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

Back in Grandma's day, being "green" was just the sensible thing to do.

green things grandparents did


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 the ones that helped conserve personal and natural resources. It 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! Just one more example of “everything old becomes new again.”

17 Eco-Friendly Things Our Grandparents Used To Do

green things grandparents did

1. Dried Clothes On A Clothesline

Clothes dryers have come a long way in energy efficiency over recent years, but the average dryer is still an energy hog. 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.”

Clothes last longer when they are consistently air dried, and on top of that, is there anything better than sheets and pillowcases hung in the sun to dry? I rest my case.

green things grandparents did

2. Grew Their Own Food

Not only is there an incredible sense of accomplishment in growing your own fruits and vegetables, but you can also avoid pesticides and control the types of seeds and transplants that you sow and grow, like heirloom varieties. My grandparents ALWAYS grew their own food—all you need to do it is soil, water, and sun!

green things grandparents did

3. Preserved Their Own Food

Canning the food you grow in your garden is a great way to preserve them 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 back then, and if people today preserved even a fraction of the food our parents and grandparents did, there would be a lot less food going to waste today.

green things grandparents did

4. Collected Rainwater

A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. And 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.

Related: Save On Your Water Bill With This Easy DIY Rain Barrel

Note: Several states have introduced rainwater collection laws, including Colorado, Illinois, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Virginia. Most of these laws outline allowable collection methods and usage for rainwater, mainly to prevent people from “diverting water” in large quantities or selling rainwater as drinking water without proper treatment.

green things grandparents did

5. Cooked At Home

Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, and preparing your own food is good for the environment and your wallet alike. Home cooking typically uses fewer packaged ingredients, which conserves resources like paper and plastic.

And if you buy those ingredients from local farmers or grow your own, you’ll make an even bigger impact on the environment by significantly reducing the number of miles your food has to travel to get to your plate.

green things grandparents did

6. Saved Eating Out for Special Occasions

In the modern era, it’s not uncommon for people to eat out several times each week, but for our grandparents, eating out was saved for special occasions. Even fast food, which wasn’t as common back then, was considered a treat. (I remember my parents used to pack food for our road trips, and we’d stop to eat our meals at roadside picnic tables.)

green things grandparents did

7. Entertained at Home

Today we spend plenty of time and money on going out. Our grandparents spent more time outdoors during the day, and in the evenings were devoted to board games, reading, and other hobbies. Going to the movies or to a concert was considered a rare luxury.

By finding more free activities to do and family activities you can do at home, you can save a lot of money and get more quality time with the people you love!

green things grandparents did

8. Drank Water From The Tap

When our grandparents were thirsty, they got their water from the tap instead a plastic bottle shipped from who knows where. Bottled water would have seemed a ridiculous notion 100 years ago, but today it’s everywhere you go.

green things grandparents did

9. “Brown Bagged” It

When grandpa or grandma went to work, they brought a packed lunch from home, and it’s still a great way to reduce food waste and conserve resources! Fast food and fast casual restaurants often serve meals in single-use packaging that ends up in a landfill. With little effort, taking lunch to work can be easy, inexpensive, healthy, and green.

green things grandparents did

10. Played More Games

Hopscotch, red light/green light, jacks, hide and seek, roller skating, tag—the list of outdoor games goes on and on. Being outdoors helps children connect with nature and the environment around them, and outdoor play develops disposition for the outdoors, for physical activity, and for care of the environment.

green things grandparents did

11. Bought Less

Our grandparents didn’t buy nearly as many new things as we do today. If something had a hole in it, it wasn’t thrown out–it was patched or mended. Christmas and birthday gifts were often homemade, and things were frequently handed down from child to child. These practices not only saved money, but they were eco-friendly too.

green things grandparents did

12. 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! Especially in the age of smartphones and tablets, spending time in nature is a great way for everyone in your family to take a break from screens.

green things grandparents did

13. Cultivated Community

Before Facebook, texting, and email, Grandma and Grandpa just talked to people face to face. Research shows that connecting with people around you makes you healthier and boosts your lifespan and gathering on front porches creates a feeling of community and family.

green things grandparents did

14. 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, or soothe a bug bite with lavender essential oil or a plantain poultice.

green things grandparents did

15. Made Their Own Cleaning Products

Our grandparents used basic cleaning agents to keep their homes clean, and they still work just as well today. In fact, baking soda, vinegar, lemon, castile soap, and essential oils can cover most of your cleaning needs.

green things grandparents did

16. Used Public Transportation, Rode Bikes, And Walked

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, and if we drove less today, we could save money and help the environment.

green things grandparents did

17. Recycled

Our grandparents may not have had a recycling center in town, but they knew how to make something into something else. Dresses became quilts, and milk bottles and soft drink bottles were returned to the store to be washed, sterilized, and reused. Everything had a secondary use and nothing was thrown away until it simply couldn’t be reused again.

Did you pick up any environmentally friendly habits from your parents or grandparents?

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    Hi, I’m Jillee!

    I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I’ve been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

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