Eco-friendly Lessons We Can All Learn from My Great Depression-Era Parents

Recently while reading an article on reducing plastic consumption, I realized that the intent was to sell environmentally-conscious products. While I’ll likely invest in bamboo toothbrushes for the family, since they are biodegradable, the remainder of the products seemed unnecessary.

As I read and thought about our energy consumption, recycling issues, and plastic pollution, I could imagine my Great Depression-era parents shaking their heads at American excessiveness.

Here is what we may learn from them:

  1. Whenever you leave a room, turn off the light. (An oldy but a goody!)


  1. If it isn’t broken, don’t replace it! Do we really need a newer model? A new bell, new whistle? Something that matches a new décor or a different season?


  1. If it is broken, can it be fixed? I realize that we live in a disposable society and that sometimes it is more costly to fix an item than it is to replace it; however, sometimes a little effort, ingenuity, and perhaps the addition of an instructional youtube video can go a long way (and save a few precious pennies in the process)!


  1. If something cloth is no longer wearable or presentable in the kitchen or bathroom, can it be added to a rag bag for future dusting, polishing, wall washing, dog drying, etc.? Do we really need to buy dust cloths or disposable cleaning wipes or synthetic sponges?


  1. Reuse bags. Paper bags can be filled with paper and cardboard products destined for the recycling bin. Plastic bags can line garbage cans and wastepaper baskets. Why buy them? Similarly, (and this post-dates my parents!) pretty, sustainable bags for the grocery store are a waste of money and material, if we have already amassed a quantity of free recyclable bags. Instead, use them and/or canvas bags until they’re thread bare. In fact, use everything until it’s thread bare!


  1. Most American homes already contain a cajillion plastic containers in the kitchen. Why waste plastic wrap and tin foil if we can stick leftovers into bowls and cover them with lids? Why not use the plastic until it’s unusable and not replace it? Then, better options can be explored.


  1. Remember glass? Maybe you’re too young. Why buy individually bottled beverages when water can be poured into a glass pitcher and flavors added or it can be turned into lemonade or iced tea? Glass and other non-plastic reusable water bottle options abound today.


  1. My parents were the type who stuck the last sliver of a soap bar to the new soap bar. (They scraped every bowl clean. They got every last drop out of a shampoo or ketchup bottle by turning it upside down and letting the liquid flow down into the cap.) While many of us today now use liquid soap and shower gel, we can reduce plastic use even via use of large refillable containers. And do we really need to buy new bottles of window and counter cleaners or can we make our own and re-use the last purchased plastic bottle?


  1. As for plastic utensils, why can’t we start washing real forks, spoons, and knives again, even when we are on the go? If afraid of throwing away the ones that belong to our matching kitchen sets, perhaps we could pick up some odd ones from a local thrift store or flea market? Regarding disposable plastic, we can also ask ourselves – unless they are a medical necessity, do we really need straws at all?


  1. Donate, sell, or give away anything and everything that is still usable.


I realize that most of us are “whores to convenience,” myself included, and that in relation to some of the above-mentioned suggestions, I’m being hypocritical (e.g. 16 oz. Diet Coke bottle), but I am increasingly striving to do better, and I hope that we all will because, after all, what is a little inconvenience as compared to further risking the future of our planet? And let’s admit it, Americans – when it comes to energy consumption and pollution of all types, we’re disproportionately high contributors! So, let’s do better, and better still!

2 thoughts on “Eco-friendly Lessons We Can All Learn from My Great Depression-Era Parents

  1. Since writing this post, I thought of another thing that my mom did — she made homemade salad dressing!I didn’t start using bottled dressing until I was in my late 20’s. After we run out of plastic bottles in the fridge, I’m returning to homemade! 🙂


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