When my friends Terry and Virginia saw me sweeping the sauna deck with an old broom, they said, “Why don’t you get a new broom, a decent one so that it won’t take you so long to sweep?”

“What’s the big deal,” I said, “if it takes me a few minutes longer? It’s okay with me … plus this old broom can sit out here on the deck and I don’t have to worry about keeping it out of the weather.”

In some respects I chuckle at my friends, who’ve known me for 30 years. Haven’t they come to expect me to be frugal to a fault? Or, is it cheap and lazy, as in why we didn’t paint our old house in Ilwaco, which hadn’t been painted since before the Great Depression. In my dad’s family, it was more important to keep your troller painted than the house.

There are deeper issues involved in using an old tool, even when it is verging on decrepit. My friends, who I know love me dearly, have always worked harder and longer and as a result have more money and possessions. Compared with the average American household, however, they are not very acquisitive, but compared with me, they are, having multiple versions of, for example, kitchen tools … including brooms.

There’s a lot of babble these days about sustainability, sustainable development, sustainable living in general. The term has become close to meaningless. When I’ve been asked in the past, what is sustainable design, I’ve responded, “There is no such thing; there is only sustainable culture, and culture is a collection of small, everyday behaviors by members of a society.” Taking the time to use an old broom is an example of an everyday behavior that in the long run, when practiced by a whole society, could lead to a more sustainable culture.

Sustainability wasn’t yet a buzz word a mere 20 years ago when my husband and I began fixing up the house in Ilwaco where my dad was born. We’d heard of permaculture principles, which include humans should set limits on our population and consumption, home design and construction should work with nature, we should use the least amount of land necessary for our existence, what we build should last as long as possible and take the least maintenance, and most important, information truly becomes a resource only when it is implemented.

Sometimes I think our best strategy for moving toward a comfortable way of life during the coming decades of reduced natural resources and of course fossil fuels, is to adopt the behaviors of my grandparents in the 1950s.

• Grow or catch some of your own food, then can it, freeze it, or smoke it (not that green stuff, silly! The fish you catch.) Buy milk or eggs from the neighbor. Make your own butter or cheese. Bake your own bread and deserts.

• Have a car, but not that many — one used to be enough.

• Have appliances, but not that many. My grandparents had one television, one toaster, one electric range, one device that would mix or chop food, and of course, given my grandfather’s occupation, one table saw, one chainsaw, one circular saw, but nary a cordless drill/driver in sight. Gee, a regular set of screwdrivers and hammers.

• Dry your laundry outside. My grandmother never owned a dryer, although they existed. Neither have I. Somehow a basement, a porch, or drying rack indoors has always provided a place to dry clothes, with a little planning. Even in the coast range, if you learn to watch wind direction, you can dry clothes outdoors year round.

• Get good at fixing things or patronize people who can. Learn to sew on a button or sew a seam that’s ripped. Get your shoes re-soled, your knives sharpened. Patronize local small businesses; money you spend there circulates in your community.

• Slow down. Focus on friends and family. Dance in the kitchen. Picnic in your own yard.

The old broom is significant in another way: It used to belong to Slub Harju, a child of Finnish immigrants who lived in Ilwaco his whole life. My husband and I bought Slub’s house after he died and therefore acquired his old broom. When I use Slub’s broom to sweep the deck around our sauna, which is modeled after my maternal grandparents’ sauna, I’m connected with him, my grandparents, and my Finnish heritage. And, the broom was old and well used when I acquired it, a demonstration of Slub’s frugality as well.

Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer with deep roots in Ilwaco’s frugal, Finnish, fishing community. You can reach her at anthonyvictoria1@gmail.com.

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