It’s such a thrill when something that seemed old and ruined turns out to be useful! Here’s an example that’s really working for me:
Back in 2005, when I was an assistant Brownie leader, the head leader got fed up with the amount of troop supplies she had to bring to and from every meeting–troop records, handbooks, craft supplies, paper napkins for snacks, etc. We arranged with the church that we could store a large plastic bin there, and we bought the bin.
A year and a half later, when some of the girls flew up to Juniors and I became the leader of their new troop, we took over the bin while the Brownies got storage space in some cabinets in their meeting room. The bin lasted through my three years as Junior leader.
We were pretty hard on this bin, not out of carelessness but simply because it was heavy and unwieldy, so it tended to bang into door frames and get set down hard. There was one year when the place where we could store it was separated from our meeting room by two sharp bends, a flight of stairs, and a heavy door, so I would send two girls to get the bin for each meeting and two to put it back, and it was a complicated struggle!
Meanwhile, our city began offering curbside collection of paperboard for recycling. My family had never been willing to transport our cereal boxes and such to the few, inconvenient places where they could be dropped off, but with curbside collection we were eager to recycle them. I even began bringing home small boxes from things I use at work. We soon discovered that in two weeks (the time between recycling collections) we empty a lot of paperboard boxes, so just stacking them next to the kitchen trash can created annoying clutter. If my skirt brushed against that pile, it would scatter all over the room in seconds!
I chose a large cardboard box from the pile in the basement (you know, where we keep every box we receive that is sturdy enough for mailing or storage, so that when we need a box we’ll always have the perfect one . . . not that we’ll be able to find it in the 10-foot sphere of precariously balanced, dusty boxes!) and put the recycling pile in there. Daniel (the trash-taker-outter of our household) promptly recycled that box as well as its contents. I contemplated getting rid of the basement box pile by stealthily choosing a box to meet this fate every two weeks, but, well, I was afraid I would thus discard the perfect box for my next, you know, box-needing situation. (Yes, we might have a slight waste phobia and/or hoarding problem in our family.)
Then, when I was preparing to hand over responsibility for the Girl Scout troop to the new leader last summer, I slid my hands under that big plastic bin to move it, and I felt that one of the corners was cracked. A quick inspection showed me that all of the corners were cracked, and there were some longer cracks across the bottom. They went all the way through the plastic only in a few small spots, but clearly the bin’s structural integrity was failing, and it was only thanks to good timing that it hadn’t collapsed and dumped 40 pounds of miscellaneous Girl Scout supplies on me as I carried it down a staircase!
I transferred the supplies to a cardboard box (yes, I did find one exactly the right size and strength!) and took them to the new leader with the suggestion that a new plastic bin would be a good idea–it’s less likely to get thrown away by accident than a beat-up cardboard box with multiple layers of old labels.
The cracked bin is made of polypropylene (#5 plastic), so I figured we’d put it out for recycling, and meanwhile I put the paperboard recycling pile inside the bin, just to save space. However, our city requires recyclables to be set out in blue bags, and we didn’t have any blue bags anywhere near large enough to hold the bin–we just use the blue plastic grocery bags given out by the local supermarket–so Daniel left it there. Indefinitely.
Eventually I realized that, in fact, this broken bin is ideal for holding the paperboard recycling pile! It’s big enough to hold about six weeks’ worth of boxes, allowing Daniel to skip carrying out the paperboard if he’s overtired on recycling night. It fits underneath our kitchen storage unit without blocking the heat vent. It holds the pile out of sight. It has a smooth front rather than a stack of skirt-catching edges. The cracked underside isn’t visible, and since we rarely lift the bin (just scoot it on the floor) and its contents aren’t heavy anyway, those cracks won’t destroy it for a good long time. So what if it says Troop 102 on it in big permanent-marker letters? Anyone who asks about that will get to hear a happy story about how we didn’t have to buy a recycling bin!
UPDATE: Taking a tip from the comments below, I found that the Magic Eraser removed the black “permanent” marker from the plastic, leaving behind only shiny lines where it was. My 5-year-old son then relabeled the bin, carefully spelling out CARDBOARD RECYCLING BIN as I dictated one letter at a time. He learned how difficult it is to write on a vertical surface (and why he should have taken my advice to turn the bin on its side–we learn by doing, right?) but the label is legible and much more informative than the previous one.