Here are 15 old-fashioned skills worth keeping alive to start saving money and become more self-sufficient. How many are you proficient at?
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15 OLD-FASHIONED SKILLS VIDEO
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OLD-FASHIONED SKILLS FOR ENRICHING YOUR LIFE
If you’ve been with me for a while, you will know that I’m a strong advocate for simple living. While there’s nothing simple about simple living, it does come with a reward. Simple, old-fashioned living is about self-sufficiency, gratitude, and connection. I think this video of mine says it best if you’re looking for a definition. In any case, this collection of 15 old-fashioned skills offers ways to live more simply and abundantly,
WHY SHOULD I BE INTERESTED IN LEARNING OLD-FASHIONED SKILLS?
Simple living aside, these skills come with their own set of rewards. Many of them will help save you money. Most will make you more self-sufficient, giving you a greater sense of control over what you invite into your life. Others offer a creative outlet and will help you build an arsenal of gifts for when you need them. All of these skills are transferrable and can (and should) be handed down to the next generation. Let’s keep these skills alive!
I. COOKING FROM SCRATCH
While I didn’t put this list in any particular order, this one is probably the most important. To some folks, throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or fixing up a box of mac n’ cheese counts as cooking. While these are ways to keep people fed, they aren’t nourishing. Rather, they are quite detrimental to our health if they’re part of a daily diet.
My mother is an excellent cook, but growing up there were a lot of processed foods that went on the table. Who can blame her? They’re easy and convenient! While it takes time to prepare food from scratch, time shouldn’t be an excuse not to do it. Try blocking a chunk of time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to fill the freezer with soups, stews, and casseroles. Prepping something for the slow cooker is another way to get around this hurdle. Invite your family or a friend to help pitch in. After all, many hands make light work.
If you don’t know where to start with cooking from scratch, I highly recommend Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. This title is basically a culinary school in a book. It’s on my list of favourite kitchen reference books and I’m constantly revisiting Nosrat for her recipes and wisdom. Cooking from scratch is such an easy skill to pick up. Just like anything else, it takes a lot of time, patience and practice to get to know your way around the kitchen.
Cooking from scratch and baking from scratch are two completely different things. One of the pastry chefs who taught me in school once joked about how the culinary kids made lousy bakers. They were so used to throwing things together that they didn’t pay any heed to baking theory. While baking can certainly get tricky, it doesn’t need to be when you start out.
If you like your bread, one of the biggest changes you can make is baking your own loaves. Growing up, my mom used to say that the squishy Wonderbread loaves were made of plastic. While I don’t think this is true, the ingredients are quite frightening and most of them contain sugar. Why, oh why? All bread needs are flour, water, salt and yeast!
I make a real effort to bake my own bread. When I can’t, I usually hit up a local bakery that makes quality loaves. For those of you who are short on time, a breadmaker will do the work for you if you feed it the ingredients. I’ve actually never used a bread maker because I love the whole bread-making process. Kneading dough by hand is therapeutic, but my brother swears by breadmakers. He used to buy 50lb sacks of flour and make his own bread, saving himself a ton of money.
The same rule applies to sweet treats. If I want to indulge, I either need to get it from the bakery or make it from scratch. I am often tempted by storebought cookies, but then I read the ingredients label. The way I see it, if I’m going to eat cookies or pie, they best be made with butter! Plus, who doesn’t like their home smelling like freshly baked goods?
III. MENDING & SEWING: REALLY OLD-FASHIONED SKILLS
This is where we really start getting into old-fashioned skills. In our abundance, when something gets a rip, we usually replace it with something brand new. Fast fashion clothing isn’t known for its quality, is it?
One of my goals is learning how to sew this year, though it’s been slow progress thus far. I want to be able to hem my husband’s pants when he buys a new pair. My favourite jeans are in need of patching and my merino wool cardigan has a big tear down the side. I’ve been mending the latter and it’s not a very neat job. Nevertheless, I swell with pride every time I see its progress because I’m doing it. I’m mending something instead of throwing it out! It’s empowering.
