10 Lessons Our Abuelas Taught Us About Living Sustainably

Granted, my abuela is a seamstress, but I can’t remember a time when she ran out to replace a piece of clothing before she tried to patch it

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Photo: Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Granted, my abuela is a seamstress, but I can’t remember a time when she ran out to replace a piece of clothing before she tried to patch it. There have always been at least a few vegetables and flowers planted in her yard, along with a fruit tree or two, and as far as I can remember, she’s only had three cars in the past forty-plus years. My abuela obviously knows something about sustainability. Whether she’s ever realized it or not, her example has taught me a ton about how to live sustainably.

It’s common knowledge that our daily practices and choices have had a major impact on the environment and continue to do so. At this point, one small change may not make much of a difference, but all of us committing to multiple small changes over a lifetime, definitely can. Not only will adopting some of the sustainability habits of our abuelas help us now, but it also allows us to model them to our own niños, so they’ll adopt them without a second thought, and continue the cycle of positivity. If you want to live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle, check out these tips we got straight from abuela.

Freeze Everything

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Photo: wikimedia commons/ Tiefkuehlfan

Abuela’s freezer was always stocked and so was the spare freezer in the basement or garage. That’s because in the interest of not wasting, she froze everything. Bread was frozen if it wouldn’t be eaten before it got moldy, leftovers were frozen for another day’s dinner or lunch, veggies were chopped, bagged and frozen, and sometimes milk was even tossed in the freezer to preserve it before it went bad.

Mending Clothes

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Our grandmothers didn’t throw clothes out when they lost a button or it tore. Sometimes, they didn’t even get rid of them once they became too big or too small — that was the last option. Instead, they grabbed their sewing kits (sometimes stored in the cookie container) and did their best to mend items so they could get the most possible use out of them. They darned socks and patched jeans and hemmed hand-me-down pants and skirts, because it was wasteful to get rid of them and they’ve got skills with those needles!

Homemade Was the Only Way

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Photo: Photo by Los Muertos Crew

Processed food is not just bad for your body, it’s bad for the environment too. Our abuelas may or may not have known that, but for the most part, they still made nearly everything at home and from-scratch. That’s undoubtedly in part because it saves money and many of our grandmothers lived through war times when commodities had to be rationed (or grew up with parents who did), but we now know that eating fewer processed foods also reduces the carbon footprint of our food choices.

Reusing Containers…

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wikimedia commons/Judgefloro

Is there margarine container used for your salsa or sofrito? You could never be sure at abuela’s house, but that’s because she knew that reusing certain items was often far better than buying purpose-specific items. Why spend money twice? But, the practice of reusing containers for food or other pantry and closet storage solutions doesn’t just save money, it also reduces plastic waste and minimizes litter. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “plastic production contributes to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions at every point in its life cycle,” not only that, but it breaks down into “microplastics” that are bad for human and animal health, so the less single-use plastic we use, the better.

… And Plastic Bags

We’ve all opened up abuela’s pantry or kitchen drawer only to have a bunch of plastic grocery bags tumble out. Sometimes, it might seem excessive, but it’s actually a good thing. Plastic bags are some of the worst offenders, because they cannot be recycled, so until they are banned everywhere they’re going to continue to be a problem. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is find ways to reuse them including using them in the trash bins in the bathroom.

Grow Your Own Herbs and Veggies

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Photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Growing some of your own food is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to do something good for the environment. Our abuelas always took pride in their gardens whether they were large plots in a sprawling backyard or mismatched pots on a fire escape. You can grow anything from herbs and tomatoes to lemon and avocado trees in even the smallest of spaces, which will reduce your trips to the grocery store, eliminate food waste since you can only pick what’s ripe, help to purify the air, and countless other benefits. Plus, every time you grow something, you are gaining valuable experience that will make your efforts even more fruitful in the future.

Repair Instead of Replacing

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Photo: Photo by Maria

Why replace it when you can repair it? Our grandparents had the skills to make simple fixes to household objects and appliances, and it seems to be one we’re rapidly losing with each generation. We live in an age where almost everything seems disposable thanks to flash sales and online stores. But sometimes, all it takes is a YouTube tutorial and some basic tools to make an item work as good as knew.

Waste Not, Want Not

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Photo: wikimedia commons/Andrew Nash

“¡No pongas eso en la basura!” You know you wouldn’t dream of tossing food at buela’s house. While it might seem silly to save small amounts of food, most of our grandmother’s would much rather save each bit to add to another meal than toss anything. Need a quick snack, throw those leftover beans in a tortilla, and you’ll have one in minutes. Leftover pollo guisado? Put it in the freezer to save for another night’s dinner. Tossing it is unimaginable. You might even be able to turn those scraps into another delicious meal entirely. So, stop serving yourself more than you can eat in one sitting, and be sure to figure out ways to use up those leftovers instead of throwing them out.

Skip the Credit Cards

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What do credit cards have to do with sustainability? A whole lot if you ask us, and we advise cutting back on them for what is likely the very same reason your abuela does. Simply put, credit cards make it way too easy to buy stuff we don’t need. Not only does excessive credit card usage put us in debt, but it makes our belongings far too disposable and before long, they’ll end up in a landfill somewhere barely used. Sure, keep a card for emergencies, but try locking it up somewhere until that time comes.

Take Care of Your Car

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Photo: Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Our grandparents truly valued their cars. Cars are expensive and they had to work a long time to save up for one, so buying one was kind of a big deal back in the day. Again, that was before it was the norm to live on credit. Now that almost anyone can take out a car loan at any time, we tend to use and abuse our cars. They’ve become dispensable, which honestly, has awful environmental implications; Between the fuel it takes to operate them, the air pollution they cause, and carbon footprint of producing them. But, if we take care of our cars and keep them for longer like our grandparents did, we can cut back on all of that.

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