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. 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?

      • 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

  2. 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.

    • 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.

          • 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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 !

  6. Laurat99 says

    Echoing Rebecca B, my mom would always make her grocery list on the back of an envelope. Birthday present wrap was the colored Sunday comics and my parents told us “no” when there wasn’t money for an activity, instead of going into debt.

  7. Lisa B says

    Thanks for reminding me. While I still practice some of these old ways of being green, I think it’s great to remind us that there were and still are people who are frugal and satisfied with what they have.

  8. Gigi says

    Thanks for the excellent reminders! I am already doing some of these things, but the best for me has been making my own cleaning products. As just one example, it cost me around $30 to purchase the items needed to make your recipe for laundry powder. I made a batch last November and I’m just now getting to the bottom of the bucket. I used to spend $15 per month on a bottle of Tide, and my clothes are just as clean now. (In fact, I think the homemade detergent works better on my son’s dirty baseball pants!) I’m saving money, using better ingredients… and that’s just one little change!

  9. jan says

    love this article……we try to still do most of those things……my mom who is now 82 continues to hang all of her clothes on the clothesline…God forbid if it rains too much and she has to use the dryer…..nothing can beat sheets that were dried by the sunshine :)

  10. karen says

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love love loved this post! It is a great display of everyday ideas that can be easily implemented into our lives, but it brought back a tidal wave of memories of visitng to my grandparents in the summer!

  11. Sandra says

    Actually bottled water still seems ridiculous to me… WHY PAY FOR SOMETHING FREE (well, that is still paid in charges), heavy when shopping, and that can be highly carcinogenic due to the material ?
    I don’t get it. We don’t live in India or Mexico ?!

    • kathy hemker says

      All a person needs is one glass or bottle , and refill it from the faucet to carry with you. I remember growing up and everyone had an outside pump coming from a well of fresh sweet water…and most of the fun was pumping the handle and getting a drink before it stopped running out, cause while you pumped…everyone else was drinking it…heeee

    • Chris says

      I have tried filling my own bottles and the water has a funny taste to it. Any suggestions? I’ve tried different bottles ($). I like Sam’s Choice from Walmart. I guess I’ve always thought that was healthier than a Diet Coke.

      • CTY says

        I bought a water purifier (more than just a filter). The purifying cartridges (2) last 5-8 yrs & are $99 a set. My unit uses no electric & was about $200 to buy. I will have it forever. The company is Berkey & I get no kick back from them.

        Can’t afford one right now–do what your grandparents did–save a little at a time.

        • chris says

          A water filter is a great idea. What I meant though, was when I put my own water into a store bought water bottle I thought the bottle gave the water an icky taste. I have tried several kinds of bottles and had the same results with them all.

          • Rachel says

            I can’t remember at all where I heard this, but my understanding is that you shouldn’t reuse plastic water bottles. I have pretty much zero understanding of chemistry, but I’m sure they aren’t using the best plastic in the world to make the bottles in the first place, so I’d hate to think of what might leach out of the bottles and into your water as they age. When my aunt had breast cancer, her doctor told her that drinking bottled water that had been left in the sun (like in the car) had been linked to cancer. Again, I don’t understand how any of that molecular mumbo jumbo works, but it’s something to think about.

            Maybe I was duped by the man and it isn’t really making any difference, but I bought one of those Brita water bottles at Walmart for about $10. One filter cartridge is supposed to last about 400 refills (4 refills per day is roughly the eight 8 ounce glasses you’re supposed to drink, so that’s about 3 months for one filter). I think the bottle will probably work without a filter cartridge in it too.

