(Grand)Mother Knows Best: 14 Things our Grandparents Did That We Should Bring Back

We aren’t sociologists and we certainly aren’t historians. So we aren’t exactly sure at what point in time our society switched from the mindset of the Great Depression where nothing should be wasted, to a lifestyle of consuming and convenience. But we all know someone from our childhood that really did want to REDUCE and REUSE. Long before these concepts were forgotten and RECYCLE was the buzzword. Seemingly a release of all environmental burden caused, a way to mentally pardon ourselves for consuming more. When in reality we need to use less to begin with.

We compiled a list of endearing memories of these well meaning relatives that would earn a gold star in the new #zerowaste trend. Upon reflection, at the time we saw our grandparents’ actions as silly or frugal. And ironically, I think this may be how WE, earthmamas, come across to many. So this is a tribute to them, the OG environmentalists, and pioneers of refusing, reducing and reusing. Thank you for all that you taught us!

Much love,

Your grandchildren (and generations to follow)


1. Hanging Clothes Out to Dry

image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/professorbop/404691086/

There’s nothing better than the smell of fresh sheets off the clothesline. Often houses in the past didn’t have an electric dryer and so hanging clothes out in the sun was out of necessity. Drying clothes out on a clothesline like our grandmothers did can help save energy and money!

2. Reusing Gift Boxes for Years & Years

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Christmas and birthdays LOOKED similar at my grandmother’s because she would reuse the gift boxes and gift bags over and over again! Why not? They work perfectly and serve their purpose. It seems silly and wasteful to buy new ones every time!

3. NEVER Wasting Food

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Food is a valuable resource. It requires plenty of land and water to make and therefore food waste is exactly that, wasteful! My grandmother’s is very careful to avoid any and all food waste. Her freezer is full of soups, and food that is ready to be made into soup. When vegetables are close to spoiling and there isn’t time to eat them she will freeze them until she has enough to make a large pot of soup. YUM!

4. Canning and Preserving

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I can remember my grandparent’s pantry stacked full of different sized mason jars filled with anything from pickles to canned fruit and different jams/jellies…Yum!  They would use things from their gardens or go picking fruit at local farm to make their preserves. This way they would have the freshness of their garden and local food to enjoy all year round.

5. Cloth Diapers

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We all know that disposable diapers are a heavy burden on the environment. According to BBC News it takes anywhere from 200 to 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose, YIKES. My grandma had 5 children, and every single one of them wore cloth diapers. Think of how many disposable diapers that saved the landfills!

6. Reusing Margarine Containers

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I can remember margarine containers housed anything and everything! Once they were done storing margarine my grandmother would wash them and they became a new home for leftovers, baking, dry goods or even non food items such as crayons. They were the ultimate storage containers.

7. Hand Washing Linens

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Forget the High Efficiency washing machine and dryer appliances, my grandmother hand washed ALL of her family’s laundry. She had 5 children and all of them wore cloth diapers, which means those were included in the laundry load. Once they were clean she would hang everything to dry on the line. I can only imagine the amount of electricity she saved.

8. Making her Own Clothing

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There is something so special about handmade items, if everyone’s clothing were made by their grandmother, do you think we may think differently about fashion and the NEED for more or newer pieces? My grandmother made almost all of her own, and her five children’s clothing items. The very definition of slow clothing!

9. Savings Money as a Gift

Instead of giving us material things for our birthdays or Christmas, my grandmother always gave us money to save for our future. We didn’t need MORE things and the money came in handy for experiences later on.

10. Meal Planning

My Grandmother was, and still is, a big planner. She always plans out every meal for the week and knows exactly which ingredients she needs from the store. She also anticipates which meals will provide leftovers and plans for those accordingly. She minimizes food waste by buying only what she has planned for and also ensuring everything is eaten.

11. Making Use of Fabric Scraps

Photo by Dinh Pham on Unsplash

The amount of fabric wasted in the clothing industry during production is alarming. Scraps never went to waste at my grandma’s house! She used all leftover end pieces, cuts and old clothing to make quilts. They were beautiful and useful for keeping us warm and cozy!

