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Monday, February 23, 2009

Tools for self reliance may be a matter of perspective

Beautiful tools from flattop341 on Flickr
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.

I don’t think I actually heard that until I was at least a young adult, but I am pretty sure that such an adage was a guiding light when I was growing up. It’s probably the reason that I’ve developed extensive skills in “repurposing” things. That’s what you tell people you are doing when you use an extension cord to tie a gate shut. You’ve just “repurposed” the extension cord—which is, after all, a direct equivalent to a rope—to keep the gate shut and the animal in or out while you calmly go about gathering up the tools and materials to repair or replace the gate latch.

I had a marvelous and very interesting fifth grade teacher who may have done more to teach my brain to think than any other single person up to that point in my life. He also encouraged the odd linkages my brain came up with, and could see how they worked. It’s stood me in good stead; I still tend to look at an item and see what it is while still appreciating how it is presented. Take shipping pallets for instance; lots of people see them as an eye sore, piled up behind buildings. I see woodgood wood, too, if in smaller pieces than you’d get at a lumber store. All you have to do is disassemble it a bit and you’ve got a tidy heap of lumber. Or, don’t disassemble it; just cut the top stringer off, get your jig saw out and cut decorative tops on the slats…lap them together and you’ve got a nice little garden fence. If nothing else, you can usually burn them if you’re willing to sift the ashes for nails and staples.

Milk jugs become garden cloches and other useful things ; styrofoam meat trays become drip trays for seedlings; tuna cans become buddy burners ; pumpkin guts become next year’s seeds. There are resources all over the place, if you see it right. That’s kind of the concept of guerrilla gardening, too; you’re just repurposing an empty lot.

People throw out the most amazing things. Just take a look at your local Craig’s List in the free section—! When I have the space, I’ll be scooping up a couple of those free hot tubs so I can finally pursue a version of raising catfish in a barrel . They might even be better than barrels, what with the size and the outlets already in them. See? Free hot tub = big water holder = aquaculture!

There does seem to be an assumption that to become more self reliant one must have an up scale lifestyle to begin with, and the attendant income. That’s simply not the case. Anything that doesn’t rot can probably be used for something else; the next time you’re about to drop something in the trash bin, take a second look. What is it? A container? What else might it contain? If you decide to take up camping, you absolutely do not have to save up for a trip to REI . Boy Scouts have been making pup tents out of tarps and sleeping bags out of wool blankets for decades.

Off the top of your head, what have you repurposed lately? How about just today? Got any inspiration to share?


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