Repair, Repurpose, & Recycle: get your money’s worth!
One of the most valuable frugal-living tips I’ve ever received is this one: repair, repurpose, and recycle things. Even the order of the words pertains to the message. When an item needs to be fixed or mended to continuing functioning, repair it. When you can no longer repair the item, and it can no longer continue to function as intended, repurpose it. When an item can no longer serve any purpose for you, recycle it–it may yet serve someone else or be recycled into something useful.
Writing this post reminded me of a children’s picture book called Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback. In the story, Joseph started out with a new, undamaged overcoat. After a time, the bottom of the coat became tattered, so Joseph made it into a little jacket. Then the sleeves became worn, so he made it into a vest. Later he made it into a tie, and then a button. When he lost the button, he made a story out of it. He continued to use everything he could from the original coat, getting the most value possible out of it. The point of the story is about making something out of almost nothing, and this is inspirational for a frugal lifestyle!
Remember the old saying “A stitch in time saves nine?” It means that if you repair a ripped seam immediately, you may have fewer stitches to make than if you wait. Clothing is frequently repaired in this house. A ripped seam, an open hem, or an unsightly hole is easily taken care of with needle and thread. And these repairs can be done while binge-watching Netflix!
Clothes are often in need of repair, and so are shoes. Good dress shoes are expensive and can become worn and scratched. Instead of replacing the shoes immediately, visit a cobbler who can re-heel them, make repairs, and shine them. Most areas have a shoe repair shop, and repairs are far less expensive than new shoes. You may be able to get double the life out of well-maintained shoes. Always buy high-quality shoes (you’ll be more likely to take care of them) and protect your investment through good maintenance.
Athletic shoes are really expensive, too, so try to make them last as long as possible. They can usually be washed to keep them looking new. If they can’t be washed in the machine, use a brush and soapy water to remove soil and stains, and dry them in the sun. If the sole of the shoe begins to come apart, try using “Shoe Goo” to see if you can get a few more weeks (or months) of wear out of the shoes. My athletic shoes lose their cushioning before they get old, so I add a cushioned insole to keep them going. Doing these things could mean the difference between needing three pairs of shoes each year versus needing only two–for good shoes, that could mean saving a minimum of $50 a year.
Lots of things around the house need repair–bath towels and washcloths become frayed around the edges after multiple washings. You can quickly stitch around the edges to stop the fraying with a sewing machine. This can double the life of your bath towels, if done in a timely manner. If I notice one bath towel starting to fray, I will set aside time, get out the sewing machine, and stitch all of the towels, hand towels, and wash cloths in an afternoon.
Furniture can need minor repairs, too. If a drawer sticks, fix the tracks quickly to save wear and tear on the drawer pulls. If a cabinet knob is becoming loose, get the screwdriver and tighten it! If the vacuum stops working, stop and see if there’s a simple fix. If the mop comes apart, see if you can re-attach it instead of buying a new one. Most repairs are simple if you have a basic toolbox with screwdrivers, hammer, and a wrench or two. Always look for ways to repair things before replacing them. Repairing your clothes, shoes, home, car, appliances, and even tools can create big savings in the long run!
Sometimes, an item cannot be repaired to its original function, but there may be a new function for it. Joseph, in the story above, could not repair the bottom of his overcoat, but he could easily cut off the bottom leaving him with a perfectly good jacket. This is a great example of repurposing items. For blue jeans, if there’s a rip or stain in the legs that cannot be fixed, they can be cut off into denim shorts. Always keep the unsoiled, usable denim that was removed, and deconstruct it to make patches for other jeans or for crafts! I have an entire Pinterest board on creative uses for repurposed denim.
My children wore hand-me-down clothes, and I used each item until it no longer functioned well. Outgrown dresses were sometimes cut and refashioned into skirts. Pants that became too short became shorts. If an item couldn’t be repurposed into other clothes, it might be deconstructed and used in fabric crafts or as a cleaning rag. I made a Christmas tree angel from scraps of lace Mom had left over from sewing my wedding gown (see the picture below). One of my hobbies is quilting, which is a beautiful and functional use for fabric scraps!
Kitchen items can be repurposed, too. A plastic lid whose container has gone missing is a fantastic drip-catcher for the soup ladle to protect the counter or stove. A plastic container with no lid can be used as a drawer organizer. A mug with a broken handle can become a pencil cup. A chipped bowl can become a house-plant container.
Other things around the house can be repurposed. My husband and I found old cast-iron shutter dogs at an antique store and used them as window scarf holders inside the house instead (picture below). We used a big piece of beveled glass set on concrete park bench pillars (exactly like the one in the picture below) as a coffee table–very elegant and so unique! We found matching nightstands at a thrift store that hubby repurposed to be a storage hutch that holds vinyls (pictured below) after our daughter got a record player. He attached one nightstand on top of the other, removed the drawer tracks to create open space, and then painted all with chalk paint. Genius!
When we had a hobby farm, we used discarded wooden pallets to create compost bins for the garden, a shed for the goats, and even a tractor barn. Think creatively and try to come up with ways to repurpose items rather than throw them away!
When you can’t repair something or repurpose it, you can still recycle or donate items to a thrift store. Others may have a great idea for items you don’t need at all.
In remodeling our house, we’ve taken many items (in perfectly good, usable condition) to the ReStore. I donate my items and get a receipt for the goods to deduct on my tax return. They sell donated items with proceeds benefitting Habitat for Humanity.
You can take wood, metal, plastic, and glass items to the recycling center. In Hawaii – we get cash for plastic, glass, and cans. This is a great way for the kids to earn extra money, too. They like being in charge of our recycling.
A frugal lifestyle requires us to adopt a new mindset about “things.” We must learn to make efficient use of things without hoarding or spending needlessly. Repair, Repurpose, and Recycle is a great way to begin!
What do you repair, repurpose, or recycle? Comment on this post and tell me!