Thursday, March 29, 2012

Upcycling and Repurposing: It's a Sign of the Times

Just a little while ago I heard the unmistakable whine and squeal of Larry's Skil saw.    He just returned from a shopping trip to Lowe's for supplies he needs to make some planting boxes.   He has some pallets but needed more wood and additional items to turn that pile of stuff into useful boxes for growing flowers and veggies.   He is in design mode right now and promised I could take pictures after he has made one or two and worked out any design issues.   If they get to that stage, I'll post instructions and pictures of his project in a few days.  

Recently while meandering around on Pinterest, I came across multiple references to things you can make from pallets.    I wrote about that a few days ago when I described Larry's use of the pallets to make cheap shelving for his small outdoor shed.     Pallets can be made into so many things that it's hard to keep up these days with all the projects and ideas being posted on Pinterest and more than a few blogs.   In other words, if you haven't made something from pallets, you are definitely not with it.   You're falling behind the times.   

So that made me start thinking about a lot of terms we are hearing now and quite frankly, I find it a little confusing since so many of them mean almost the same thing.    The operative word here is "almost".    I would be willing to bet that someone out there can explain the difference between these terms but I am going to attempt to give a snapshot definition and please don't flame me if I mess this up. 

Upcycle:    This is one of the new hot-shot words.   Well, not exactly new, but gaining popularity.   Upcycling is akin to recycling, like many of the terms, but it implies taking something old and making it into something even better or more useful.    If you take  used pallets and make them into furniture, that would be an upcycled project.    The internet is full of people who upcycle their entire house, yard and garden and are more than happy to tell you how they did it. 

Repurpose:    Well, that one is not a mystery to me.   If you take your entertainment center and gut it, put in shelves and make it into a craft container, you've repurposed it.    If you take an old door, put on chains and toss on some pillows and a quilt, you have repurposed the door to become an outdoor swing/bed.    I have seen pictures of these, by the way, and am now in the process of convincing Larry we NEED one of these.    I would be willing to sacrifice a closet door for this.  

So all this talk about upcycling and repurposing made me start thinking that a lot of this is nothing new.    At least the concepts are not that new.    I can recall in my lifetime, I think it was in the 1970s, that crafting was really coming into its own.    My sister, Ginny, and I made stuff and even sold it at flea markets.  I think I saw one idea in Woman's Day magazine or Family Circle for reusing your old spice tins to hold dried flower arrangements.     I went through my cabinets and found boxes of black pepper from A & P,  tin boxes for all manner of unused or outdated cinnamon, turmeric, sage, dried mustard and other spices I never used, but thought I had to have in my kitchen.   

Ginny and I drove down to the local T,G & Y and bought our supplies.     Some of you have been around long enough to know about TG & Y and probably even shopped there, too.   They were the "Wal-Mart" of their time and carried a little bit of everything from toiletries to household goods.  [Around 1962 I bought my first tube of lipstick at TG & Y and recall that it was a mysterious product that when you applied it, it looked kind of pinkish at first but magically reacted to your body chemistry to become your ideal color whether that was pink, red or orange. Or so they said.]   My older sister, Charlotte, and I started calling T,G & Y "Tiggy" (rhymes with piggy) and the name stuck.   Years later a co-worker and I were talking about T,G & Y and she said her family called it Toys, Guns and YoYos, which, come to think of it, was a pretty good name, too.   

So back to my story---Ginny and I made our Tiggy run and came back with ribbon, dried flowers, including  baby's breath, corn flowers and of course, you couldn't make ANY flower arrangement back in those days without eucalyptus.     We washed the spice tins and spent a happy afternoon crafting small flower arrangements in the tins.  As was our habit, there was a lot of laughter and fantasizing how we were going to spend all the money we were bound to make selling our lovely creations.    One thing you could always count on if you did anything with my younger sister, it was plenty of laughter.   No, we didn't make a fortune selling our creations, only a few dollars.   The value of the memories I have from spending those afternoons with my sister, however, is priceless.   

