Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sustainable living in past generations

Nowadays, sustainable living is fashionable. People buy more expensive products because they are better for the environment. But past generations were not like this. My grandmother told me that during the Depression, it was common for people to gather food from the woods. She said many people were skinny because they did not have enough to eat. Her family was relatively well off because they had a big garden and chickens, and because her father knew how to make furniture and had a regular job as a mailman.

My mother blows her nose on cloth handkerchiefs. They are not cloth handkerchiefs that were bought in a store. They are made from old shirts. There were some nice plaid flannel shirts that were secondhand when I got them. I wore them often, but at least 15 years ago, I stopped wearing them because they were coming apart at the elbows. I gave them to my mother. She cut the sleeves off at the elbows. She converted the shirts into short sleeved shirts, and converted the ends of the sleeves into handkerchiefs. She still wears the shirts and uses the handkerchiefs. How old are these shirts? She has had them for 15 years, but there were two previous owners. Maybe they are about 25 years old.

My mother has a nice soft t-shirt that she wears as an inner layer. This was something that I got secondhand, and then gave to her. How old is the t-shirt? Probably older than the flannel shirts.

When people take showers at my mom's house, there's a place where the water tends to land on the floor, because the shower curtain doesn't quite close the gap with the wall. In order to prevent water damage to the floor, my mother puts a folded up old towel on the floor. I asked her about the history of the towel. She said it is the towel she and her sister used to take swimming. "So it's about 50 years old?" I ask. She says, well maybe it's not the same towel, maybe it's another towel of the same kind, that her mother got at the same time but did not use as much.

I still wear a sweater that belonged to my aunt before I was born. I'm in my 40's, so that's an old sweater. It does look a little worn. I wear it as a middle layer, between a turtleneck and a newer looking sweater. It's wool so it's nice and warm. It's a small size for me, which means it fits well under my newer sweaters.

Instead of getting swept away by trendy, expensive forms of sustainable living, we need to remember to go back to basics. We need to learn to live as our parents and grandparents lived.