The other day, at a special farmer’s market, I found a handmade work of art. A tiny woman made entirely from hand-spun fabric, teaching her daughter, also made from hand-spun fabric, how to spin wool. A tiny woolen sheep and a basket of real wool stand nearby. The very simplicity of the faceless beauty and natural charm spoke volumes to me. Not only was this woman performing an outdated life skill, but she was teaching it to her child.
There is a generation gap that is affecting our culture in a very subtle, quiet way. We are losing the skills that our grandparents or great-grandparents learned as a part of daily life; life skills that allowed people to thrive more or less sustainably over so many centuries.
With the development and growth of large factories, our parents and grandparents abruptly dropped the use of these skills, and even stopped teaching them to their children. With mass food production a reality and the use of overseas labour to produce cheap products, an unsustainable culture has been created. And now we rely on it.
Food has never been so easily accessible or so cheap. All we need to do right now is go to a grocery store and buy it. We don’t need to grow it, preserve it, or collect and store the seeds. We don’t need to milk the cow, or process the food. We are so far removed from our food that many children don’t even know where it comes from. And our food products are so far removed from real food that we don’t even know what the ingredients mean. Our overall health is suffering as a result, and we are now the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than the generation prior to ours.
Our clothing is mass produced in giant factories overseas so that we can get more for less. Many of us now have no idea how to sew, much less weave or knit. A lot of our clothing is made from petroleum products rather than natural fibers, and we all have a huge selection of unnecessary clothing and shoes.
Many people hardly know how to cook, and certainly have never made a loaf of bread from scratch in their lives. In fact, a home-cooked meal generally means opening a can of pasta sauce and a bag of salad mix, cooking some noodles, and pouring a beverage.
Our home and body products are way beyond most of us. It took me years before I ever tried making soap since I knew it involved lye, a caustic substance. And homemade deodorant? Perfume? Make-up? Toilet cleaner? Not a chance! They involve chemicals that are not only impossible to pronounce, but full of toxins that we certainly can’t get our hands on much less handle.
The difference now is not only in the lost skills, but also in the ingredients or materials that are used. We have added so many man-made chemicals, preservatives, plastics, colors, fragrances and so on, that even if we wanted to, we have made them pretty much impossible to make on our own. These ingredients we use are not only potentially toxic, but they are generally unsustainable beyond the immediate future. They are also, in many cases, unnecessary. For every product there is a safer, more natural solution that DOES work. They have worked for centuries, and can still work today. By stepping back, bridging the generation gap, and reaching out to those who still know the skills, we can relearn those basic life-supporting skills that have almost died out during the last few generations.
Have you ever had that satisfying feeling of success achieved with your own hands, and by your own hard work? I have. Eating a meal that was produced entirely on your property gives a very gratifying feeling. So does making the plates you are eating from. Or changing your baby’s diapers that you made. Or looking at a pantry full of canned goods you canned and grew yourself. Or knowing that, on a cold, winter night, the farm animals are snug in the barn you built with your own hands. In a world were so many people are treated with medication for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, perhaps this feeling of belonging, of success, and of simple gratification would be all that is needed to redirect people in a busy, winner-takes-all, world.
What would you like to learn? I have a burning desire to learn all the life skills. While this isn’t practical or even possible, it is definitely possible to learn some of them, and to barter your products for the rest. There are a few basics that everyone can and should learn. These would help each family live a more sustainable life, would improve health, and would provide a sense of well-being that comes from the satisfaction of doing something beneficial and natural.
- Cook from basic ingredients.
- Preserve your own food.
- Grow a garden.
- Raise a few chickens.
- Pick a skill and learn it. Then teach it to your children.
- Make your own body and cleaning products from natural and basic ingredients.
- Reach back to the generation who lived this life and learn from them.
- Reach forward to the next generation and teach it to them.
You might also be interested in my DIY Recipes including homemade fresh lotions, deodorant, washing your hair with baking soda, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, cleaning with lemons, vinegar and baking soda, lip balm, body butter, goat milk and tallow soap, sugar scrub, cotton beeswax plastic wrap alternative, and Faux paper towels.