Hillbilly Recycling

Over the past couple of decades, recycling has become the right thing to do. It is both fashionable and responsible to reduce our consumption and waste. In areas where there is less cash for consumer goods, recycling has always been a way of life. Raised in southeast Kentucky by parents born during the Great Depression, I know a thing or two about recycling. I've never gone as far as to keep an overstuffed sofa on the front porch or swim in a truck bed, but I never buy something new if I can use something I already have.

Years ago, a local group offered me a yard sign for a referendum vote that I would never support, but hey, free sign! Good quality, too, made of plastic and metal. So I painted over the political message and used electrical tape for my own message. It's visible and effective if not artistic. I've used it over and over.


After a recent room remodel, I saved the good long planks and pieces of old paneling from the scrap heap before the workers hauled it off. Along with leftover siding and various other things I'd stashed over the years, I had enough material to build my kids a playhouse. The story of how I did it is in this post.

The containers that paint or roof tar comes in become buckets. A bucket without a handle becomes a bin. A leaky bucket becomes an irrigation aid or a sieve. A leaky bucket without a handle becomes a flower pot. A worn-out broom becomes a porch broom -not good enough for the floors anymore, but fine for the porch, sidewalk, or for reaching cobwebs and insect nests. When it's no longer good enough for even that, it becomes a garden stake.


Not too long ago, the legs on my coffee table gave out. A relative had an extra coffee table in storage, but the laminated top was in bad shape. So I removed the top, took the legs off my table, and glued the two together. The process was documented in this post. I never buy new furniture. Vintage or antique furniture is much sturdier at the same price, and leaves less of an environmental footprint.


Large coffee cans became a set of custom canisters that match the kitchen color. A canning jar is great for canning, but when the food is gone, it's a container for leftovers or a drinking glass. Large jars are good for storing beans, rice, popcorn, or anything else that's clumsy in its original bag. Jars keep insects out, too. There's the joke about the matching set of bowls that say "Cool Whip" on them... believe me, I don't do that, since I have heirloom china (which is also recycling, ya know), but I do keep plastic food containers instead of buying Tupperware. Pint size cottage cheese cups are great for food storage in the refrigerator or freezer. I use others as scoops for cat litter, cat food, and liquid fertilizer (great for measuring the amount). In the spring, I cut the old ones apart. The top part becomes a collar for tomato plants to discourage bugs and act as a funnel for water. The bottom part becomes a seed tray.


Most years, I set out 60-80 tomato plants and almost as many pepper plants. Tomato vines need trellises. I make mine from just about anything long and strong -tree limbs, tool handles, leftover trim, pipes, or slats. The horizontal bars are three pieces of 15-foot rebar and some L-shaped bracing leftover from some house construction. Shorter sticks are used for pepper stakes. I don't have time to hoe weeds all summer, so I use plastic sheeting that was leftover from my in-laws basement lining project for garden mulch. It's much stronger than the plastic mulch sold for garden use, enabling me to use the same sheets year after year. It doesn't last forever. I have to go back to the old newspaper mulch method for part of the garden now. The early garden isn't great to look at (flowerscan be a distraction), but it will grow on you. Literally.


I don't buy newspapers, but I put them to good use after someone else does. First, I read them. Some are kept for the fireplace, since wadded newsprint is good for tinder and rolled up whole editions can be used for kindling. Newspapers are also used for garden mulch. You lay down entire sections at a time and cover them with pine needles (because it looks better and it keeps them from blowing away). I don't use the colored sections for the garden because of the toxic dyes, but those are good for the bottoms of our birdcages. At the end of the garden season, I rake up what's left and throw it in the compost pile. It's pretty well shredded by then.


The compost pile is the ultimate in recycling. Almost anything organic goes into it. In this picture, you see one bin is overflowing with grass clippings because it's May. I was emptying out finished compost from the other bin to use in the garden. Grass clippings are the biggest component in the compost, but I also add autumn leaves, trimmings, peelings and food scraps (lots of coffee grounds), rotted wood, and fireplace ashes. Since I have room for two big bins and only remove compost once a year, I don't turn it often. The addition of compost has changed my garden from almost pure clay to fine topsoil over a few years. You may have noticed the compost bin itself was made from scrap lumber. It's in an area of my property not easily seen.