There are so many things I want to learn how to sew for myself: skirts and dresses from vintage patterns, curtains, pillowcases, aprons, tablecloths and napkins. At Christmas time, I pointed out a pair of ridiculously priced cloth napkins selling for $35 to my husband. Napkins, you see, are a perfect beginner’s project. Although the fabric was cute, I would never spend that kind of money on napkins! My husband bought the napkins thinking I was hinting, so now I have two $35 napkins when what I really wanted was the cloth.
While sewing can be quite expensive due to the cost of fabric, it can be done on the cheap. Beginner sewing machines are relatively inexpensive, especially if you’re buying them secondhand on Kijiji. It’s also amazing what can be found in thrift stores and at yard sales. Fabric from clothing, curtains and linens can be repurposed and given new life. Do you know how to sew?
IV. KNITTING & CROCHETING
When my mom found out she was going to be a grandmother, she crocheted the most adorable booties. At Christmas, she sometimes gives me a thick pair of wool socks that she’s knitted herself. I admire that she’s proficient at both. And I admit, I am a bit miffed that I wasn’t taught how to do either.
While I’ve never tried my hand at crocheting, I do like knitting. A decade ago I began learning how to purl after picking up a copy of Debbie Stoller’s Stich n’ Bitch. I loved that I could create something while the television was on. It meant that I didn’t have to give my mind completely to whatever was playing. I made a beginner’s mistake though and bought beautiful, expensive alpaca wool for my first project: a scarf. It never got finished.
Whenever I’m at craft fairs during the holidays, I always envy the knitters. I wish I could knit together a gorgeous pair of wool socks for my loved ones. Knitting chunky wool blankets to keep off the chill, making my own farmhouse dishcloths, and crocheting amigurumi toys like Elise at Le Petit Saint Crochet are pleasant daydreams. I would always be able to give something homemade during the holidays and knitting and crocheting would make me feel extra warm and cozy on the chilliest of days.
THE VEGETABLE PATCH
I spent the last decade wishing I had a garden I could work in. For just as long, I kept a little victory garden in every apartment that had a balcony, but it wasn’t until last year that my dream came true. For the first time ever, I have land I can grow a meaningful crop on. Without knowing what I was doing, I planted tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and kale. I planted lettuce and radishes; cucumbers and beets; squash, peas, beans, and herbs. I was rubbish at it. Despite weeding and watering, my yields were small.
Having a garden gives me an extra reason to go outside. Every time I see a new shoot or a red tomato, I squeal with glee. When it’s summer and a recipe needs parsley or basil, I can run outside barefoot, my feet digging into the good, warm earth. For me, there’s no better sight than catching my son pluck off an organic cherry tomato or a sweet pea to pop in his eager little mouth. Connecting with our food is such an enriching experience and it’s healthier for us in more than one way. Gardening is exercise, it’s fresh air, sunlight and pesticide-free and glyphosate-free produce.
While I have a lot to learn about gardening and how to increase my yield, there’s no better teacher than experience. In my spare time, I’m reading Biodynamic Gardening which is a form of organic gardening that’s all about revitalizing the earth. It’s about nourishing the soil with plant and animal matter, using the moon cycles to your advantage, how to care for your plants, and how to collect seeds.
I’m not just advocating for fruit and vegetables though. Flower gardens are important for attracting the pollinators your vegetable patch needs. Plus, it makes the heart sing when you can bring fresh blooms inside to fix a sweet little bouquet to brighten your home. I loved doing this with the wild violets that surprised me in my back yard last spring. I can’t wait to see them again!
VI. PRESERVING FOOD
Old-fashioned skills like gardening go hand-in-hand with knowing how to preserve food. Even if you aren’t able to keep a big garden, this is a skill you can still learn. When the farmers’ markets are overflowing with late summer and early fall produce, it’s prime preserving time. You can get large bushels of produce on the cheap, especially if you haggle or wait until the end of the day when the vendors would rather sell at a lower price than load their baskets back into their trailer.
