10 Tips From Grandma for a Greener Home

They might seem old-fashioned, but there are some things that green technology hasn't been able to improve.

Clothes hanging outside on a clothes line
Clothes hanging outside on a clothes line. Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Whenever I visit my 85-year-old grandmother, I’m impressed by the way she runs her household. She is a modern woman with a university education, a successful career, and years of international work behind her, and yet she’s the most efficient housekeeper I’ve ever met. She is a product of the Great Depression, the youngest of seven kids growing up on a farm in southern Ontario, and so she learned how to be frugal from a young age.

Those hard lessons stuck with her and, still today, nothing goes to waste at Grandma’s house. We could all learn a lot from our grandmothers about environmentally friendly living. My grandma might not be able to talk about eco-friendly, green, sustainable products, but the way she makes do and is creative with what she has is an inspiration to me.

It turns out her old-fashioned methods of running a household are often the greenest – and entirely devoid of new green technology.

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Hang Laundry Out to Dry

Grandma doesn’t use a dryer. All her laundry hangs outside, where it smells fabulous – no synthetic “spring breeze” fabric softener required. The sun bleaches the whites beautifully. It also saves a pile of household energy by not running the dryer. It’s possible to hang laundry all year round. During the cold, snowy Canadian winter, I set up racks inside the house and the clothes dry overnight, thanks to the dry environment.

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Can Seasonal Food

credit: K Martinko

Canning used to be a necessity when my grandma was a child, but now it’s just a hobby for people. Canning, however, should make a comeback because it’s an excellent way to save money by buying seasonal produce in bulk; it supports local farmers; and you can eat high-quality, healthy food all year round. It’s also a mainstay of my quest for zero waste at home: reusable glass jars containing local food is pretty much perfection by my standards.

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Use Basic Ingredients for Cleaning

credit: merri

All these fancy antibacterial foamy sprays, soaps, and scrubs are relatively new and unnecessary. Previous generations used familiar ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar, and borax for cleaning, and they did a great job – perhaps even better because you didn’t get the nasty off-gassing from toxic chemicals.

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Learn How to Sew

credit: Kheel Center

Knowing how to mend clothes is a lost art, and yet it is incredibly useful. The problem, though, is that most clothes people buy nowadays are so cheap that it’s hardly worth mending them. Still, I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked my grandma to patch a hole in my jeans, add a button, or to shorten or let out a hem.

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Reduce Food Waste

credit: Nic McPhee

Grandma knows exactly what’s in her fridge and doesn’t hesitate to add little bits of leftovers to whatever she’s making. Sometimes this makes her cooking less elegant than what it could be, but she won’t let a single scrap go to waste. Vegetable peelings and bones get turned into stock. The boiled remains get composted. And we always, always have to finish what’s on our plates!

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Grow Food

credit: K Martinko

Pots of herbs, little plots of vegetables, a fruit tree – you don’t need much space or a particularly long growing season to supplement your diet with homegrown produce. Grandma, of course, is a gardening pro and used to feed her family of six with her vast kitchen, but even a few tomato plants is a good place to start.

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Make a Quilt

credit: gina pina

Convert old, worn-out clothes into a beautiful patchwork quilt. It sounds complicated, and this might not be for everyone, but it’s a fun project that embodies the spirit of repurposing with a spectacular end product. There are quilting groups that can quilt it for you, once you’ve finished the top. Grandma’s numerous quilts are already family heirlooms. You could also pick up some knitting needles while you're at it.

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Use Dishtowels and Rags

credit: Matt McGillivray

I don’t think my grandma owns a roll of paper towel. She uses rags and dishtowels for messes, then tosses them in the wash. She even drains bacon on newspaper that she scrounges from the recycling bin. It’s a good idea for anyone trying to reduce household waste.

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Get a Rain Barrel

credit: Sheila Miguez

Collect rainwater in a barrel at the end of the rain gutter and use it to water plants, flush toilets, or even take an outdoor sponge bath.

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Resist the Urge to Upgrade and Update

credit: Anne Worner

It always amazes me how little turnover of items there is at Grandma’s house. I always see the same dishes, towels, bedding, blankets, and decorations, which are still the same from when I was a kid. She is living proof that we don’t need to always buy new stuff in order to have a welcoming, lovely home.