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Monday, January 19, 2009

A new way to look at things...

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

Around our house there’s a simple if unwritten rule when it comes to replacing things. It doesn’t leave the house unless it either can’t be repurposed, is being donated to a charity, Freecycled to someone else or is just plain old completely used up. Even when the latter is the case, there’s often a lot of good use still to be had from them with a bit of creative thinking. So I thought I’d go over a few basics for those just getting started in this way of thinking and maybe I can give you seasoned “greenies” some new ideas as well.

First of all, I think the best thing we can all do to lighten our collective footprints a bit, is to really decide whether we need to replace or throw out things to begin with. That simple act helps to fight two of the greatest things affecting our world, making new products and disposing of old ones. And now, I want to take a minute to qualify what it is that I just said. I’m not at all against buying new things. I’m also not at all against responsible disposal. We live on this planet and we’re going to have a footprint whether we like it or not. The thing is, we can all take personal responsibility for the things that we do decide to consume as well as how we dispose of them when their usefulness has expired. That’s what I’m trying to get at here, thinking about the things we do and why we do them. When we do that, we’ve taken one of the biggest steps that we can to really make a difference.

So then, back on topic; deciding whether to keep something or dispose of it. I read an article a while back in Mother Earth News that really nailed the way I try to look at things. Paraphrasing it, it said to “train yourself to look at things not as what they are, but what they could be.” For instance, a bookshelf may look too shabby to sit in the living room, but it would make a great storage unit in a garage. Maybe you’re changing out your windows to be better insulated. Don’t throw out the old ones, They could be a great cold frame for the winter greens.

One thing to do, however, is to learn some basics of how to Do It Yourself. Tools are costly to invest in sometimes, but in the long run they pay for themselves when it comes to extending the life of things or to repurpose them to other uses. The biggest tool you can have at your demand though, is your imagination. Here's an example.This is a table that we had in outr house for a couple of years. It originally came from a salvage store and was repainted by the wife and put to use as a computer table. After a little reorganizing, we realized we didn’t need the table and it made its way to the garage. We didn’t get rid of it because we knew it was sold and well made. A few months later, A~ decided she needed a runner table to go along the wall in the front room. What do you know, we have here the makings of a fine runner table! A little sawing, some sanding and a repaint and Voila!Good as new, and for what? Nothing but some sweat equity. I’ll admit it took a little bit of skill and it’s not the type of project that you might want to take on to begin with, but it’s so possible. Start small, learn some skills and keep trying and next thing you know, you’re an official re-purposer extraordinaire.

So maybe right now the big DIY projects aren’t what you’re up to. Not to worry, there’s always things all around us that are perfect for some need that we have if we’re willing to put a little ego aside and just ask. And that, is the second most important tool available to us. A willingness to talk to others about what your doing, and when possible just ask if you can have something. You’d be amazed at what is available. I was able to pick up this fire pit for nothing a couple of summers ago. If you look close, you’ll notice that it’s actually a solid iron Manhole cover ring that’s upside down. While the family and I were off collecting some disposed of concrete to complete some landscaping work around our place, I spied this sitting in a vacant lot used by a construction company. I asked the foreman, he said yes and we had our selves a perfect fire pit!

So then, are you getting my point? There’s a huge amount of stuff laying around, probably at your own home that could go to great use if you just forget what it is and look for what it could be.

But what if something truly is just completely used up? Toss it right? Well, parts of it yeah…but not all. A little something I like to do, is to take the item apart and collect all those great little screws and washers that are all over the item. I have a bin at my workshop desk where I can store all the random screws and what not’s that I can find. You’d be amazed at how many things you can fix with those little suckers. And is the item metal, or aluminum or plastic? Chances are at least part of it is so go ahead and whack that part off and drop it into a recycle bin. Better it go to some good use than just sit around under the landfill for the next 200 years right?

I know this is one of those most basic of Simple Green and Frugal living tasks, but really, isn’t it also one of the most important ones too? Don’t be afraid to try things out or to tinker a little bit. The items that you reuse, renew and recycle will save you money, save the planet, and give you a great sense of accomplishment.

All the best to you all.


Kristianna said...

Excellent post! Thank you for sharing this information. We have done the same many times reusing an item for something you'd never have thought of.

The table looks great!


Posh And Trendy Back to Basics said...

I love that fire pit!! what a nifty idea. One time we were given an iron grate that use to be over a drain in a sidewalk.. it makes the best top for our on the ground grill when we go camping.
I also love your garden :)

LisaZ said...

Great post. This kind of thinking is somehow part of my husband's and my genetics, like it's ingrained in our brains or something. We're always doing stuff like this!

catalan gardener said...

Great post. We're regular tip visitors and have found some fab things. My fave thing at the mo is a rather posh wrought iron balcony which we use to keep puppies off our deicate salad crop. It's surreal but it works!

jimmycrackedcorn said...

Excellent post! I have been trying harder and harder to think along the same lines and I find it very rewarding in several ways. Last year I made a table out of scrap wood and the rusted-out cheap BBQ grill I had "used up".

P~ said...

Glad to see I'm not the only Thriftster out there (of course I knew I wasn't!!) I love hearing all the great idea you've all had, keep em coming!

Maureen said...