            I have no advice about making the water in reused bottles taste better, except maybe to add flavoring to it (citrus juice, or Crystal Light if you don’t mind the chemicals). But the flavor would probably linger in the plastic and flavor future refills too, whether you want it or not :-)

            • Dee Bee says

              I am very sensitive to one-use plastic. My inner lips and tip of tongue swell and feel sore when I reuse a water bottle. My doctor said she never reuses one use plastic, never puts
              anything plastic in her microwave; and tries to avoid any plastic in her kitchen. Dee

      • Nancy says

        Are you re-using bottles that were purchased with water in them or using something like a Nalgene bottle that is made to be refilled over and over? There are all sorts of great water bottles out there that are made to be reused – something like a Nalgene may cost a little upfront, but are super durable and can be cleaned and refilled thousands of times.

    • Barb says

      Bottled water is not regulated like the public water systems are–can’t imagine how people (including me) would scream if we had to pay as much for the water coming from our tap as people pay for bottled water.

    • joan prentice says

      I agree Why people buy bottled water is beyond me.It’s expensive (here in Australia) and what’s wrong with tap water? I think it just became ‘trendy’ to be seen with a bottle of water in your hand .Who knows. I am 66yrs old and drink tap water. Go figure * So many things people buy these days is not because they are ‘ time poor ‘( an excuse) it’s the ‘ can’t be bothered ‘ attitude.
      This was a really good Post Thanks :D

    • Debbie says

      I don’t use bottled water myself, but if I lived where my father does (in Illinois) I would. The water is not drinkable, even with a house filter. It is not just the taste. There is some oily slime that rises to the top if it sits too long (like the dog’s water dish or the toilet). City claims it is the pipes. I don’t know, but I don’t know anyone in the town that drinks the water or uses it for much of anything. Even taking a shower – you just don’t feel clean. My dad has a water service (brings those big jugs of water), rather than individual plastic bottles.

  12. Jenn says

    These are all great reminders to be more satisfied with a simpler existence – the one that I’m dying to know more about is reusing coffee grounds??? Does anyone know anything about this? We put them in the compost when I was growing up, but I have never heard of reusing them the next day!

      • Sandy says

        Becky, if your coffee doesn’t turn out the way you like it, try saving your coffee grounds and putting them into a compost pile or in your plants. You’re still recycling, even if it’s in a different way.

    • georgi says

      I add about half the amount of coffee grounds i would use to the old… and do this to get two pots of coffee . Also sometimes make a pot, usually it makes three days worth, i drink one cup and leave the rest in the fridge for the next two days. yes, the coffee is weaker and yes doesn’t taste as great .But honestly coffee is a luxury item for me. I do so many things to be frugal because I must ….. buying from thrift stores, not buying expensive household products.
      Anyone else trying to live without all the products? Such as… the tons of hair and skin care products constantly pushed on us… scented candles, air fresheners, the “wipes” for every situation imaginable, the mops with wipes on them , etc etc. I doubt these things even existed and people lived just fine with out them back in the day……..

  13. kathy hemker says

    I still hang out clothes,can my own veggies and drink water from the faucet. But it seems like young people now days thinks it’s a really good idea….but they want YOU to do it for them, so they have their own little stockpile. I also remember that a toy from the store was a treat and we had to do chores and make an allowance and buy it ourselves. However, we appreciated it more and took care of it instead of breaking it right off the bat and going out to buy a new one. It scares me knowing that if the power grid ever goes down…wow…these kids won’t have a clue as to how to kill and clean their own game, raise their own food and preserve it and make their own cleaning products, and most of all entertain themselves and use their brains for things other than playing games on the computer. and having to add and subtract without using a calculator, and figure out how to make dinner out of last night’s supper. LOL

  14. Trixie says

    Oh how I wish we could go back to that simpler time in life. People were respectful to each other (even strangers) and everybody helped their neighbor just because they needed help, no other reason. **sigh**

    Just a head’s up though, about the collecting rainwater tip, the State of Colorado has made that a crime, so you might want to check local laws and regs before going to the trouble of setting up a rainwater collection system at home. I’m sure Colorado isn’t the only state to do so :(

