Learning from our Ancestors – The Art of Being Resourceful

grandmother resourceful

Last week I started to read a wonderful book on healing intergenerational trauma: Break the Cycle by Dr. Mariel Buqué. In her introduction, she speaks about growing up in poverty in the Dominican Republic and her memories of her grandmother walking over a mile to fetch 5 gallons of water and carrying it on her head without spilling a drop. Dr. Buqué continues to recount the incredible resourcefulness of her grandmother and mother and how everything was treasured, reused, repaired and preserved. 

Reading this passage brought me straight back to the stories my mother and father would have told of their own parents. My grandmother sewed all of her daughter’s communion dresses from parachute silk. She was able to cook delicious meals from the humblest of ingredients which my grandfather supplemented with his love of fishing. “Oma” would alter clothes for neighbours in return for eggs, milk or other staples.

Neither my mum or dad could remember a single day when they were left hungry even though times must have been really tough for both families. My dad always told the story of a bar of chocolate they were given by an American soldier. His mum “confiscated” the precious treasure to a safe place where it stayed until it was inedible. 

People put incredible value on things because everything was so scarce. There was no such thing as food waste. When a pig was slaughtered on my grandparent’s farm, every bit of it was used and meat was a treat for Sundays or celebrations only. Most of it was preserved in a big smoker so it would last for weeks and months. Many of these skills were passed on to the next generation and I still remember big smoked hams wrapped in cotton bags hanging from the ceiling in the cellar.

From past to future:

Of course, poverty and the affluence we can see in so many ways today are two ends of a spectrum. Yet we are living in times when we need to be reminded that resourcefulness is a necessary life skill we have to return to in many areas of our lives.

The lifestyle of so many of us is simply not sustainable and the growing social divide magnifies the incredible greed and inequality present in our society. Thankfully awareness is growing more and more and terms like circular economy, zero waste, regenerative agriculture, refuse/reuse/recycle etc. are emerging with many fantastic initiatives doing amazing work.

It’s all a matter of mindset

I personally get such a kick out of being resourceful and thankfully I don’t care as much about what others think anymore. Unfortunately, there still seems to be a lingering stigma about buying second-hand, purchasing food that’s out of date, wearing clothes that are mended, asking for discarded materials to be repurposed or bringing home leftover food from a restaurant just to name a few. 

People seem to be afraid to be seen as poor or in need if they engage in any of the above behaviours, a thought process that we need to address and disperse. First of all, of course, there is no shame in being poor, so many people find themselves in this situation due to no fault of their own. Furthermore, it is important to normalise and encourage a more sustainable and conscious attitude for all. 

Luckily there seems to be a positive change in recent times. In my own locality, we have a fantastic repair café where people can bring anything to be repaired rather than buy it new. There is a toy library, cloth nappy library, zero waste shop and wonderful organisations that support biodiversity and engage in meaningful climate action

Words like “eco”, “sustainable”, “conscious” and “environmental” are popping up everywhere. I know we can look at it with a dose of cynicism as much of it is “greenwashing”. The other side of it is that terminology and awareness are taking root, which is definitely a positive trend.

Here are a few of my favourite ways in which we can all reconnect to our grandparents’ resourcefulness. This is not only good for our pockets, but also for our beautiful planet Earth and believe it or not: our own mental health:

  • Plan meals and shop accordingly to prevent food waste. Zero waste shops and farmers’ markets are great options as rather than buying bags or nets of things, you can buy just as much as you need.
  • Get creative with leftovers. Rather than throwing away food, reimagine it for the next meal. 
  • Learn some forgotten skills like gardening, sewing, knitting, crafts or simple DIY skills. It is so satisfying to repair things rather than having to call a professional or throw things away. It’s also really empowering and has a positive effect on our mental health.
  • Learn how to preserve food. Especially when you have a garden it is so thrilling to eat some of the harvest during winter time.
  • Seek out local initiatives and businesses as mentioned above. Toy libraries are a fantastic option to circulate and share toys. Second-hand shops offer quirky and affordable fashion while raising funds for charity. Swap shops are great social outings where you can meet like-minded people.
  • Start composting if you can. Composting is a fantastic way to reduce food waste and produce “garden gold” for your plants.
  • Use what you already have. So often we forget what we have stashed in our presses, attics, store rooms etc. Taking stock and using what we have is a great way to avoid “more stuff”.
  • Don’t be afraid or ashamed to salvage materials that were discarded. My husband built me a fabulous potting table, including a sink he found in a ditch, from wooden cutoffs thrown away in a building site container.
  • Practice gratitude. Regular gratitude practice reminds us of all our blessings and the good things in our lives. We often try to “fill a hole” by treating ourselves to a new handbag, a pair of shoes, clothes, gadgets… When we bring awareness to the wealth in our lives, our need for “more” becomes less and less.
  • …and definitely my favourite: finding inspiration in the stories of our ancestors and times gone by. Learning about the ways people found happiness and satisfaction with so little inspires me to no end. Chatting with grandparents or elderly members of the community, researching our ancestry, connecting through heirlooms, reading letters, diaries or other written accounts… all these are opportunities to connect to simpler times and become inspired.

It’s not all doom and gloom and only about cutting back. Becoming resourceful is an exciting learning journey with so much to discover. It makes sense on so many levels: it can save us a lot of money, it reduces waste, being proactive and engaging with community supports our mental health and reconnecting to our ancestors is an inspirational and grounding exercise.

I hope you find something in there that resonates and you find helpful. Here is to all the people who came before us and who continue to inspire.

If you would like to learn more about hopeful climate action and mindful nature connection approaches, check out our online courses here. We offer fully certified trainings for health and education professionals and courses for anyone wanting to make a difference to their own life and a better future for us all.

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