We can learn a lot from our wise old grandmothers. Practices common to them—such as growing vegetables, knitting clothes and bartering goods—are the tips and tricks we seek today: a return to the good old days. These rich but simple lifestyles strengthen families and communities while growing local economies around the world.
The most important aspect of simple living is identifying your strengths, talents and abilities—then putting them to work. By focusing on the most effective, enjoyable ways to employ your skills, you can discover interests, values and, most importantly, people you may never have connected with otherwise.
Get to know your community
Japan’s Ainu people kept daily contact with their community. Frequent trips to the village market for fresh food, home necessities and social time kept the Ainu people connected.
Apply this now: Scope out local shops, family-owned restaurants and farmer’s markets to get in touch with the people who grow the local economy. Volunteer to wrap gifts at the holiday bazaar; ring up customers at a farmer’s market booth; participate in trash cleanups; organize storytelling times with community children or elders at the library or community center. Connecting with your neighborhood keeps your life fulfilling and keeps the temptations of boredom—mindless spending, wasting away in front of the TV or computer—at bay.
Russia’s Chechen and Ingush people tended to their guests with the best food, drink and atmosphere. These people treasured companionship and worked to keep relationships thriving.
Apply this now: Invite close friends to your home for weekend meals and entertainment. Host a potluck: Prepare a delicious, home-cooked main course and ask guests to bring side dishes and wine to share.
Peddle your wares
Pakistani families’ small-scale farms provided both food and a revenue stream. Families sold meat from sheep and cattle at the local market, giving them a reason to travel to town and interact with their communities. They also supported themselves by selling fine crafts. Family artisans weaved beautiful, intricate rugs and tapestries dyed with fruit and vegetable juices. These crafts adorned homes but were also sources of income: The artisans bartered and sold their creations at community markets and fairs.
Apply this now: Transform your hobby into extra cash by selling your homemade jams, artwork and clothing at the farmer’s market or community bazaar. If you have space, consider raising chickens—even city dwellers can do this! Enjoy fresh eggs and rich fertilizer for your garden. (Before you start, make sure your neighbors know what’s going on—and teach them how to raise their own chickens!)
If you’re more interested in swapping, remember that bartering is still viable today and is especially valuable in a down economy. If you can’t find people to swap with at farmer’s markets or at local shops, check out online bartering communities. Try BarterPalace, SwapAce, Freecycle and neigh-BORROW for access to millions of other barter-minded folks. Because online barterers aren’t necessarily local, know that you may need to pay shipping to swap your stuff.
Find your staple
In Asian cultures, rice is a staple. It’s the base of every meal, and children learn how to cook it at a very early age. Early Asian civilizations also combined rice and rice hulls with traditional, natural building materials such as bamboo, straw and mud as a base for their homes. This important grain supported, and continues to support, Asian communities here and abroad.
Apply this now: Choose an inexpensive staple your family enjoys and build meals around it, saving you preparation time and money by buying and cooking in bulk. If your family relies on lentils for nourishment, consider the different ways to prepare them. If your family feasts on pasta each week, research interesting sauces and veggie mixes to keep your staple from becoming routine. Embrace the simplicity of having every meal revolve around your staple, but prepare the meals in ways that will keep you and your family enticed.
In the Caribbean Islands, African Caribbeans pooled their money to form credit associations. Participants were able to withdraw lump sums for necessities. This system took care of families’ needs while strengthening the community and the local economy.
Apply this now: Search out neighbors who are in similar living situations and suggest sharing grocery and basic toiletry costs. This could mean putting money together to buy basic necessities in bulk or sharing the cost of a membership to a bulk food and supply store.
Honor your loved ones
The theme of familial respect runs through many cultures. In China’s Dong culture, new parents planted pine trees to symbolize love for the earth and for future generations—and to later supply wood for the child’s first home. Buddhist Mongol families in China set up portable altars and devotional scroll paintings so they could conveniently honor their loved ones in their homes. Offerings, prayers and devotional meals paid tribute to the ancestors.
Apply this now: Start a family tradition that passes to each generation; this could be sowing seeds in a garden at the beginning of spring, knitting memory quilts every winter or creating a recipe book with all of Grandma’s secret recipes (then adding your own). Set up your own personal altar to pay respects to your loved ones. Adorn it with candles, photos and other important mementos. To create a modern version of a Mongol scroll, adhere photos and mementos to a sturdy wood or corkboard; preserve it in a shadow box.
Grandma always said...
• Balance your checkbook and take a look at where you’re spending your money. You may be surprised.
• Avoid gimmicks at the grocery store. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or you have a coupon.
• Save money by making "breakfast for dinner," or something as simple as beans and rice, a few times a week.
• Never throw anything away. Graciously accept hand-me-downs and keep the cycle alive when you’re finished with them.
• Save your loose change in a jar. Cash it out at the end of the year, and you’ll see why your grandmother insisted on picking up lucky pennies.
7 tips for simple living
• Consume less.
• Put people before possessions.
• Live lightly on the land.
• Support local businesses.
• Less is more—really.
• Demand quality products.
• Remember that everything and everyone is connected.
Kim Wallace is Natural Home’s assistant editor. She is slowly putting together a personal collection of her family’s best recipes.