Repurposing materials

In response to the great support I received from my earlier post on the micro living movement and my increasing interest in living small, I thought I would dive into a popular aspect of this movement: repurposing things.

Resourceful is a characteristic I’ve prided myself in, and whether you call it scrappy, creative, or just cheap, it has certainly helped me out in all of my moving adventures. I think there are two sides to being resourceful in terms of physical, material things. The first is seeing potential in an item. The second is seeing how an action from you can change the item.

Meeko says she repurposes her nap space to anywhere she feels like
Meeko says she repurposes her nap space to anywhere she feels like

Seeing what else an item could be, what properties it has, or what changes you can bring to it increases it’s usefulness. Maybe you have a friend who re-paints old furniture pieces, or glues sequins onto T-shirts. I see this as a form of resourcefullness, and repurposing. You have an option to go buy a brand new shirt that reflects a trend, or you have an option to add (or take away) from a shirt you already have. Of course, to do this takes time, which is a privilege, so we all pick and choose what we do ourselves and what we buy from people or companies who can do it faster and cheaper.

With the boom of websites like Etsy and Saturday markets, people are certainly getting their craft on. I remember when my mom bought me a hot glue gun a few years ago, and I laughed, remembering her projects of gluing Ric-Rac onto curtains or googly eyes onto cards. Well the joke was on me because I have used that glue gun for more home projects than I could have ever imagined. In the past few months, two pairs of shoes started “talking” (separating from the sole) and I glued them right back together. I also fixed my glasses case, saving me from a purchase I would have been very unexcited about.

Meeko posing by the toolbox and drill
Meeko posing by the toolbox and drill
It's messy but it works.
It’s messy but it works.

This may all seem quite small scale, or perhaps you are thinking that owning a glue gun is a bit too feminine for your taste. I strongly advise you get over that because a glue gun is as useful as duct tape and a staple gun (my personal favorites for fixing stuff back together. Just ask Kevin, I staple-gunned the fabric falling off the ceiling of his car. Home improvement, car improvement, done.)

In San Francisco I got really into estate sales. The ultimate repurposing from people who generally had high quality things. I found three hard suitcases at one of them, realizing their potential immediately. The guy running the estate sale jokingly asked if I was “late for a train,” when I walked up to pay for them. As in, people haven’t used hard suitcases since the days of waiting at the train station with your parasol and a handkerchief. Well sir, would you be laughing now when one suitcase has become a table, another a foot rest while I write, and the third… Well actually the third is just a hat box, because how could I not have a hat box for $5??

suitcase as a skinny table. The "normal" tp holder fell out of the wall with the last tenants and I would have to do a pretty serious drywall update to the wall. This is an easier solution.
Suitcase as a skinny table. The “normal” tp holder fell out of the wall with the last tenants and I would have to do a pretty serious drywall update to the wall. This is an easier solution.
The previous owner of this hard suitcase went on cruises.
The previous owner of this hard suitcase went on cruises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried beneath all of these suggestions, I know there is a fear of becoming a hoarder of things that you “might use one day.” The truth is, the ability you have to hang onto potentially useful things is directly tied to how much actual space you have within your home. For me, a smaller space forces me to complete projects quickly, and prevents me from having a build up of projects, which will only cause me more stress. It can be a fine line to walk, but that is something every household has to figure out for themselves. I wouldn’t wish for anyone to turn into the infamous “dumpster divers” from the show Portlandia. Watch what I’m talking about here: Portlandia Dumpster Divers

In integrating my things and Kevin’s things, I reluctantly realized that my large wooden table (a great find on craigslist from a schoolteacher who was moving) could not fit under the loft bed with all of it’s leaves in. I stood in front of that table, hands on my hips and asked, “what am I going to do with you?” Unscrew the rounded extensions of the table and turn them into wall shelves, that’s what.

