To clarify, I’ve found excellent uses for one vintage juice glass and two coffee mugs; a blue and white biscuit tin,
and two wooden boxes. Respectively, they once held orange juice and coffee, luxe butter cookies, elegant cigars
and wedding gift spices.
None holds anything remotely edible these days. But each receptacle is sturdy; serves a need, and has a story behind it.
Which means every single one is perfect.
I spotted the three-and-a-half-inch tall glass on its own at a thrift store, with neither matching glasses nor pitcher in sight. I wasn’t going drink out of it, but the turquoise painted daisies splashed across the glass made me smile. It’s on my office window sill these days, crammed with ballpoint pens and sharpies, and picking up the reflection from the sun.
One mug—perhaps a collector’s item because it’s from Olivia Newton John’s long defunct Korner of Australia store on Melrose—sits there, too, my place to keep a dozen water color brushes. The other cup was found at a tiny boutique in 1979 in the East Village in New York City, a few blocks from my first apartment there. Boasting a bright red ladybug on one side and a tiny ceramic one at the bottom of the cup, I had very little money then for non-essentials, but this called to me. Here, I keep pencils, mostly from the dollar store, in different colors and patterns.
The blue and white tin is labeled Patria Quality Biscuits, and appears to be from a bakery in Amsterdam. Depicting a pastoral scene of trees and a windmill, several are on eBay for about $10. This one belonged to my mom when I was small, and after the cookies were consumed, she stored hairpins in it. Now it houses my dozens of colored pencils.
Neither of the wooden boxes is visible, but they’re used just the same.
The tinier one is nestled in the single drawer of my office work table. Once upon a time, it held 20 cigars from
the Tabacalera Tambor cigar company, which Google says is based in Nicaragua but the box says is from Costa Rica.
The container was empty when it was gifted to me by a neighbor in West Hollywood shortly after my partner
suddenly passed. There’s not even the faintest smell of a stogie, but there are pushpins and half a dozen
Pete Buttigieg campaign buttons.
The last box contained spices from Penzys and was too durable to toss. So, it’s in my hope chest and has all of my sewing supplies. Remarkably, this box has jumbo-sized spools of thread from my days at Clown College, where we had to make our own graduation ceremony costumes.
It turns out this kind of recycling is more common than I imagined.
A 2021 New York Times essay reports that one popular use for Royal Dansk cookie tins is to repurpose them into sewing kits. Other empty containers used for new reasons are tubs of Cool Whip and Country Crock spread; Bonnie Maman jam jars, and Dannon yogurt containers. Then there’s the 2019 video with actress Mindy Kaling and now Vice President Kamala Harris cooking an Indian crepe called dosa. Setting up in Kaling’s kitchen, the two discovered their parents both stored spices in Taster’s Choice instant-coffee jars.*
The Times article goes on to say that in my parents’ generation, reusing store-bought containers was a common way
to stretch a budget. Indeed, not a lot of families then splurged on brand-name storage products such as Tupperware
or Rubbermaid. Why spend the money when a perfectly solid but now empty holder could be used for something else?
This is absolutely one very good reason why I’ve repurposed my cups, tin and boxes.
But the other, and more important intention, is this.
Each has a relationship to me, and each has a story.
For a writer, there’s nothing better.
* Here’s Mindy Kaling and Kamala Harris bonding over Taster’s Choice jars.