        • Susan says

          It all has to do with water law. (Fires are a whole different critter due to criminally bad forest management by the currently shut down federal government. You’ll see that the fires here are mostly on federal land or parks. The state does a much better job of commonsense forest management. People forget that long ago a fire was allowed to burn out as long as it didn’t come near property. The Indians used to burn large swaths of land to allow for better grazing the following year. The mindset that ‘we can’t touch it, it’s natural” is a bad idea and we’ve had devastating fires to prove i.t

          Back briefly to water law. We ship a LOT of our water to the West Coast…anything on the ‘surface’ can be used by anyone (I think I understand it that way) but anything that has the potential to seep into the ground is state owned water. For instance, you can’t have a rain barrel to catch the water running off your roof because if that water were to fall off the roof onto the ground, then it will sink into the groundwater and the state owns it. I worked for a water company temp a couple of times and that is what I gathered the law was. Don’t quote me, I am not a water law attorney or paralegal :D

  15. JudyB says

    I LOVE my clothesline! My husband bought it for me as a birthday present years ago and friends/family were horrified! BUT, it was what I wanted!!!! And USE a lot.

    Also, my friend Ann, several years ago started a new business on the West side of Cleveland, rainbarrelsnmore.com has many good ideas for going green, including her wonderful Rain Barrels & the BEST diverter for your downspout. I don’t know if she can ship a rain barrel, but you may like her diverter.

    I hope you get a chance to look at her website!

    • Beka says

      Thank you for sharing your friend’s link, Ann. I live one city over from her store, and honestly, never knew that place existed! I will definitely be checking this out in the future!

  16. Jenny says

    Agreed that a lot of people don’t do these things (I do most, including patching up jean crotch-holes for the bf!), but “Bottled water would have seemed ridiculous 100 years ago” isn’t exactly true, it’s been around since the Georgian period. However it was seen as something for the rich, even with ‘medicinal’ properties. My tapwater tastes funny – like chemicals, so when I afford it I use bottled (the cheap kind from scotland not Evian ;p) for the coffee machine etc. as it affects the taste. Water people assure us there’s nothing wrong with it, which probably means it’s just the 25 types of disinfectant I can probably taste :/ I know bottled water has it’s health issues too, but what’s the point in buying nice coffee and it tasting weird (even the first time around :p)?

    • Marie says

      Here in AZ our tap water is safe, but it is warm and tastes terrible. My hubby uses a Filtrete water station and refillable bottles. It tastes OK when it’s really cold, but not as good as spring water. When we lived in Montana we were on a community well water system, that water tasted good!

    • Oldtimer says

      I hope you do realize that bottled water in plastic is full of the plastizers from the bottle. It’s a fact that they leach toxic junk into the contents, especially when frozen or especially in the heat in cars. I can’t stand the taste of bottled water. It tastes like plastic! Besides, it is nothing but bottled tap water run through a charcoal filter at best. You can buy your own filters–whole house, pitchers, sink, refrigerator, even water bottles with filters in them. Not all filters remove the same thing. Some are only for taste, not for toxins.

  17. Staci C. says

    We have our own garden, use a clothes line, preserve our food and other stuff that is listed. However in the state of Colorado it is illegal to collect rain water unless you live somewhere that has no access to public water or a well.

  18. Jennifer P says

    Love your post!! I do most of these things and glad that my kids follow along too. My 22yr old just put in his clothes line posts at his house this summer and have a drying rack for use in the winter. He brings in his recycle over to put into our bin.
    I recently put together my second queen size quilt made from recycled denim from my family. I would keep all of the jeans that were too beat up to donate or sell. The first quilt is made from 3 3/4 in squares and the other is make from 6 in squares. I made my clothes pin bags from some of the left over denim and used some scraps to patch oldest sons work pants.
    Both sons, husband and myself take our lunches to work, daughter eats at home between classes and work.
    Another thing we like to do is buy used, garage/yard sales and thrift stores are great. My 25yr old son bought jeans for work at a thrift store.
    I just don’t understand people who are quick to throw away useful things and replace with new.