In my English 102 class that I teach, I encouraged my students to question everything about the world around them. Why does something have to be the way it is, just because that’s the way it’s been? Of course, it’s difficult to question something when you don’t even know there’s an alternative. This was exactly the case for me before I stumbled upon the micro living movement. As a homework assignment, I asked my students to pretend that they had the power to add one required class to the entire University’s curriculum. Something everyone would have to take. I encouraged them to be as selfish in their own interests as they wanted, and not be afraid to have fun. We were all surprised at the amount of of students, men and women, who argued for a survival class, a basic construction class, or something similarly hands-on.

There is so much information out there about using tools, repurposing materials, and even just painting something a different color. Question the things you are used to, especially within your home. The questioning itself will be freeing, but the exhilaration that comes from fixing or changing something is truly special. We should all be less afraid to pick up a tool and do something. Not just for the sake of fighting gender roles, not with the intent of never buying something ‘nice’ again, and not in the hope of feeling like a superior human being to others. Try it because it’s fun, because it’s rewarding, and it challenges the idea that every new issue within your home requires the purchase of a brand new thing.

I’d love to hear what things you have repurposed in your apartment or home– feel free to share in the comments! Thanks for reading.

And now I live in Boise

Everyone I’ve met has said, “you’ll love it here!” I’m only going on 5 days in my new home, and I can agree, I have a good feeling about this place.

After driving all night Friday, sleeping for two hours in a gas station parking lot with my head resting on Meeko’s bed, the dogs and I rolled up the driveway of our new home. I’m in the suburbs of Boise with a new roommate/landlord and his two german shepherd dogs. I unpacked the extremely stuffed Honda Fit (yes, my car still needs a name) and took a long nap on the floor in a pile of my bedding.

Within a few days I bought all the furniture I would need. In my many moves, I have finally learned my lesson- buy collapsable furniture! Now I have two metal shelving units that come completely apart, a foldable bench so the dogs can look out our window during the day, and two desks whose legs come off. If I had to move again in Boise, I could fit everything in two car trips easily.

Another good lesson for cheap moving: sell your old furniture on craigslist and then buy what you need from craigslist when you arrive. I can honestly say my Boise craigslist experience has been the most pleasant of any city. Everyone I met was extremely kind, helped me carry furniture without me even asking, and were happy to offer me local advice. Everyone also offered for me to keep their numbers and to call or email if I ever needed anything (or if I just wanted to hang out!) Yes, I actually made friends through craigslist.

Boise seems like this hidden gem of extremely nice (though admittedly, not very racially diverse) people. I wonder why more people wouldn’t want to live here. It’s almost like Brigadoon, fog and smoke included. There are occasional wildfires in the mountains. Walking around Boise State’s campus, I realized people passing by were smiling at me. Was there something on my face?? Were my shorts too short? Nope-they were just being friendly!

I’m still winding down from my first day of my teaching orientation. I can’t believe that I’m really here. Me, a graduate student, and a teacher in about a week. Meeting my fellow MFA cohort and the MA students as well made me realize we are all in the same boat. Everyone is a little nervous. Most of us are wondering if this is all a huge mistake. But, we all know by the end of the semester, all this worrying will seem so silly… the novice will become the expert!

In moving to Idaho and realizing how little I (and perhaps most of the world?) know about this area, I’m going to make a big effort to revamp my blog. I hope to capture not only my experiences teaching and being a student, but also what there is to do in Idaho and the Northwest. Thanks for reading!

I made a coffee table!

Okay I didn’t physically build it, but I did stain it!

Below is a photo gallery of the beautiful pine coffee table we bought off Craigslist for $120 and it’s transition as I sanded it, stained it, and finally made it shiny. I followed step by step directions from the Home and Garden network’s website. It really wasn’t that bad. But, this table was raw pine, and had not been stained before. I don’t know if I would have the patience to sand off an already stained table by hand–that would take forever!

Cost:
Table– $120
Hardware supplies– $30
~4 hours of my time– free!