Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Green or Practical Living?


There's a lot of talk in the world today about living "green," in other words, doing things differently to keep the air we breathe cleaner, conserving water, using less energy in home heating and cooling. To me, these things aren't about being "green" but rather, practical. I guess I'm old enough to have been raised by frugal parents that naturally taught me the art of being a dollar stretcher and water conservationist. It was just a way of life for us then rather than a lifestyle choice or a politically correct decision.

When I was a "Kid Back Home" there weren't a lot of choices for me to make. We were middle class Americans who had to squeeze a dollar. When I got the hard rap on the bathroom door, that meant my showering was over. Five minutes was about the limit. There were too many people in the house and not enough hot water to shower six bodies for as long as you pleased. The same went for loads of laundry. We never, ever did a small load of wash. When there were enough pieces to make a whole load, you were allowed to wash the darks or whites. If there weren't enough towels to make a full load, they had to wait another day or so. We always, always used the clothesline to dry clothes unless it was too cold and the wash would freeze. Left-over coffee and tea was never poured down the drain back home, but was used for watering plants.

Nowadays I still have a fairly good showering/bathing restriction on my children and I hate to just drain the kitchen sink after washing dishes. So I often will bail water from my kitchen sink into a pitcher or bowl to carry out to my thirsty geraniums on the porch. The coffee and tea also is used for watering plants at my house. One year here at the ranch we had to put ourselves on severe water restrictions. I could not water the flowers or trees or lawn, but I did my best to keep things growing. I washed in a plastic tub that fit in my kitchen sink, and I poured every bit of dirty dishwater on potted plants and flowers and trees that year. Some asked me if it was good for the plants to drink in soapy water, but I read that soapy water is in fact, good for plants. It allows the water to soak into the soil better and deters bugs. (See Impatient Gardener by Jerry Baker)

In my childhood kitchen, conservation reigned supreme. Bacon drippings were never scraped into the trash, but were poured into a canning jar and kept in the refrigerator to be used for frying eggs or sauteing vegetables or poured into the pancake batter for the "oil." (Actually, we preferred the flavor it gave to our pancakes!) Tin foil was always folded and re-used unless it was too dirty. Newspapers or paper sacks were used to cool cookies or to drain fried foods. We never had paper towels. My step-mom thought it was far too expensive to buy them when we had enough rags in the house to wash things and sop up messes. We washed and re-used ziplock bags when we had them. We washed and re-used sour cream containers and Cool Whip bowls for our left-overs or to send food home with a guest who came for dinner. Coffee cans were used in the garden to protect young plants from wind and cutworms. They were also used for storing cookies in the freezer or nails in the garage. I remember seeing a coffee can in an outhouse with a roll of toilet paper inside. It kept it clean and dry! I learned from my mother-in-law many years ago how to cover left-overs with out using plastic wrap. I thought it was ingenious then and I still do today. Simply put a plate over the bowl and slide it into the frig. The nice thing about this clever topper is that you can stack bowls on top of bowls this way. She also taught me to keep a slop pail underneath the sink to throw kitchen scraps in. We use the scraps to help feed our chickens. Then there's baking your own bread. That's simply the best-tasting option, not to mention good for you, and cheap. I did the math one time and figured that I could make a loaf of bread for about 35 cents a loaf. That's quite a savings for a family of seven.

Saving energy in a family home only made common sense. No one wanted to spend their precious pennies on an electrical bill or gas bill when it was so easy to turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater. We cut felled pine trees in the forest for our wood-burning stove to help with the heating bill and frankly, we liked warming up to it. Is there anything better than sidling up to a crackling fire when you're chilled to the bone? It's hard to do on a furnace vent. Today we have a wood-burning stove in our home and it's been a life-saver when there were power outages in the middle of winter.

Driving the car was a luxury rather than a right. We kids all had ten-speed bikes which were the "in thing" back in the 70's. We rode our bikes everywhere or else we walked. Driving to high school was never an option when your dad was driving by it on his way to work. It wasn't about saving gas, or saving the planet, it was about making a smart decision. I hitched rides with friends who had their own cars and otherwise pedaled my way to and from work in the summertime.

