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Friday, February 6, 2009

Survival Skills - Find, Fix, Ask, Make

Trinkets Game

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Find Things

College students are excellent scroungers, as are homeless people and those living at or below poverty level, such as the working poor. Dumpster diving, roadside retrievals, and scavenging are all time-honored ways of finding useful things. More high tech methods include using a metal detector to find coins and metal bits that can be redeemed for cash or cleaned up and kept. Cleaning the roadside of trash tossed by thoughtless and rude people can result in earning money through collecting deposits for bottles, plastics, and aluminum cans.

Cleaning up the roadside an also result in finding nearly new useful things like gasoline cans, toys, ladders, strays, slightly damaged furniture, dishes, spools of wire or tape, paint brushes, and more. You can do your civic duty helping keep your city clean and profit from it, too.

If you live near a beach or lake, there are seashells, discarded ice chests, driftwood, cans, bottles, plastic, and more that can be used, recycled, or sold.

Dumpsters can be a bit tricky, mostly because food and bugs and rodents will share the dumpster, but if you live in or near an apartment complex, the last and first weekends of the month are generally good times to check for discarded furniture, lamps, and other home decorating items. Behind businesses you can often find art supplies, objects you can turn into art supplies, furniture, cables, shelving, bins, plastic labels, and much, much more.

Not only can you decorate your entire house in things other people discard, you can earn money, and use some of the discards to build recycled sheds or patios or gazebos or car ports. You can create art from the things you find, and make gifts for friends.

Living in urban and suburban areas brings us closer to the discards of others, so we have ample opportunities to find all sorts of interesting things.

Fix Things:

We live in a disposable society. When you find things, many will be broken, often in ways that are simple to fix. Maybe it needs a bit of cleaning, or some paint, or glue. Maybe it needs a new battery, or new battery door – that’s how I found my boombox – someone threw it away because the battery door was missing. That was an easy fix.

When small things go wrong in your house, fix it while it’s still small and it won’t be a larger, expensive fix later on – drips, squeaky doors, leaking roofs, cracked windows…

Clothing can easily be repaired. Darning socks is practically a lost skill, but if you learn how to darn them, your socks will last many, many years longer – and at nearly $5 a pair, isn’t that a nice thought? Collars and cuffs can be turned to hide the frayed edges. Small holes can be covered with patches or embroidery. Worn clothes can be made into something new – jeans into skirts, jackets, bags, storage cases; T-shirts into framed art, pillow covers, chair covers, quilts, comforters, sofa throws, cleaning cloths, or bags. Outgrown clothes can be passed along. Unfashionable clothes can be made fashionable with a re-cut or by adding decorative elements – perhaps borrowed from costume jewelry or other outworn clothes. Sofas can be re-upholstered, pillows re-stuffed.

Shoes can be re-soled, belts re-visioned as bag straps or pet collars or leashes, broken dishes can be further broken and used as mosaic tiles, and much more.

If you’re handy at electronics, you can fix broken toasters, microwaves, computers, radios, DVD players, and more.

Toys can often be cleaned and refurbished to look like new. To wash stuffed animals, simply remove the stuffing, wash the plush in a washer and gently cool dry, then re-stuff and stitch back up. Voila! Clean and sanitized new toys.

I’m sure you can come up with many more ways you can fix broken things. Maybe even a Fixer Party, where friends get together to fix their broken things with food and music and chatter. You get to go home with working things you might otherwise have tossed, saving yourself some money and frustration shopping.


Something we in the city have forgotten how to do is ask. Someone’s remodeling their house and they’re tossing out their old sink – ask for it. It makes a great planter, if nothing else. They bought new beds and are tossing the old frames – ask for them, they make great trellises for climbing plants or to use in a work or craft room to hold storage bins. There’s extra lumber at a building site, or half bags of concrete mix, or broken bricks – ask for them.

Learn to ask. Most of the time, if they have to have it hauled off, they’ll be glad to let you take it away. The worst they can say is “no” and “no” isn’t going to hurt you or change your life; it just means you ask someone else at another place and time. And you’ll get enough “yes” answers to make asking well worth your while.

Make Things

There are all kinds of things you can make yourself, from home cooked meals to furniture and clothing. You can make jewelry, music, stories, art, and more and you’re never too old to learn how.

My daughter recently taught my sister how to knit and my sister discovered she loved knitting. She thought she wasn’t crafty and couldn’t do any nifty handmade things other than banana bread. After years of estrangement, we got together again and she always marveled at our handknit sweaters, shawls, scarves, gloves, and socks, our handmade clothes and shoes, our handmade trinkets and art and said she couldn’t afford to buy specialty items like ours. When we told her we made it all ourselves, she was stunned and convinced she couldn’t do any of it, so I taught her how to scrapbook and my daughter taught her how to knit and she found she could do those things. Now she finally, after 50 years, has not one, but two things she can make herself and is discovering pride in being able to do them.

So, consider all the things you might buy that you might be able to make yourself – or grow yourself. How about lampshades, picture frames, storage boxes, clothes, knit wear, soap, toothpaste, curtains, paper, jewelry, furniture, pillows, rag rugs, dolls, poems, stories, songs? How about growing your own salads or gourmet vegetables, or raising chickens for their eggs? How about spinning pet hairs (angora bunnies are popular, but if you have a long haired dog or cat, why not try spinning their hairs for some exotic threads) you can knit or weave? How about growing perfume flowers and making your own signature fragrances?

There are so many things you can make that will make your life prettier, cozier, happier – and you’ll gain skills you can barter for the things you can’t or don’t want to make.

With POD (print on demand), you can even make your own cookbooks, family histories, personalized story books, family calendars, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, poetry books, and how-to books.

Try making something. Google is your friend in finding instructions to make practically anything. DIY websites abound. You may even find yourself making YouTube videos sharing how you made something so others can, too – and hey, that’s making something!

You may find you’re interested enough in making things that you want to learn to make complicated things, like smithing your own door hinges, hooks, fireplace tools, box hinges and latches, candleholders, and more. Or maybe you want to learn woodworking skills like carving or making finer furniture than the simple stuff most anyone desperate enough can do. Maybe you want to learn pottery or glass blowing. For these, seek out good teachers. Don’t rely on videos and YouTube to teach them to you safely. Having someone there to demonstrate and give you tips and advice as you learn is very useful.


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