Minimalists in History: The US in World War II

world war ii

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

– World War II slogan

Although World War II brought prosperity to America, most Americans lived relatively simply due to rationing, supply shortages and a desire to help the war effort.

Conservation and Recycling in World War II

Government posters and pamphlets encouraged people to conserve everything from water, heating fuel and electricity to long-distance telephone calls and transportation.

During the war, patriotism required recycling metal, paper, rubber, rags, leftover cooking grease, and bones. In fact, a poster featuring a Japanese soldier read: “Honorable Spy Say: Thanks for the can you throw away.”

Rationing of gasoline and tires required Americans to carpool and drive more slowly, as well as to walk more.

Because sugar, butter, red meat, cheese, and processed foods were rationed, many people ate healthier diets as well.

Shoe rationing meant that people repaired their shoes as long as they could instead of buying a new pair.

Clothing was not itself rationed in the US, but manufacturers had to comply with fabric-saving mandates, resulting in simpler clothing (for example, fewer cuffs and ruffles).

The military had priority for wool and cotton fabrics, so people more often mended clothing to extend its life.

Gardening and Canning in World War II

During World War II, the government encouraged people to plant “victory gardens.” These vegetable gardens freed up farming, food-processing and transportation resources to produce and deliver more food for overseas soldiers.

Victory gardens appeared not just in private yards, but in public parks, schoolyards and vacant lots. By 1943, nearly 40 percent of the country’s fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in school, home and community gardens.

Canning preserved much of the resulting produce for eating in the winter. Many communities even had canning centers for those without their own canning equipment.

Unfortunately, after the war, patriotism began, once again, to mean consumerism instead of conservation and simple living.

2 thoughts on “Minimalists in History: The US in World War II

  1. My grandmother used to talk to me often about her experiences alone with her baby during the second world war For them the world hadn’t changed all that much and these restrictions having been normal to them through their childhood and early adult years was easy to fall back into. At the time her home was a simple cabin built by hand by her husband and brothers-in-law. It was not hooked to any part of the grid, water had to be pumped outside and bathroom facilities was an outhouse. Her only hardship was getting to work because of the gas rationing.

    It is a shame that after the war everyone was encouraged to live high and spend freely, that is also when suburbs got their real start.

    • Isn’t it sad what we get used to and then see as necessities? One good reason to read history (or at least historically accurate fiction about times past) is to see how happily people managed to live without smart phones, TV or even indoor plumbing.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.