  19. jasi says

    i looove clothes fresh off the line. unfortunately, husband and kids have pretty serious allergies (eyes, skin, breathing) and i have to stick with a clothes dryer. =( have to attempt a few more on this list. i come from a long line of cityfolk so a lot of these practices haven’t been a part of my family’s traditions.

  20. Siennah says

    Because of my dad, I grew up always having to take a shower with a bucket or plastic gallon milk containers in the shower stall with me. This was used to collect the cold water when turning the shower on while waiting for it to get hot. The water was then used for the plants he grew.

    • Elaine says

      I do that when I draw water to wash my dishes (I don’t have a dishwasher). I hate to waste all that water while waiting for the hot water to arrive at my sink. I use the collected water to water plants or add to my washing machine when I do a load of laundry.

      • Telina says

        Forgive me, this is not meant to sound rude in anyway. The shower water saving idea I get. The sink one I don’t.

        Don’t you have to temper your water anyway so that your water isn’t too hot for your hands to begin with. We have our hot water tank set at 120F. When doing dishes, I run just the hot water. The cold water in the lines tempers the water just enough that it is bearable for my hands. No water wasted.

        Just a thought.

  21. LizzieMcK says

    Excellent ideas! My great-great grandmother and my great-grandmother both were beautiful quilters. They saved material from clothing, etc., rather than buying it new from the store. I have a quilt made by each woman and cherish the work, thought, time and effort that went into the design and execution. Everyone, male and female, needs to learn basic sewing techniques! Stop spending money on “alterations” and learn to hem pants, skirts, etc. yourself! My other great-grandmother and her daughter after her cooked what was in season and canned: peaches, homemade chili sauce, pickles, jams, jellies, chickens…..their fruit cellar was amazing! Also, I come from a long line of great cooks and have always cooked most meals at home! Saves money, is fun and creative, and you chose, handle and select what goes into your family’s stomachs! A word about the bottled water: Our tap water is not drinkable. It tastes like old pennies and even the pets hate it. Not everyone has good tasting tap water!

  22. Dee M. says

    We did all of that growing up. My mother made most of my clothes, too. She taught herself to sew because they couldn’t find clothes to fit a 1 lb. 13 oz. preemie. Even doll clothes were too big. After I grew more, she just kept on sewing my clothes. We didn’t buy dog food either. The dogs received table scraps and were quite happy to get their dinner from our leftovers. Recycled all of our bottles, too. Made our own home remedies for all that we could. Grandma was half Cherokee, so some of the remedies came from her culture, too. Kids today have no clue how much they waste.

  23. Tiziana Micallef says

    An old married couple were asked “How did you manage to stay together for 50 years?”
    They replied “We were born in a time that when something was broken, we would fix it and not throw it away!”

  24. pam says

    we use to make the second pot of coffee by adding just one fresh scoop. that was a savings of two scoops! it was always good. always use butter wrappers to grease pans, and wrap potatoes for baking. those envelopes make great grocery lists with coupons enclosed, its not hard to wash and reuse ziplocs for non food purposes, they make great trash holders in the car, also toy organizers, think leggos, you absolutely cannot substitute fresh air from an open door or window with an air conditioner. old towels become cleaning rags, newspaper works great for drying windows. my grandma watered her flowers with dishwater (she used a dishpan) and she had huge beautiful flowers. the list is endless. leftover food can also be re-invented to a new exciting dish, it really is possible instead of throwing it away. puree vegetables and freeze in small portions to add to soup stews and meatloafs. and on and on and on….