As a new mother way back 23 years ago, I had the option of disposable diapers or cloth. I loved using the disposable type, but found that it cost us a large chunk-of-change to keep our little bambino in them. So I opted for the notorious cloth diaper with diaper pins and plastic covers. I thought it would be messy option, a dirty job, an uncomfortable butt-covering for my baby, but what I found was a very satisfying choice. I loved hanging out rows of diapers on the clothesline, I even liked folding them just-so. And diapering was easy. Since I was at home, it was not a problem to change the baby often and wash diapers when needed. There was less diaper rash too. When we went on trips to town I tossed in a few disposable diapers for ease. Back then, cloth diapering was a practical, financial decision which later on taught me that it was a good choice for my child as well as for my environment.

I'm sure I could go on and on about the many ways that I could be considered "green" in today's terms, but I'd rather be thought of as practical and sensible. I've found that most times a practical choice makes good sense in many more ways than one.

I'll bet all of you have a frugal story to tell -- how your mom darned holey socks or how your dad smoked a pipe to save on the cost of cigarettes. Do tell!

14 comments:

  1. What an interesting post Jody! Loved reading how you conserve water and have done over many years. We have all our household water (except toilet) go into an underground tank and we water all our gardens with this water once a week. If it wasn't for this set up, we would not have a garden. I've just finished planting a pile of seedlings for spring vegetables and our pumpkins are nearly ready to cut off the bush. :-)

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  2. Much of what you wrote rings very true with how I was raised. My parents were older (the age of most of my friends grandparents) so they had seen hard times and knew the value of a dollar.

    One of the most frugal things my dad did...and I think it was also a sentimental thing...was to paint the christmas light bulbs that we put on our house and tree. When the paint peeled off he would just repaint them instead of tossing them and buying new. (And we could have afforded new ones...we were not hurting by any means...but as my dad would say, "It is the principle of the thing." :)

    I know people today who throw out perfectly good lights when they toss their x-mas tree just because it is easier & fairly inexpensive to buy new ones next year..and too much trouble to unwind them and store them.

    My dad would call that wasteful....and so do I. :)

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  3. Well thank you for this post because a lot of what you mentioned we do and I did not think of it at “green” just what was drilled into me in my childhood !!! Angie lives on the island and it is full of millionaires who love to live green and we laugh because they sooo admire how she lives. What they do not realize is it is because she is poor and has to make every penny stretch. They just do not have a clue. Although Angie does want to live light on the earth a lot of choices are just because they do not have the money. Love Clarice

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  4. You know sometimes I fly into a complete faff about what "I call my way of life". Is it green, or ethical or simple, or frugal? Well it's all of those things isn't it? And, as you point out just plain sensible. However, so many people have no idea what waste is. It is such a shame, particularly for young families as they believe that they need a lot of money to live and therefore a duel income, when really they just need to know how to spend their money wisely. Our grandparent particularly knew this because they lived through the depression and the war, where make do and mend was a matter of patriotism. We are also losing a sens of practicality, we can't cook, or sew, or build anymore, everything needs to be "specialised" when in real terms practicality is rewarding and good!

    You've got me on my pet subject here Jody, I could go on and on and on. But, in reality the green movement does itself no favours by allying itself to expensive alternatives to mainstream luxury products. You don't need an expensive "green" car to be a good steward or and organic yoga mat or even solar panels! The best good stewards are people who want to live well and watch their pennies!

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  5. Sandie, I think your "grey water" tank system is excellent! It reminds me of a simpler version that my grandma had. She had her kitchen sink drain piped outdoors to a barrel and they watered plants with that (in spring/summer months). They had a poor well.

    Leslie, I think it was very sweet of your dad to paint the Christmas tree bulbs. We try everything we can to keep our old bulbs working even tho' they are cheap to purchase new. It IS the principle of it. Dad was right!

    Clarice, this is the thing that I think is such an oximoron -- rich people thinking they're living "green" by buying alternative fuel cars or making their cabinets out of recycled something-or-other which cost them FAR more than a plain wooden cabinet. Kooky. I guess the key to living "green" is to be poor or frugal.

    Isabella, I know this is your "hot topic" and I appreciate what you've said and I agree with you. Let's teach our children how to cook simple meals with REAL food, to save their money by recycling old furniture into new, by teaching them to spend thoughtfully and sensibly. I'm glad you brought up the dual income too. That's a whole 'nother post!

    ~Jody

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  6. Loved your post. I too live frugel. I was the last of eight and my mother was single working poor. I love this post I never thought of myself as "green" or living for so political caous.
    I just learned a simple American Indian Principle
    Honor respect and reverence for all things.

