“These days, social platforms celebrate repurposing as a novel and trendy idea. That’s fine, in my mind, as long as the concept is getting good press. However, let’s remember that while repurposing isn’t always Instagram-worthy, it’s still worth doing.”

Part 4 in a 5 part series. Start the series with Part I, Refuse.

My Aunt Dode has been a green hero to me since I was a child. Her home was magical. There was the chicken coop, where I could tiptoe in and gently slide my hand under a warm, softly clucking chicken and withdraw a warm, beautifully brown or greenish blue egg. I wandered up and down long rows of her immense garden, marveling at vegetables I’d never seen, dahlias bigger than my head, or pausing to pluck an impossibly large and sweet marionberry off a vine. One of my favorite things were surprise objects all over her property — old leather work boots with succulents playfully spilling out; tires splayed open and brightly painted as pots for massive tomatoes; and colorful kitchen rugs that looked suspiciously like braided and crocheted plastic shopping bags from the local grocer. There were wind chimes made from antique blue glass bottles, cast iron feet from an old chair now holding up an ottoman, and my Uncle Elliott would be in the backyard taking worn out metal lawn chairs and weaving new bright nylon seats and backs on them and giving them a fresh coat of matching paint.

While all of this was new to me, it was old hat to Aunt Dode and Uncle Elliott. They’d been children during the Great Depression, and resourcefulness and the ability to find two, three, even four uses for a single object increased not only their survival, but also their ability to enjoy life. As a child, Dode had lived for a while in an abandoned train car. Grandma had papered the inside with cheerful newspaper pasted on with flour-and-water glue, so it was brighter inside.

These days, this type of resourcefulness is a trend. I hate to tell you, Pinterest, but people have been planting hen and chicks (succulents) in all sorts of unusual objects for decades. Our generation might call what Uncle Elliott was doing with the chairs “upcycling,” but people have been taking worn out objects and giving them creative new lives for centuries. At least, until the last generation or two.

The second half of the 20th century brought an unprecedented prosperity to America. People started tossing objects aside the moment they showed wear. Why take an hour to sew on a patch or lower the hem on a pair of jeans when you could buy a new pair while you were in town getting a burger? Manufacturers stopped designing objects to be easily repairable, and they used less durable materials. Increasingly, products became designed for niche uses. We had gadgets for every task, beauty serums for every part of our body. It became less expensive to buy a new item than to pay the local repair shop to fix the broken one. Some old timers abandoned their resourcefulness for convenience. Most people born during these decades didn’t realize there were alternatives.

These days, social platforms celebrate repurposing as a novel and trendy idea. That’s fine, in my mind, as long as the concept is getting good press. However, let’s remember that while repurposing isn’t always Instagram-worthy, it’s still worth doing.

As I’ve done in the other posts in this series, let’s take a look at some practical ways you can implement repurposing in your home:

  • Chipped mugs or teacups make adorable pots for small plants.
  • Worn out nightstands or bureaus can be converted to small dog beds or entertainment stands.
  • Worn out t-shirts can be turned into adorable shopping bags, quilts, rugs, and much more.
  • Wine corks can be made into corkbords, placecard holders, etc.
  • Broken plates and dishes can be saved and made into tile mosaic projects.

At this point, you might be saying, sure, but what if I have zero creative ability and crafting is NOT going to happen? No worries, I’ve got you, my friend:

  • Empty facial tissue boxes make a handy and decorative place to store receipts until you’re able to process them.
  • Empty prescription bottles are fantastic for storing small objects like my son’s Pokemon tokens, my husband’s pinball quarter stash (or quarters for the laundromat), and as seen in a previous post on repurposing, doggie doo waste bags on a leash. If you have stickers around you can even decorate them for kids.
  • Tired of a dreary winter and wanting some color in the house? Take a collection of empty bottles and jars, add water and food coloring, put the lid on and line up on a windowsill.
  • Cardboard boxes can be flattened out and layered in an area of your yard where you want to keep weeds down or prep for a garden bed. They’re also nice protective layers to kneel on as you’re scrubbing the floor or weeding, and you can lay them under your parking spot in the garage to prevent oil from staining your concrete floor. My cat loves to sit in them for a day or two before they get flattened.
  • Any time you have an empty container, ask yourself, “Do I need something contained/stored? Would this work?” There you go. Glass is exceptionally good for food storage as it doesn’t leach chemicals into your food and you can easily see the contents.
  • Empty glass jars are also good glasses, and if you hold on to the lids, a good container to send home goodies and leftovers with friends/family.
  • If you’ve got larger yogurt or sour cream containers, you can use the lids as “coasters” or under plant pots to catch water. You can store your toilet brush or other “icky” things you don’t want in your good food storage containers.
  • Food storage baggies with holes are a good way to keep many types of produce crisp in your refrigerator. Snip a few more penny sized holes and keep your lettuce, cucumbers or peppers in them.
  • Empty egg cartons can be handy organizers for small objects like buttons or beads. You can also put potting soil in them and start seeds, or use them as sorting containers for small children to help with their dexterity and grouping skills.

None of these things require a lot of thought or time to make happen, and are frequently fun! Also, you’ll find that as you find new purposes for things you already have, you don’t have to buy new items to do the same job. That extra money can help you with paying off debt, or taking a vacation. Best of all, every time you repurpose something, you prevent another new object from being produced and eventually tossed aside. The planet thanks you.

2 Comments on “Repurpose

  1. Pingback: Reuse – The Green Life

  2. Pingback: Rot – The Green Life

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