  25. Donna says

    When my babies were little I used only cloth diapers. My washing machine didn’t have a hot water hook-up, so I boiled the diapers on top of the stove to kill the bacteria, washed them, tossed them in the dryer for 10 minutes to soften them, then hung them on the line outside to air dry. That may seem like way too much work to some, but the thought of disposable diapers on my babies most vulnerable body parts was abhorrent to me. Still is. Some called me an “earth mother” because of that and cooking every meal at home from locally-grown foods, long-term nursing, using home remedies, etc., but the mainstream approach didn’t make sense to me. The disposable diapers that other mothers threw away all those years ago are still in the landfill. And as our children reach puberty and enter their reproductive years, we may be in for some rude surprises. The chemicals that facilitated our convenience were readily passed on to the baby transdermally. The health of my children was always more important than my convenience.

  26. Pat says

    Years ago when my husband and I had not been married long, our young family moved to Colorado and lived with my husband’s family high up in the Rockies at 10,000 plus feet. We had neither electricity or running water. We hauled our water from a spring and it was the best tasting water we had ever tasted. My sister-in-law and I were talking one afternoon about how the water was so good that we should bottle and sell it. Then we laughed till we had tears in our eyes. Who had heard of such a ridiculous idea? Wish I still had access to that spring.

  27. Chris says

    We have a large wheel-in shower we don’t use anymore. I put another shower rod inside the shower and hang all our shirts, tops, sweaters, jeans, etc so we have double space to hang the wet clothes over. Something my mom did for us in the summer was to put a large piece of plastic (probably some kind of mattress cover) in the cardboard grocery boxes we would get. Filled with buckets of water from our pump it made a great little personal swimming pool for each of us. My brother had cerebral palsy so she sat him in one, too. We thought we had something really special.

  28. Diane says

    I love the idea of repairing things when they’re broken. We live in such a throw-away society what with all the cheap (and cheaply made) goods available from overseas. Buy less; buy American-made, and repair things instead of tossing them into our over-taxed landfills. Love your blog, Jillee!

  29. Linda says

    Thank you so much for that….actually I have been doing those things all my life. However I have been called cheap, and old fashioned but now that its cool to be green I’m cool. LOL.

    Thanks for your blog.

  30. says

    I’m making a clothesline in my basement this weekend! Duh! Our clothes aren’t dry half the time after 90 min in the dryer anyway, & I DO have a dehumidifier in my basement! LOL!

    And the rain barrel idea would probably take care of a lot of my basement leaks as well!

    And all but the transportation is something I’m going to work on converting to in our home (thankfully my grandma taught me how to do most of these things directly). We live 10 miles from the edge of town, down a US Hwy, so no biking to work for me, but otherwise, we do a lot! I have the reusable bags, but I always forget them, or they’re full of snacks & stuff for soccer games! I recycle the plastic bags I end up bringing home, or scan free cycle for folks needing stuff for crafts!

  31. Lisa/Life Can Be Simple says

    I am 54 and we grew up in these Appalachian Mtn. in every way you have here.We are a very independent people.My mother and grandmother has passed down every bit of the way of a healthy life should be,I love growing and preserving although my health doesn’t allow the way I would love to,we caught rain water,worked in fields picking green beans,tomatoes etc.I love pickled beets,pickled corn and beans.I was taught at a young age how to sew and made my grown daughters clothes.I have granddaughters who now are more interested playing in the dirt and growing beautiful flowers.They love to water them and watch the grow,what we call a Simple Life,but very important to our environment.We use to use a cycle to cut bushes and brush,my husband use to use a push mower to cut grass,the kind with out the motor.Thank you for posting this,makes me realize just how good we have it when I can get out.

  32. CTY says

    I did not grow up with people who practiced many of these things. My grandparents embraced the 2 income lifestyle–”I’m not poor I can afford it attitude”; my parents embraced the disposal income mentality of “go get another one”. Our neighbors & relatives lived that same way as far as I could tell.

    When I got married I did all of these things to stretch green ($$), I do it these days not so much to save the planet but rather because why pay top dollar for things when I can do better for less money or even free? Saving the planet is just a bonus.
    My kids laugh at a lot of what I do. But someone stopped me to ask about my homemade/IKEA hacking style idea & my son said, “People do think its cool, & we just thought you were crazy”.

