Repurposing: the joy of the toy-box

morning, my mum sent me a photo message showing my poorly eight year old nephew
clutching a well-worn soft toy in the shape of a panda.  Pandan, my nephew used to call him, and for
years he was never far from his side.  I
was always extremely thrilled by how much Joe loved Pandan as I had bought the
toy for him (although it is perhaps more accurate to say that I collected
tokens from the packets of a well-known brand of toilet paper and sent them off
with £1.99 for postage and packaging).

Now Joe is
almost nine, I hadn’t seen Pandan around for a while.  It was so heart-warming to discover that he
continued treasured him and still drew comfort from his frankly manky and
slightly discoloured fur.  It’s funny
which toys find a place deep in our heart and which remain simply

I replied
to my mum’s message saying that maybe Joe will put Pandan in a future toy-box
too, a joking reference to the toy-box that I have recently created.  Over the last few weeks, I have been boring
friends and family talking about my new toy-box (okay, so talking and making them look at it).  

The toy-box
(pictured above) is one of my latest mini-obsessions.  I love it almost as much as I love some of
its contents.  I had thought about
putting something like it together shortly after moving into my new home in
mid-April, having realised that we live in possibly the most un-child friendly
space ever (think lots of potentially dangerous items at low levels and little
to distract curious small people with).
Whilst we don’t have kids of our own, I want visiting children to be at
home here and want their parents to feel relaxed rather than nervous or

One Sunday
afternoon, I read an Apartment Therapy post that mentioned the same toy-box
idea and that was that: I seized the moment and tore round the place gathering
up any suitable items.  Some pencils,
plastic cups, a few children’s books that happened to be in unpacked
boxes.  I had a large basket just right
for the job.  I even remembered the two
hand-knitted rabbits, one of whom featured in my first day at school
photograph, suffocating in a plastic box under the bed.

In the
weeks since, more bits have been added.
I picked up a colouring book from a coffee morning.  My boyfriend put in his childhood chess set.  I’m keeping my eye out for suitable bits
(please someone somewhere get rid of some Lego!) but most of all I’m
encouraging my mum to get up the loft and find more of my actual toys out.  I’ve already begun bringing things from my
parents’ when I visit, including the first book I ever remember, yet I know
there is more still in the attic.  

all these possessions that I’ve never been sure what to do with have had a new
lease of life.  This sense of repurposing
has bought me genuine joy and contentment.
Lots of the standard advice on sentimental items or such like instructs
you to have a clearout, perhaps taking a photograph as a reminder of a
once-prized object.  But is that really
what we always want?  Whilst drowning in
reminders of the past can stop us from getting on with life in the present,
surely we can find ways to forge a new path where we give space to honour our
earlier treasures and let the happiness that they bought us then infuse our
worlds now.

That is
what I feel my new toy-box does.  It is
my own way through.  It isn’t getting rid
of everything, although there will be much from my childhood that I won’t
keep.  Nor is it shoving it all in some
place out of sight (under the bed, the loft, a spare bedroom – preferably in
someone else’s house), hoping to never have to deal with it but also never
getting any pleasure from it.  Seeing
another child being entertained by toys that you also happily played with is a
beautiful sight.

Of course
it doesn’t have to be a toy-box.  This sense
of repurposing can be applied to other possessions too.  What item in your home (or left elsewhere!)
is languishing?  What stuff aren’t you
sure what to do with?  Is it something
that you can breathe new life into in some form or another?

If you like
the idea of upcycling then Pinterest is full of amazing ideas to give you
inspiration; I’ve made a board with some of my favourite ideas.  Not that you have to be artistic or crafty;
if you love reading, can you simply spare some shelf space to your favourite
childhood books?  

It may be
that you decide repurposing actually does involve giving something a new home
or to a new owner.  I used to have a
gorgeous ragdoll that an older cousin made for me when I was born; when she had
a daughter, I passed the doll on to her.

