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Solutions Journalism

Reuse, repurpose, upcycle: what it looks like

MANSFIELD, Ohio — If there was one phrase to sum up what repurposing old items looks like, it would be this: “I just visualize and it becomes a reality.” Debby Martinez, the woman who said this, lives in her store on South Main Street in Mansfield; she started repurposing, or upcycling, for a living 20 years ago.

“People thought I was crazy, but whatever,” said Martinez.

She, like many others in Richland County and the nation, creates pieces of art out of old, worn-out furniture items and building materials that she finds in dumpsters and antique shops. For Martinez, it’s a way of life. She finds the items, brings them back to her home, creates something out of them and sells them in one of her four locations. She said she’s always looking for what others might see as junk.

A New Project

Debby Martinez shows off one of her new ongoing projects: a coffee table made of an old, wooden chicken coop cage.

“I’ve dumpster dived before,” she said with a laugh. “I love those things that people throw away. There’s so much you can do with it.”

She doesn’t just sell everything though. Most of her furniture in her home, she made. One day, she was inspired to make a house out of windows and doors. She uses it for tea parties with her friends and it sits to the side of her house in Mansfield.

Window-Door House

Debby Martinez's window-door house is made entirely of old windows and doors she has found over the 20 years she's repurposed.

Upcycling has become an art form, even a hobby for some. The idea is simply to create something out of an unused item either for aesthetic or functional purposes. Some do it to be more environmentally friendly.

Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore in Ontario aims to reduce the amount of landfill waste. The revenue generated in the store then goes toward building homes for underprivileged families and individuals. They sell used furniture, building materials, appliances and other used items.

Browsers at ReStore

Shoppers browse through furniture pieces and various used items at ReStore in Ontario.

“Every item that’s repurposed is something that’s not going to the landfill. We’ve had over 139,000 pounds that we’ve kept out of the landfill, just from this location. We use everything we can,” said Executive Director for Habitat For Humanity Veronna Drane.

Drane mentioned the use of Pinterest, an online hub for sharing creative ideas, has influenced the repurposing movement. She said ReStore in Ontario recently created a Pinterest profile to share ideas their customers have.

“We’ve hosted a Pinterest night, we’re hoping to do more this year — just bringing people in, showing them what’s here and what they can make out of it,” said Drane. “We have to do it. There’s too much stuff going into the trash.”

Jodie Titus and her brother Brent Titus from Bellville agree. They recently started their own business selling repurposed and salvaged items on Etsy — an online store to buy and sell a variety of items. The two work together in making new things out of the old and unused.

“Right now we’re focusing on lights and lamps. It just seems to be something that is kind of our niche that we’re stepping out into,” said Jodie Titus.

Ford Headboard Lamp

Jodie Titus's brother, Brent Titus, made a headboard out of an old lamp and rusted Ford hatch.

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Her brother does most of the handiwork while she posts them online to sell. They currently have five items to sell on their Etsy page, ranging from light posts and old World War II crates.

Mike Thompson from Mansfield has also experienced some success on Etsy. His hot item?

A drip station made of copper tubes. The homemade apparatus can be found in Relax, It’s Just Coffee and a few other coffee shops around the world.

Thompson is an electrical engineer by trade and by hobby. One of his projects includes cleaning old cast-iron skillets using electrolysis. He uses a car battery charger, water, a steel plate and a plastic garbage bin. He runs a direct current from the charger through the skillet and the steel plate catches the gunk as a result.

“Don’t try this at home, kids. This is dangerous stuff,” said Thompson. He then uses the skillet for cooking. They are hanging by copper tubes in his kitchen.

Thompson said he's always loved repurposing. From making drinking glasses out of wine bottles to lamps that tell you how much electricity it is using, Thompson enjoys creating new objects.

He’s been doing it ever since he could drive himself to the hardware store, he said.

Unique Lamp

Mike Thompson explains how he built a lamp that uses an old electrical meter to read the lamp's wattage.

“You see, most people use the internet to watch cat videos, but I just go look this stuff up,” Thompson said with a laugh.

Jess Allred is another upcycler. He collects used cigar boxes and makes guitars out of them. He said once he retired he wanted to have something to do other than wrench around on cars — which had been his hobby for years. The idea to make cigar box guitars came to him when he read about it in a magazine.

Since 2010 he has made nearly 100 of the little guitars.

Jess Allred

Jess Allred explains how he makes his acoustic guitars and cigar-box guitars in his basement one-room shop.

“I really got the bug,” said Allred. He enjoys it so much that he’s started to make his own acoustic guitars. And he does it all in his basement.

“I do it for fun. And it’s functional art so that just makes it more fun when you can actually make noise with it,” said Allred.

Whether for art or financial gain, one thing is clear: thesee creative people enjoy themselves, it’s fun. If you share the same feeling, share a picture of what you have made or describe it in the comments section.

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