    SO Like Linda, I was cool before it was cool to be cool.

  33. JD says

    Wonderful photos and a great reminder. Since I am (ahem) a bit older now and was born late in my parents’ marriage, it means my grandmothers was born in 1893 and 1896, and my grandfathers were born in 1890. My parents were married during the depression. Talk about people who knew how to reduce, reuse and recycle! Because of my upbringing, I can our garden produce, save things for re-use (and then actually re-use them), hang out clothes, make my own cleaners, etc. Something else they did, that I always did and still do, is hand-me-down. Be it clothes or something else, handing it down is a time-honored tradition, and I still get a chuckle when I remember my school friends complimenting me on a “new” dress — it would be my older sister’s dress, with long sleeves cut to short, trim changed out or added, etc. Even though they’d seen my sister wear it to school before me, they wouldn’t recognize it after my mother got done altering it. She was a clever seamstress and doubled a wardrobe’s life by creative alterations.

  34. Dani says

    We are buying a “new” to us home that was built in 1972. Those snobs didn’t want to have anything to do with ecological things–in fact, the covenants BAN CLOTHESLINES. Never in my life did I think I would be an outlaw, but it’s about to happen!
    I do many of the rest of these–in fact, we cracked into some of my canned peaches from last year just as this year’s were starting to come in (this year they’re not nearly as good, due to the crazy spring we had), and hubby was just dumbfounded at how good they were, and I canned them in a VERY light local-honey-based syrup but they’re still sweet as you could imagine. These are things you can’t control at the grocery!

  35. Julie says

    Dear Jillee,
    My brother and I inherited our grandparents farm, through our mother when she passed away three years ago. It is a small wheat farm in the center of Kansas. Our family has had the privilege of stewarding this land for 70 years now. My nephew lives here full time, and I am only able to make it back to visit twice a year. Imagine my surprise, then, when I arrived here today at noon, watered my mother’s geraniums in the south window, sat down to check in on One Good Thing by Jillee and saw the headline “17 Things Our Grandparents Did” pop up. Well, of course, I just burst into tears. I have a lifetime of memories of every one of these things being done faithfully by my grandmother, and then by my mother. The timing of this post could not be more personal or profound for me. I cannot thank you enough for covering such a wonderful topic, and for doing it just….now.

    • Qusie says

      Your comment and use of the phrase “the privilege of stewarding this land” really touched me. If only we would look at things less as “ours” and more as though we were simply “stewards,” what a difference there would be in the world. And if we viewed taking care of our earth as a privilege, rather than a bother, who knows how much better we might all be able to live? Thanks, Julie. The world needs more of you.

  36. Angel says

    When I was growing up, we had very little. Our home was small and so was my parents income. At an early age I learned to “can”, help out in the garden, and save a penny. I’ve plucked more chickens than I would like to admit and have spent many a hour stringing green beans. Though I’m grown now and my house hold income has improved, I still live like I did when I was young. I shop resale stores and good wills, yet my children are always dressed well. I learned to sew, so that I could make those adorable boutique outfits for my daughter, for a 1/10 of the price. When something gets broken, we fix it, or find another way for it to be used. Every year I put up veggies and fruits for the winter season and shop for groceries on a tight budget. The save, conserve, repurpose attitude of my parents ( and grandparents) has helped me and my family through hard times, and helped us to bless others in good times.

  37. STACEY says

    LOVE the article today……………I use a clothes line every day possible (in winter, bad weather, hang indoors) except for towels (too stiff on clothes line) and for the clothes pins, I use an old apron with a big front pocket to hold them…………….as for the fabric/ plastic grocery bags, I spray with rubbing alcohol after use or wash them ( if used for meat.)…………….I also was raised with reuse, reduce and recycle mentality …………..Have an awesome day all……………..


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