We all know the RE trilogy by now – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. There is a reason they are listed in this order – Reducing our consumption is the most important of the three. If we Reduce the amount of stuff we bring into our homes, there is less to Reuse and Recycle later. In a consumer society Reducing is often the most difficult to accommodate – the other two are easier.
Recycling has gotten quite popular since the process is so familiar – you can still buy just as much stuff but by separating your trash you can now clear your conscience! However, we’re still contributing to the extraction of limited resources and almost everything that is Recycled is downgraded in the process. Sorry.
Lately, I’ve been noticing more emphasis on Reuse, and I like it. My recent fascination started with a trip to the Earthship headquarters in Taos, where this whirlygig beacon stands. Masters of Reuse, they incorporate tires, bottles, cans, wood and steel to build homes. More commonly used building materials are available at places like Second Use, Earthwise, and the RE-Store, in Seattle and Bellingham, and the ReBuilding Center in Portland. This is not just a Pacific Northwest phenomenon either – there are organizations around the country like Building Materials Reuse Association in South Carolina and online exchanges such as Build.Recycle.net.
Reclaimed building materials have a history that appeals to me on a visceral level. Where else can you find Douglas fir beams with grain so tight you nearly need a magnifying glass to count the rings? From French doors to pedestal sinks, maple flooring to carved frame mirrors, treasures await around every corner. Most of the stores also provide deconstruction services, mining the industrial forest for the materials they sell.
Different from Recycling, Reuse keeps what is still serviceable in its current form but perhaps with another purpose or in another location. Clothing swaps are another example of Reuse – some of my favorite pieces have come from these exchanges. Garden clubs have plant and tool exchanges every year. Two interior designers in Seattle even started a Home Accessories swap a few years ago with great success.
Our parents and grandparents that lived through the Great Depression knew how to Reuse and Repurpose everything. Reduction was forced on them, and they made do with what they had. Ingenuity kicks in at amazing levels when no other choices are available! Our challenge is to tap this ingenuity while we still have options.