THE BLOG
09/12/2013 07:49 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2013

7 Ways My Parents Were Eco-Chic Before Their Time

As September's cooling air reminds us, summer doesn't last forever in New England; and I hear my mother's voice in my head saying "If you're cold, put on a sweater!"

I grew up in suburban Boston in the 80's where hair was big, and heavy metal hairbands were even bigger.

Slurping an Orange Julius at the Burlington Mall Food Court was the height of pre-teen sophistication. If you had a pool and your parents drove a boat sized Cadillac, you were SO LUCKY!

My parents both drove Volkswagens. I have great memories of spending afternoons cruising around in the back seat of my Mom's bright blue beetle. In Elementary school, I would frequently fake sick and miraculously recover when we were a safe distance from school, begging her to take me on thrift and grocery store adventures.

In our house, signs were taped to the bathroom mirrors reminding us to conserve water. Friends still tease me about my mother's police like enforcement of the 5-minute shower rule -- even for teenage girls with mops of hair.

In the winter, my after school chore was to load a wheel barrel up with wood (from our backyard wood pile, of course) and start a fire in our airtight catalytic wood stove.

We didn't live in the backwoods, we lived in upscale Lexington, where the after school ritual at my friends' houses was to crank up the thermostat, fire up the hot air popcorn popper, and veg out to MTV. You can bet I was always dying to go to their houses, and on freezing cold days some of them liked to come over to mine to feel the soothing heat of the wood stove. Once I stood so close, I burned a very large hole in the back of my catholic school uniform skirt, and went to school blissfully unaware -- until I took off my overcoat and my long undies were showing. (Mom delivered a new skirt.)

My folks were "frugal New Englanders"; a dash of conservationist mixed with two parts of "waste not want not." Sure, there was talk at the dinner table about the planet "running out of resources," but, I'm not sure if that was in service of Mother Earth or a lower electric bill. Here are some of their sensible house rules, which are so ingrained in me; I still follow today (mostly):

1. Be Water Con: Get a low flow shower head and take short showers. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, or when washing dishes by hand; and use a wash basin.

2. Be Energy Efficient: Turn the lights and TV off when you leave the room, and unplug stuff you are not using. Turn down the thermostat, and put on a sweater (ala Jimmy Carter). You may just sleep better too. Wash your clothes in cold water, heating the water uses up energy and doesn't get your clothes cleaner.

3. Go European: Try showering every other day, and letting your hair dry naturally when you can. (Yes, I do mean skip the blowdryer sometimes.) Wear your clothes a few times before washing, unless they have a stain or stink, you'll be fine.

4. Don't Guzzle: Drive an energy efficient car, and keep it maintained. If you can, skip the car all together. Use zipcar, public transport, and walk sometimes, you just might enjoy it.

5. Watch What You Eat: If you end up with weeks old wilted veggies in the fridge, it is not only money you've wasted, but also all the energy used to get the product to market, and keep it cool.

6. Use it Up: My mothers packed leftover lunches that might include a lovely hot soup in a thermos; a cool shake made with the last of the ice cream, to a baffling half a head of cabbage, or the previous night's pizza slices with the cheese eaten off. (Don't go this far.)

7. Shop Second Hand: On a Saturday morning we were out by 8am to the yard sales my mom had mapped out the night before. As a teenager I complained about shopping second hand, she looked me incredulously said, "It's recycling! And, how do you think we can afford a summer house?" She always picked the best brands, and I did get lots of compliments on my clothes.

Yes, there are many more earth friendly tips, but these are easy to adopt and identity politic free. It's a good place to start. (They never used water bottle either, they used glass Teddy Peanut Butter jars, but I have no idea how healthy or eco friendly that is.)

My parents were far from todays' Eco hipsters. My Dad wore Seersucker suits, my Mom played tennis and they hosted many cocktail parties where meatballs and Martinis were served liberally.

They weren't preachy, and the "rustic" flavor (as one friend hilariously describes it) of the household, was filled with friends and fun. My parents just walked the walk. They weren't trying to impress, or teach anyone a lesson.

My Mom is gone now, but I can still hear her say "Look around Jenny, isn't it wonderful what Mother Nature gave you!?" Yes, thank you for teaching me that Mom. And yes, I'll power down the computer when I'm finished.