Great post...LOVE the fire pit (and the table is beautiful). We got kitchen cupboards off Freecycle that came from a house with smoke damage. Some went into our workshop but one was painted for our sons room and it's beautiful (no smoky smell either). Most of our sons new room came off Freecycle or from garage sales...and he loves it all!

We believe in the power of paint!

Chris said...

Great and timely post.

Your mention of freecycling rang a little bell. I came home from an estate auction with loads of useful items. Almost all has a use in our house or yard. I'll try to sell a few things but ...

I bought a tray of misc. small tools mostly for the 3 tape measures. Some tools I can (and will) use but others never. They would have gathered dust until i read "freecycle."

I'll give them away on Craigslist.

Thanks for expanding my horizons.


Willo said...

I think your post is right on! Sometimes it just takes us retraining our mind to say, "No, throwing this out is unacceptable and buying something new is unacceptable." to start seeing things a little differently.

P~ said...

Maureen That's a great on..."The power of paint" I may have to steal that one from you.

Chris, Craigslist is great, but Freecycle isn't just a good idea, it's an online way of connecting local people with things to get rid of with other locals that need things.
Google it, you'll love it!

Darren (Green Change) said...

Nice table! I love the fire pit, too.

I see from the photo you're a Square Foot Gardener - I used some old venetian blinds to make the grid for my garden. I just separated them, cut to length, and pop riveted them together in a grid pattern. You can even write on them with a permanent marker!

OzCan Adventures said...

Thanks for the great post! I am new to 'simple, green' living but loving it. I am challenged each day but feel I am taking small steps forward, especially when I read such inspiring posts. Little by little, it all helps!

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

The great challenge here is to make sure you're using the things you're hanging onto and not letting your home fill up with clutter and junk. I don't like waste, yet at the same time I don't like tripping over piles of stuff I'm hanging onto because they might be useful to someone someday; our house is cramped enough as it is. Be realistic; you could turn that broken toaster into conceptual art, but will you? Freecycle, charities, yard sales, etc, are your friends if you want to cut down on what goes to the dump without turning your house into a mini-dump!

Country Girl said...

Great post. I like the fireplace and the table. Nearly everything we have is second hand and we use things until they are worn out unlike many people we know that that buy to buy and keep up with the Jones, we have never had that mentality.

claudia said...

In the past, I have gotten into trouble with my oldest daughter, because I refuse to throw things out. At my work, if an item is defective and returned by a customer, I rarely throw it out. I take it home and see if it can be fixed in some way or reused in another. Yes, my garage is cluttered and full, but I can and do fix so many things with what I have collected! My dad was the one who taught me these tricks. He has three garages full of stuff to tinker with and fix things with. He rarely goes to the hardware store for anything!

FiFi said...

I love turning things into other things - and I've saved so many things from going into skips and bins, my work colleagues think I'm nuts! I recently saved a 'broken' hat stand from work, it only had one of the hooks broken off it, all the others were fine and now its in full use in my house.

Regarding recycling, can anybody tell me what you do with bottle caps that are metal, but have a little plastic 'lining' in them? I had been putting them into the metal recycling but my husband says they'll reject them because of the plastic. What do you all do with them? This could be either beer bottle tops or screw-top wine bottle tops.

Thanks all,

FiFi x

Canadian said...

On the other hand, if your home (a small apartment in my case) is crowded and cluttered, it may make sense to get rid of a lot of your "stuff" in a responsible manner rather than waiting to see if you could possibly use it for something someday. It is good for your peace of mind not to live surrounded by clutter.

Lilla said...

Great ideas. Love the pit and the table. Any suggestions what to do with old, worn out slippers??? I just hate to throw them away, but they are not fit for anyone else to wear...

Dani said...

We try so hard to do this. Some things defeat me though. I currently have an old record player that my husband brought over from the States when he moved here in the 80's. I guess I'll have to resort to separating metal and plastic.
I've just been buildig raised garden beds with offuts of wood from my brother's house and recycled bolts and nails I've collected over the years. Very rewarding to build something for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Its inspiring to hear how other people reuse stuff around their houses. We live in Sydney and its becoming very socially acceptable to stroll around the streets during council pick ups to find useful items for the home. My husband and an older woman reached the same pile of 'rubbish' at the same time and had a friendly debate about who could use the racing track the most. Luckily my son could. What a great way to share resources and build community.

Bel said...

Oh, I just love reusing 'junk'! I'm very blessed that at our local waste transfer station (rubbish dump), they take requests. So one day I asked for a gate (for the duck enclosure), a screen door (for the greenhouse) and the stainless steel drum from a clothes dryer (for the hens to lay eggs in). I was surprised and thrilled when a man rang within a couple of weeks to say that they had collected my requested items for me, and I should go and pick them up. All free!

Nothing quite as pretty as your hall table, but equally useful I'm sure. :)

Kris7 said...

Awesome table!

My husband repurposed a store's plant stand that was about to be thrown out.

He turned it upside down and we hung pots from it. Here's the link (I hope it works).

Working hard at

Hana said...

There's one such amazing thing in our house: the old record player and the speakers that go with it. It plays the records a bit too slowly now, but it serves as the sound amplifier (and speakers) at my computer. Perfect use of an ooold thing. Two things in one. No old thing thrown away, no new thing brought in. And the speakers, those big wooden boxes, are much better than the electronic thing you'd get new.