Seek Wisdom of Our Elders – The Best Lessons to Learn

an elderly woman with gray hair, blue sweatshirt sitting on a bench by a pond

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Flip a coin. When it lands, it will either be heads or tails. Either way you look at it, you still have a coin in your hand. The same applies when we seek the wisdom of our elders. On one side, we enjoy the stories of a life from another time, far different from the one we know. We get to spend quality time with them, and if they are older, the moments you have left with them are precious.

On the flip side, we gain insight into who they are, their experiences and life lessons, and get a peek into the mistakes they made. If we are smart, we listen closely, absorb some of that wisdom, and apply it to our own lives. It’s a win/win situation.

an older woman in period dress sitting by a spinning wheel

We often work diligently to teach our children life lessons. We want to prepare them for the peaks and valleys of life. But what about us? We may be older, but we still need to listen and learn so we too can have a good life.

If we truly want a better, productive lifestyle, it may be time to become the child. Sit at the feet of someone who lived in that different time. Learn from the wisdom of our elders. You may just be surprised at what you can learn.

vintage radio with a tea cup, plate of cookies, and old vase filled with pink roses

Heads Up – The Wisdom of our Elders

Technology

The first thing that comes to mind when gaining the wisdom of our elders is from a technology viewpoint. There were no cell phones. If a phone was in the house, it hung on the wall. In many cases, it was a party line, and everyone knew your business.

Even having an extension in every room was unheard of. No matter where in the house you were, or even if you were outside hanging clothes on the line, you had to run for the phone.

Fewer houses had televisions. Instead, a radio was placed in a prominent position in the living room. The family gathered to listen. You had choices such as the news, music, and story time. You could hear 5-Minute Mysteries, Abbott & Costello, or send your imagination galloping on horseback across the fields with the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

If there were even such things as computers, they were portrayed on SciFi channels only, and more resembled robots than the monitors we know of now. I honestly believe that if we could travel back in time with a working computer, they would scare folks to death. You may even be considered an alien!

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Victory Gardens

Although you could buy the basics at the local general store, for the most part, if you didn’t have a garden, you didn’t eat.

In 1916, Clarence Saunders opened the doors of the Piggly Wiggly. Still, from an economic standpoint, this convenience was used only when necessary.

In WW1, food, gas, and other supplies were needed for the men serving overseas. Although it originated in the United Kingdom, the USA adapted and encouraged folks to grow a Victory Garden.

These were reintroduced for WW2, and in between, many folks grew gardens during the Depression Era. These gardens fed families and freed up money that would have been spent on food to go towards other necessities, such as rent and things they could not grow, such as flour, sugar, and salt.

The wisdom of our elders extended to gardening. A garden was a way of life. If you wanted to eat, you grew a garden. Many folks would also use their produce as bartering material or sold it for extra needed income. It is this wisdom of our elders that will help us feed our family during the hard times.

wisdom of our elders includes knowing how to use a sewing basket filled with fabric, thread, pin cushion, and sewing supplies

Frugal Living

The wisdom of our elders states that the first rule of thumb would be, ‘If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.’ Although it wasn’t a common catch phrase, back then the next rule would be ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.’

Most everything they had maintained a primary purpose. If that purpose was no longer needed, what ever it was found another purpose.

Many a clothes, aprons, and dish towels were made from flour and feed sacks. Paper served many useful purposes. When sheets wore thin, they were often cut down the middle, then the outer edges were sewn together. This allowed the sheets to last longer. If the sheets were too worn to do this, the fabric was used for other things.

Shoes were lined with cardboard or pieces of rubber. Aluminum foil was washed and reused. If your elders had it, it was recycled.

Frugal living wasn’t a lifestyle choice. It was a necessity. Jobs were scarce. To have a reliable income was a blessing. Still, a single paycheck didn’t always stretch far enough. To make ends meet, they had to find other ways to earn money. Reusing and repurposing helped them by spending less.

vintage tablecloths drying on a clothesline

The Difference Between Then and Now

Creature Comforts

We, by far, have many more conveniences than our elders did. We have a choice between gas and electric for cooking. Their stove operated with wood – or if they were lucky, propane.

We flip a switch for lights. They lit a candle or a kerosene lantern. Unless we have a short in the wires, it is rare our lighting causes a fire. They kept a constant watch for flying embers.

We turn a dial and can stay warmer or colder. They cut, split, and hauled firewood just to toss a log in the fireplace or stove to create heat.

There are very few homes who do not have indoor plumbing. Our elders knew what it was like to have an ‘emergency’ in the middle of the night and have to trudge outside in all kinds of weather to an outhouse.

vintage image of a man holding an open newspaper over his face

Technology

We may think of technology as a necessity. But the truth of the matter is, folks managed to live happy, successful lives without electricity, much less technology as we know it today.

Technology today is far superior to what was available to our elders. Some had telephones, and radios, and a few were blessed with television sets. We carry our phones with us, and in most cases, every member of the household has one.

