Blast from the Past: Re-using Things

When I think of the frugal habits I’ve developed over the years, one thing that stands out is being able to re-use things, i.e. to make one thing into something else.

Some of that requires creativity. I’m somewhat creative but not overly so. My dh is much more creative than I am. When we’re trying to figure out how to avoid buying something we need, he’ll say “Why don’t you try using the such-and-such?”

For example, once he built a tall stand out of scrap pine to use as a display table for a garage sale we were having. After the sale was over, the stand sat in the garage for a few years, holding whatever we happened to put on it, until the year we made plans to remodel our kitchen.

I was thinking I wanted an island, but we were worried that we would just end up tripping on it. I was trying to find an inexpensive island in the sale ads for temporary use (the cheap ones on wheels that you can get on sale for $70) when Tim suggested using that pine stand in the garage. We cleaned it up, covered it with an old flannel-backed table cloth, and began using it as an island. It didn’t take long for us to discover that we loved having an island. When we remodeled the kitchen, he built me a beautiful island that I’ve loved ever since. But we wouldn’t have known that we wanted one for certain until he made a temporary island out of that pine stand (which also saved us the $70 research fee).

While I didn’t come up with that idea, I do know a good idea when I see one. I once had a neighbor, a lady probably 15 years older than me, who taught me a lot about frugality. For example, the first time I saw her home, I complimented her on the lovely sheers she had throughout the first floor. I was expecting her to answer as the rest of the women in the neighborhood would have: “Oh, I picked these up at Macy’s.”

But she surprised me. It turned out her sheers were custom made….by her. She’d gone to the thrift store and bought up all the white sheers she could find, which cost her just a few dollars. Then she remade them to fit her windows. How cool is that? She and I have both moved away from that neighborhood, but I still remember how clever she was to do that, and when I’m in thrift (i.e. resale) stores, I look at the linens and window treatments with the thought of “What can I make out of these?”

Of course, in the case of remaking window treatments, you need more than just a nearby thrift store. You need one of the frugal person’s most valuable abilities: knowing how to sew. More on that in upcoming posts!

(Originally posted 1/26/09.)