12. Reusing & Reusing & Reusing Tin Foil

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

My grandma would insist saving every single piece of tinfoil no matter how small and putting it back around the roll. I don’t know if she ever actually bought more than one roll. Talk about REDUCING & REUSING!

13. A Homegrown Menu

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My grandparents were farmers. Everything they ate came from the land they lived and worked on. With the exception of trips into town for flour and sugar, their livestock and garden provided everything they needed for their family to eat. I always looked forward to visiting grandma, the meals were INCREDIBLE. Nothing tastes better than homegrown vegetables. Now, I too work hard at my own veggie garden with my own family.

14. Mending EVERYTHING

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Our grandparents valued their possessions, much more than we seem to. If something broke, they would fix it instead of tossing it away and rushing out to buy a replacement. My great grandmother, I am told, would even mend her families wool socks. She used a lightbulb to hold the sock taught and stitch the fibers back together. My grandmother, mother and mother-in-law are all great at mending clothing. Something I am learning to do to thanks to these lovely women.

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10 thoughts on “(Grand)Mother Knows Best: 14 Things our Grandparents Did That We Should Bring Back”

  1. Thank you for this article. # 1,2,5,6, 12 and 14 were her specialties. I still have many, many gift packages that I inherited 8 years ago when she died…and am still reusing them.

    She used fabric scraps to make all the clothes for her granddaughters’ American Girl dolls. I still have those and plan to pass them down someday.

    A sad note on clothes hanging out to dry. Today many subdivisions have covenants that do not allow that.

    1. Thank you so much for your response! So happy to hear she did so many of these. We also love that she used fabric scraps for doll clothing and you are passing them along! How wonderful. As for the hanging to dry, I understand some places wont allow it. I live in a cold climate to I have a small rack in my laundry room and I hang them inside!

  2. The one thing I will point out is this: The amount of work that goes into this is significant and our grandmothers (and mothers) stayed at home so had the time to do this work. The point about washing laundry by hand is a case in point, as is the canning and preserving. Too many of us are working in one or more full-time jobs and as much as it would be awesome to be able to do this, it isn’t feasible for a lot of us. I grew up on a farm – we grew our own veggies, etc, so I know the amount of work that goes into this. It also requires appropriate storage for preserves (or the empty, waiting to be re-used jars), access to drying space, etc. I know of neighbourhood organizations that won’t allow outdoor clotheslines because they’re an “eyesore.” There needs to be a sea-change in attitudes to make these kinds of changes more prevalent.

    1. We understand much of this takes more time, and its not attainable for everyone. It was a post to thank them for their work and acknowledge all they taught us. For those who can do these things, or one of these things we hope to have inspired you. Even the one as simple as not wasting food. As for the hanging to dry, I understand some places wont allow it. I live in a cold climate so I have a small rack in my laundry room and I hang them inside! We agree it needs to be a large scale shift in thinking but that starts with us as individuals taking action.

  3. I agree that it takes the full time work of one person to run a household the way they did in our grandparents generation. Maybe we should be striving to work in our traditional ‘paid’ jobs less and work more in our own homes. I’m not suggesting women shoulder this work and I’m not at all for traditional gender stereotypes in the home.
    I think work places need to start thinking about part time work as normal. If we can maintain our responsible roles and continue to get paid for the top jobs we have worked our whole careers to obtain, our families and our planet will be in a better position.
    I have owned businesses and I’m not talking about paying people for 5 days when they only work 4. I am just talking about allowing responsible adults to job share – pay one person for 3 and the other person for 2 days. Sadly this is still unheard of in a lot of industries.
    Another point – without simplifying our lifestyles and changing our spending habits we will always be stuck with two adults requiring paid work. I’m getting by with less and feeling good about it.

    1. Definitely something to think about. There are 6 of us and we all have different work/home balances with our partners and children. We also live in different places of the world. We are just doing our best to reduce our eco footprints while also being parents, spouses and employees. We are trying to reduce our consumption and waste as much as possible. These were just some ways our grandmothers did and we appreciate them for it!

  4. Pingback: Traveling Lightly (on the Planet) – Earth Mamas International

  5. I love this. I think it suggests but does not outright say some things too- that clothes got worn for longer without washing, which cuts down on water, time and wear. And the tinfoil likely was less clean than new, but we lived through it

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