Furniture, Factories, and Me: Repurposing Comes to Life

I’ve always repurposed objects, but this week I’m celebrating repurposing from a new perspective.  As I repurposed sod in our backyard this week to cover hole my dog had dug, I realized I’m also in the process of repurposing the interests, skills and gifts from my years as a pastor, parent, writer and organizer into new outlets in my current circumstances.  We not only re-use or re-purpose objects, we repurpose our life skills.

Over the years, I’ve repurposed

  • Furniture from one room to another, and given some items a completely new home with other people who will found a good purpose for them;
  • Used old envelopes as paper for grocery lists;
  • Turned pitchers and jars into vases and lace table runners into framed art;
  • Used old tires as boat bumpers and sleds;
  • Changed trees that blew down in our yard during a recent windstorm into firewood;
  • Moved sod from one part of the yard to another both to make room for a vegetable garden and to cover a hole where our dog was digging to the center of the earth.

When I re-use objects this ways, I feel thrifty and creative.  But it wasn’t until I was covering up the dog’s project with sod on Monday, that I realized this same creativity is involved in repurposing ourselves and that this repurposing is part of the wisdom that comprises a good life.

Repurposing doesn’t move something forward without changing it in some way.  It’s the process of building on what now exists to create something new.  Now I use my writing skills in blogging and editing instead of preaching.  Instead of preparing sermons, attending meetings, and helping churches and organizations change, I use the same mental skills to learn about computers and clouds, gardening and cooking, and to brush up on the rules of English grammar.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on January 13, 2012 featured a traditional old textile company in South Carolina that didn’t of go out-of-business like most of its U.S. competitors when textile production moved overseas.  After trying unsuccessfully to fight the flight of production, its management realized the best way forward was to develop new products that built upon the company’s knowledge of fabrics and chemicals.  Today, Milliken & Co. makes “the fabric that reinforces duct tape, the additives that make refrigerator food containers clear and children’s art markers washable, the products that make mattresses fire resistant, countertops antimicrobial, windmills lighter, and combat gear protective….Milliken boasts that we come in contact with its many products almost 50 times a day” (John Bussey, “The Anti-Kodak: How a U.S. Firm Innovates”).  Their willingness to change made them different and is producing the best economic performance the company has ever had.  They repurposed their depth of knowledge in textiles and chemicals to innovate and creat new products.

A friend who is a retired educator, active church member and committed to teaching children the Christian faith was diagnosed with cancer.  Her treatments kept her at home, just when she had arranged to begin a youth program for teen girls in her church.  Instead of giving up on her plans, she reorganized them, and had the girls come to her house.  She taught them to pick raspberries and to make apple pie, how to set a table properly and how to make tea.  They made pies, cakes, jam and macaroons to give to church members who were lonely.  As they worked, they talked about life, faith, boys, and parents. They read some scripture and prayed.  The girls delivered the goodies as promised, and my friend went back to bed to rest.  She repurposed her gifts and skills such that even in the throes of cancer treatment, she brought new life to a group of girls and is having a longterm impact.

If I can change a dilemma or difficulty in my life into an adventure and an opportunity for creativity, I feel energized and challenged by the circumstances.  Changing an old object into something usable or beautiful is energizing.  Repurposing my skills and gifts for this new chapter of life might be even more so.

I’m glad for the insight that came while trimming sod this week, but I’m still not happy with Troy’s digging in the yard.  Now if I could repurpose her digging into something helpful……

2 thoughts on “Furniture, Factories, and Me: Repurposing Comes to Life

  1. Kathy

    What comes first motivation? Flexibility? Necessity? Realization to change. I keep thinking about those closed doors and open windows. Now that one I understand.
    Good Luck with the holes in the backyard, though!

  2. Laura Monteros

    Thanks, Barbara, for a very insightful article. I am hoping very soon to repurpose my skills as a parent into grandparenting! Your example of Millikan is so relevant in today’s economy–so many of us have to repurpose our skills or redirect them into new avenues in order to make a living in this depressed job market.


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