Monday, 19 January 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.