There's a famous New Yorker cartoon from the early 1990’s (click on image to enlarge) about recycling.
It shows a long stream of people trudging up the many switchbacks of a flaming ramp to deposit items in an endless string of boxes labeled tea bags, wadded up masking tape, broken ball point pens, not blue paper, etc. The cartoon is captioned Recycling in Hell.
That’s how I feel about most artsy-crafty projects that “repurpose” household discards. While I love seeing those chandeliers from bicycle wheels, jewelry from aluminum cans and bicycle chains, shoulder bags and vests from old blue jeans, and chicken coops from used pallets, I shudder at the thought of taking on the work myself.
And yet I do find myself saving or scrounging stuff that has immediate usefulness and doesn’t require a sewing machine, carpentry (or any other) tools, paint, or appliqués.
I manage to stay on the sane side of hoarding, and the practice keeps my creative juices flowing and my trash volume low. Occasionally, it may save a little money.
Here are a few more that seem worth sharing.
Paper towel and toilet paper tubes I use these as cutworm collars for protecting tomato, pepper, and cabbage-family transplants during their first couple of weeks in the garden. The tubes gradually soften and rot into the soil. I also the paperboard tubes for cable and cord storing.
Toothbrushes Toothbrushes make ideal scrubbers for hard-to-reach-place. They allow me to clean in and around sink fixtures and the hinges on the toilet seat, in and around the keys on my computer keyboard, into all sorts of corners, and into the smaller parts of my bicycle (including the chain). They scrub mud (and worse) from the treads of athletic shoes and boots.
Rubber bands I save all the fat rubber bands our rural postman uses to bundle letters to use for all the usual purposes. I also wrap them around the ends of clothes hangers to prevent the susceptible garments from slipping off the hanger. When painting or varnishing, I pull a rubber band top to bottom across the can once the lid is open. The stretched rubber across the top of the can makes a nifty paintbrush wiper to keep paint from dripping off the end of the brush.
Soap slivers I used to collect these in an old cotton sock to hang in the shower and use as a soap-on-a-rope scrubber. Now I store them in the old sock and mash them together until I accumulate a soap ball about the size of one full bar of soap. Then I grate the soap ball and stir the gratings into a mixture of one cup each of baking soda, washing soda, and borax. Voila! Powdered laundry detergent. I store it in a one-quart recycled yogurt container and use a couple of tablespoons per load of laundry. This product is faster to make and easier to store than the liquid detergent I had been making (and still occasionally do).
Plastic lids I use various sizes of lids as coasters, to catch drips under houseplants and opened jars of honey. Cut a slit in one and slip a paintbrush handle through to prevent paint drips from falling onto your shirtsleeves.
Tops from parmesan cheese containers Amazingly, these tops fit onto narrow-necked glass mason jars, which I use to store my homegrown herbs. I also use an empty parmesan container for shaking flour onto my work surface when rolling a pie crust or shaping bread dough.
Zippered plastic bags As long as it still holds water when zipped, I never throw a zipper bag away. I wash them out, dry them on my laundry rack, and reuse them again and again. I freeze a lot of fruit and vegetables each summer and find I can get years of reuse out of a single bag. As for labeling, I just cross out last year’s label with my magic marker and write a new one.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.