Friday, December 11, 2009

Learning about tomorrow from yesterday.

I'm a big fan of looking into the past to learn how to better live today. One of the things that my friends often hear me say is, "People did it that way 100 years ago and got along just fine." Now in some cases, I'll grant you that isn't true. People used lead-based makeup 100 years ago and I can't in all honesty say that it was good for them. But there are plenty of things that we can learn by looking at what people used to do before they had access to all the fancy trappings of today's society.

Maybe "trappings" isn't even the right word to use anymore. It implies that one is, well, trapped by the luxuries we share. And to be honest, a lot of people are. Some people can't imagine going a day without checking their email, having light blazing in every room of the house, having three TVs on at once. They can't imagine another lifestyle because they haven't known another lifestyle. They are, one could say, trapped. But day by day, more people are learning how to break out of that trap, and learning that there's a whole world out there beyond the computer screen.

Years gone by teach us that people got along quite happily without a lot of modern conveniences. I admit, I'm quite the fan of video games. I enjoy the stories behind a lot of the role-playing games, and can spend hours playing them. I can also spend hours sitting and talking with my roommate as we both work on a cross-stitch embroidery pattern or knitting pattern. Sometimes doing this is far more entertaining for the both of us.

We have a lousy heating system in our apartment. It's common for it to blow freezing air into the apartment in the middle of winter. So when it does, we cover up the vents, put on a sweater, and bury ourselves in comfortable blankets. We've spent entire power-utages under blankets, in complete darkness, just talking. We don't need more than that.

Stoves used to serve double duty in that they not only cooked the food but they heated the house, too. Our stove does that in the winter. The heating system doesn't extend into the kitchen, so having the stove on while we cook delicious food warms up the entire back area of the apartment. And at the end, we get fresh-baked bread to munch on, or a nice chicken-and-vegetable dinner.

People used to use herbs before they'd turn to chemical medicines, and I try to do the same thing. I know that most medicines originally came from plant extracts, and some have argued that taking herbal remedies is no more "natural" than taking an aspirin. I disagree. A lot of modern medicines are synthetic compounds that are only mimicking the original plant extracts. It's a different kind of chemical entirely, even if it does the same thing. I feel much more comfortable using herbal remedies for my ailments than pumping my body full of chemicals that it could probably do better without. I have, in some cases, had better luck with herbals than with modern medicines. I used to suffer terrible migraines, and had been on different kinds of preventatives, and they worked with varying degrees of success. Then I was told about feverfew and a natural migraine preventative, which I tried. It stopped a migraine better than the prescription drugs, and kept them away longer. Mint and chamomile calm nausea better than Gravol, and they don't leave me feel sleepy afterward. Rachel has a digestive disorder that is helped somewhat by prescription medicines, but is helped quicker and more consistantly by an herbal tea, herbs which have long been used to treat the very problems she has.

Old recipes were often designed to make the most of every little thing, and lots of old cookbooks had specific sections for things you could make from leftovers. Today, most leftovers get thrown in the trash? Just had a turkey dinner? The skin and trash go into the garbage, or for some people, the compost. Why not use the skin and bones to make a soup stock instead, and all those little leftover pieces of meat that were too small or fiddly for people to eat can get thrown in there and eaten in the soup.

Most people who have frugal living blogs know well the saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." This is something I take to heart. I'm a knitter, and often my yarn comes from sweaters I get at second-hand stores. I unravel them and then reknit them into something else that I want. Good yarn at a fraction of the cost of buying it new. Old pants get cut up and turned into blankets: jeans get made into heavy-duty blankets, velour pants (so comfy!) get turned into soft throws, and sweatpants can even be used in place of quilt batting. There's a way to reuse just about everything, if you're creative enough.

People back then also understood the value of stillness. Human history has been filled with progress, and that means hard work, day-in and day-out. So people appreciated all the more the little times they could stop and enjoy something as simple as a pretty flower, a glorious sunset, or just a moment in the day when they could rest their bodies and relax a little. Nowadays it's always rush rush rush everywhere, do as much as you can in as short a time as possible, and the only time we stop is when we sleep. I can't live like that. I need the beauty of those sunsets, those moments of stillness.

This is the kind of life I lead, and also the kind of life I want to lead more of. I'm not doing too badly at the moment, but there are areas in which I could do better. I'm hoping that having this blog will prod me into paying closer attention to things, to find a way to reuse yet more items around the house, and to remind myself that I need to stop and smell the roses more often. As I say all the time, living simply and frugally doesn't mean going without. I expect the quality of my life to keep increasing as I decrease my spending and my need for spending.

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