Pam Boehm mug

Have you ever heard the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” I have used this line many times over the years, especially when I have had garage sales at my house. People would purchase old junk that I would consider trash and go away excited to have a new treasure. One of the things I have learned in life is that everything has a purpose and a use. Growing up, we lived very modestly. My parents were masters of making do with what they had and using items until they no longer served their purpose.  

Oftentimes, we use objects for things other than what they are intended. For example, my husband used to wash out vegetable cans and use them to hold screws and nails. In the field of Psychology, there is a term called, “Functional Fixedness,” which means a person uses an object only in the way it is traditionally used. This term originated in Gestalt Psychology and was coined by Dr. Karl Duncker, who believed functional fixedness is a mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem. For example, in the case of vegetable cans, having the inability to see that the item can be used for things beyond its original purpose.

One of the first introductions that I can remember regarding repurposing was from the “Hints from Heloise” column in the newspaper. I was always fascinated with the many ideas that Heloise had for getting gum or ink out of clothes.  

As educators, I believe it is our duty to not only inform students of the many alternatives and solutions for various terms and objects, but also to celebrate and showcase the work of these students when they discover new alternative approaches through repurposing.

One example of this is reflected by our welding students. Most recently, I was hosting university partners on campus and giving them a tour of our Cleburne Technical Center. We were walking through our welding department and I mentioned that our students get requests from the community to assist with various projects. One such example is the request to make trophies for the Veteran’s Day Car Show hosted by Cleburne VFW Post 12152. This is the third year that the Hill College Welding students have built the trophies and that the automotive students and faculty have judged the car show. To my amazement, these were the most unique and creative trophies that I have ever seen, which were made from recycled car parts and scrap metal. They were absolutely beautiful and were repurposed.

This brought to mind all of the unique and beautiful creations that our students have developed over the years utilizing various materials in different ways than the intended purpose. One most unique assignment came from the Cosmetology Department. The professor gave an assignment called, “Trash Queens,” for the students to inspire us all to clean up what we mess up. They had to create an outfit out of trash that would normally be thrown away. The students used trash bags, soda cans, paper plates and other items for their wardrobes. These talented young artists inspired me to think twice before throwing away trash.   

What do you have that you can repurpose?  Some things on my list are as follows:

• Using a toilet brush to clear out spider webs

• Cutting half of a pencil eraser to use for the back of an earring

• Popsicle sticks to make crafts

• Deer horns made into lamps

• Tractor tires made into sandboxes

• Buttons strung together to make a necklace

 • Old T-shirts sewn together to make a quilt

Growing up in the depression era, my mother-in-law became a genius at repurposing. Her specialty was repurposing greeting cards and calendars. If she wanted to send a birthday card to someone and didn’t have a card, she would take a get well or sympathy card, scratch out the wording, write happy birthday and send it on. Repurposing at its best. She was also infamous for patching the knees of my children’s jeans with an old terrycloth sock. This worked great until they reached the age that holes in the jeans were the new fad. Oops…

I believe what goes around comes around. I think we are now seeing society much more accepting of repurposing our trash into treasures. There is nothing I hate more than to spend good money on an item only to throw it away because you believe it has outlived its life. Next time you discard a piece of trash, I ask you to be cautious not to fall within the “functional fixedness” trap. Stop and think about the many uses of the item and get creative on what you can develop. Who knows, it may just be the newest fad. Repurposing signifies leaving the old behind and creating something new. What about our attitudes and behaviors.  Can they be repurposed? 

Dr. Pam Boehm is president of Hill College.

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