genimage.jpgI used to work at a magazine, Real Simple, that has a feature called New Uses for Old Things. It was my favorite section, even though there was no way on God’s increasingly less green Earth that I’d ever try to get more out of my turkey baster by conscripting it to change the water in a vase, or have the forethought to save a votive candle holder and reuse it as a pretty little toothpick bin. I’m way too frantic and discombobulated most of the time trying to get my kids to use our household objects for their original, intended purpose. (Things I’ve actually said: “That’s a barbecue skewer, not a backscratcher!” and “Sweetheart, toilets are for peeing in and beds are for sleeping in, not the other way around.”)

I think what appeals to me about New Uses for Old Things is that it’s essentially saying, You are not your Formerly, or in some cases, You are more than your Formerly. Of course, it’s saying it about bubble wrap and clear nail polish (you can use it to seal a letter that has lost its adhesive!) and not about human beings who are a bit adrift in their 40s and could use a good solid new use, but I’m running with the concept.

So right this second I’m working downstairs in this groovy little cafe on Orchard Street, near my house. One could write an entire chapter in American working class and immigrant history on Orchard Street itself, but suffice it to say, Formerly a Rank, Overcrowded but Flourishing Marketplace for Poverty-stricken Tenement Dwellers, currently Hipster Central. The walls and ceilings of the grotto are what look to be the original brick. Without too much effort you can visualize a shoeless urchin c. 1888 weaving her way through crowds of smelly, hardworking and drunk men in search of her downtrodden dad to drag him home at the behest of her pregnant-again mother.

But I digress! What I really want to talk about are the lights in this cafe, which are simply those little colanders you use to steam broccoli, welded onto light fixtures and clamped on the water pipes that run across the ceiling. Genius. The little holes let light shine through, creating something of a disco ball effect, and the collapsible leaves of the steamer can open and close, depending on how much illumination you need.

A new use for an old thing if ever there was one. And considering I rarely use my steamer anymore (I associate steamed veggies with dieting and lord knows I don’t do that anymore) this strikes me as ingenious. It’s making me think about new uses for other things from my previous life as a young, hot person with disposable income and leisure time.

You know those teeny evening purses that can hold only a lipstick, a cell phone and an ATM card? I once used them when I went out at night (I used to go out at night!) before I had to tote fruit roll-ups, glitter glue and extra sweatshirts everywhere I went. Maybe I’ll stuff them with cotton and lavender and make them into soothing eye pillows for all the relaxing downtime I have. Oh, wait, I don’t have much of that. Or I could solder together all my too-high heels and make some new protective latticework for the terrace, so neither daughter takes a header off the 19th floor. The yoga mat I no longer have time to use for yoga I can use to pad the walls of the cell I will eventually wind up in if I don’t find the time to do some yoga. And I can cut the skinny jeans I can no longer zip in half at the fly and use the legs as insulation for that steam pipe in the bathroom that causes third degree burns if you lean against it.

Or, more likely, I will do nothing with them except use them to torture myself, little reminders of my Formerly.

Any new uses for things from your Formerly? Post ’em!