Since then there have been many other crafting projects made from new and upcycled materials.    Not too long ago I made several purses out of old blue jeans.    In fact, I am willing to bet that in at least one bin in our garage you'll find a dozen pair of blue jeans (purchased for $1.00 each at Goodwill) that were made into and still could be made into some cute purses or tote bags.   Crafting is one of those things that gets into your blood and you just can't stop yourself from seeing things through those crafting eyes.    I suppose that is one reason why upcycling and repurposing are a crafter's dream.     

If you are seeing the utility in crafting, upcycling or repurposing, you should get to know some of your local thrift stores.    They are a veritable fantasy-land for those who long to make stuff out of other stuff and not break the bank in the process.     Every town has its thrift stores usually associated with a mission or church related project.    We have Waterfront Mission Thrift stores here, Loaves and Fishes and New Beginnings.    If you think of thrift stores being like chain stores (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Sears) then you know about Goodwill and Salvation Army.   You can find furniture, household goods, clothing and some even have cars, boats and RVs.   

If you're looking to repurpose, then a good place to look is your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore which specializes in selling furniture, shelving, cabinets and hardware.    I've seen paint, lighting fixtures, nails and all kinds of cabinets carefully removed so that they ended up at the Restore place full intact and ready to be used by you for your special project.   

And finally, we must not forget this time honored method of finding things:  roadside shopping.    I have a friend who lives in North Carolina and she has recounted a few projects she and her daughter have worked on to repurpose or salvage a perfectly good (but no longer wanted) piece of furniture found on the street.    You almost certainly have to rescue these items before they get wet from rain and you need to keep a sharp eye for these treasures since they go fast.     She told me not too long ago about an entertainment center they found that mainly needed some new doors and perhaps some scratch remover applied.    That was about it.     Not only did it solve a need for them but I think it is a source of pride for her to report her resourcefulness and I have to agree!    We're pretty inclined to wastefulness in our society so why shouldn't she benefit from what someone else no longer wants or needs and save another item from the landfill at the same time!

When you get an itch to do some crafting or you need something for your home or garden, think about upcycling and repurposing.     You will give your brain cells a workout as you figure out what you want to do, where to get your raw materials and finally, to work out the bugs in the project.    That's where Larry is now---working out the bugs.    When he gets those planter boxes finished, I'll tell you how he did it and show you how they turned out.  

In the meantime, do you upcycle or repurpose?    If so, why not share your secrets of what you did and what places you "shop" to get the supplies you need.  Any former T,G & Y shoppers out there?? 

Happy Trails (and crafting, upcycling and repurposing),


  1. Great post. I know you miss Ginny too. Those are great memories. I shopped at Tiggy too and loved me some TG&Y. Bought my first pair of bell bottoms there and they were red white and blue and had stars on them.

    I think about re-purposing and upcycling and have big ideas and hopes but as of yet - nothing. I'm not giving up. I used to be so creative and crafty and even sold crafts like you did but my creative juices just don't flow like they once did. I'm not giving up though - I'm not a quitter.

    Hope you have a good day. My mom is stable and doing OK.

  2. I remember buying school supplies at TG&Y. They always had real lefty scissors with the green vinyl on the handles (not those scissors that are marketed today as "both-handed" and are anything but). This week, we shopped at our neighbor's, who gave us a bunch of cinder blocks to construct a sunflower bed in an awkward part of the yard. We also used some branches from the dogwood that was brought down by bad weather last year, to make fence posts for our garden fence. Not sure if that counts as repurposing or not. Oh, and we used an old folding closet door to make shutters for a window in Dan's home office, and a wall shelf to make part of our bannister upstairs. It's a handy spot for putting things that need to go downstairs on the next trip. As we remodel this heap, we are constantly repurposing materials we gather as we demolish things.

    How did Larry build his compost bin? I'm hoping to find some pallets to build one, but am considering alternatives.

    1. Yes, T,G & Y had school supplies and just about anything else you might need to run your house. I loved to go and just wander the aisles, checking out whatever they had for sale. My older sister, Charlotte, and I used to "feel the washcloths and towels" deciding which ones were the best quality. There wasn't much you couldn't find at T,G & Y. I miss that place!

  3. Can't wait to find out how Larry's planting boxes turn out. Planting boxes, (preferably elevated,) sound might good to my aging mind and body. I saw some in Gardeners Edge Catalog, but they were rather expensive. Recycling, or should I say upcycling pallets for this sounds like a great idea.


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