These examples barely scratch the surface of my recycling habits. Call it redneck engineering or southern ingenuity (there are worse terms), but habits like these save money, or allow me to do things I otherwise couldn't afford. And it reduces waste, which is the right and fashionable thing to do.

8 Expert Tips and Tricks for Hanging a Picture Right the First Time

Framed pictures are an inexpensive way to make a house feel like a home, and they can take a room from empty to finished-looking in minutes. They can be customized easily to your space and decor, and swapped out if your tastes change. But there is an art to hanging a picture the right way—without destroying your walls. Here’s what you need to know.


There are several steps you need to take before you get anywhere near a drill or hammer. First, consider two factors: the state of the wall you want to decorate, and the weight of the picture. Your wall may be supported by studs, which are pieces of wood or metal that run vertically behind the wall every couple of feet. Screwing directly into a stud can provide more support for hanging items.

If you have a reinforced wall, you could use a basic nail or screw to hang the frame, as long as you insert the nail or screw firmly into a stud. But you should only ever use a nail if you're hanging on a stud, according to Simon Taylor, owner-operator of T&C Carpentry in Whitby, Ontario. Otherwise, the weight of the picture could rip the nail out of the wall.

No stud? No problem. "If the picture is light, then a product like Monkey Hooks"—a kind of cantilevered hook for unreinforced walls—"work great," Taylor says.

For medium to heavy pictures, use wall anchors, which are plastic or metal inserts that provide more support for screwing into an unreinforced wall. There are many styles and strengths available for different materials and weights. “Using a product like E-Z Ancors is an easy way to fix a screw to drywall where there is no stud to screw into. They are strong and easy to install,” Taylor tells Mental Floss. “You can then thread a screw into them to hang your picture, providing it has a hook on the back or a string. A good rule to follow is not to use anything other than an anchor if you are not screwing directly into a stud or backing.” (Plastic wall anchors are fine for most lightweight projects, but for a really heavy picture, or a wall made out of something besides drywall, you'll need a different type of anchor.)

If you’re renting and don't want to damage the walls of your apartment, or you’re not 100 percent committed to the picture's placement, Taylor recommends a non-nail option like the extremely popular 3M Command adhesive hooks. They provide temporary, hole-free hanging and hold strong without peeling paint off the wall when it comes time to remove them.

Others argue that stick-on hooks can be unreliable, especially for heavier frames. “All picture-hanging hardware should really include some type of component that punctures the wall,” says Claire Wheeler, design and project coordinator for Montreal-based Sajo Inc. “This provides a much more secure hanging system than a hanging system that is surface-applied.” The adhesives on these types of products are more likely to fail than any sort of nail or anchored hardware, she tells Mental Floss.


Wheeler says your hanging hardware depends on the size and weight of the frame. Fortunately, most frame manufacturers include some form of hanger on the back of their products.

While she finds that hook tabs (small triangular hangers on ready-to-use frames) work for hanging lighter pictures, a wire system—two anchor points on the back of the frame and a strong wire strung between them for looping over the wall screw or hook—is the better choice for hanging large and/or heavy pictures. The wire system setup allows the weight of the frame to be distributed evenly along the wire for more secure hanging, rather than placing all the weight of the frame on one small hanger point.

“You will notice that most frames, whether you have purchased them in a store or you've had them custom-made, have hardware already installed at the back. It’s usually a pretty safe bet to use what the manufacturer has provided,” Wheeler says.

To hang a picture without the need for advanced math, start with a center hanging point: a hook tab affixed in the appropriate spot, or, if your frame has two tabs on either side of the frame, a wire strung slackly between them.