Or do you
need to rethink in a broader way?  Is
there a different way of looking at the item(s)?  It may be that a mental shift is more useful
than a physical transformation.  Old toys
were literally just old toys until I recognised that they still held their
magic for a three year old today just as much as they had for me thirty years

Share your
repurposing below or via Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook
.  If you are finding it difficult to
think differently about a possession and would like some help exploring options
then get in touch too – as a coach, offering a different perspective is part of
what I do!  Again there is social media
or you can email me (  I’d love to hear your repurposing stories.

Journaling with lists: exploring the things that make you happy

As part of my commitment to blogging regularly again in
order to share my work and my ideas, I’ve been thinking back over everything
that I have found useful since beginning my A Life Of One’s Own journey (there’s
more about that journey over here).  I
figure that if it helped me to move away from mass produced ideals of happiness
and meaning towards a life that feels more authentically my own then it could
also be of use to other people!  

Number one on that list of ‘stuff that helped’ was journaling (or journalling, depending on how you want to spell it!).  Journaling underpins it all.  It was one of the first things I started
doing and it remains my go-to as a place to think, explore, imagine and dream.  Whilst I primarily use journaling in a
personal context, it features in my work life as well as I keep a reflective
journal to aide my development as a coach.

‘The practice of journal keeping is being explored as a
way of becoming more aware of the patterns of our inner life, of growing in
self-knowledge and discovering our own gifts and possibilities…Keeping a
journal is just one way…of beginning to re-create your life.  At its most basic it is a decision that your
life has value and meaning and deserves the effort of recollection and
reflection.  It is also a decision that
what you are living and learning is worth recording.’

Jo Farrow, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice

I’m now quite particular and stick to lined, hardback
Moleskines but in the past I’ve used any paper I could lay my hands on, including
loose sheets of A4.  It doesn’t really
matter; what is important is getting thoughts out of your head and down on
paper.  There is something special about actually writing rather than simply thinking particular thoughts or
ideas.  Sometimes it simply brings
relief, like an exorcism from the mind; sometimes a new insight or fresh
perspective emerges.  It can also be pleasurable
in and of itself.  Part of my love of
Moleskines is the delightful feel of my pen on the page.  Journaling can be a creative act, or a prompt
to further creativity.  The inspiration
for this very post came whilst scribbling away in my pad first thing this

There are lots of journaling techniques – it isn’t all
about writing reams and reams of prose.
One tool that I’ve long used is list making.  I’ll simply pick a topic, often wording it as
a question, and then make a list in response.
This can be pure fun but it can bring great clarity and awareness
too.  For example, one of the earliest
journaling lists I made was ‘Places I’d like to visit’.  Fifteen minutes of happy daydreaming that
also highlighted some clear preferences that I hadn’t been aware of before (Japan
over China, for example).  Places to
visit might seem a flippant example but this kind of self-awareness around any
subject can be useful.  You can begin to proactively
shape your life around positive desires rather than feeling pulled in all
directions by myriad possibilities.
Opportunity for a day trip?  I’ll
pick Harrogate, thank you, as I now recognise how much I would like to go there
– thus visiting this place over somewhere else will bring an added level of
contentment by satisfying my own idiosyncratic predilections.  

List making is a discernment process that puts the spotlight
on what you individually are drawn to.
It also has the advantage of being super simple!  If you feel a bit overwhelmed or intimidated
by journaling, it is a great way in.  And
even if you have no desire to journal in a more traditional sense, I’d recommend
giving list making a go to see what it does for you.

Here’s a brief ‘how to’ and a prompt to try:

Using list making as journaling technique

A single word or short phrases, jotted down quickly, in
response to a prompt (e.g. a question or a phrase)

It can be used to explore or reflect on a topic, get
your creative juices going or record something that’s happened (like word

 Don’t think too much about your responses

Don’t worry if you feel repetitive – keep going!

It can be worthwhile to set a target, e.g. five
minutes, fifty words, fill a page

Try out either five minutes, fifty words or fill a page
on: things that make me happy.  

Let me know how you get on! You can comment below or
get in touch via Twitter or the Facebook page.
There’s Instagram too – share a picture of your efforts or comment on