A Green Mid-Twentieth Century

Do you remember our green past?

I often wonder if we really remember, or if some of us ever even knew, what our grandparents/great-grandparents did to be green.  In the time since they lived, our western nations, particularly the United States, have gone from  primarily rural to mostly urban –making the green living of yester year a much more difficult, but not impossible, decision to make today..

Lifestyles in the ’40s and ’50s

Grandma and Grandpa were born in the late1890’s and lived mostly as farmers their whole lives.  By the 1940’s they had a 5 room house with two oil stoves for heat and a wood burning kitchen range all on a couple hundred acres of farm land. The kitchen and living room had one florescent light in the ceiling in each room.  They had no indoor plumbing – drawing their drinking, cooking and washing water from their well and using the outhouse for other needs.  They only heated three rooms (kitchen, living room and their small bedroom) and only during the day.  They raised chickens, had a huge vegetable garden, kept milk cows and grew cash crops of beans and hay.  They bought calves and lambs and sold the cows and sheep when grown.  They laid in supplies from town once a week.green grandparents

Here’s some detail on how my Grandparents lived ‘green’

They raised and preserved a lot of their own food.

  • They worked an acre-large vegetable garden – plowing it in spring with a tractor but thereafter using a hand pushed plow.  They had strawberries, corn, string beans, peas, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, squash, cucumbers, onions and etc. The garden was hand watered from the garden well when needed.  Produce was canned, pickled, dried, and frozen to use throughout the year.
  • They raised chickens and used the meat and eggs for food.
  • They bought food locally – getting fruits like apples and peaches and pears from nearby orchards and storing it in the unheated rooms until used.
  • They kept milk cows and used the milk to feed cats, dogs and to use themselves.  They skimmed the cream off the top and used it to churn their own butter and make their own whipped cream.
  • They bought and sold cattle and sheep for cash, but occasionally slaughtered and butchered one for  meat.
  • They stocked their ponds with native fish and when the fish grew; entertained themselves by fishing them out with a cane pole and earth worms for bait.  Then they fried them up for supper.  They served frog leg dinners using frogs from the pond.
  • Grandpa hunted the squirrels, quail, turkey and deer and Grandma cooked up his catch for meals.   He grew field crops of soy beans and popcorn and mowed the grasses for hay and straw.  They sold the beans, ate the popcorn, fed the hay to the cattle and sheep and used the straw in the garden.

My Grandparents re-cycled and re-used

  • Glass jars were re-used to can and pickle.
  • Garden refuse, such as corn husks, pea pods and etc went back to the land to compost.  Table scraps went into the ‘slop’ jar to be fed to the chickens.
  • The fat from slaughtered stock was rendered into lard to use in cooking and soap making.
  • Outhouse refuse went back onto the land as fertilizer.

They conserved fuel.green grandparents

  • They used fuel oil in their space heater to heat only 3 of their 5 rooms – but only during the day. 
  • Lack of a hot water heater and running water encouraged them to use cold water instead.
  • They only drove their car once a week – to town for supplies and visiting.
  • They used renewable sources (wood) to cook – wood warms you twice, once when you cut it, once when you burn it.
  • One florescent light in each room did not use much electricity.
  • They had no air conditioners, dish washers, clothes dryers, water heaters, central heaters, garbage disposers, computers or stereos.

My Grandparents conserved water.

  • Drinking water was drawn once a day in a 2 gallon bucket and left on the counter for all to use.
  • One washbowl of water per day (usually cold) was used for everyone to wash up.
  • Downspouts drained into a stock tank and the water was used to water the flowers (or take a dip on a hot summer day).
  • No indoor plumbing meant no toilets to flush.
  • Water dirtied by washing or cooking went right back to the land.
  • They didn’t bathe every day – especially in winter.  Sponge baths were used to get the stink and sweat off instead.


Their choices were the norm for their day.  The things they did made sense from a money viewpoint – it was expected and cheaper to heat part of the house part of the day.  It was normal to sink a well and use water only from it, conserving steeply when the well was about to run dry.  It made sense to spend time, land they already had and water they didn’t pay for to raise their own produce.

In some respects, it was easier for them to live in harmony with the Earth than it is for us!

This an article written by Marie over at Family Money Values.  Familymoneyvalues.com and blog.familymoneyvalues.com intend to help families maintain and build wealth for generations by helping visitors learn about wealth issues; wealth transfer tools; family structures to consider; and family and business governance concerns.

9 thoughts on “A Green Mid-Twentieth Century

  1. It’s so easy to forget the green ways of our grandparents and great grandparents, and it wasn’t even that long ago! While some of these options are a little less than practical by today’s standards (I doubt my coworkers will like it if I bathed only once a week using used bathwater..) but things like buying locally grown produce, planting a garden and recycling glass products is not only practical, but a big money saver. By making small changes in my lifestyle, such as cooking homemade food instead of dining out, I’ve saved a lot! Mostly going towards my retirement fund, of course :)

  2. Great stuff here, we can learn more by looking back 60+ years than by reading a lifetime of modern books on sustainable living. I love how the pendulum of life swings back bringing these old school skills back to the forefront once again.

  3. @ Matt – I agree! Learning from our own past and our family’s past is really more instructive than learning from books.

    @PennyPincher – You are right, there are a lot of things our grandparents had to do that we wouldn’t care for these days. I like the suggestions you made to adapt the ideas.

  4. Another way is to lessen the use of the car! These gas prices are killing me! These are some good money-saving tips, but I’m spending almost as much money every time I fill up as I do for my auto insurance for the month

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  6. Time has change. Lifestyle, behaviors and our attitudes to our society and environment. What I have noticed today is that many organizations and community and civil groups are promoting sustainable living. I realized that this simply means going back to the basics of life. The OECD defines sustainable development succinctly that we use our resources today while preserving our future. Looking back on the past is a good way to know what has been before. From a religious point of view, like the Bible everything is written so that we will learn something today. Sorry I am not preaching. What I mean is that looking on the past can help us to manage our resources well today. Not just about the environment but also to our daily activities. People nowadays are faced with ever changing lifestyle.

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