Northbound: The Upside of Upcycling

Budgets have a way of bringing out our creative sides.

Since I purchased my home in North County, nearly three years ago, I haven’t gone out of my way to furnish it much. After years of living in a tiny East Village apartment, I got comfortable with a minimalist, Spartan living space.

It wasn’t until I hosted a few barbecues at my house this summer that I realized I should probably get around to putting up some wall decorations in the rooms, and have patio furniture in the backyard.

My guests were comfortable in the collapsible camping chairs I put out, but long-term I need more permanent solutions.

Besides a few IKEA desks and tables, I’ve never purchased furniture before. I’ve always been lucky enough to get great hand-me-downs from co-workers, friends and family. Being the tightwad I am, I really now can’t justify going out and purchasing thousands of dollars of furniture — especially with a mortgage.

It’s not that I don’t want nice things — it’s more that sensibility and practicality overrule purchasing those nice-to-haves.

My breakthrough for a tightwad furniture solution came through a visit to one of my favorite breweries in North County — Culture Brewing in Solana Beach. There, I stumbled across the “upcycling” phenomenon.

According to Wikipedia, upcycling is “the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.” Take something as simple as say a plastic water bottle, that would otherwise be recycled or thrown away, and turn it into a flower pot, or a serving cup. That’s upcycling.

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

In the back patio of Culture Brewing, they have an entire outdoor furniture set made out of wooden pallets that could probably seat eight or 10 people. The seats are surprisingly comfortable, sturdy, and have held up well over time. Wooden pallets! Get some sanding paper, some nails, hammer, and a saw, and presto, you have a patio furniture set. Ingenious.

In my commute to work, I pass by office buildings that leave out good quality pallets for recycling each week. Over time, I’ve been collecting them — these unwanted, recyclable items — with plans to make a coffee table, chairs, and a bench. The “how-to” isn’t a mystery — there are lots of YouTube videos showing how to make a pallet patio furniture set, and the upcycling community is eager to share step-by-step instructions on message boards and blogs for just about anything.

I hope to have some of the first pieces completed by the beginning of the New Year, and should have a column update by then.

Perhaps it’s our prevalent consumerist mentality that leads us too often to buy things we don’t need. When friends post on social media all the nice things they own and have at their homes, it’s hard not to be envious and want to show off a little too. However, I would rather demonstrate to friends how fun and simple upcycling can be, and inspire others to do the same.

I’ll own my cheapness, and maybe others will do the same.

Have you tried upcycling around your house? Why not save some money, and try a fun project sometime this fall in your spare time!

Vince Vasquez is an economist based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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