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.

Living in 444 square feet

Micro living. If you haven’t heard this term yet, it is a movement against unnecessarily large homes and unmanageable mortgages and for creating an optimal life/work balance in a teeny tiny space. Or, as one participant in the documentary “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” said, the outside of your living space should draw you in, and the inside should draw you out.

Living small gets me outside more, like watching the sunset at Camelsback Park.
Living small gets me outside more, like watching the sunset at Camelsback Park.

The truth is I hadn’t heard much about this movement until I moved to the West coast. It’s more than just poorer people, like myself, only having small spaces as options. Wealth has nothing to do with it, though in a way it does. People of all backgrounds and financial standing are fighting against a created US ideal: that the size of your house indicates the success of your life.

In high school and part of middle school, I lived in a mansion. A pretty legit mansion in Buffalo, New York, in a planned suburb. It had three different “living rooms,” one for the actual TV and couches, one for an extensive dining table that I don’t ever remember being full, and one for less comfortable furniture that everyone was encouraged to stay out of. What was it all for? I don’t blame my family for getting sucked into the norms of most US families, moving up in life and feeling a desire to display this moving up to the world through increasingly larger square footage. I’m also not saying that micro living or being a tiny house dweller automatically makes one a better person. I am saying that it is a different way of thinking, one totally different from the values I was brought up with, and I find myself increasingly intrigued by the principles behind the movement.

Until about a year ago, I never questioned that someday I would have a mortgage on a cute house with 3-4 bedrooms and a yard. I also never questioned that I would spend most of my life paying off that mortgage to some extent.

Moving to Boise, I had a very strict budget. I was adamant that I would not allow myself to take out any more student loans. I would just have to make it work here. The apartment I eventually found through the help of an awesome friend in my grad school program is 444 square feet total.

I drew ya'll a layout of my apartment.
I drew ya’ll a layout of my apartment.

I remember when my mom and sister visited for the first time. My mom’s first reaction, “I cannot believe you actually live here.” There are three rooms, all connected like a really long hallway. Moving here I realized I didn’t need any more space, at all. Limited space meant I had to go outside and walk my dog every day. It meant adventuring, hiking, limited grocery “stocks.” All of this worked for my budget. I can’t buy anymore than will fit in my apartment, and it turned out, that’s all I really needed.

 

With Kevin moving in, I had to rearrange the layout of my place. But once again, I found myself surprised how a few changes created even more space in what was supposed to be this tiny apartment. Kevin and I bought a wooden loft bed from a local builder in Boise (his website is here) which created a whole other writing space for us to share.

Loft bed built out of pine. I stapled fabric to the back of the stairs because Meeko is afraid of "open" stairs.
Loft bed built out of pine. I stapled fabric to the back of the stairs because Meeko is afraid of “open” stairs.
Meeko pleased with herself that she figured out the stairs.
Meeko pleased with herself that she figured out the stairs.
My future writing space, I don't have it all set up yet. I'm thinking xmas lights?
My future writing space, I don’t have it all set up yet. I’m thinking xmas lights?

 

 

 

There is so much information online about this tiny house movement, and the more I read about it, I know this is right for me. I haven’t decided if I’d want to build a place on wheels, or build a more permanent cabin. In the same documentary mentioned above, there was a family of four with a dog. The couple explained how they originally lived in a tiny house on wheels with their dog. Once they were ready to have kids they built a 500 square foot house on their land, and now use the first tiny home as their work space. My arms felt tingly and my heart jumped. People are really doing this, I thought. By removing the enormous burden of house debt/mortgage from my future, I wonder what other possibilities might open up.

In the meantime, for practice, I plan on continuing to live in tiny rented spaces, and making improvements as needed. Below are some pictures of the small improvements Kevin and I made in order to fit two writers and a dog into 444 square feet.