Five skills: Our grandparents had them – we don’t

Five skills: Our grandparents had them – we don’t


Have you thought about the skills your grandparents had, but that are no longer common today? Here are the top five skills:

1. The ability to write long, handwritten letters:

Do you still write letters by hand and send them by mail? Nowadays, most of us write emails and text messages, but not long, handwritten letters.

Old letters sent to family and friends

2. Remember more than three phone numbers:

Can you remember more than three phone numbers by heart? Or the birthdays of friends and family? My grandmother surprised me when she recently told me that she remembers all family birth and death dates from 1890 to today. I only remember birthdays of my immediate family! What about you?

Phone numbers to remember

3. Use a sewing machine and sew by hand:

Unfortunately, most of us today can no longer sew on a button, let alone make complete garments.

Sewing machine (Image credit: Wikipedia)

4. Tie different types of knots:

There are many different types of knots, each suitable for a different use. When our grandparents were young, many learned to tie knots – and even practiced them – for fun.

Different types of knots
Different types of knots

5. Ability to read maps:

They didn’t have GPS or the Internet. People used their sense of direction to follow maps. Today, many of us don’t know how to follow maps, since we’ve never needed to! Can you refold a large paper map after opening it up?


Do you have anything to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Carlyss

    December 2, 2013

    The young people that come to my house (I am a grandma) don’t know any of the above and also don’t know how to cook. It is the age of the fast food.

  • Scott Saftler

    December 2, 2013

    While I agree that sewing and handwriting have become lost arts, I don’t agree about map reading, knot typing and remembering things. While no longer requirements, these are skills that are still desirable and practical in today’s world, depending on your profession or hobbies.

    A few other skills that are no longer required, though desirable to some:

    – Driving a manual transmission car
    – Ability to read an ANALOG clock
    – Balancing a checking account

  • Jim Harding

    December 2, 2013

    one of the essential skills was to be able to “tot” up a long number of figures such as a shopping price list. This was done at a speed which would beat entering them into a computer today…

  • Jim Harding

    December 2, 2013

    Wrapping a parcel in brown paper and tying it with twine is a lost skill as is the convenience of being able to break the twine quickly using your hands only.. ps yes i do remember how its done

  • Susan

    December 2, 2013

    using a wringer washer and building a good fire-also making meals out of hardly any ingredients.

  • PlantDrEMB

    December 2, 2013

    I can still do all 5 and most others suggested plus grow, preserve and cook food, fish for food, make beer and cider, change the oil in my car.

  • Kathy Perri

    December 3, 2013

    I can do all those things

  • Sherri Lipcius

    December 3, 2013

    Change TV channels and volume without a remote! That’s a lost skill.

  • Pamela Thornton

    December 3, 2013

    Jim, I love totting up a long list of numbers!!

    Sewing by machine and by hand, as well as letter writing are OK but I never did learn 10 knots. I can still do up a parcel though. I can remember our first phone number in UK when I was a teen. SOUTHALL 5581! Do people still keep diaries?

  • Barbara Henry

    December 3, 2013

    Giving back change to your customer! Kids today depend on their cash registers to tell them!

  • glenda

    December 3, 2013

    Can we make change from a Cash Register without it telling us how much to give back…can we count the change back to ourself and then the customer?

  • Rhydonia

    December 3, 2013

    The part about giving change: multiple times we’ve tried to give cents so we get back even dollars (as in $7.16 so we would give $10.16). Young “clerks” get confused w/this; older ones can handle it.

  • Thom

    December 3, 2013

    While overseas for two years, I wrote handwritten letters to my family in friends so I’m good with #1. I still do a letter or two a few times a year. I’ve always been good with numbers so #2 is not problem. I can only do 3, 4 & 5 because I was an adult leader of a Boy Scout troop and felt that I should be able to do the same things the boys were asked to do.

