Some of the best tips get passed down from generation to generation. I should know: Some of my favorite tips and tools came from my grandmothers, whom I’ve quietly observed from a young age. Helping them cook from scratch or hand-wash delicates used to aggravate me, but I’ve come to appreciate their slow-paced living style, and implementing them in my day-to-day life helped me grasp how ever-present technology is in the average person’s life.
Because think about it! People host technology in almost every room of their house. Some rooms even revolve around them, like the television or laundry room. While appliances and electronics may improve the quality of your day-to-day life, their increasing presence can harm the environment and, in turn, your well-being. By adopting old-fashioned living tips, you can likely lower your energy use and save money, too. Here are eight tried-and-true methods, techniques, and tips that can help the planet because old ways of life never go out of style.
Use cloth napkins and dish towels
If you’re someone who approaches washing items conscientiously, cloth cotton napkins and dish towels may be a more eco-friendly option for you. You can reuse old, out-of-use fabrics that might’ve otherwise gotten tossed out, but they’re also available in plenty of stylish options, from minimalist weaves to pretty embroidery. Setting the dinner table with cloth napkins can zhuzh up your place settings and make each meal feel more like an event. You’ll probably get some compliments on your table setting, too!
Only do the laundry when your hamper is full
On the other hand, creating too much laundry has negative impacts on the environment due to water and energy waste. According to the National Parks Service, the average residential washing machine uses roughly 41 gallons of water per load, and commercial washing machines use on average 34.74 thousand gallons of water per year. The average household does more than 300 loads of laundry per year, consuming 12,000 gallons of water.
If you need a particular item before it’s time to run an entire batch, try hand-washing that one piece. You can also extend the life of some of your clothes by wearing an apron whenever you need to; doing so can prevent unnecessary spillage, stains, and soiling more clothes, which ultimately leads to fewer cycles of laundry.
On a similar note, air-drying your clothes can protect them from abrasion caused by tumble-drying and limit energy consumption. Kyle R. Gluesenkamp, a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told the New York Times that “dryers often use five to 10 times more power than a washing machine,” and the average clothes dryer uses between two and six kilowatts of energy an hour.
You can help limit that number by drying your newly clean clothes the old-fashioned way: by hanging them on a rack or a clothesline. Air-drying does take more time and foresight, but you can start the habit by laying out delicates on a drying rack or clothesline. I also like to air-dry my jeans to prevent shrinkage. In time, the task can become more doable and will be more sustainable in the long run.
Make your own cleaning supplies
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than 90 percent of a cleaning product consists of water — meaning, it’s super easy to make cleaning supplies from home for a fifth of the cost, using ingredients you probably have on hand already. Yep, it’s time to reach for the white vinegar and baking soda (just don’t mix them together!)
Reuse — and properly dispose of — cooking oil
The small stuff adds up, and the simple (and necessary) act of feeding yourself can result in a lot of waste. My grandmother always taught me the importance of eating leftovers and reusing ingredients like cooking oil — a tip made more important by the fact that disposing of hot cooking oil down the drain can prove harmful for your pipes and the environment, too.
Many cooking oils will harden and stick to the walls of your pipes, which may cause blockages later on. When oil makes its way down to the sewer systems, it combines with other substances found in sewers, leading to the creation of fatbergs. “Fatbergs can grow into a giant mass of solid waste and eventually block wastewater flow,” Krissy Brady reported for HuffPost. “It’s estimated that almost half of sewer overflows in the U.S. are the result of fatbergs.” By reusing and properly disposing of cooking oil, you can contribute to reducing waste and preventing other environmental hazards that endanger wildlife.
It’s important to always wait for the cooking oil to cool before putting it in a sealed container. If you’re looking to reuse and also dispose of your cooking oil, keep them in separate bins. While it is safe to reuse cooking oil, you should only do so a few times before eventually throwing it out. You can properly dispose of used cooking oil and grease at a specialized recycling center. Use Green Citizen’s directory to find a location near you.
Older generations used to sew and stitch all the time out of necessity, whether because clothes didn’t fit them or they couldn’t afford to buy the fashions of the time from a centralized retailer. “Sewing knowledge used to be passed down generation to generation,” Kristen McCoy, the owner of RETHINK Tailoring & Sewing Lounge in Minneapolis, previously told Apartment Therapy
The rise of fast fashion and consumer spending has led to serious adverse effects on the environment on every level, from dyes to abusive working conditions, emissions released during shipment, and waste. Instead of throwing out your favorite shirt because it had a hole or two in it, you can simply mend it with a needle and thread. Learning how to sew or even stitch a hole contributes to the much-needed sustainability movement. In turn, you won’t have to throw away clothes unnecessarily, and you can eventually work up to designing the clothes of your dreams if you’re inspired.
Save up for things you need
By intentionally saving up to purchase goods, you can cut back on your consumption. “Our consumer habits are actually driving climate change,” Renee Cho wrote for State of the Planet in December 2020. “A 2015 study found that the production and use of household goods and services were responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.” Obviously, there are going to be purchases you need to make to keep your home running, but thinking mindfully about what you need can help lessen that consumption on a personal level.
By saving up for a product you really want or need, you’re more intentional in your overall lifestyle, which directly impacts your wallet and the environment. You can start saving by setting aside a certain amount of money per day or week in a money jar or a separate savings account until you meet your amount. If you’re up for it, you could even try a no-buy month.
Buying a greeting card can be both expensive and — you guessed it — not great for the environment. In 2014, Jeffrey Ball reported for The New Republic about the carbon costs of the greeting card industry, including how “eco-friendly” cards often do not disclose or acknowledge the carbon emissions produced in making and shipping them. If you want to divest from that industry, try writing your own cards for special occasions. Your wallet and your loved ones will appreciate the old-fashioned staple and sentiment — and if you’re really pressed for time, you can send a digital card to their email.