Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a simpler time, and we aren’t just talking about technology. During the Great Depression, many rural areas didn’t have running water or electricity, and things like proper refrigeration, freezers and air conditioning were a luxury. What’s more, big-box chains and massive supermarkets didn’t exist, and you didn’t have the option of throwing a pre-packaged meal into a microwave or hitting a drive-thru for lunch. Many modern conveniences are great, and in many ways, living in 2019 is much more enjoyable than 1935. But there are a lot of things we can learn from older generations to help live a more sustainable life. Here are some things our grandparents and great-grandparents did to live a simpler life that was a lot more eco-friendly.

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fresh pasta, brown eggs and flour on wood table

Make meals from scratch

For the first time in American history, people are eating at restaurants more than they are cooking at home. In 2016, sales in restaurants passed grocery sales, meaning that people are spending more on eating out than eating in.

Cooking from scratch is starting to become a skill that fewer and fewer of us know how to do, and that is resulting in people not knowing where their food comes from or how it was prepared.

Related: 10 tasty and easy vegan dinner ideas

Not only is cooking a survival skill that everyone should have, but preparing food at home makes you more self-sufficient, and it leads to a healthier diet. Plus, it saves your family a ton of cash, and it is much more environmentally friendly. You will use less packaging when you buy fresh ingredients, and when you skip the restaurant, you can reduce your food waste.

tools and phone parts on white table

If it breaks, fix it

We admit that things are made differently than they used to be. With the strategy of planned obsolescence, products aren’t designed to last as long and can break rather easily. From fashion to cars to appliances to electronics, things break, go out of style and become obsolete faster than ever. This can lead to spending money on the newest gadgets and trends, even though we could easily fix what is broken or alter what we have to fit our needs.

Our grandparents knew how to mend their clothes and fix broken items, or at least knew where to go to get things fixed. Instead of tossing things out the moment they aren’t perfect, take the time to fix or mend them.

salad in a glass jar

Bring your lunch

Remember when having a sweet lunchbox was an important part of your life? I loved my old-school metal Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox when I was in first grade, and I didn’t even realize that I was eco-friendly while being stylish.

Instead of hitting a vending machine or drive-thru for lunch, avoid the single-use plastic packaging and pack your own sandwich and sides at home, or brown-bag last night’s leftovers. For our grandparents, eating out was a special occasion, not something you do every day.

leafy green lettuce heads growing in a garden

Plant a garden

Now this is one popular trend that is rooted in the past. Buying local or growing food in your own garden was a staple of life for our grandparents and great-grandparents. Growing veggies and herbs is something you can easily do, no matter if you live in a rural or urban area, and it is friendly to the environment and your wallet.

Related: How to grow a lush garden in your tiny kitchen windowsill

beans in bulk bins

Shop smart

Those who lived through the Great Depression knew what it meant to be smart with their purchases. If they couldn’t afford it, they didn’t buy it, and they never bought more than they needed. Buying in bulk and using up everything that you buy is a much more sustainable way to live. Buy less and use it all. Go to the store with a specific plan, and reduce those impulse buys.

a few simple shirts hanging on a rack


Less stuff means less worry, and that is what minimalism is all about. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of every modern convenience, but saying no to some things will help reduce your waste and make life tidier.

Huge homes, closets full of clothes you don’t wear and cupboards full of food you won’t eat were foreign concepts to our grandparents. Those things would just give you more things to pay for, service and clean.

You don’t have to downsize absolutely every aspect of your life, but simply getting rid of excess clutter can make a big difference in your quality of life and environmental impact.

woman looking out window over clothes on a line

Use a clothesline

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to give your dryer a rest and hang up your clothes to dry. This option will keep your clothes from shrinking, and your sheets, blankets, shirts and tees will smell clean and fresh.

spool of pink thread with a needle and a thimble

Start sewing

During the Great Depression, nearly every household had at least one person that knew how to full-out sew. But now, it’s hard to find people that even know how to sew a button. Get the most out of your clothes and shoes by learning how to patch a hole, replace a zipper or fix a hem. We aren’t saying you have to make all of your own clothes, but knowing how to fix basic problems can lead to more a sustainable lifestyle with less waste.

Related: How to sew buttons onto pants and shirts

spices and seasonings in glass jars

Rethink disposables

Ziploc bags didn’t show up until the 1960s, so our grandparents and great-grandparents would store things in jars. After they were done using them, they would wash and reuse. Instead of using single-use plastics to store food or pack your lunch, use containers that you can use over and over again to help reduce waste.

Images via OldmermaidBruno Glätsch, Maxmann, Priscilla Du Preez, Maria Michelle, Monika P, Monicore and Shutterstock