  • Ronald

    December 4, 2013

    @Scott, driving a manual car may be lost art to Americans but pretty much everywhere else it is the norm 😉 I am not sure I would feel comfortable with automatic gears but that’s off topic 🙂 In general I think people used to work harder to get the things we take for granted. Want to get warm and cozy? Chop wood and light the fireplace. We simple turn a dial. I have tried imagining life without (recorded) music, disposable diapers, washing machines, motorised transport, the internet, heating, lighting, flushing water, hygiene products, etc. Not that many people who have gotten used to these, will volunteer to give them up for the ability to tie a knot 🙂 We are very fortunate indeed.

  • Anne Smith

    December 4, 2013

    endless supply of stories to tell us. Nothing better than to sit on the floor and listen the grandpatents

  • Sid

    December 4, 2013

    Can you make fruit jellies by boiling fruit and straining through a jelly bag (no squeezing allowed) and adding sugar and judging pectin required to make a superb conserve base for strawberries? my husband can. (Use red currants for jelly)

  • Derek Tunnington

    December 4, 2013

    Many children now have lost the ability to speak, read and spell their own language. Just watch Tv interviews of teenagers!(I think of English UK.)
    When my daughter emigrated with her children I gave them an audio cassette tape of my memories of childhood in the 1930s. Our grandchildren could not believe how we could live without all the electronics etc.

  • Siobhan Spurle

    December 4, 2013

    I can do all of the above, well perhaps not 10 different knots but at least 5.Before we were married my husband and I used to write to each other every other day as he lived in England and I lived in Northern Ireland, this was in the mid 1980’s. When our eldest daughter heard about this she asked if we wrote with a feather!
    I am amazed how many people born since the late 1960’s don’t know how to hand sew, machine sew or knit. My children’s generation don’t know how to cook, hand wash clothes and dishes or occupy themselves without electronic devices.
    My three children are now in their 20’s, they all know how to cook, sew and knit but only because I spent the time teaching them. Their friends are surprised they can cook and bake.
    Life is far too convenient, people don’t know how to survive without electricity! Learning old skills is important, not doing so removes our connection with the past and that made us the innovative people we are.

  • Elizabeth

    December 4, 2013

    I can’t do all the knots but OK with the rest and so can my children.
    I ‘m sure it has made us closer by sharing the skills. Also a good reminder of how good we have life now or not.


    December 5, 2013


  • Debbie

    December 5, 2013

    I can do some of these, but reading a map & sewing has never been my thing. I’ve tried sewing, but just can’t get the hang of it, though I would like to. As for reading a map, I’m the type I can’t turn around without getting lost. I’m the only person I know that can actually get lost reading a map. But I agree with the change. I went to a restaurant where the register was down. The young lady had no idea how to give change out. We had to tell her how much to give and then what kind of coins & bills made up that change. It was so sad that she couldn’t figure it out for herself. Everything is computer. Young people today don’t know how to keep score at bowling either.

  • Valerie

    December 5, 2013

    December 5, 2013
    I know how to sew, bake, knit, wash clothes by hand, iron, I hate ironing but I know how to do it. I know three phone numbers, I do not know how to do knots, I would love to learn. I can cook. I try to learn something new yearly.

  • Colin

    December 5, 2013

    I’m a 66 year old male and in this age of the push button we seem to have lost most manual skills. My mother taught me to cook, sew, knit, iron and clean. My father taught me to fish, garden, paint, decorate and make things.

    I do wonder what do todays parents teach their kids?

  • Jean

    December 15, 2013

    I’m 79 yrs. I teach my Grandchildren how to cook, sew, read (other than online) etc. In other words, all the things that I learned as a child but in a different way.

  • Jean

    December 15, 2013

    I have taught them how to use a wringer washing machine to shell peas. We modernized when I was young.

  • Bep Lambriex

    December 17, 2013

    Bela, I know and do most of all of the above, as far as knots go, I mainly get my knickers in a knot nowadays. I do drive a manual car and get many strange looks when I pull away at the lights. If I am first on line, I am away while even the automatics are still thinking about it and get strange looks when I change gears. As I learned to drive at a time when there were only manuals that did not have speedo meters etc, you listened to your motor and when it sounded like top speed for that gear, you changed up one gear, between 1 and 2 you had to “double clutch” because the gears were not synchronised. Apart from that, I have lived life in a hurry out of necessity and was known as speedy conzales. All my kids and grand kids are petrol heads, the older ones I taught to drive. Nowadays I am Oma to all and sundry and try and stay within the speed limits. Bela.

