My Old Cubby

My Shabby Cubby Project, by Shery JespersenWhen I was a wee lassie, I thought it completely normal that each day would begin with a trip to the local dump. I spent much of my early childhood in my Grampa’s shadow and nearly every day, weather permitting, we went to the dump on a scavenger hunt. He and Gramma grew up in the homestead era and then spent much of their adult life just trying to get by. Gramma waited 5 long years for her true love to come home from WWI. They began their life together scratching out a living as ranchers. Before they were wed, Grampa told her that he could afford either a new Hamley saddle or a wedding ring, but not both. My Gramma, then his young, auburn haired bride was ranch savvy and she chose the saddle! As young adults, they faced very tough times…the Great Depression, The Dirty 30s, and WWII. As a result, they became members of what is now referred to as ‘The Greatest Generation’. They were people who enjoyed life even in the midst of doing without most, if not all, of life’s luxuries.

By the time I was old enough to hang out with my Grandfather (1960s), he was well into retirement. He was very active though and loved building and fixing things. That is where the city dump came in…

We scavenged through the litter and brought our found treasure home. I spent many an afternoon pounding old, rusty nails straight on the cement floor of their garage. Mind you, at that time in their lives, my grandparents didn’t need to be so frugal. But, old habits are hard to break. I loved their lifestyle and to this day my childhood memories spent with my grandparents are golden moments that I cherish.

Gramma always held her hand over the toaster slots while the bread was toasting. If she forgot, the toast would be flung to the far side of the dining room. Why, you ask? Well, the spring inside the toaster had failed, but back then you could repair small appliances and that’s exactly what occurred. However, the spring that Grampa used to replace the old one was stout and now you know why Gramma had to keep vigil. More than once did I witness air born toast overhead, like it had been shot out of a cannon.

Grandpa made so many useful things from either nature or ‘junk’. He made beautiful lamps from cedar and all the electrical parts were recycled. My little sister’s child-sized Victorian era rocker was also a dump find. Grampa lovingly refinished and rebuilt it.

This brings me to my most recent reclamation ‘junktique’ – an old medicine chest saved from the dump. A good cleaning, some sanding, paint and vintage decals transformed it into a cute bathroom cubby. I think Grampa would be pleased. I’m so grateful that he taught me to look for things whose value could be restored. Whether it was a wounded bird or old junk, he taught me well the practical application of the word ‘redemption’. “New” isn’t nearly as satisfying as having played a role in giving something new life. Now I know why my grandparents never abandoned a ‘make do’ lifestyle. It isn’t just needful in lean times, it is responsible living and just plain rewarding.

The Shabby Cubby

  1. Reba says:

    I love junktiquing and finding ways to create a "new" use for items that have been discarded. It brings a sense of accomplishment and creativity to my life. It also allows me to put my own personality into the way something looks making it unique and one of a kind.

  2. That is really pretty! I am sitting here wondering where you found those great decals. Wonderful story about your grandparents. My dad’s parents were dairy farmers and I remember how frugal they were. Our grandmother made quilts. And most of them were tied patchwork made out of leftovers from clothing she sewed for herself or someone else. Not like I do when I go out to pick out just the right fabric and only for that purpose. I do like to re purpose things also. I have a few just waiting for some loving care.

  3. Debbie says:

    Yay for wonderful make-do projects and thinking too! You were fortunate to be able to soak up " that way of living" with time spent with your grandparents…
    I like to think it is a wonderful way of honoring your creativity while being resourceful. Not to mention very satisfying and easy on planet to boot.
    Love your cubby project! 🙂
    I hope you will show more in future posts!
    Happy Creating~

  4. TJ says:

    We too went treasure hunting in the dump. I got a nice birdhouse and Chatty Cathy Doll. Now a days they have made it against the law to remove anything from the dump. Which is very sad when I see perfectly good furniture being sent to the dump that is better then what is in my house. Why do people trash good things when they can donate and they would even come to pick it up for free.

  5. Ginny says:

    Your grandparents story reminds me of my 25th wedding anniversary present. I wanted and got a roto-tiller(not sure I spelled it right). Its those little things that count!!

  6. Suzy says:

    That turned out great and I’m sure you’re Grandpa would be pleased!!! I’m afraid if we all don’t bet back to more of their "old" ways that this country is doomed!

    The Simple way is always best!!!! 🙂

  7. Kady says:

    What wonderful memories you have of your grandparents. We could all learn lessons from them. Love your "shabby cubby". I love searching for treasures at thrift stores and flea markets too. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  8. Isabel says:

    This brought tears to my eyes and memories from my heart. I was raised by my grandparents who always brought home whatever they found at the dump or someone threw away! I am not country, but born & raised in a very small S. TX town where life was hard.To this day, though I have lived in Houston for 40 years, I still pick up anything worth saving that someone has thrown away. I learned recyling when it was not fashionable! Imagine that…

  9. Heidi says:

    That old wall chest is too cute! You are very talented. It makes me feel better in my quest of old "junk" that others see the beauty in "old stuff". I have a hard time buying new and prefer something with a little "history". My Father also liked to "fix it up".

