July 30, 2002

Giving Unwanted Items an Artful Home

Filed under: Art and About Recycling — admin @ 9:10 pm

Last month I won the Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. I didn’t get a letter from Ed McMahon, but I did get something in the mail that I consider to be just as valuable. Early last spring, tucked in the envelope with our garbage bill, was the flyer from Pleasant Hill Bayshore declaring that May and June were going to have free reuse/recycle pick-up days in Lafayette.

Hallelujah! A deadline to clean out the closets, garage and every other nook and cranny where Stuff with a capital S accumulates when I’m not looking and causes Clutter. One of my favorite hobbies is getting rid of Stuff we’re not using and finding a home for it with someone who might. The only thing I can’t figure out is how the Stuff keeps getting back in the house when I try so hard not to make it feel welcome.

I eagerly read the reuse/recycle flyer to learn which angels were bestowing such a wonderful gift on us all. The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse was the responsible party. I learned that they especially like to receive donations of art and craft supplies, fabrics and school supplies, as well as household items and building materials, because they are a source of inexpensive creative inspiration for East Bay artists and teachers.

It is a cause particularly close to my heart. Sometimes on an unscheduled Saturday or a quiet evening at home, I scour my house for inexpensive creative inspiration the way some people raid the refrigerator for a satisfying snack. I open closets and drawers searching for items hanging around for no apparent reason but which could be part of a Greater Purpose. With leftover bits of wire, I made some flowers that “bloom” year round to give a hint of constant color to the garden. I went through a basket-collecting phase once, and now I’ve turned many of them into household decorations by stuffing some oasis from a long-gone flower arrangement in the middle and sticking in it everything from dried flowers to pretty painted people figurines I had received as a gift but had no idea what to do with. With scraps of fabric, I made fashionable rag dolls to “model” handmade doll clothes I had kept from my childhood, even though the dolls they were made for have long since been given away.

Most of what I make becomes part of my household décor for a few months, and then I get tired of it. Everything in my house has to have at least two functions, and just looking pretty is only one function. So what I’ve found is that the myriad thrift stores in Contra Costa who raise money for a variety of good causes have kindly accepted the donations of my little creations. It’s a win-win — I got my creative fix, made a treasure out of some trash in my house, and they raise a little money for their cause by selling it. Extremely satisfying.

So the free reuse/recycle pick-up day was as fabulous and exciting as I anticipated, but the true sweepstakes prize was awarded to me in July when my mom moved out of her house. After 30 years in one location, her Stuff had gotten very clever about finding safe havens in an otherwise clutter-free household. As I helped my mom empty closets and drawers, the piles in the living room got higher and higher with Stuff that had never been used, was from another era, was politely kept as to not offend the relative who had given it, or was just plain ugly, impractical or odd — to us. But, it was all in pretty good shape. I refused to let it go in the landfill so I called the Creative Reuse people and asked if we could bring it by. They were wary of the quantity and told us later that people cleaning out their houses often just bring in bags full of what even a non-profit committed to 100 percent reuse/recycle would consider garbage.

On a Friday morning, my mom, my 19-month-old and I pulled up in front of the Creative Reuse store in Oakland with an overflowing truck. We were given some dollies and asked to start hauling in the Stuff. Even my 19-month-old grabbed what he could and carried it inside. The Creative Reuse staff was ecstatic. They thought it was some of the nicest Stuff they had ever seen. They valued it at $300 for tax-deduction purposes, which pleased Mom because she thought it was worthless.

While the transaction was taking place, I had time to check out the Creative Reuse merchandise. I was impressed — nice stuff, well organized, some of it obvious overstock from other stores and completely new. Pretty much anything you could find at Michael’s Arts and Crafts Store at a fraction of the price, and with the added benefit that by buying from Creative Reuse, you are doing your small part to save the planet through your recycling efforts. I highly recommend all you artsy/craftsy folks make a pilgrimage to 6713 San Pablo Avenue.

Back at my house, the Stuff is already starting to fill the donation box again. Can anyone think of a clever project for a lifetime’s supply of defunct keys?