Repurposing Is Good For Your Community and Your Wallet

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Repurposing Is Good For Your Community and Your Wallet

By Marilyn Pribus – 

In colonial times, people automatically repurposed items when they broke or wore out. Today repurposing is still a smart practice because it keeps things out of the waste stream, saves on fuel for trash trucks, and reduces the need for disposal sites which can pollute the air and water. Reuse also means less demand for raw materials such as wood, iron, and petroleum that are expensive to lumber, mine, and drill.

Simply put, reusing and repurposing can extend the life of many things. On a large scale it means converting Charlottesville’s former Martha Jefferson Hospital into the home of CFA and incorporating “green” features such as a water reuse system reducing public water usage by 70 percent and solar panels enabling it to operate on 22 percent less energy than a similarly-sized office.

On a personal scale, some people convert an old firehouse or barn into a dwelling. On a much smaller scale reuse might mean turning a wobbly table top into a toy chest lid, bending unmatched flatware into coat hooks, or using an antique window to create a glass-topped coffee table, or display a collection of shells, thimbles, or autographed baseballs.

Make Your Home Unique With Repurposing
When you repurpose items, you announce your concern about our planet while creating an interesting home. For starters, don’t buy new. Check Craigslist, a Habitat for Humanity Resale store, or local thrift shops for everything from dishes, dog houses, or dressers to sinks, windows, and doors. Some upscale consignment shops stock designer clothing, handsome home accessories and fine furniture, and you can also often purchase sturdy, solid-wood furniture for the price of far less durable you-assemble-it items.

There are endless ideas. For example, when former City Market Manager Judy Johnson built a second dwelling on her property, she went out of her way to employ many good-quality previously-used items and economized at the same time.  

“I fulfilled my dream of creating the cottage while ‘rebirthing’ many of the things in it,” Johnson says. During construction she collected used antique doors, windows, cabinetry and even a big claw-footed bathtub from various sources. One excellent find was a large former entertainment center from a thrift store for only $25. She turned it on its side, painted it to match the walls and it now looks like custom built-in shelving.

What Can I Do With This?
A great “find” can lead to some brainstorming sessions. Say you scored an irresistible church pew at a yard sale but now it’s taking up garage space because it’s just too darn big. Why not cut out a section to make it smaller?  Use the carved ends to make the base of a table or buffet? Turn it on end and add shelves to make a bookcase to fit in the corner of a room?

One family laid a broken old fridge on its back and converted it into a cooler for their deck. They removed the defunct motor, mounted it on some sturdy legs, and for safety, ensured the door (now the lid) was secured when not in use. And boy, does it keep things cold.

Googling provides nearly endless, clever repurposing ideas. One site, for instance, shows a small fancy table cut in half with the cut side against a wall to create a shallow, legged shelf. It could be painted to accent the wall covering or refinished to show an interesting wood grain. Another site suggests twenty (really!) things to do with old books including making a “book safe” (paint page edges with white glue and hollow out the middle) or using pages as wallpaper. 

What could you do with that fancy antique mirror you “inherited” when your folks moved to a retirement place? Use it as a picture frame? Replace the mirror with wood and us it as a serving tray? Fasten it to your medicine cupboard to accent the bathroom?

How about an old door? You can make the classic desk or craft table by stacking it on crates to provide shelf space. Apply some “chalkboard” paint to create a blackboard, or mount on a wall to serve as a headboard. Use as the seat for a porch swing.

Mason jars can be used for drinking glasses, vases, storage of rice or other dry products, collecting change for a special project, growing sprouts from alfalfa or radish seeds with the addition of a screen top, making a chandelier, and other clever tactics. (You can even use them for canning or preserving.)

Other ideas: convert the kids’ outgrown “little red wagon” into mobile garden tool stowage, create a light fixture from wine bottles or those once-popular Jell-O molds, or convert a rolling pin into a towel holder.

Finally, when it is time to dispose of something, don’t just put it next to your trashcan. Often items can be sold via the internet, a yard sale, or a consignment store. People also can donate to thrift stores to support local charities and some non-profits will pick up large items. And if you offer something for free, you inevitably find someone happy to repurpose it for themselves. Rusty old tomato cages, bicycles missing a chain, old carpeting—the list is amazing.

A repurposing lifestyle is kind to the environment and your budget while lending unique personality to your home.


Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County. She finds many uses for canning jars—both antiques in pale blue shades and those from the pasta sauce she bought at the grocery last week.

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