College, Lifestyle

10 retro skills every modern gal should learn

Despite my love for vintage fashion, I don’t wish it was the 1950s again. But there are so many things we can learn from people in bygone times. I would love to see some of the skills of yesteryear revived, for men and women, and since I’m a college girl I’ll be targeting my ideas specifically towards that demographic. Re-learning some skills that have gone out of vogue is a great way to save money, be kind to the planet, and have lots of fun with new hobbies!


#1: Sewing

Sewing is a skill that sometimes gets knocked as a 1950s-era task that women were forced to do as menial labor, but honestly, I think any way that you can be more self-sufficient is liberating. I take great satisfaction in being able to sew my own clothes or household items if I want to, just like I’m pleased with myself for learning to change my own oil. And even if you don’t want to undertake creating entire garments or bags or whatever, being able to do some mending/repair type sewing is a lifesaver. It saves money to be able to hem clothes or take in seams a little bit, and being able to fix a tear and reattach a button can come in handy in case of wardrobe malfunctions! On a college budget, it really helps to be able to buy a dress off the clearance rack and tweak it to fit you, or repair a favorite item rather than replace it. In fact, I’ve repaired my favorite running shorts twice when I otherwise would have had to throw them away, and I’m delighted to still have a favorite workout essential and the money I would have spent to replace it. Sewing skills can also come in handy if you’re into camping and get a hole in your tent, which has actually happened to me (and on a rainy day!)

#2: Gardening

In the past, particularly if you go back more than a couple hundred years, a huge percentage of people were agricultural laborers. Even in the early 20th century many Americans still worked on farms, and many others had small gardens for their families. As a student, it’s great to grow fruits and veggies in the summers, but even if you live in a dorm or apartment you can grow herbs in your window. Or get involved with a community garden and do good while getting exercise, fresh air, knowledge, service hours and fresh food! I love to grow herbs and then dry them in the oven for later use. I’ve also found that growing fresh mint and drying it makes an awesome and soothing herbal tea that comes in handy during tough weeks at school.

#3: DIY cleaning products

Folks didn’t used to be able to buy tons of chemicals at every store and often focused on natural/homemade cleaning products. These can be cheap, environmentally friendly, and gentler on your skin. I’ve discovered that you can basically clean everything with apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and other kitchen staples. I like to keep things natural for dorm cleaning, since that antiseptic smell of chemicals makes a dorm even less homey, and besides, why expose yourself to more harsh chemicals than necessary? Check out some tips here.

#4: DIY bath and body products

Back in the day, there also weren’t thousands of bath and body products available for purchase, and many people couldn’t afford them anyways, so they DIY’d their own. I’ve gotten into making many of my own, because it’s a super fun hobby, a great way to make handmade gifts (but the nice kind that people actually want), a moneysaver, and the best way to make sure you know exactly what you are exposing your body to. It’s amazing the harmful chemicals that can be found in commercials lotions and shampoos. DIY shampoo and conditioner is a staple of my routine (I use an adaptation of this recipe). My other favorites to make are bath bombs, bath salts and face scrub. These can be easy or not so easy to craft in a dorm, but they make great activities to do when visiting family at home for the weekend, awesome summer activities, and terrific gifts (and if you’re making for several people you can buy ingredients in larger quantities and get better prices).

#5: Letter-writing

In an era of instant communication, the ability to craft a letter is becoming rarer and rarer. I’ve developed a special appreciation for letters after several weeks of only being able to communicate with my husband via snail mail. Just read Lady Susan by Jane Austen or Bram Stoker’s Dracula to fall in love with serious letter writing, and besides, it’s extremely handy to be able to compose a nice thank-you note, birthday card, get well soon card, etc. Letters and cards mean a lot more to people in an era when you have to slow down and make an effort to send them, and are a great way to brighten someone’s day. Looking to go beyond writing ccsioanl notes to friends and family, and sending cards for the appropriate social occasions? It’s a fantastic idea to write to shut-ins who don’t get as much human interaction as they’d like, and you can even correspond with prison inmates through charities that specialize in giving prisoners someone they can talk to in what can be incredibly lonely circumstances.

#6: Dancing

Like real, actual, waltz-y type dancing is something that I really wished I’d learned in high school. You never know when you’re going to be in a wedding where the wedding party is expected to dance convincingly. Plus, if you happen to be in a relationship, this is a SUPER FUN and romantic activity to do together. My husband and I sort of muddled through our first dance at our wedding (which was one of the most beautiful moments of our lives), and we now have a renewed determination to take dancing lessons together. Plus, as mentioned above, my husband is Army and we’ll be attending some formal functions over the course of his career that require classier dancing skills than a perfunctory knowledge of the Cha Cha Slide. Chances are, you know someone who could teach you, and if not, lots of venues that have dancing have lessons beforehand for beginners, and many towns have classes through the parks and rec department that last just a few weeks where you can learn and practice the basics. Many schools have dance clubs for various forms of dance like shag, and while some of them require a greater time commitment, others would be delighted to have you come occasionally or just a couple times to learn.

#7: Listening

Alright, this is my only soapbox moment, I promise. But why can’t we turn off our TVs and put down our phones for a couple of hours and just listen to one another and deepen our relationships? There’s such a roar of information and communication coming at us all the time, it seems like individual interactions get drowned out, and the average person’s reportedly has an attention span on par with that of a goldfish. I’m not going to go into a rant about “the good old days” (after all, I’m only 20), but it does seem to me that the best interactions are often had when devices are tucked away and we really take time to focus on the people that we’re with.

#8: Reading

Seems to be tough to find time to read immersively around a jam-packed student schedule, but losing yourself in a book for an hour or two here and there is one of the best things for you. Reading stimulates brain activity, it’s a great way to learn about just about anything, it’s a good way to relax, and a much better way to pass time on the bus or before class than staring at Instagram. It’s also a great way to get to sleep at the end of the day because you can wind your mind down with some gentle activity without screen light. A daily Bible reading habit is a fantastic discipline to develop in college. Don’t forget to pack a good novel or classic for any summer trips this year. (Looking for reading material? Check out my giveaway, ongoing for just a couple more weeks!)

#9: Playing music

While plenty of people take music lessons and are big into band and orchestra, many people don’t know anything about playing an instrument. Back in the Little House on the Prairie era, playing music was the only way to have music in your home, so most families had a musician or two of sorts. I’ve found that just knowing enough guitar chords or piano to be able to amuse myself on a rainy afternoon or participate in a campfire singalong has been well worth the modest amount of time and effort it took to develop the skills. Much like reading, there’s a wealth of statistical evidence that playing an instrument is great for your brain and a good stress-reliever.

#10: Sleeping

Obviously we still sleep some, or we wouldn’t be around anymore. But the amount of sleep that the average American has been sliding down for decades. In the 18th and 19th century, sleep scientists believe the average person got nine or nine and a half hours of sleep a night, according to this New York Times article. These days? The average is less than seven. It’s tough to prioritize sleep in the midst of an over-stuffed schedule, and everyone has to go without the optimal eight hours from time to time. But while you’re young is the best time to establish healthy habits that will stand you in good stead later in life. The health detriments of perennially skimping on sleep can be severe, and even in the best case scenario, regularly shorting yourself on sleep will prevent you from doing and feeling your best (not to mention making you more susceptible to caffeine dependency).


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