“Repurposing” is a strangely awkward word. Our ancestors didn’t need a name for the frugal and often creative uses they found to reuse objects.
My grandfather set a door across file cabinets for a work table. When making repairs he did calculations on an old piece of cardboard. Then he fished used screws and bolts from neatly labeled tin cans, chose from coiled loops of wire and string hanging from hooks, and worked with tools his own father once used.
My grandmother was a talented seamstress who reworked clothes until they were no longer functional, then took off the buttons and used the fabric for anything from hooked rugs to dust cloths. She made do with everything she came across, from leftovers to plant cuttings.
My parents carried on in the same way, although by the sixties and seventies such traditions were regarded as eccentric, even bizarre. They tore junk mail into notepaper, saved wrapping paper to rewrap, used bread bags and even foil over and over. When our hot water tank had to be replaced my father kept the old one in the garage. He cut metal from it for years to use in various projects. These tactics were a source of amusement to their children, except when our chores included polishing silver using the soft cloth of tattered men’s briefs or some similarly embarrassing task.
As an adult I take a particular delight in repurposing. A wine decanter holds mouthwash in our bathroom. Geodes collected by my children are our toothbrush holders. I’ve tucked plants into worn workboots and cracked mixing bowls, made children’s pajamas from their father’s flannel shirts, and take special delight in wrapping presents in something reusable.
Here’s a little stuffed guy made from a child’s sweater:
After my mother died we were left with many beautiful things, but it wasn’t bearable to toss out the broken beautiful things. So I incorporated them into a bit of yard art. My husband and son cut a large piece of iron into the shape of a crescent moon and welded it on a post. Then I made a mosaic on it using broken plates, bits of bright glass, even bisque amputee dolls. Here it is, with two wonder dogs Jedi and Cocoa Bean posing underneath:
Now my husband has made another of his handcrafted sinks out of repurposed materials. He took apart, reglued and recoated an antique kitchen table. Into it he affixed an antique copper candy-making vessel to serve as the sink. A leaf from the table provides a mount for the faucet and the drawer still works.
Our friend Rebecca has this for sale in her store, Planet Green Goods
which offers locally made products, earth friendly cleaners, organic apparel and more.
It feels good to save sweaters, broken plates and old tables from the landfill. It feels even better to make something from them to serve a new use. Repurposing is liberating. It frees us from the oppression of wanting, opening us to a greater freedom.
pitch your tent with mine
so that I may not become deterred
by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions,
toward a wisdom not based on books,
toward a strength not bolstered by might,
toward a god not confined to heaven.
Help me to find myself as I walk in other’s shoes.
(Prayer song from Ghana, traditional, translator unknown)