Canning is one way to preserve food, but there’s also freezing and fermenting, which warrants its own blurb. Whenever there was an abundance of tomatoes, pears, peaches, or berries, my mom would set about to canning. It’s a big production, so the canning season kept her busy for a couple of weeks, but by the time she was through, our larder was full. Goodness, she still has jars of blackberry and plum jam that she canned over a decade ago! Still, I didn’t learn how to do this, so I buckled down and taught myself last year.
I started out with a simple single jar of dilly beans. From there I began learning how to make jam and jelly. I canned apple syrup and zucchini salsa and am raring to go again. Mason jars can be expensive, but it’s not so bad when you buy them throughout the year or pick them up in thrift stores. The pots and accessories can also be found second hand, so I’m hoping I’ll have luck finding a pressure canner this year, too!
If you haven’t caught my post on how to make sauerkraut, you’ll want to give it a read. There are so many benefits to fermenting foods that it warrants a post of its own. I expound some of its virtues in the sauerkraut post, but in short, fermented foods are packed with vitamins and probiotics that are great for the immune system and for overall gut health.
Fermenting first popped on my radar when I came across Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation book, although I think Wild Fermentation is a better place to start. Before refrigerators, fermenting was one of those old-fashioned skills that allowed folks to preserve their food. Crocks of pickled cucumbers, beets and sauerkraut filled root cellars, perfectly preserved until needed. It’s a beautiful art and there’s so much play to be had.
Foraging, if you didn’t know, is when you go out in the wild to gather nature’s uncultivated bounty. The biggest example that comes to mind is foraging for wild mushrooms, but that’s something I would advise against unless you have an experienced guide to teach you. After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is poison themselves by accident!
I started getting into foraging a couple of years ago when I discovered a wonderful application called Seek by iNaturalist. Wanting to identify the flora and fauna around me, I started using Seek. Soon I was able to point out garlic mustard, buckthorn berries, juniper bushes and white cedar. The outdoors blossomed around me as I set about to identifying everything possible. The next step was asking: “do these plants serve any useful purpose?”. The answer? Yes!
I learned that garlic mustard is an invasive plant species originally brought over from Europe as a cheap alternative to garlic. It can be used as a seasoning or turned into a pesto. Sumac can be used as a spice as can juniper berries. A lot of the “weeds” growing on my lawn and all over the place, really, turn out to be edible, like dandelions, plantains (not the banana look-a-like) and violets.
It’s pretty sad, but a lot of plant knowledge and lore have been lost on us. It makes sense, though. We have easy access to produce without needing to hunt for it. If we want to make a salad, we go to the grocery store, instead of picking dandelion leaves. Well, at least most of us don’t. It’s pretty cool knowing that there’s free produce available right outside our front door, though, isn’t it?
IX. REDUCING & REUSING
In the video for this post, I referred to these old-fashioned skills as “using the whole buffalo”. This term, by the way, comes from when European settlers got excited by all the buffalo hides just waiting to be harvested. Hundreds of thousands of buffalos were killed and left to rot, shocking the native populations who wasted no part of the buffalo.
I talk about this a lot in my frugal kitchen rules post, which is all about wasting less and saving more. I try to stretch everything I can in the kitchen, thinking back to times of strict rationing where not even drippings were taken for granted. When I peel onions, carrots and vegetables, everything goes in a freezer bag for when I make a big batch of broth from scratch. A heel of bread gets dried and turned into breadcrumbs. Pineapple cores and skins can get turned into vinegar, as can apple peels and cores as long as you have a culture.
