Resourcefulness – (n.) The ability to come up with clever ways to solve a problem.
The bad economy hasn’t been easy for my family, or for many of my friends and neighbors. But these lean times are forcing many of us to hone an incredibly useful skill: resourcefulness.
In the last few years, my husband and I have learned to build raised bed gardens, grow vegetables, raise chickens, make bread, put up a fence, prepare delicious meals from inexpensive ingredients, fix broken faucets, remedy a variety of plumbing problems, treat a handful of minor human and feline ailments, grow and harvest herbs, and on and on. We are, by the day, becoming more resourceful people.
We learned one thing early in our roles as homeowners, cat and chicken-tenders, and parents to a little person: things will go wrong. And when things go wrong, it’s tempting to (a) feel overwhelmed (and often sorry for ourselves) and (b) tote out the Yellow Pages to look for someone to call to make things better. The problem with this approach is that it’s very expensive.
So my husband and I are learning to step back when things go wrong and ask ourselves, “How can we fix this?” This simple tactic has saved us many hundreds of dollars – in the last month alone.
But it’s done so much more than that. Tapping into our ingenuity, instead of calling someone to fix things, takes away fear. When we grow confident in our ability to solve problems – or to network with our friends and neighbors to solve problems –we stop being scared of the things that may go wrong. We start trusting that we’ll be creative and clever when we need to be, and that we can find solutions to even seemingly insurmountable problems.
Of course, we can learn much about honing our inner resourcefulness from our grandparents’ generation. They (and many generations of people before them) had to master the skill. Take these stories from Ohio’s Great Depression Story Project:
We grew all our own vegetables. We had our own orchard. We had our own cows, had milk, made our own butter, did a lot of canning. My mother at one time had over 800 jars in the basement of jams, jellies, meat, fruits, vegetables, all these different things…
– Dean Bailey, age 82
Grandma made her own bread and baked it in an open hearth oven that my Grandfather had built in their backyard. I have never tasted anything as good as that since. If there were any loaves left over by her next baking day, Grandma would make an Italian dish called ‘minestra’ – made with the cut up left over bread, beans, ham hocks and dandelion greens. This was a poor man’s meal, but very nourishing. Mom and Grandma would walk to lnterlake field to pick the dandelions used in this dish.
– Mary Rose DeMaria, age 83
For a refrigerator we used an empty gallon can with a rope tied to it, which we lowered down a dug well to sit on the top of the water. That would cool a pound of bologna… For a while before we had electricity, we heated the irons that we used to do the ironing on the cook stove. We bathed in a large wash tub that was also used to wash our laundry…
– Lester Baiman, age 82
We had no cellar to store our canned food in and my dad would make a place in the garden where he would pile up straw or hay. He would put vegetables in a pile then he would put more hay or straw on them. Then, he would put burlap sacks and old coats on top of that. He would cover it all with some soil and in the winter he could dig in it and get vegetables to eat and they kept very well.
– Charles Warrick, age 81
We raised chickens (lots of chicken and eggs were on the menu), canned our garden vegetables along with apples, pears, grapes, cherry and plums. Dandelions were our first spring greens and we welcomed them after the long winter. Mom made many casseroles, pancakes, cookies, fried donuts and fritters. Sometimes we had ice for the ice box, but we often cooled many foods in a special place in the basement.
– Marian Seilheimer, age 89
There were no disposable diapers, no paper towels and no paid babysitters. Everything was used and re-used and repaired. Nothing was thrown away. You saved buttons, nails and screws in a Prince Albert tobacco can, 1# size. It was a great day when the feed company started to put feed in pretty, printed sacks. We’d tell the men to get 4 sacks alike. That would make a dress, curtains, shirts, tablecloths, etc.”
– Margaret Smith, age 94
We lived in a couple rooms at a private residence and I remember the single light bulb hanging in the combination living room/bedroom. Mother cooked on a hot plate and washed dishes in the bathroom, which we shared. No refrigerator, only a window box to use in the winter. We never had a thought in our mind that maybe we weren’t rich. Mom and Dad always had a job and everybody laughed all the time.
– Vane S. Scott, Jr., age 85
(If you enjoyed these stories, you can read many more here.)
Are you becoming more resourceful because of the bad economy? I’d love to hear about it.