes without a helmet…..I remember picking up potatoes just after my grandfather plowed the field, wipe it on my jeans and take a big bite…..my Grandma use to say, God made dirt, dirt won’t hurt…..although now days I worry because of all the crap we put in the dirt.

      • Sandy says

        Your upbringing sounds very much like mine with riding in the backs of trucks, drinking from the water hose, etc. We played outside constantly, and I don’t remember being hot like I get when I step outside now. It seemed every yard in our rural area had huge shade trees, and in the two-story farm houses that were typical of where I grew up, the heat rose to the second floor in the summer, so the downstairs was cool without air conditioning.

      • Candi says

        We also grew up that way. It wasn’t being ‘green’ or even ‘money saving’. It was just what we did. Never had a nice day without laundry hanging out to dry, and we too used the newspapers for everything under the sun. Us kids would draw pictures with crayons, and we would use it for wrapping paper. The ‘store’ wrapping paper was used for gifts outside the family. Now that I’m an adult, I realize we were probably poor back then, but we didn’t know it. We just did what everybody did.

      • Charleen says

        Oldtimer – I may not be in your ‘age group’ but I am totally with you. I am shocked and disgusted by the waste I see today. The attitude of ‘because I want it!’. And it’s not just kids, I see so many adults buy *things* because they CAN and not because they NEED. I’m not going to get on my high horse and spout off about what I do or don’t do but I will say that I completely agree with you and wish people would consider the implications of what they are doing more. My motto is ‘it’s function, not fashion’. The world’s resources won’t last forever at the rate the average individual is consuming. You are awesome and thank you for your views!

      • Jen says

        I guess I’m weird, but I just don’t care about studies like this. I just live my life, I touch doorknobs and fail to use hand sanitizer, sometimes I will even eat food that’s dropped on my floor! I have somehow managed to make it to 37 and lived to tell my tale.

      • Greenlive says

        This study was done by the plastic industries. Hmmmm that just said enough. They are not going to compromise there product. Cloth bags don’t end up in the ocean like plastic ones and destroy aquatic wildlife litter our beaches But that is just my way of loving our earth