Eggshells and coffee grounds are reserved for the garden. This year I’ll be installing a compost bin in my backyard so everything that I don’t find a use for can at least nourish my garden. It’s also a dream of mine to keep chickens because they would also appreciate those scraps I have a hard time finding a use for. I rarely recycle glass jars and use them for storing food in the fridge or giving away homemade treats. It’s a fun challenge and one we should all take up with enthusiasm!
X. KEEPING A WELL-STOCKED PANTRY
Back in the day, keeping a well-stocked pantry was essential for surviving hard winters. Families worked hard to build up a store of food, filling their larders with good things to eat. Most of us don’t need to worry about surviving the winter food-wise because we can just drive on down to the grocery store. However, keeping a well-stocked pantry is still a valuable skill because it keeps you ahead of the game.
When you’re low of food supplies, I’ll tell you what happens. You get tired and uninspired, so you order a pizza or go out to eat. Maybe you pick something convenient at the store for a quick and easy dinner. Either way, you spend more money than you would have had you had a flush pantry.
Moreover, when you keep a steady supply of your favourite staples on hand, you can wait to buy everything when it’s on sale. For example, I never buy butter at full price because I always buy several bricks for my freezer when it’s on sale, which saves me $2-3 per brick. That’s a significant difference and it quickly adds up!
When you keep the staples on hand, there’s always a meal that can be whipped up, whether that’s a shepherd’s pie, a pot pie, a good pot of soup, or a hearty buddha bowl. When you’re prepared, you’re much more likely to stay on track with good food choices and your budget. Here’s a list of some of the staples I always keep on in hand my pantry.
XI. MEAL PLANNING
I debated on leaving this one out, but at the same time, it helped keep many busy mothers and wives from wondering what they were going to feed their families. During wartime, meals had to be carefully planned according to the rations that were available. In the 50s, a day was often reserved for running errands, so if a menu was created, it set the tone for the week and informed what was needed for groceries.
When you plan your meals for the week, it takes the guesswork and headache out of wondering what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Armed with a plan, you’re less likely to overspend when you shop for groceries and eat out. Mind you, there’s always room for adaptation, but going into a busy work week and knowing what’s on the menu brings a sense of relief with it.
When I list laundry among the old-fashioned skills, I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a washbasin and washboard to do your laundry. Nor am I suggesting a vintage washing machine. I’m quite fond of modern conveniences, but I do advocate for a couple of things that are more old school.
The first is what you wash your clothes with. While laundry soap has been on the market for a long while, it wasn’t always the case. People used to use a combination of washing soda, borax and quicklime to get the job done. There are gentler ingredients that can be used today, but making your own laundry soap is economical and banishes unnecessary toxins from your home.
The second is how you dry your clothes. I’ll be the first to admit that I use a dryer in the winter. Living in Canada, I’m not a stranger to -20º freezes, ice and snow. Moreover, I have one of those rotary clotheslines that I would need to trek out to in boots. It just wouldn’t be practical, although I have a friend who has a fantastic line drying system on her basement ceiling that’s quite inspiring.
All this to say is that there’s no better way to dry your clothes than with good fresh air. Sunlight is naturally anti-bacterial and bleaching. Paired with a breeze, it leaves clothes fresh, dry and crisp. It’s the best “spring breeze” laundry scent that’s out there, I promise you!
XIII. MAKING SOAP, PERSONAL PRODUCTS, CANDLES AND CLEANERS
This is a whole lot of old-fashioned skills lumped into one category: DIY. I really should have broken this one up a bit, but the whole point is to DIY a lot of these things. Most of these commercial items are full of chemicals, dyes, and other toxins that really aren’t good for anyone. Let’s dip into each one briefly, shall we?
There are two ways around soapmaking. One way is using the “melt-and-pour” method, and the second way is the cold process method, which is a bit more time-intensive. Knowing how to make your own soap means you always have a thoughtful gift ready and waiting when it’s needed, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun than going to the store when you’re running low on soap.
