I love alley cruising. Driving down alleys, looking for “treasure”. Things that can be upcycled, recycled, recreated, saved from the landfill to live another day. I have a whole collection of these projects spilling out in my backyard, waiting for my creative touch to bring them up into the world again.
It’s like an unspoken rule in Calgary, that you leave things beside the garbage bins or dumpster. Things that are still usable and free. I found this out shortly after moving here at age 19, back in 2004. Milk crates were my first foray into alley treasure. I made a whole entertainment centre out of milk crates. As life went on, more and more treasures were found. Some need little to no love and are usable right off the bat. Others need some work, some lots of work and some are, well, just beyond saving. I always stop and scope them out before hauling them off. I’ve learned to be realistic about my resources in fixing and recreating. And some things are way beyond my resources. I’m always open to learning the skills, trying new products and procedures. I just have to know when to say no. Kenny Rogers gave me some great advice…”Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” Or in my case, leave them in trash.
It takes mere moments to see what the damage is, what might need to be done. There’s an instantaneous flash of inspiration. I load it up and the thrill of finding treasure looms in my system. Ideas start popping into my head, all the what if’s and could be’s. All the things I could do with this new thing! When I pull the item out to work on it, that’s when it coalesces down into a more clear idea. Dismantling it, getting into the work, that’s when I hit flow and the picture forms in my mind. This is where I want to take this. This is the final product I want to strive for. I’ve worked in construction for 15 years now, and one thing I have learned is that you can have a well laid plan for anything, but there will always be hiccups, hitches and hard spots. Sometimes it’s not going to be just like that picture in my mind. That’s where creative problem solving comes in and it’s pretty fun and wildly satisfying to overcome. Each thing you overcome gives you another experience to feed off of later. So, yes, have a clear idea, a loose plan, and take it step by step. Sometimes it goes smoothly. Sometimes it fights you tooth and nail. But it’s worth it. Research is a person’s best friend when you’re about to embark on a process you don’t know much about. Instagram and YouTube have loads of people who are doing crazy stuff and are inspiring and informative. Plus, it tends to give you even more ideas to put in the bank. I also know and never expect it to be a one day thing. And know that’s ok and that I’m going to have to break this up into chunks so it can get done. Time is a hot commodity and rarely do I have 8 hours to kill on one project at one time.
So I’ve done the thing, did the work, made it fancy. I’ve upleveled that alley find into some real fine ass treasure. If I’ve done all that work, you bet your bottom I’m gonna love it for a hot minute before I release it out into the world. And if you’re a maker/creator/seller like me, just know sometimes people will always see it as garbage, sometimes people will think you’re crazy, sometimes people want brand new things instead. Keep saving and recreating “junk” because the world needs it and it needs you and me to keep breathing life into the old and unwanted. From start to finish, the path is exhilarating. It’s an ultra satisfying process. I highly encourage you to grab that dresser, table, whatever it is you find, scope it out, take it home and create something wild and new.