While growing up, most of my summer vacations were spent at my maternal grandparents’ home playing with toys made out of ordinary everyday things – toothpaste tube caps were collected, cleaned and we used them as building blocks or played checkers; cardboard boxes were repurposed to make doll houses, shops or even a train; used wrapping paper would be cut to make dresses for our cardboard dolls and toilet rolls would become binoculars for the young explorers!

Over the years, many of these ingenious ideas may have gotten lost but some everyday items are still reused delightfully in a typical Indian household. They have a ‘lifecycle’ and go beyond the call of their duty; doing many other jobs successfully even though they weren’t really designed for them. Through this article, I would like to share with you some of the wonderful ways in which we reuse a few of our daily objects and extend their lives, instead of just adding them to the trash once done with them.

Reusing the Toothbrush as a cleaning tool in the kitchen
The toothbrush can be reused for many other jobs around the house, like cleaning bottle rims or graters in the kitchen!

One has to start with every household favourite, the TOOTHBRUSH! Who knew that this object that the dentists recommend should be changed every 3 to 4 months could continue to exist in your household for a year or more. And believe me when I say it, it’s quite adaptable to many other jobs. First, it does what it was made for – cleaning teeth. Then it heads to the kitchen where it is used to clean bottle rims or the ‘difficult to clean’ spaces in mixers and utensils. When the bristles kind of get flattened, the kids get to use it for spray painting and the adults may choose to apply hair colour to specific areas with it. It can also be used for cleaning hairbrushes and combs or the narrow sliding window rails and sometimes, even to apply shoe polish. By now, it may have lived till ‘ripe old age’ and having lost many of its bristle, it is finally time to lay it to rest!

The next important item that seems to live on forever and is reused with great care are PLASTIC BAGS. The minute a bag enters home, it has to undergo the sorting process. If you were thinking of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, change that to experienced hands! The thick heavy duty bags are reused for special occasions only, the medium thickness and noisy ones are reused on a regular basis whereas the thin ones are almost always immediately put on their next assignment! No matter which category the bag falls in, each one is folded neatly, placed in a ‘mother of plastic bags’ and kept inside a locked cupboard! Now say, you needed a plastic bag, you’d have to head to the family matriarch and tell her all details regarding why you needed the bag; she would then decide which one was best suited to your needs.

The Important Bag: Used for keeping expensive clothes or storing vital documents like in a folder.

The Noisy Bag: Used to go to the market or tailor or when giving a gift to others or to carry craft items to school

The Thin Bag: Used to store shoes in when traveling or as gloves to protect the hands or as dustbin bags for the small bins

Even though I am a bit more liberal when it comes to reusing plastic bags, till date they are neatly folded, categorized and kept in a box until such time comes. Must mention that even cloth and paper bags are reused multiple times!

Another favourite everyday article in our households is OLD CLOTHES. A piece of clothing that is in wearable condition is handed down multiple times until eventually it gives way and what joy that is because now it can used for many other purposes. Take a look at the list of things that you can use your torn clothes for.

Cotton inner-wear like vests and camisoles are used for polishing brass or shoes.

Torn t-shirts are made into mops, dusting cloths, used in the kitchen to clean the slabs, used to wipe the car – they are very multipurpose!

Old saris are reused to make clothes for children and sometimes even to make covers to sleep under.

Pretty dupattas (or scarves) become table runners.

Denim jeans become denim shorts and eventually get sewn into trendy cloth bags.

While we are discussing materials, let’s add TOWELS which get used for the pet or are made into bath mats, BEDSHEETS are cut as and when needed to use as cleaning cloths or kitchen dish drying cloths, BLANKETS become pet beds and MUSLIN CLOTH become baby diapers!

Reusing Glassware - Jars, Bottles and even broken cups!
Reusing Glassware – An old bottle to root your plants, jars become tea light holders and a cracked mug a pen stand!

Now let’s move onto GLASSWARE, of every size and shape imaginable. In the olden days, when the liquor bottles could be reused, they would be washed a hundred times, left out in the sun for the smell to go and then used as drinking water storing bottles! Jars find many new functions – storing homemade pickle or jam, spices and even to root herbs that you will add to your garden. A broken glass or cup – no problem! Use it as a pot for plants or a pen stand on the study table. Nowadays, the glass candle containers are cleaned of any remaining wax and put to other uses as well; I just use them as tealight holders.

Of course, the obsession with storage items even extends to PLASTIC CONTAINERS. Every takeaway container was saved to be used again – especially for sending tasting samples to the neighbours or storing leftover food in the fridge. The soft drink bottles became the hot favourite for storing drinking water. While one is more careful of how to reuse plastic containers these days, some of the safe options are to store household cleaners in the bottles or add a spray top and use as a gardening tools. I choose to reuse the snack containers to store my pulses and other raw food items in.

Plastic snack containers get reused to store pulses and more
Plastic snack containers can be reused to store pulses and other raw food items and it’s safe too!

Would you believe me if I said that we still have more everyday objects that are carefully saved to be used another day and in a new way? You better ‘cause we do! A quick list coming right up…

METAL medicine wrappers or aluminium foil is used to scrub heavily soiled metal dishes to get rid of the sticky and burnt dirt. It also works very well to clean the kitchen sink.

TIN cookie cans are used to store trinkets or made into a sewing kit box.

Bulky BRASS vessels, handed down for generations are converted into planters.

Old CARDS and used WRAPPING PAPERS are used for all kinds of crafts.

NEWSPAPER can be used to wrap books as well as clean mirrors (they clean the best!)

I saved the best for the last. We know someone who converted an old REFRIGERATOR into a cupboard to store his clothes!  Before you think I’m kidding, take a look at all the great things you can do with an old refrigerator.

How is this article eco related?

While this article may not be directly ‘environment’ related; it does remind us of a time when people were more conscious of what they used and how they reused every little thing that could be. As time has progressed, we’ve become more of a ‘use and throw’ generation – this is a luxury that we cannot afford today. So, let’s move into the future taking along with us some of these old ‘reuse’ values and recycle them to suit our daily lives!

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