    Thank you for sharing. Heidi

  10. Beverly says:

    I love the stories and the use of the word "redemption" – So many of our stories are lost because we are too busy to spend the time with our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. Our nursing homes are full of stories that need to be captured. One of the websites where you can learn how to start the process hhtp://
    Engaging your children in the process is a wonderful way to build character and relationship with your child.
    It is easy to print your own history book – my favorite
    Love your blog – keep inspiring us.

  11. Stacy says:

    Hi Shery,

    Your cubby is adorable and your horse is a beauty. You are a lucky woman!

  12. Nancy J says:

    Dear Shery,

    As I read ALL my e-mails from MaryjanesFarm, there have been so many Farmgirls that have been as if I was speaking from my heart of memories. I was raised down the street from my Grandparents. And I was a Pop-Pop & Mom-Mom girl. I loved going to their home, all the time, where I always felt loved. But after reading this article, I am over whelmed with memories…But also, thankfulness, that I had this life. Now, there isn’t a dump, but I am showing my grand-daughters what I was blessed to learn. Maybe, some day, they will tell their grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your heart of memories…

  13. Maggie says:

    I loved your "dump days with Grandpa" story! When my husband and I married 37 years ago, we would go to the dump periodically and search for treasures. I found a small 2 drawer chest. I use it in my sewing room all the time and I will never get rid of it. It reminds me where I came from, very humble beginnings: growing up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, and makes me grateful for all I have now. I live on 1 1/4 acres in a small community in Texas, just southwest of Dallas. My husband and I have moved many, many times in our 37 years together, and this is our last home and it’s as close to country as we can get, considering where we live now.

  14. Kim Denn says:

    Wow! Your grandparents sound just like my father’s parents!! My grampa taught me things similar to what yours taught you; he just taught them in Colorado instead of Wyoming. And indeed those are some of my most cherished memories.

  15. Lis Recusant says:

    Ooh, I love your Shabby Cubby! I remember going dump scrounging with my father once a long time ago when I was very little, in the San Francisco Bay Area (this would have been during the early 70’s). I don’t do that anymore, but I am an avid Freecycler – I hate to throw away perfectly good stuff that someone else might be able to use. By the same token, I have gotten all kinds of useful stuff from fellow Freecyclers. When we lived in Ohio, I was even known to stop and pull things off of people’s trash piles that they’d put out for the garbage truck, take them home, and try to find them new homes through Freecycle. I just hate to see a perfectly good piece of furniture or whatever end up in the landfill when all it needs is a little TLC to be beautiful and useful again. Unfortunately, this drives my husband up a wall. Where I see potential, he only sees junk. He would rather throw something out and go buy a new one than try to find a way to salvage the old one. Now that the economy is so awful, and our financial situation is much more precarious than it had been in the past, I am even more adamant about using the last drop of something, or repairing things or fixing them up instead of just going and buying new. I find it very frustrating, but I guess it’s partly because I’ve been thinking about this issue longer – both the environmental implications of our over-consumerist, throw-away culture, and also the social and economic implications. Our entire economy and society are built on convincing people to buy things they don’t really need, even if they have to go into debt to afford them. What if people stopped buying all this stuff? What if people stopped buying into the idea that they have to buy all this stuff, that new is better, that it’s perfectly acceptable for an appliance you spent good money on to stop working and have to be replaced after a couple of years because it can’t be repaired? What if we took back our financial health and our power, and stopped being slaves to the consumer culture? I’m sure this is the kind of thing that gives CEOs nightmares, but sadly, my experience to date suggests they have nothing to fear – the consumer habit is an extremely difficult one to kick, and most people don’t even realize it’s a problem. When even my own husband looks at me like I’ve got three heads because I brought home a gorgeous antique end table made of solid wood that just needs a little refinishing and TLC, I know we’ve got our work cut out for us. Spread the good word, sister! I’d love to hear about some of your other finds and projects!

  16. Mary Jo Greer says:

    I applaud anyone who aspires to frugality and the preservation of things from the past! I have reclaimed many items from curbside and dumpster myself! (Shhhhh! Hubby does not understand so much.) It is a rewarding work, reviving a useful thing from the past. Once proudly beheld as new by it’s original owner, now an item with a past….it is embraced once more by a joyful owner!

  17. madgardener says:


  18. Coreen Hart says:

    You did a beautiful job, Shery! My husband and I are very good at recycling, too. We once tore down an old proving-up shack and built a chicken cook from it. Our doors are made of scrap wood. Quilts are made of scrap fabric. We wash plastic bags and re-use them. And so on. No, we don’t have to anymore, but it seems to us we are doing our part to reduce waste and damage to the ecology. So let’s all keep it up. Let’s keep our land healthy for the next generation!