Assemble all of the gear before you spring into action. In addition to your framed artwork, you'll need the proper hanging apparatus for your project (see #1) and a hammer for pounding in the wall anchor or nail. Use a power drill or screwdriver to insert screws in the wall anchor, if you're using one. A tape measure makes it easier to calculate the right spot for hanging. A sturdy wire for the back of your frame is optional (see #2). And the best way to ensure your picture will be level is to, well, use a level. “A level is a basic tool everyone should have,” Wheeler says. “If you own a hammer, you should own a level.”


Wheeler says you should play around with the height at which you plan on installing the frame: “As a general rule, eye level should land within the bottom half of the frame,” she says.

From a designer’s perspective, Wheeler finds people often choose pictures that are either too big or too small in proportion to the wall area. “You want the picture to have some space to 'breathe,' so to speak, meaning a wall large enough that it doesn’t feel as though the picture is overcrowding the wall," she says. "On the flip side, you also don’t want a picture to look completely lost on a big wall."

She adds, "Proportion is important, but there’s no specific ratio" of picture size to wall area that could be considered a rule of thumb. Ultimately, you're the best judge of your space.


Place the frame against the wall where you want it to hang. "It’s a good idea to have someone with you to judge if it is in the right place," Taylor says. "Having a view of it in place before it’s 'fixed' to the wall will help you decide if it looks right."

After you've picked your spot, draw a short line with a pencil along the center of the frame's top edge as your reference line. If you're hanging a really large picture, get your assistant to hold it in place while you draw.


Lay the frame face-down on a flat surface. Place your wall fastener, such as the wall anchor or Command hook, in the appropriate hook tab or on the wire on the back of the frame and pull the wire taut. With a tape measure, measure the distance from the top edge of the frame to the center of the fastener.


Now back to the wall: Measure the same distance from the center of your penciled reference line down. Mark that spot with your pencil: That's where you're going to install your fastener.

If you're not using a wall anchor, simply affix an adhesive hook, hammer in a nail, or insert a Monkey Hook.

To install an anchor, drill a hole into the wall at the penciled point with a screw that is narrower than the anchor itself. (You don't want the anchor to be too loose in the wall.) Don't screw it too tightly. Next, reverse the drill's direction and pull the screw out. Insert the anchor, hammering it flush against the wall. Finally, drill the screw into the anchor—this action makes the anchor expand slightly and press against the drywall's innards, creating a more secure fit. Be sure to leave a bit of space between the screw's head and the wall so the picture's wire can be hooked over the screw. Hang the picture.


To make sure your picture is straight, rest the level along the top of the frame, against the wall. Then, adjust until the air bubble within the small tube of water is in the center of the tube, which indicates that the bar is parallel to the floor—and, therefore, that your picture is level.

Taylor says that not using a level and assuming the hanging hardware is set evenly on the back of a frame are the two biggest mistakes he sees people make. Pros often use laser levels, but Taylor says a water level will work just as well for most people.

Need some inspirations to get started? Consider hanging a few classic movie posters, printed patents for famed inventions, or a guide to cats.

Live Smarter
How to Rescue a Wet Book

Water and books don't usually go together. If you're one of the many sorting through waterlogged possessions right now—or if you're just the type to drop a book in the bath—the preservation experts at Syracuse University Libraries have a video for you, as spotted by The Kid Should See This. Their handy (if labor-intensive) technique to rescue a damp book features paper towels, a fan, some boards, and a bit of time. Plus, they offer a quick trick if you don't have the chance to repair the book right away.

The Kid Should See This also notes that literary magazine Empty Mirror has further tips on salvaging books and papers damaged by water, including how to clean them if the water was dirty (rinse the book in a bucket of cold water, or lay flat and spray with water) and what to do if there's a musty smell at the end of the drying process (place the propped-open book in a box with some baking soda, but make sure the soda doesn't touch the book).

Of course, prevention is the best policy—so store your tomes high up on bookcases, and be careful when reading in the bath or in the rain. (That, or you could buy a waterproof book.)

[h/t: The Kid Should See This]


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