Using Up What You’ve Got

You’ll notice I didn’t say “using what you’ve got”; it’s “using UP what you’ve got,” and that’s a whole nother thang. Using what you’ve got is hard enough, but using it all up is a really scary notion. For most of us, using stuff we have on hand is A Good Thing. We feel virtuous, and it feels good to finally figure out a use for that crepe paper you found on clearance the week after Halloween in 1997. But using stuff *up*: that’s an entirely different thing. Using stuff up means you’re going to do something with it and then not have it any more. What if, your brain asks you, you use it up (whatever-it-is) and then, a month later, have art projects that need–desperately need–that very exact thing? Nothing else will work. Nothing! And so you go out looking for more, searching the stores and hunting online, checking eBay and Etsy, all to no avail: it’s nowhere to be had, and there’s nothing you can do. You curse yourself for so thoughtlessly using it up and spend the rest of your life in abject misery because you don’t have any Whatever-It-Is left over. Right?

Wrong. Of course not; you know how it really goes: you think, “Oh, if only I had some of that left over,” and you look for it in the store or online, and you don’t find it, but in the process of looking you find something else entirely, something that takes the project into a hard left-hand turn, a whole new direction you would never have even considered if you’d still had that stuff you used up. And it turns out this is Perfect. Absolutely perfect! Why is that? Why is it that being forced to find something else seems to take us places we hadn’t planned to go?

It’s because when we reach for the familiar, for the fabric we bought years ago or the beads we’ve always used or the paper we’ve been saving for decades, we’re following the same path we were following when we bought it. Our ideas are stuck where they were back then, back when we were collecting old dictionary pages or matte opaque beads or batik fabric. We reach for that stuff, and our ideas slip easily into the rut where they’ve been forever. When they can’t do that–when we run out of batik or cabinet cards or hand-dyed yarn–we’re forced to figure out something else we can use, and that requires our brains to branch out and consider something new. That’s why the projects that took a hard turn right in the middle often are the ones we like the best when we’re done. We didn’t go where we thought we were going to go, but the view from where we ended up is really amazing.


For more ideas about using what you’ve got around the house, check out Darlene Olivia McElroy’s and Sandra Duran Wilson’s new book, Mixed Media Revolution. You’ll think of recycling and reusing materials in whole new ways!



Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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