The Great Depression was an era in American History that people who lived through it would remember indefinitely. They remember how hard the times were, the poverty most people suffered, and just life in general at the time. For most people who remember living through this time, the lessons stuck with them for the rest of their life.
For those who experienced the worst of The Great Depression, they never forgot. They do not or did not like talking about life during that time, but the lessons they learned were life-changing. Most people now would not necessarily notice the impact made until they looked closer at these people.
They do not throw out anything. The only things in their garbage (scrap) pails were items that could not possibly use anymore, be fed to animals, or composted. They were on board with recycling before recycling was the cool thing to do. Their homes will appear very neat and tidy, but their closets are packed full of items they could not part with including old clothes, newspapers, fabric, boxes, baskets, jars, string and twine, rubber bands, twist ties, plastic bags, and more. During the Great Depression, you would never know if and when you might need something to repair or fix another item.
They were basically hoarders because they had to be, but you would have never known it by looking at their homes. Now that the minimalist movement is in full swing, some people look down their noses at these older people who lived through the Depression. However, we must realize that they did not have the possessions then we have now. They just didn’t have the pure junk and cheaply made goods we have now. They were minimalists in their own way because they did not have the money or the means to have more possessions. They just refused to throw out anything that could be used again.
Notice how most older people do not buy new clothes unless they have to? Their shoes are usually repaired, worn until they fall apart, and/or are still kept in case they need a pair for the garden or other chores. They probably have a good pair that is kept for special occasions or church, but when that pair is no longer good, they get used for every day. The same goes for coats and more. You will also notice they do not buy trendy clothing items either – most of their items are of good quality that will last years. In this age of disposable clothing, this seems odd, but they probably would see us as wasteful.
People during this time lost their fortunes. People also lost their savings as banks closed. While most people who lived during this time continued to save money after the Depression and World War II, many were leery of banks. They would keep cash at home, have accounts at multiple banks, and not have all their eggs in one basket. Most of them would also go on to save a large amount of money because they lived so simply and frugally.
They also went on to birth the Baby Boomer generation. They wanted to give their children a better life than what they had. They saved money for their kids to go to college because they wanted their kids to have an education and succeed. They would go on to help their children buy their first farm and possibly their first home. They would invest in their businesses to help them get a start because very few of those that lived during the Depression had that luxury.
Many people during the Depression lost their homes and their businesses. They would have to move for jobs and just to find work. People would have to move in with other family members or rent a couple rooms for a roof over their heads. Kids were expected to help out any way they could with the understanding any money they earned would probably go to the family. If they were given payment at all, that money was not spent frivolously. Not to say that the kids were not given a special treat once in a while, but they did not expect this all the time like kids do now.
While there has always been poverty in this country, during the Great Depression, poverty was acute and affected nearly everyone in some way. When we think of poor now, we think of either the homeless or just living paycheck to paycheck. However, poverty is the circumstances of being extremely poor. Most people did not have enough money for rent/mortgage payment, food, clothing, and other necessities. Children were sent to live with other relatives or were taken to orphanages because their parents could afford to take care of them. Many adolescents were sent to live at other households as hired girls or men and worked for a roof over their heads and food to eat.
People leaned on bartering and trading during this time also. People would help each other bring in the crops, bale hay, tend the sick and the infirmed, do heavy housework, and more. You might have given the neighbor some produce from your garden in exchange for eggs. Like my grandmother, you might have worked as a hired girl so you could stay in town and go to high school. Many people traded and bartered services and goods just to stay alive and stretch their money even more. To do this, you can still see this generation doing this. They also instilled these lessons into their children.
People who lived during this time did what they had to do to survive. We all hear stories about the Great Depression that we think we could never do now. However, when you are faced with a choice to survive or not, you would think differently. This time in history is also very romanticized by those who think it will happen again. They want to live like that. Most of them could not do it.
How could you survive another Great Depression? Most of us preppers would like to think we could survive anything, but in reality, the Great Depression lasted until World War II started. For most people, nothing changed when we went to war because of the rationing system and the unavailability of goods. Jobs were on the rise due to wartime production, but the money still barely covered the necessities. There is not really any way to be reasonably prepared for ten years or longer unless you practice self-sufficiency now.
What saved many people during the Great Depression was the ability to grow their own food, raise animals for eggs and meat, have large gardens, and preserve as much as they could to get through the winter. They knew how to sew their own clothes, mend almost anything, and think creatively to solve problems or fix anything. Nothing was wasted which is a huge problem nowadays. They made only one trip to town a week for anything that needed to be purchased if they could afford to go. They would have also taken in any extra produce or eggs to the local grocer which he would have paid them for if the quality was right.
In short, the skills this generation knew is what saved them. They still have these learned lessons in their memories. You see that most of them still practice what they can, but this generation is dying out quickly. When they are gone, the lessons will be forgotten. If experts are right, we could be headed towards another financial and economic upheaval. We have more people living in this country than ever.
While there is a trend towards self-sufficiency right now, most people would be suffering until they could get back on their feet again. I have faith in people helping other people, but the resources might not be there to help everyone. FDR was accused of socialism and more when he rolled out the New Deal to create programs which created jobs to help people get back on their feet again. Now, if that happened, it would be wrapped up in Congress for months. With all the regulations we have now, it may never happen.
If you have a chance, please sit down with the generation who lived during this time. Ask them how they or their parents survived the time. You will hear different accounts because their experiences were different. Some people went through this time just fine because they were already used to living the self-sufficient life. Some people had to learn it. Some people lived in abject poverty and were basically homeless. If you can’t directly talk to someone who lived during the Depression, read some first-hand accounts. What they had to do to live may surprise you.