Trash to Treasure

I’ve opined more than once about downsizing–how you feel so great about getting rid of so much stuff until six months or a year later and you either want it for something or see a photo on the Internet that gives you an idea of how to repurpose it.

Well, smack me up the side of the head again! See if you can guess what caught my eye in this gorgeous dining room I saw on my favorite decor blog, House of Turquoise last week…

Room by Cortney Bishop Design

What’s that corraled in the basket as a table centerpiece, you ask? Many of you wouldn’t have known those were power-line insulators. But I worked in PR at an electric company for 11 years, so I know. The greenish-blue and clear glass ones are VERY OLD power-line insulators, from the first half of the 20th century. The dark brown ceramic ones are more recent but still interesting shapes. (See/read more about this home.)

Industrial envy…

I once had some like all of those shown here, PLUS an orange carnival glass one–mega-RARE–given to me by an official at a municipally owned utility in a town where I was a newspaper reporter. He said every once in a a while they found one still in service on a pole and when they replaced them they saved them.

Years later when I worked for at a different utility, that insulator was a paperweight on my desk, and drew a lot of envy from operations guys shuffling in and out of my office.

Where is it now? Probably on Goodwill’s e-commerce site. Since it and the others had been stuffed for years in the back of some built-ins I no longer own, I decided to part with them. After all, what could I do with them?

Here’s what I could do with them…

I no longer have a dining room table (we’re down to just a nook, thank you), but a basket filled with these would look great on my coffee table.

Alas, not to be, but it set me thinking about everyday items that would make great mini-collections and arrangements. Here’s what I came up with.

More stuff I wish I’d kept,
now that I know what to do with it…

Room by Margaret Elman of Chaircouture

Momma’s hats. She wore a different hat to church every Sunday until the practice died out in the late 1960s. I loved helping her buy them. I loved watching her place them on her head. I loved the poetry of it. What a chic, top-of-the cabinet display they would have made. (See/read more about this home.)

 Parents’ and in-laws’ old suitcases. We tossed two sets like the brown one on the right, and look what GORGEOUS shelves they make, neatly sawed off and hung in a group! Some whole and stacked as a side table wouldn’t be a bad idea either for storing guest linens and other stuff I’m saving to find a use for (don’t tell my husband).

Old clocks. My mother-in-law had clocks everywhere! None were as retro-cool as these, I admit. But I’m guessing a lot of these are out there for the picking too at thrift shops, flea markets and tag sales. The ones in the photo show completely different times, but I think that’s part of the charm. (See/read more about this home.)

Tools of the trade, ripe for repurposing…

The ubiquitous corporate mug. Work in corporate America, and you end up with a gang of mugs emblazoned with a logo or ad. Many are the same shape and size, and most are quite colorful. The good thing about these mugs is that they never fade or break. The bad thing about these mugs is also that they never fade or break. Every few years I send a stack of them to Goodwill, where I’m sure you’ll have no trouble locating them. Because, really, I think they look quite good displayed THIS way. They’re right at hand and open up space in your kitchen cupboards for other things. Now if I could just figure out what to do with all the koozies.

Scissors! My mother was a terrific seamstress and taught me a lot about sewing. Her dressmaker’s shears, as well as her pinking shears and embroidery snips are treasured items, but right now they’re just stuck in a drawer. I don’t have room for a wall display, but I think they’d also look sharp (pun alert!) in a large glass jar with some other on my desk, where I could always find them.

Nicole Franzen
Old tools. A bit harder to come by, but if you have some in the family hang onto them, especially if they’re well-used. They develop a patina, and the hand that held them was a hand you loved. Some small woodworker’s tools also make interesting conversation pieces–hand planes for one. My husband has some squares and scribing tools with inlaid wood handles that would look great in a display. Wonder if he’d miss them?

Shelf or tabletop, round or square,
I bet Goodwill’s got it there!

BHG Centsational Style
Room by Sarah Richardson Design. Stacey Brandford photo.
Bowling balls. Together with a vintage ball return rack, these colorful balls make an interesting retro headboard. I can picture a “black tie” version as well, in a menswear-inspired room.

And in lieu of traditional bowl or vase filler,
be on cue with pool balls…

Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn
In a jar, a bowl, or paired with dice. (Swerve for puns.) These vintage wood dice are handsome, but modern plastic dice will do just as well. They’re an inexpensive and ever-present souvenir, so every time you take a trip, buy a pair with the location stamped on it. Add them as you go to a beautiful clear-glass jar.

Share any neat collections you’ve curated for yourself in the comments. And have fun putting your thrifting skills to work on these ideas.