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New Uses For Old Stuff — Summer 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Repurposing saves money, benefits nature, and encourages resourcefulness

By Hannah Wolfson
Photography by Ed Rode

When Donny Jackson's old truck toolbox no longer served its purpose, he gave it a new purpose.

Jackson, of Leipers Fork, Tenn., attached legs and wheels to the toolbox to make it into a movable workbench.

"It makes a real handy piece," he says. "I can roll it outside and I have a bench to work on and I can lay parts out on it. It's good and sturdy."

He also stores tools in it. "I put stuff that I don't want in my nice regular toolbox," he says.

In today's tight economy, everyone's looking for ways to make do with what they have. Your best bet might be to think twice before throwing something away; many household items that have run their course, such as Jackson's toolbox, can be given a new purpose — called repurposing.

A search online reveals entire websites dedicated to repurposing, with such clever ideas as using an empty CD/DVD spindle to organize wire cables and converting a vintage refrigerator vegetable bin into a bathroom caddy.

"There isn't a magic bullet for frugality out there," says Kimberly Danger, a consumer advocate and family savings expert who runs the popular website "It's all the little things that add up."

Danger's frugal lifestyle began eight years ago when she quit working full-time after her daughter was born. With her family living on one income rather than two, she searched for money-saving tips. She didn't find much at the time, so she decided to come up with her own frugal ideas to share with others.

Reusing throwaway items not only saves money, but it keeps them out of the landfill while passing on a legacy of resourcefulness to the next generation, Danger says.

"We've become accustomed to living in this throwaway society," Danger says. "I hate to see our kids raised to think that way. Even if you don't need to reuse stuff and you can afford to go out and buy it, I think it's a good idea."

Start small and you'll eventually work up to making a workbench. Danger suggests beginning with these areas:

Storage — Why spend money on boxes and jars when you're throwing good ones away? Baby wipes containers can hold plastic grocery bags, which pop through the hole for easy access. Oatmeal boxes are great for storing pens and paintbrushes. Pretty glass candle jars can be scrubbed clean and used to stash cotton balls in the bathroom. And egg cartons make perfect seed starters.

Celebrations — Greeting cards can become gift tags or cut up for scrapbooking. The comics or glossy advertisements from magazines make good wrapping paper, and you can shred old gift wrap to make pretty stuffing for gift bags.

Kid stuff — Children constantly outgrow things that can be put to good use. Danger keeps her old crib mattress under her daughter's twin bed as a makeshift trundle bed.

The key is to keep your eyes open, Danger says. Problem-solving skills used in repurposing could even be reused themselves in other, broader circumstances.

"I always tell people this: with frugality, it depends what works for you," Danger says. "What I think is a great idea others might think is crazy."

Hannah Wolfson has always wrapped gifts with old magazine pages.