Foaming handsoap is what I make at home and it couldn’t be simpler. As long as you have a foaming soap pump, all you have to do is fill the dispenser halfway with castile soap (I love Dr. Bronner’s peppermint, or unscented with a mix of my favourite essential oils) and the other half with water. I save on soap this way and if I run out, it only takes a few seconds to mix some more up.
We are lucky that we are living in an age where there are so many recipes and tutorials available to us. We can forget about throwing money away on expensive lotions and bath bombs and easily make our own. There’s a bit of money to spend upfront on ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter and beeswax, but when you make your own products on a regular basis, you’ll find that you use them in more than one recipe.
Making your own lotions, shaving cream, and toothpaste means you seldom have a dull moment. There’s always a new experiment lying in store for you and many of these items make great gifts. My favourite blogs for these kinds of DIYs are Bumblebee Apothecary, Farmhouse on Boone, and Our Oily House. All three ladies are highly knowledgeable about the ingredients that go into these products and their benefits.
Before electricity, a lot of country folk made their own candles. They often used tallow (rendered beef fat) to make candles, so as people started moving into the cities and lost their ability to raise livestock, this skill started frittering away. Today, candles are as popular as ever, but they’re also full of nasty ingredients that we breathe in whenever we light one (or several) up. The better alternatives are usually made with soy or beeswax. If candlemaking is something that has always piqued your fancy, you should give it a try!
I think today we’re becoming more conscious of what we’re using to clean our homes. Although they’re marketed that way, commercial cleaners are not our friends. At least, that’s what I keep seeing from the EWG (Environment Worker’s Group. Back in the day when folks were still making their own cleaners, they used ingredients like turpentine, spermaceti (whale oil) and ammonia. There are gentler options today, which you can find right over here.
XIV. THROWING A PARTY ON A BUDGET
Since one of the things I write about is creating memorable gatherings, I had to include this on the list of old-fashioned skills to bring back! The first thing that comes to mind is the billion-dollar wedding industry and how much debt people incur for the sake of their wedding day.
One of the best storytellers I have ever known loved talking about a wedding reception that took place in a barn which he described to be the liveliest shindig that ever was. People came, they ate homemade food, and they danced until the cows came home. Not everyone has access to a barn, but there are ways to be creative. Never underestimate the backyard wedding! There are a lot of things the industry says you need that can be done without.
The thing is, a good party doesn’t have to be expensive. As long as you make everyone feel welcome and at home, you’re in good shape. If food costs are an issue, host a potluck, or give it a fun twist by turning it into a pizza potluck party or a soup swap. Whoever said parties had to be expensive?
This is a skill that will never die. Budgeting is invaluable and I don’t understand how people get by without one. My favourite method is the envelope method, but I go about it digitally with an application called You Need a Budget (I bought the software before they went subscription-based, so I can’t vouch for the current product). By giving every single dollar that comes in a job, you’ll find debts decreasing and savings growing week by week.
While we don’t need to fuss with accounting books or cheque books anymore, it’s still important to track every single transaction. Knowing where your money is going every month is the first step in making adjustments to your lifestyle. If you are shocked to discover you’re spending $100 on coffee every month, it’s easy to rectify. When you see how much you spend on eating out, it might be enough of an incentive to start cooking from scratch. It’s easy to save money, but first, you need to find out where it’s going!
THANK YOU FOR DROPPING BY THE KITCHEN!
I hope this list of old-fashioned skills was to your taste! This list is by no means complete, and I squished a few together to get them in, but I definitely have enough ammo to put another one together for a part two. What do you think? Should there be a part two? Also, are you proficient in any of the old-fashioned skills listed above? Is there a skill you wish would have made the list? I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below!
SHOP THIS POST TO DEVELOP THESE OLD-FASHIONED SKILLS:
To learn how to cook from scratch:
To start baking your own bread:
To start sewing:
To learn how to knit:
To get started with gardening:
For canning inspiration:
To learn more about fermenting:
To start budgeting:
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Love and gratitude,