  • Rachel

    March 30, 2014

    I can’t tie more than five knots, and I don’t know many telephone numbers (I only know important ones like family members, the rest are in the telephone book). But I can do all the rest – sew a complete dress (by machine AND by hand – it’s neater by hand), even if I hate buttonholes with a passion, write proper hand-written letters to a number of relatives (great fun when you’re a little kid), read maps, etc. I can do a lot of the other things people were talking about, too – add up a shopping trip in my head (larger trips aren’t always exact) (also, it’s quite common here to give odd amounts of cents and a note in order to get even dollars back), read analogue clocks, write cursive, knit, crochet, weave (although I can’t spin), cook… I can’t drive manual because I’m not old enough to drive yet, but I have no doubt I’ll learn in a manual.

    I learnt most of these skills from my parents (except for weaving, that was a personal interest, and cursive, which was an act of rebellion against the school). My mother taught me to use a sewing machine when I was seven, and she had me using kiddy tapestry (big plastic squares and needles) at about two or three – and I was helping in the kitchen that young, too. I could cook a meal for my family when I was eight or nine. From my father, I learnt to read maps, list the capitals, language, and currency of major countries, grow vegetables, raise and butcher chickens, manage money… My grandparents taught me to use a copper and a wringer (although, really, a bath is more convenient than a copper…), make pastry… um, I think that’s it. Jam and tomato sauce I learnt to make from my mother.

    I know I’m unusual for a teenager in having these skills, and I admit that some of them probably aren’t skills your average 70-year-old would have, either (like weaving, for example). But I do worry about some skills that I can see dying out, ones kids who are under ten now won’t have as adults, such as writing cursive (or even having neat handwriting at all, since they type all the time), taking notes, doing research from books rather than on the internet, reading maps and co-ordinates (although I have to admit this is taught in school), and so forth. I was blessed with older parents who still had these skills – if they had been ten years younger when I was born, like most of my friends’ parents, they wouldn’t have had these skills and couldn’t have passed them on to me.

  • Cheryl Bonner Troup

    December 7, 2015

    My husband came up with the following skills he immediately thought of.
    1. Ride a horse.
    2. Read a paper newspaper.
    3. Do math with a pencil.
    5. Tie a corset or a tie.
    6. Play board games like Clue,Scrabble,or Monopoly.

  • Cheryl Bonner Troup

    December 7, 2015

    One other item.
    7.Say a sentence without using the word “like”.

  • Renee

    December 7, 2015

    1)I have handwritten many long letters in my life. Nowdays its email or fb. (not helped by our abysmal post office system in SA!)
    2) I remember all my close family’s phone numbers as well as the ones we used in previous households and hundreds of birthdays!
    3)I made my stage costume, includingd darts, gathers, lace embellishments and a zip on a hand powered Singer sewing machine when I was 14!
    4) and 5) not so much but I am not totally clueless……..BUT I am 52, just fall in the baby boomers generation, so although I have embraced modern technology, my formative years were still “old school”! 🙂

  • Rita

    December 8, 2015

    I can do all of these, but at 63, I should be able to. And #4 is not ‘different kinds of knots’; it’s instructions for one knot, the bowline. It’s a very useful knot to know, as it forms a very secure knot that is easy to untie, even if it’s been under severe stress. But it can come apart under a few circumstances, so it isn’t recommended for critical applications, like mountain climbing.

  • Yvonne Franks

    December 10, 2015

    I too wish we were back in the 60’s and 70’s also. I love looking for my biological family tree, but find it a bit out of sync when you have to pay to upgrade. I am retired and on a full pension which doesnt leave much to live on. Hopefully one day they will realise that there are less fortunate people out there and give us a one off so we can learn more about our Heritage