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  7. This post was so timely for me Jody. I've found myself doing a lot less blogging lately, because at times I become overwhelmed by all of the "consumption" that I see. Your blog is such a nice balance to all of that and grounds me back where I like to be.
    I grew up in a family that did a lot of sewing, quilting, gardening and canning. Most of my extended family and both of my parents grew up on farms. Not big fancy farms. My grandmother and her sisters worked in the cotton mills in the South for 10 cents an hour when they were young. When their mother passed away, my grandma, who was the oldest daughter, took on the raising of her youngest brothers and sisters. She had her own children by then, but she made do. She says that sometimes all they had were beans and cornbread, but everyone was always clean, fed and knew they were loved. They used to buy flour in pretty sacks. My grandma and my aunt said they'd really take their time choosing which sacks of flour to buy, because they sewed their dresses from them.
    I sometimes think that coming from such a family was one of the best things that ever hapened to me.

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  8. I love this post Jody. It rings so true for me. Although my parents were not particularly frugal they were sensible and things were not wasted because of laziness. My Aunt, who lived next door was very frugal, being an abandoned wife with two children and a mortgage she had to know how to stretch a dollar.But by taking in sewing, watching her pennies and wasting nothing she was able to feed, clothe and house her family and live well. Many of the choices we have made have been because the alternative was too expensive and that wasn't where we wanted to spend our money. We all have a choice what we spend our money on:high electricity bill or some new books, house renovations or education. Problem is that some people don't seem to realise there is a choice.

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  9. I guess that makes us green~ before green was even cool.

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  10. Donetta, we do have to honor and respect the land and all we've been given by God.

    Mrs. Staggs,
    I enjoyed your story about your parents growing up on a family farm. Lots of people did back then and they knew how to "make do" with what they had. I have a sense that when we were more of an agrarian society, folks learned and practiced many practical skills that are not commonly known today, but are hired done.

    Jenny, we really do have choices to make, but some folks don't. Like your Aunt, she HAD to pay the mortgage. Hardship causes us to be creative or inventive.

    Sandi, I guess you're right!
    ~Jody

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  11. Donetta, we do have to honor and respect the land and all we've been given by God.

    Mrs. Staggs,
    I enjoyed your story about your parents growing up on a family farm. Lots of people did back then and they knew how to "make do" with what they had. I have a sense that when we were more of an agrarian society, folks learned and practiced many practical skills that are not commonly known today, but are hired done.

    Jenny, we really do have choices to make, but some folks don't. Like your Aunt, she HAD to pay the mortgage. Hardship causes us to be creative or inventive.

    Sandi, I guess you're right!
    ~Jody

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  12. Hi I came over from Natalie's other blog (Homespun Revolutionary). I enjoyed your post and agree with everything you said. The world is a credit card world, it's much more wonderful to live in a waste not-want not world.

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  13. Hi Jody!

    Oh, what a fun post--although everything you do seems so normal to me it's hard to think of it as "green".

    With our income being of the "feast or famine" variety, we are pretty creative at stretching our dollars too. Hand-me-downs are gratefully accepted, not looked on as used goods. Baking is an everyday happening. I have a compost bucket under the sink. I never mark in my books, thinking I may resell them.

    My folks lived through the depression so I grew up with the old saying Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. My sister and I went to private schools, but in order to do that our family lived VERY simply. My mom made us dresses from curtain material remnants--and we always looked terrific. She had a knack for adding a bit of lace here, a ruffle there, and our clothes looked like the height of fashion.

    There were other not so fun ways to conserve money. I only remember our house being painted twice in the 25 years we lived there. The carpet was replaced only once, and most of the furniture came from my dad's folks. Now the dressers and tables are antiques and precious, but back then they were just the cast offs. Of course things lasted a lot longer back then too, being made better. I get frustrated when things fall apart in a short time.

    Well, I've rambled too much.

    Love,

    Jeannie

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  14. Sarah, welcome! It encourages me that there are real people out there who see practicality and frugality as a way of life rather than a political position.

    Jeannie,
    You learned from the BEST -- Depression Era parents. And you probably learned some things you do NOT want to do. My MIL, who was also from that era saved multitudes of margarine tubs. She used some, but not the boxes and boxes of them.

    ~Jody

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