At this time of year, I often think of all the resources we burn through as we jet through our busy modern lives. Consumption of just about everything ramps up during the holiday season, and more so with each generation, but as we learn increasingly about our impact on the planet and how precious these resources truly are, perhaps it’s time to hark back to the era of our elders. Previous generations had a much more balanced and careful approach to what they had; they were green out of necessity! Evidence suggests that while they used far less they were actually happier than we are today within our have-it-now lifestyle bubbles. When did we lose the plot? Let’s look at some of the ways our senior loved ones approached life, and see what we can learn:
Buy less, recycle more
I remember as a child that my grandmother had a very limited number of outfits that she wore in rotation. She didn’t have much but she cherished and loved each thing she owned. We so often focus on the thrill of the purchase before moving on to our next wish rather than indulging in the more enduring joy of really treasuring something we have. For my grandmother, if something was damaged she would repair it, and when it couldn’t be repaired any more it would be recycled. So a beloved dress would become a new shopping bag or be transformed into something smaller for the grandchildren.
In a jump away from the fast fashion era, you can choose to invest in quality pieces for your wardrobe that will bring you enjoyment for many years to come, or look for your next incarnation in second hand shops where someone else’s cast-off can become your favourite thing. With the rise of up-cycling, why not try your hand at reinventing an old trusty garment?
Grow your own and reconnect with your dinner plate
For our seniors, it was commonplace to grow vegetables and herbs, and boiling fruits for delicious jams and pickles was as familiar a part of the year’s ebbs and flows as the turning of the seasons themselves. As we learn more about the impact of food miles and the waste involved in packaging all the things we eat we might consider growing our own too.
There are few things more satisfying than eating something we’ve watched develop from a tiny seedling into something plump and juicy for the kitchen and growing our own vegetables can be a big money saver. If you lack outdoor space don’t be disheartened. It’s amazing what you can grow in a few pots on the kitchen counter or in some lovely window boxes. Consider growing anything from cherry tomatoes and bush beans to your own chillies and herbs. Strawberries look fabulous trailing down from a hanging basket. I always like to grow things that are a bit more expensive or hard to come by like nasturtiums which are gorgeous little plants that produce prolific, brightly coloured edible flowers for a really spectacular salad with a peppery flavour that is reminiscent of watercress! Ginger is also a firm favourite to grow indoors as it makes a really attractive houseplant.
A greater value on food and its packaging
Do you remember the days of the milkman in his low power electric milk cart? Milk was left in bottles on the doorstep and it was a race with the savvy early morning birds as to who would get the cream from the top of the bottle! Those bottles went back to the milk processing plant to be washed and reused, as did many receptacles in those days. While the milkman no longer calls, an industry of refillable groceries and household products is beginning to sprout up. Why not do a little Googling to see if there is a refill-ready shop near you?
Yesterday’s leftovers became today’s packed lunch and the bones from a roast dinner were boiled to make stocks and soups which are packed with nutrients and offer anti-inflammatory properties. Our elders made their food go further, ate at home more and were careful not to waste a scrap.
Focus on connection
Rather than grabbing a convenient snack without interrupting our screen time, we could benefit from doing things the old fashioned way and giving a bit more weight to the ritual of mealtimes as a means to connect with friends and family every day. Try dragging everyone into prep and banning smartphones at the table. They might not want to admit it but the kids could actually begin to enjoy this shared responsibility, and they might appreciate the food they have a little more. Grab their attention by asking them to come up with some meal ideas.
Enjoy the journey
We are all so used to hopping in the car to go where we want to go, but there’s something to be said for slowing down a little, walking, cycling or taking the bus. Before the dominance of the car as a means to get about, people had to plan a little better. It was more common for the young to enjoy walking or cycling to school with their friends, and for us to have a little contemplative time on the bus to work. The time we spend simply sitting and doing nothing for a moment is when we have our most creative thoughts. When we get moving and use person-power to get where we’re going the result is that we are happier and healthier, in mind and body. Getting moving, or simply sitting still for a while can allow us to be more relaxed and inventive, stirring up energy for other things.
Make your own for a greener, healthier house
I looked at the back of the cleaning spray bottle in our kitchen and I have to say I couldn’t tell you what one of the ingredients was or where it came from. With such a chemical overload on our environment and our bodies, why not go old school and make your own cleaning products? Simple recipes featuring vinegar, baking soda and essential oils are easy to find. We can do the same for ourselves by exploring hand-made soaps and home remedies. Make your own honey-based cough syrup or keep cold season at bay by making some invigorating lemon and ginger tea.
Don’t rely so heavily on modern machines
Previous generations didn’t have the resources we have and while there are benefits to new technologies we often don’t think of the costs we incur by using the latest gadget or convenience. Why not turn off the dryer and save on your bills by letting your clothes air dry? You can reduce your water and power consumption by skipping powering up the dishwasher for a half load when washing it in the sink will only take a few minutes. See if you can noticeably shrink your electricity bill by getting everyone on board with finding ways to save power and be a bit more mindful about what we use or leave on.
Take joy in the little things
We seem to have forgotten the art of taking joy in what, and who is around us. Our elders played games in the real world, spent more time outside and gave more focus to things like enjoying the nature around them. Why not spend some time with your elderly loved one and ask them about the value they put on material things when they were young and what gave them the most joy? You might be surprised how they answer and it might give you a few ideas that will be good for your purse and the planet too!