One of the lessons of the Camino Santiago is that you really CAN live quite happily with nothing but what you can carry on your back. My maternal grandparents learned this lesson when they traveled out to California during the Dust Bowl days. My paternal grandparents immigrated from the Azores during wartime. All of my grandparents were quite self sufficient and very skilled at living a frugal but happy life. They also were environmentalists without even knowing it. Some of the skills I learned from them came in quite handy during my two-week stint as hospitalera at San Anton Albergue, where there was no hot water, no electricity, and no wi-fi.
Here are some of the things they taught me:
Use the SUN to dry your clothes!
At San Anton, there were no clothes dryers. In fact, 10 years ago along the Camino you were VERY lucky to find a washing machine or clothes dryer. Instead, clothes were hung on the line or on a rack like the one below. I bought my clothes rack on amazon.com for $27. Worth it's weight in gold, it sits on my back patio, ready to be unfolded when I need it. At San Anton, we used these, and we also used a plain old rope, strung between two buildings. Nothing fancy. And you know what? The clothes dried in no time with no electricity, no stinky fabric softener sheets, and a lot of sunny satisfaction!
Grow Your Own Food!
I'm lucky to live in SE Portland, Oregon, where the neighbors support gardening! We have taken out the grass in the sunny front yard, and put in a raised bed garden. We also have fruit bushes and trees all over the front and back yard. We grow 75% of our own vegetables in this garden. Not only is it satisfying, but we know where the food is coming from and we save a LOT of cash! We grow carrots, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, kale, squash, watermelon, cabbage, broccoli, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, figs, and a variety of herbs. I also have a hen house and we are allowed up to 3 hens so we have fresh eggs.
Preserve Your Own Food.
We do this. I can and freeze vegetables, and I have a dehydrator. I plan on doing more this year.
Re-Use, Recycle, Mend
I rarely buy anything new. Once a year I buy new underwear, socks, and shoes if I need them. Everything else is second hand. Portland is an awesome place for yard sales and second hand shops. Rich people buy a new toaster every year, and I'm happy to use their old one. If my clothes need a button, I sew one on. If something breaks, I fix it. Last year, I fixed my blender, saving me hundreds of dollars on a new one. It was a simple fix and I found the instructions online. We recycle plastic containers and glass, using what we can. Freezer bags are washed and dried and reused. I remake old wool sweaters into arm warmers and hats. We compost our vegetable trash and chicken manure. Just about anything can be recycled. When I was a child, we bought milk in glass containers that were returnable. You can still do this!
This is something I'd like to work on. I remember visitors coming over often. My grandmothers would always have a pie or cake and a pot of coffee on hand. Folks would sit and visit an hour or two. It was wonderful! I miss having my friends over. My MCS has impacted my social life dramatically, but the friends I have left are precious to me, as is my family. I would like to have more dinner parties, more barbecues, more family get-togethers. That is a goal for this year.
Cook at Home
I am on the Eat For Life program and that means lots of salads and beans. Cooking at home doesn't have to be super time consuming. A pot of soup or beans can last several days. Prepping salad ingredients ahead of time and keeping them in glass containers is a great time saver. Just pop some greens in a bowl and choose your toppings. You can save a LOT of money by eating at home, instead of fast-fooding it!
Sit and Eat Together
Family dinners seem to be a thing of the past, and I'd love to see them come back. In our house, we have "roommate appreciation day" some weekends, where we cook a big breakfast and eat together. It's nice to sit around a table and talk, instead of having people on their iPhones or watching television. My eldest son's family sits around the table for dinner, and I'm so proud they do this! Eating together, sharing food and drink and conversation, is a great way to bond.
Drink Tap Water
Portland has some of the best tap water in the country. Check out your own city tap water and if it's clean and safe, stop using those plastic bottles. They are horrible for the environment - and not very good for your health either! Save yourself some cash and your health, and save the Earth by drinking tap water!
Buy Less - Make Gifts
Christmas has become a holiday of excess. This year, try drawing names in your family and put a limit on the amount spent for each gift. Many of the expensive gifts you give to people end up in the next yard sale. Do they really NEED that thing? Instead, give coupons for services like babysitting, yard mowing, house cleaning. Or make gifts of food or drink. Think hard before you spend on people, including yourself. Where will that item be in 12 months? The land fill?
Get Outdoors More
We used to pack a picnic for every 4th of July. We took camping trips each summer. Evenings were spent on the front porch visiting with passing neighbors. Morning coffee in the back garden. Make a vow to do more walking, more sitting outside listening to birds and bees and enjoying trees and flowers. It's healing for your soul as well as for your body. WALK or BIKE the few kilometers to the market, using your backpack to carry groceries. Stop jumping into the car every time you need to go 2 miles.
Make Your Own Products
This is a big one for me. We are so brainwashed into believing we need to buy expensive products to clean our house and bodies.
When I first was diagnosed with MCS, I went many months without using soap or shampoo. I used plain hot water to rinse my body and hair. I mixed a tablespoon of baking soda in a glass of water, poured it through my hair, rubbed, and rinsed. Then I mixed a tablespoon of vinegar in a glass of water and poured it through my hair, then rinsed. My hair was shining clean and oil free. No shampoo needed.
My go-to products for cleaning house are lemon-ammonia and dishwashing liquid. Those two products, mixed together with hot water, will clean anything. Baking soda scrubs sinks and tub.
I make my own laundry soap using the Dugger recipe. I can make 10 GALLONS of laundry soap for under $3 and it only takes about 20 minutes. You can find the recipe online.
My mother is 82 years old and every Thursday night she gets together with 4 friends she went to school with since kindergarten. They eat together, watch old movies, and play cards. My sons and our roommates play table games every now and then and it's a lot of fun. The grandchildren really enjoy table games and even very young children can be a part.
Better yet, teach your grandkids to play hopscotch, jacks or jumprope.
Go for it!
I double dare you!