Our elders had to wait for news until the latest edition of the newspaper came out. If they were lucky, they could visit the General Store or a local diner to learn things by word of mouth.
Computers give us access to the entire world in seconds. They are large enough to fit on our desks at home, or small enough to fit in our pocket.

 Not all of our elders had the hardship of wood burning stoves and outhouses. Some lived in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They had central air and heat (or floor furnaces and window units). A telephone usually hung on a kitchen wall. And most households had at least one car.

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Income

If they didn’t work to earn it, they didn’t have it. Loans were short term and often expensive. We can borrow money on a car, extend payments out for seven years. Long before we pay off the loan, we buy another one and continue the cycle. We have been ‘gifted’ with help from the government. What we need to remember is, in the long run, those aren’t truly gifts. We pay for them through taxes. 

white butter dish decorated with black cows, bowl of brown and blue eggs, orange bowl filled with sugar

In the Kitchen

Still, they didn’t have the modern conveniences we have. Microwaves weren’t affordable until the early 70’s. Drive-thru meals were available in California in the 50s but didn’t truly become popular throughout the country until the 70s.  And home-delivered meals were usually brought to your door by a neighbor when you were sick or had experienced a death in the family.

Instead, they planned their meals ahead of time. Their grocery list was carefully constructed with thrift in mind. Since the 1930s, when store coupons became popular, women clipped all they could use. This saved them even more money – even if it was just pennies. To them, they knew not only the value of a dollar, but of pennies as well.

grocery store shelves filled with cake mixes and cans of frosting

From there, they cooked meals for their family. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, toast, and bacon. Lunches were packed to take to school and work. A dinner, consisting of a meat, vegetable and bread was served in the evening.

Even the sweets were homemade. From cakes, cookies, pies, and even ice cream, these items were baked in the kitchens of homemakers. The 1930s also brought boxed cake mixes to the store shelves, and although they were popular, many women still baked their cakes from scratch.

Today, it is those recipes we covet. To have Grandma’s (or Aunt Dot’s, or Cousin Rose’s) recipes, you feel like you are a millionaire. When those recipes are lost, we feel the sorrow and strive to recreate it the best we can.

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The Same Coin

It has been stated in many different ways. ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’ ‘History repeats itself.’ ‘What goes around, comes around.’

No matter how you want to express it, history does repeat itself. There may be a few minor details that are different, but for the most part, if it is happening now, it has taken place before and will show up again at some point in the future.

Our elders experienced WW1 and WW2. We have experienced the Gulf War and are experiencing the Afghanistan and Ukraine wars.  Although we haven’t experienced a Civil War in the United States since 1865, that’s not to say we won’t.

a garden of greens bordered by splits and backed by an old wooden fence

During the World Wars, our elders experienced food shortages. This was a result of the ‘war efforts’, where as much food and supplies as possible were being shipped to the soldiers. Those remaining at home grew their own food, organized community gardens and actively pursued bartering.

Recently, we have been living through our own food shortages. These come from pandemics, shipping issues, lack of food safety, and rising costs of gasoline. In some cases, the food shortages come from a lack of income. Many folks have lost their jobs or been forced to work for smaller wages.

And there will be a time in the future we will face these same obstacles. The key is to be aware of what may be, and to listen to the wisdom of our elders to help get us through.

an older gentlman in period dress working a blacksmithing forge

Tails Up – How to Apply That Wisdom of Our Elders

If we want to prevent as much hardship as possible, there are a few things we can do now:

Listen to the wisdom of our elders – and learn from them

  • Grow a Garden
  • Learn how to sew
  • Have a toolbox on hand to do as many of your own repairs as possible
  • Work from a budget – and stick to it
  • Start the practice of living on less
  • Adapt the art of bartering
  • Learn to Cook, Can, and Preserve (from scratch – not a box!)
  • Adapt the principles from the wisdom of our elders and learn to live a Simple Life

elderly woman with gray hair wearing a red blouse and glasses; an older woman with frosted short hair wearing a flowered shirt

The Wisdom of Our Elders Can Prepare Us for Most Anything

We don’t have to go into survival mode to prepare for hard times. Instead, we need to simply listen to the wisdom of our elders and learn their way of life.

You may not have the room to grow everything your family eats, but you can supplement with container gardens. If you don’t know how to cook, start small and invest in a Beginners Cookbook. If you don’t know how to sew, find someone to teach you.

Are you thinking right now that you don’t have the time for this? It may be time to take a look at your planner. My mom always told me that if it is important enough for me to do, then I will be able to find the time to do it. And having more time to do the things you need and want to do is one of the basic principles of living a Simple Life.

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And even though it could be hard at times, living a Simple Life is what your elders did. They spent time with family instead of on a computer. They grew their food, canned, and preserved enough for the winter, and did without the luxuries we consider necessities today.

And best of all, they listened, learned, and applied the lessons life taught them. And it is through the wisdom of our elders we too can survive any hard time thrown at us.

Listen to your elders. Become a student of their knowledge. And then apply it. You may just discover your new lifestyle is better than anything offered today.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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