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Get creative and “re-purpose” to reduce consumption (Guest post!)

I am really excited to bring you an awesome guest post today! You might recall that about a week ago, in a post titled “Consumption to the point of destruction,” I wrote:

I need your help. I’ve got a couple of ideas brewing for posts, but I want to know what things irk you about our over-consuming nature? Tell me (either in the comments or by emailing me directly) and together we can look at those things and dig a little deeper into them.

One of the suggestions I received in the comments to that post was to “creatively re-purpose.” And not only did Pam provide this suggestion — she wrote a fascinating post that shares how she and her husband, artist Kevin Kellar, make re-purposing a part of their daily lives.

So please join me in giving Pam Dillon, an Ottawa-based writer, a very warm welcome to Coffee with Julie!


My Husband
by Pam Dillon

My husband is a dumpster diver. A hauler-home of other people’s junk. As an artist and a unique thinker, he sees merit and possibilities in items discarded and thrown away.

I was a slow learner in this regard. But, after years of rolling my eyes and shaking my head, I finally get it: There’s power in creative repurposing.

It started with scrap metal on the floor of a sheet metal shop where Kevin worked in Kingston. He was a fine arts student then. Instructed to sweep up the mess and put it in the garbage, he looked down and saw geometric shapes and reflected light.

That trash came home with him. He’s been bringing home cast-offs and found treasures ever since. In the two decades since those days of school and scraps, there have been many art shows in public and private galleries. People usually think his fine art photographs are abstract paintings. They are, in fact, images of leftover metal and random objects that illustrate the potential in what is.

Kevin Kellar's art work is an ode to the joy of creative repurposing

We live that way. The Man Cave, tucked into the bush at the edge of the backyard, started out as old plywood in a heap of construction waste. The big pine tree chopped down last spring became tables, seats and flowerpot stands in the garden. When my friend lent me a punch bowl for a party and insisted I keep it because she didn’t have room, it became a fruit bowl – full of grapefruit and oranges, apples and bananas.  In a couple of bedrooms, neat piles of books now sit on the wee wood chairs my boys sat on when they were toddlers. There is an antique dresser in the living room and another in my home office because they are lovely and provide convenient storage. A sewing table my father built for my mother is used for my printer, along with office supplies. On my desk, there is a lumpy, heart-shaped pottery vase, inexpertly painted pink and yellow.  Full of pens, pencils and erasers, it reminds me of a fun day and the fact that I have zero aptitude for crafts.

Kevin loves garage sales and the stuff householders put at the ends of their driveways with a sign that says FREE. My favourite of these objects is a bell he brought home and presented to me. “To ring for coffee,” he explained.

I appreciate bells and whistles as much as anybody, but the bell I like best is the one for coffee.

As an avid perennial gardener, he brings home seeds and cuttings from the yards of neighbours and strangers he gets to know. He also tends surplus gadgets. Friends and family members stop at our place when they’re heading to the big-box stores to get their new, large-screen TVs. We like the old ones.

Many times, the odds and ends Kevin carts home are people. My old boss, a newspaper publisher, came up to my desk one time with a smile on his face and said, “I’d kill him.” He had encountered Kevin during the course of the day when he was assisting a man in distress. Guess who came to dinner? A self-proclaimed gypsy, our guest had pelts attached to his clothes and he paused to chant — in a loud, sing-song voice — before eating. Just great. (Maybe he was praying it would taste better than it looked.)While many would judge that stranger as the dregs of society, Kevin saw a fascinating individual with stories to share.

At least he wasn’t an axe-murderer.

Another time, when my husband was driving, he came upon a just-hit deer. He put it in the trunk and pulled into the driveway awhile later. After I got over the fact that he dumped a dead deer on top of my leather shoes, I served Roadkill Bourguignon.

Fairly often I mention that Kevin, too, could be roadkill, but there’s a lot to be said for rethinking what you want and reusing what is already there.

For Christmas, he built our hockey-crazy son a table out of hockey sticks, pucks, used glass and other found items. There isn’t another one like it in the world. Now he’s building a chair from hockey sticks.

That same son, who has all the gadgets, brands and teen status symbols, is growing up with the benefit of exposure to ingenuity and alternatives to conspicuous consumption.

When he and his brother are older, not only will they have functional artworks created by their dad, they will, hopefully, also have open, inquisitive minds and the self-confidence not to base choices on the standards of others.

We are trying to teach out children, by example, that they don’t have to let the media and peer pressure dictate their values and how they live.

I am, of course, a hypocrite. I work in the media. A good deal of the writing work I do involves extolling the benefits of purchasing products and services. The contradiction in this is that the work itself has allowed me to be at home with my children and to opt out of a consumerist mentality.

Personally, I’d rather spend time than money.  I respect your choices and your right to choose different life priorities, but I don’t have much respect for affluenza. I think it’s bad for the planet and it jeopardizes our children’s collective future.  

Still, like my youngest, I do adore stuff. My heart is firmly planted in the shoe department, where I can hear the heels say, “Buy me.” Usually, looking and trying them on is thrill enough for me. While I’m crazy about Architectural Digest, decorating magazines and fashion, years ago I discovered something amazing.  I was pregnant and, at that time, maternity style was an oxymoron. Months and months passed, during which I wore the same few outfits, and nobody particularly noticed or cared – including me.

Occasionally, I circulate with ladies who buy their purses in Paris and shoes in Saint-Tropez. (They also buy art.) Do I silently drool over the bling and the hair and the knee-length suede boots by Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik? Absolutely. But when I come home, I often wear soft old sweatshirts my boys have outgrown.  Sometimes I wear a sweater that belonged to my mom or a shirt that belonged to my dad. They are labeled on the inside. My parents have passed away.  

In the last few years, I have cleaned out closets and held a number of hands as people I cherish have died.  What’s obvious, in the end, is that all the stuff doesn’t matter. Just the people and the few treasured things that give you comfort and make you happy.


Have you creatively re-purposed objects that others have discarded? Did you get any new ideas from Pam’s post?


  1. what a beautifully written post! i feel the same way and although i am young (so maybe naive…), i hope to live my life with similar values. i think i am already on the right track. thanks for a little inspiration – and i just love the last sentence, it says it all!!

  2. amazing!

  3. her husband sounds like a wonderful find. she’s got an interesting life guaranteed.

  4. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your site?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe
    you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it
    better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or
    two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

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