9 Mind-Blowing Ways Our Grandparents Recycled Stuff During The Great Depression

Chances are pretty good that you know someone who lived through the Great Depression. Some of the stories they tell are almost unbelievable.

My mother, for example, was a child during the Great Depression and World War II. She always kept some type of snack in her purse, even though she was well off. She used to tell me that growing up in Michigan, she and her sisters would eat corn meal mush for breakfast while my grandmother heated potatoes inside a wood-burning stove. In the winter months, those potatoes would go inside their coats to keep them warm on the walk to school, and believe it or not, that’s what they had for lunch. A cold baked potato. It’s hard to imagine.

Let’s take a look at 10 ways our Great Depression-era ancestors reused or upcycled common items:

1. Flour sacks

Especially in rural and farm areas, flour sacks were literally reused as clothing. Patches were applied to pants and shirts, socks were mended, youngsters wore hand-me-downs, and flour sacks, which were large cotton bags, were washed, cut, and sewn into just about anything, including aprons, dresses, boys shirts, and underwear

2. Rabbits

While we might not think of rabbits as something you can “upcycle,” they really were versatile animals that helped many families live through the depression. A breeding pair of rabbits could be fed just about any type of produce scraps you could find, or for just a few handfuls of alfalfa. They reproduced quickly and could be used for meat or sold to others for cash or other goods. The fur also could be used to line boots or make blankets and clothing.

My mother says that her father once spent the weekly meat money on a pair of breeding rabbits. My grandmother was really angry with him at first for spending grocery money on something she had to feed, but within a year, the family was making money or exchanging rabbits for things such as milk or eggs from other families.

3. Washtubs

Large, galvanized washtubs were used for just about everything: washing clothes, washing dishes, even as bathtubs or water heaters. One summer (fortunately it was summer!) my grandmother’s water heater broke and there was no money for another one. My grandfather put a few old sheets in a washtub and would leave it filled with water on the back porch, which got a great deal of sun. By the end of the day the water was warm enough that someone could take a bath.


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