There is a mantra for encouraging more sustainable habits of consumption and disposal: reduce, reuse, recycle. It has a nice ring, but it’s missing a fourth imperative: rethink.
Like most children, I learned how to rethink and repurpose – to upcycle – before I lost all my baby teeth. Among some of my most ingenious re-designs I count a bookcase Barbie mansion (bigger and better than the Barbie Dream House of which I was cruelly and relentlessly deprived), paper towel roll rainsticks, used tissue box carpet skates, some hideous couch cushion ammo and matching armrest cover head dressings for sibling pillow battles.
I like to think one never loses their imagination, rather too many lose touch with it, or forget how to access it and why we should in the first place. Innovation, a most precious and practical tool, serves you well at any age, provided you remember to wield it. At my prime (circa age six), environmental stewardship came effortlessly, beyond conscious awareness. Now, though I have t try a little harder, I find that applying a little creativity can extend the lifetime of an object, limit my footprint on this planet and my bank account, and rekindle that childhood joie de vivre that makes me so nostalgic.
If you’ve ever laid eyes on the likes of web wonders Pinterest or Apartment Therapy, you already know that a used shipping pallet is a goldmine in the land of shabby chic DIY interior design and that everything looks better in a Mason jar. Here are a few things I’ve learned by way of exercising my rethink abilities:
1. A used egg carton is a palette for my paints.
And after that, a dozen cardboard flowers. Ta da!
2. A large framed Animal Kingdom poster (neighborhood yard sale rescue, gifted to me upon graduation by my youngest brother) is a picture frame-meets-bulletin board. A simple thread strung in place of the old poster works like a clothesline for photos and oddities like cardboard flowers (see 1). I think it looks neat. Little brother has forgiven, or more likely in this case, forgotten.
3. Used corks make fine corkboards. Surprise!
Of course, in addition to creating – by recreating – these upcycled wonders, I’ve accumulated a modest collection of reusable food containers, because packaging that arrives with a built-in ziplock closure or snapping lid is a terrible thing to waste, and to toss it and purchase anew is, let’s face it, absurd. Clean the container and use it again. Really, it’s that simple.
At the individual level, reusing and repurposing are some seriously low-hanging fruits of sustainability. Somewhere inside you, there is a craftier, or at least younger and more imaginative, version of yourself. To reduce waste and unnecessary consumption, I suggest we learn to rethink, to listen to the toddler banging on a kitchen pot drum set or the six-year-old itching for some ugly couch upholstery pillow fight garb. Do it. Re-do it. You won’t be sorry, and you might find something useful to “pin.”