We have a B**bie dream house in the closet. It was a freebie; Patience, who is just past two-and-a-half years old, doesn’t get what she is supposed to do with it. It’s too small for her, too big for her favourite Ashley chipmunk doll, and doesn’t really look like a house. And it’s all plastic.
What if you couldn’t afford plastics for the house, as proposed previously, if crude oil were to shoot to the same price as a barrel of crude diamonds? Or you developed a terrible allergy to all things petroleum-based? What would you do?
Bedding, curtains, paint, flooring, bathroom and kitchen fixtures would be hard to replace economically. We might consider reverting to old appliances which were all wood or steel – the icebox, the wood-burning stove – since electricity and natural gas would be out of price range for most people once a real oil crisis hits. Would you know how to use them?
Bedding would have to be replaced by natural alternatives to the synthetics in common use. Mattresses used to be stuffed with wool, or made from rubber latex – the latter would be almost impossible to get for household use, since it would get sucked up by the government for their own vehicles and such. Steel springs aren’t very comfortable without a thick pad on top. Say we stuff the mattress with wool batts in a linen casing. Yes, it will get lumpy and matted down if you don’t clean it and fluff it twice a year or so. Sheets would be old cotton repaired many times, and linen, which gets softer with use until it gets paper thin. Both can be recycled into first rags and then paper fibres. You can mulch with it and it will break down in the soil. Wool is the same, but will hold its fibrous shape for many years even when exposed to weather. The patchwork quilt would become the only option for covering the bed, with wool loomed blankets underneath for winter.
Wood-framed furniture is obvious, and the modern type of sofa and armchair would just about disappear. Most people would end up with woodframed furniture with loose cushions.
What about window coverings, or “treatments” as they are often called on television decorating shows? Cotton will probably be very expensive for curtains. Silk, the same. Wool is heavyand awkward to hang and tends to strecth out of shape with its own weight. So those who can will hang linen and those who can’t will have wooden shutters or corded wood blinds.
Our immediate ancestors of just a hundred years ago didn’t have fitted kitchens in most homes. When our synthetics wear out, and it gets too expensive to ship the much-desired granite and marble from overseas, either local stone will be used if anyone knows how to cut it, or we will go back to unfitted kitchens of wooden furniture. It was trendy a few years ago to fit out the fitted kitchen as if the furnishings were loose pieces, very nineteenth century.
Ice boxes require ice. Ice requires an icehouse, sawdust for insulation, and someone who knows how to cut ice from lakes or who knows how to “grow” ice on racks or in blocks. Then someone has to deliver it, or each family has to have its own icehouse. It does limit what you can save for food.
Woodstoves aren’t that rare, and many of us know how to manage and cook on them. It isn’t that hard to learn, really. It is hard work, especially the splitting and carrying part of the wood fuel, but people still do it every day.
As for the bathroom – needless to say, without affordable electricity it might be hard to run an electric pump for your water, but there are windmill and cistern systems that make indoor flush plumbing possible, and even wood-fired hot water heaters that make a bath or shower a bit less onerous. I can deal with heated water from the woodstove myself, the galvanized tub, and the little shack out back.
Floor coverings are so often oil-based, or rely on oil-based adhesives. Wood is the old-fashioned floor covering, with wool carpets over, on a linen warp. Unless you have lots of sheep, flax, a big loom, a production spinning wheel, and several weavers to work on it, your rugs will be made of old clothes cut into rag strips. Old-fashioned varnish made of pine pitch will be what you use for finishing wood, with milk paint on the walls.
Wood clapboards and cedar shakes will finish the outside of the house. While window glass is made of silica, it is expensive to make energy-wise, and hard to transport. Big windows were once a sign of wealth; they could be again.
As you replaced broken, melted or worn-through plastic kitchenware, it would look a lot like the stuff your great-grandmother used – enamelled metal, cast iron, stoneware. This is all relatively easy to make; fine porcelain china and glass would again be luxury and status items. (Hang on to mama’s old china!)
No microwaves, no convenience foods, no freezer – no icemaker or electric coffeepot. Could you cope?
Maybe it’s time to get some practice.