I recently read an article about living during the Great Depression. It reminded me about the things I learned from my parents, who both grew up during the Depression. That distinct way of living in that era had an impact on them the rest of their lives.
The current severe recession is the worst period I have ever experienced in my lifetime. I know that it has been devastating for many people who have lost jobs and who have lost their retirement investments. I know it is difficult and that it is nowhere near being over, no matter what news reports may say. There are many people who have given up looking for jobs. And the costs of everyday necessities have doubled in many cases. Every time I use a gas pump and every time I buy groceries, I am reminded how much prices have continued to rise in the last year. It is a tough time.
So, what is it we can learn from the Depression generation?
The way of life during the Depression was to live on less, use as little as possible, reuse as much as possible and waste nothing. It was a matter of survival. It sounds like reduce, reuse and recycle to me. I know a lot of people think that recycling came out of the hippie movement in the 1960s. Actually, reuse and recycling is as old as civilization itself. We just seemed to forget all of that in the last several decades as our nation became more prosperous and modern. We became a use-once, throw-away, disposable society. We became consumed with stuff and absorbed with “Me, me, me.” Society developed a severe case of the “I want’s.” And when I say “we,” I mean “we.” I am not pointing fingers at anyone, because I have been as guilty as the rest.
Often times, when you grow up poor and you finally start making money, you can get a carried away with accumulating stuff. I know I certainly did, and it almost became a compulsion. I finally emerged from that period relatively unscathed, and I am thankful for it. And as I became free of that compulsion, I came back to the lessons I learned about living from my parents. In my parents’ way of life, material stuff was not the priority because they could not afford it. So for most of their lives, they achieved a great balance, knowing that the only really important things in life were your family, your friends and your community. Stuff was just stuff.
Supplies were limited during the Depression. Rationing was a way of life. Taking responsibility for yourself and your family was vital, because there were few buffers and programs to take care of people. There is no need to go to extremes now, but we need to learn to limit the excess. Get real about what necessities are. Our landfills are full of obsolete, unwanted stuff. By living on less we can cut down on so much unnecessary waste.
During the Depression, people had to get the most use and value out of everything they had. Very little was ever thrown away — even stuff like foil was rinsed and re-used. Hand-me-downs were a way of life. You did not have the latest designer kid shoes just because they were on the market. People always found ways to give new life to their possessions instead of just tossing them away. You just did not waste money or resources. People lived smarter because they had to. They did not waste what they had because they needed all they had to make it — or a neighbor or friend or even a stranger might need it.
I am sure none of us would choose to live during a period like the Depression, but I will say this: It was a much wiser and much kinder period in our country’s history. There are many lessons we can all learn from that period that could make a healthy change in our current way of life: reduce, reuse, recycle. They have been around for a long time, so try them out. They may just change your life — and our economy — for the better.
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