Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Art of Repurposing

One thing I have learned in my 21 years of marriage, homemaking and parenting is that nothing stays the same.   Needs change continually as our families evolve, and our methods of managing everything change in response to that.  Our family lives very differently now than we did when we first married and we started having children.  Goodness gracious, we live very differently now than we did just 2 short years ago!

Because a household is constantly evolving and changing, repurposing household items is an excellent skill to develop and dare I say necessary in the quest for living frugally.   Many needs around the home can be easily filled with a little ingenuity and some good old fashioned elbow grease.  It is deeply satisfying to be able to "shop the house" to find a suitable solution to a pressing need without going out or spending any money.   Sometimes this means moving an underused item from one area of the home to another area where the need is greater.  Other times, this means modifying something or using an item in a totally different context to fill a need.

For instance, we have a very crude small handmade narrow dresser made of painted plywood that is of no use to us in the house ~ it's just too small to hold anyone's clothes (although it worked well for many years to hold baby clothes).  I have been eying the drawers thinking that they would make great seedling boxes!  They are nicely shaped and as they are sturdy, they would work very well for such a task.

Our 18 year old son needed a way to store his ever growing collection of vinyl LPs and we no longer needed the cubicle shelf unit in our playroom now that we have donated most of our toys.  The cubicle boxes were removed (and will be repurposed) and the unit was moved into his room and is now used for album storage.

Our 14 year old daughter has a very tiny room and has chosen to give up her headboard to gain the extra inches in her room (really, it is THAT small that even inches count).  I was all set to take it to the charity shop when I realized that it would be great in the garden to support a climbing plant.   I have many humorous things in my garden to tell you about but that's for another post :)

We have a potting/garden bench that is simply an old rickety buffet that was falling apart.  We don't need a china cabinet in this house as we have a built in china cupboard.  My husband repaired this piece of furniture many times over the years when we were using it for it's intended purpose, but when we moved to our current home, we no longer needed to continue holding it together to serve as a china buffet.   We took the doors off and placed it out by the garden area to begin it's new life as a potting bench for me!  It's long, narrow and just the right height for me to work at.

When we first married 21 years ago, we bought a solid oak entertainment wall unit to hold our bulky tube TV and electronics.  This piece served us very well for many years in our living room, and for many years after that, as a toy storage cupboard in our playroom.  As we no longer have an indoor use for this piece of furniture, my husband took his reciprocating saw to it, cutting it in half horizontally, creating a much needed shelving unit and a work bench for the tractor shed.  This picture shows the back of the top half of this unit ~ it's waiting installation in the shed on Kelly's next day off.

When we replaced the water storage tank in the basement this fall, we decided to keep the old tank to refit it as a rain barrel.  It will collect water off the garage roof and I'll use this water for my garden.  It isn't pretty, but with a flowering climbing vine planted to grow and disguise it, it will do nicely. This has saved us $50 (the cost of buying a rain barrel).

These examples are all of larger scale items but there are many opportunities to repurpose smaller items in and around the home.

We have a small dome play tent that the kids used to play in when they were younger.  It's too small to play in now that they have grown, so I've decided to carefully cut it in half along the seam lines and use the nylon fabric for shading my seedlings and the chickens.  Last year, we provided a shaded area for the birds using landscape fabric, but over the summer it got torn and ragged.  I'm thinking that the nylon will serve us better this year.  I've saved the tent poles to use as garden stakes :)

Shortly after we moved in, we found an old broken collapsable TV antenna in the attic of this house and although it doesn't work as an antenna, it will make an EXCELLENT trellis for a climbing vine so I've saved it.  In the picture below, the antenna is folded up but fully opened, it's really big!   I think I'll put it up against the garden shed for my sweet peas :)   Excuse the horrible condition of the shed door, it is in dire need of a paint job but it's a low priority item until Spring planting is done.

At my sewing table, I have several pair of tattered pants that are waiting for me to turn them into summer shorts.  A simple cut and hem job will provide needed shorts for our 6 year old son.  I've got a very large, long floral linen blouse (from the thrift store) that I'm planning to cut up and sew into summer napkins.  I paid $2 dollars for the blouse and will easily get 6 or 8 much needed napkins out of it.

In the kitchen, I use an old crockery insert for a crockpot (found at the thrift shop) as a vessel for my sourdough starter.  It sits on my counter and is the perfect size and shape for this task.

The list of re-purposed items in our home is endless and ever changing.  That all said, there is a delicate balance between keeping stuff around that might be useful one day and tossing out useless clutter.  When I am looking at an item that I no longer think we need in our home, I challenge myself to think of an alternative use that could fill a current need.  Many times, I am able to put the item back into useful service in another area of our home.  If I can't think of a possible use for the item and I really haven't the space to store it, I freecycle it or donate it to charity.  Anything of true value gets sold.

We are fortunate to have more storage at this property than we did in the city.  This means that I am able to store items for future use.  I am picky about what I keep - I don't want to clutter up the place with useless things, but I have learned that having a store of items on hand that can be repurposed is very valuable and good for the budget.

Lastly, I've learned something even more important than the skill of repurposing.  I've learned how to be a better shopper.  If I determine the true need to purchase something, instead of buying an item to fulfill just one need, I now look for an article that will perform many duties for me ~ something neutral, flexible and durable with the potential for providing many years of use rather than just meeting an immediate need.   Chances are, such an item will be more than worth the money invested in it :)

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