Good old Wikipedia tells us that the term Upcycling is a relatively modern term that was first coined at the close of the Century in 1994:
The first recorded use of the term upcycling was by Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH in an article by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994.
And Wikipedia defines it as:
Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless and/or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.
While the term may be relatively modern, I am no newbie to the act, I was either born with the ‘upcycle’ gene in my body or it was implanted by socialisation.
While upcycling is currently ‘on trend’ and the hip thing to do, I remember the days where upcycling, well at least to me, was far from cool! You see, my parents, particularly my father, were masters of upcycling. Not because they wanted to be inventors but more because they came from the generation where things lasted and if they broke they got fixed and if it couldn’t be fixed in the normal manner my father would make some contraption using whatever junk he could lay his hands on to get it to work.
My father has always been a white collar man so has never had to do a job where he gets his hands dirty so his motivation for getting practical and making things was maybe partly born from a desire to be practical, however my gut tells me his motivation was more to do with the fact he doesn’t like to spend money on anything. Why does he need to when he can make it or he buys things that last? Hence they still have the carpet and many furnishings they had when I was born in the early 70’s! Luckily retro is back in so it’s probably seen as cool now but that has not always been the case – believe me! Yes my father certainly would not be accused of being a follower of fashion and if the jumper he has had for 40 years still fits and hasn’t got too many holes in then there’s nothing wrong with it. He’s a nightmare when it comes to buying him a gift as he has all he needs and hates us spending money on unnecessary things!
My parents are the furthest you could get from the throw away culture of today. But my parents seemed to take things a step further and verge on the hoarder spectrum! ‘We can’t throw out that yoghurt pot as it will come in useful’, now this is where they differ, while your average hoarder would then just carry on collecting yoghurt pots and just let them build up, my parents would actually use them for a whole array of purposes from pen holders to plant pots for seedlings! I particularly remember one invention that brought great fun to our family and visiting friends and was made almost entirely out of yoghurt pots – yes a 9 hole golf course in our back garden! I will have to try and find a photo to post here!
The golf course was one (there were very few) of dad’s upcycle projects that didn’t make me curl up in embarrassment and was actually quite cool! All it took to make was a trowel to dig out yoghurt pot sized holes which the yoghurt pots fit into and then dad had some thin metal rods that he inserted into the ground and we cut triangles with a sheet of bright orange (fluorescent) sticker paper for want of a better word and once complete with a number they made the flags. The flags would be removed after play to keep out of the rain and to allow for easy mowing of the lawn. We had hours of fun playing the course.
It’s funny how with time comes maturity and with hindsight how things from your past can be viewed so differently. When a child, this upcycling lark was just a total embarrassment but now on reflection I actually think my dad was pretty cool for some of the things he made and for his values on waste not, want not – he’s a great pioneer for recycling! Some of his upcycle projects included:
- A flower bed made out of a washing machine drum
- Our conservatory he made for £5 that was still standing 20 years on!
- Car seats he got from the auction for £2 that became chairs in our study.
- Arm rest and various other contraptions for the car – I remember wood and old carpet being the main materials and always being so embarrassed when friends would come in the car as he would get a nice new car then ruin it with lumps of old wood and carpet!
- A shed made out of fibreglass from an old fiberglass hut (I can’t think of what it was so must find out or take a photo and post it here)
- A stable which he surprisingly used timber he bought so it was not strictly upcycled but he did use some reclaimed wood.
- A contraption made out of our old roller skates and planks of wood that would mean he could easily transport items like the swing hammock from A to B on wheels!
Then there was my mum’s efforts where she once made me a BMX outfit, complete with elbow and knee pads and she even sew the word ‘aero’ (short for aerodynamics) onto the patches! It was great turning up at the BMX track full of kids in the latest BMX shiny new designer outfits bought from a shop and me in my one made from a grey jogging suit! Scenes from the film ‘About a boy’ spring to mind! Luckily I hadn’t quite reached puberty so was not of the age where I was too aware, also my best friend at the time also had a mum who liked to make him BMX outfits too – in fact I think they probably exchanged patterns! I am thankful however that my mum didn’t also make me my clothes like she did for my sisters out of what looks to be old curtains. I didn’t however get out of the bowl hair cuts! As you can imagine we’ve got some cracking family photos.
Looking back I had one of those great childhoods where my parents taught me lots of skills from a very young age, we were taught how to bake, cook, sew, knit, iron,do basic woodwork and diy and of course to wash up although I was a master of getting my dad to do this when it was my turn – being the youngest does have some advantages! 🙂 Not only was I taught these invaluable skills but I was witness to my parents who just got on and did things that needed doing. There was no ‘I’ll do it another day’ or ‘i’ll get a workman to do that’. Only when my dad had attempted to do the job, several times using various different methods and possible solutions and things would not go as planned would they even consider getting a professional in.
I can now see that the reason why I am a creative sort who finds it easy to turn my hand at most things and am not afraid of giving new things a go. It’s because I was brought up with the attitude that if something needs doing then you don’t employ someone qualified to do it but you work out how to do it and do it yourself.
So while back then I could not see the forest for the trees, I now realise how lucky I was to have been taught such good values and the skills of upcycling and I have inherited my father’s eyes where he doesn’t see something discarded as rubbish but as an opportunity to give it a fresh lease of life and a new use!
Stay tuned for blog posts of my upcycling efforts or check out my blog posts about my entry of my garden office ‘Crafty Monkey on the Beach’ for shed of the year that includes my upcycling efforts!
Feel free to share in the comments any embarrassing or cool upcycling projects your parents did!