  19. Grace~katmom says:

    Oh Shery,
    I LOVE your grandparents…for the wonderful values they gave & shared with you.
    Re-purposing old discarded items is so gratifying.
    I too love to go "junktiquing" especialy at 2nd hand stores….and two things I always keep in mind..
    1. Spray paint is your friend….
    2. Show No Fear!
    It’s amazing what we can do when we roll up our sleeves, dig in and have fun!
    Your cubby turned our beyond cute!
    So, what are you working on now? after all, it’s snowing over here so I am guessing it’s probably snowing where you are too! Perfect time for indoor projects!
    farmgirl hugz

  20. Little Sister Beth says:

    Shery, I remember when you & I went w/Grampa on many occasions rindin’ in the back of that ol’ green truck out to the dump! The treasures we found were wonderful in our eyes, but I do remember Grama looking at us like we had a screw loose at times! LOL

    The violet-purple glass shards, rare old marbles, bottle caps, odds and ends, bits of this & that…nuthin’ that really made sense — it was just quirky stuff, or had potential to be used…later. Grampa was able to see potential in most things, much to Grama’s chagrin. He truly was a tinker-er.
    How I relish that he shared his gift of innovation & taught us to look for and see that most things hold potential…if only you take a moment to look, you’ll find an idea. I have used that lesson almost daily, which also explains why I have no storage room! ‘Potential’ surrounds me no matter where I turn. Sometimes it does feel like a curse, because I can’t turn off the ‘potential’ button. *sigh* Time to pass on the potential. Any takers?

  21. Julie says:

    Your story brings back wonderful memories for me. My grandma used to take me "dumpster diving". We would go down to the shopping center and find treasures in the dumpsters. It was wonderful fun! She decorated her house with many of these finds. Your grampa reminds me so much of my father-in-law. He was always making things out of stuff laying around in the garage or wherever. He also fixed things rather than buying new. My kids loved the stuff he made better than anything from the store. These are the the kinds of things that make life so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

  22. Elisa says:

    My dad was a child of the depression era. When I was growing up my brother and I would go with my dad to the dump each week to dump our trash and sift through everyone else’s. We, too, grew up learning how to "make do".

    My husband is very handy in this area. He makes many wonderful and useful items from other people’s junk. Our girls have spent their share of time dumpster diving. 🙂

  23. Bonnie says:

    Sherry: Your Cubby is adorable. Good job. Our most precious moments are spent with love.


  24. Mary Frances says:

    What a great story and a beautiful finished project. I too am wondering where you found the decals. My grandpas "dump" was his garage. He would bring home treasures form auctions and they sat in his garage for years just waiting for me to be old enough to bring them home, refurbish or re-purpose them and cherish them for years to come. Thanks for the memories !! mfb

  25. Candy says:

    Sherry- I like the cubby! It’s so nice to read that others are trying to "make do" and renovate rather than buying something. I always feel like I’m the only one that thinks this way! I, too, wash plastic bags and re-use them and use our old, damaged clothes to make quilts or dog beds. Frankly, I love the sense of self sufficiency!

  26. nameTheone says:

    Shery, Hi, I got excited when I saw your blog on MaryJanes site. My parents and grandparents were from Torrington, Wyoming and My sister’s name is Sherrie. So I felt sort of connected to you right away. I live in California in the city trying to get to the country soon, and will look forward to peeking in now and then. Thank-you Theone

  27. Kathy says:

    Hi Sherry!

    Your blog is great. I am a newcomer to your site. In Alaska we called it "dumpster diving". The ‘open’ dump in our town closed about 25 years ago to be replaced by a baler system – no chance for exploration unless you looked in the dumpsters located at the harbor or someplace with common access. BUT when I was a girl we lived on a ranch in the high desert in eastern Oregon and guess what? We lived ‘out by the dump’. And the dump was a good old-fashioned dump. Just kind of out in the middle of nowhere and you drove around in a circle and threw out whatever you wanted and could also walk around and take your pick of things to bring home. The climate was so dry it wasn’t icky really – things just kind of dried up and blew around. On one spot on our property there was an old dump all covered over from years of erosion and wind. We spent hours looking through rusted cans and pottery shards. Then it was ‘discovered’ by outsiders looking for bottles, etc. and it became a real issue as they would come in and set up large screens to dig and sift – range archeologists! (kind of). Unfortunately they would cut fences to get in and since it was a ways from the house we never knew what was going on until too late and cattle were out. We actually had to patrol that section regularly to keep the fences up and repaired and the cows in. What a deal – but wow – you bring back great memories. Thanks! I’ll stay tuned.

  28. Tanya says:

    I always enjoy your articles in the Weston County Gazette (I’m a former Upton resident), so I look forward to reading your blog!

  29. Sheri says:

    I too remember going to the dump with my Grandpa in Idaho in the 1960’s. The ride in his old pickup was always full of anticipation about what we might find on the way to the dump and glee over what we had found on the way home! I remember these outings much more fondly than just about any other shopping trip I’ve ever taken! Thanks for reminding me about finding the beauty in things that are cast off.

  30. Pam says:

    I loved the story. I am the same way. I love going to the dump…recycle.

  31. Diane says:

    Love your story. When I was a kid my grandpa owned the town dump! I think recycling is way more creative than just buying new and sometimes you end up with projects way better than the new ones. For example, I was in need of a new faucet for my kitchen sink. I found a "new" one at a flea market, it really was unused in the box, but about 30 years old and priced at 10 bucks. I brought it home and my husband installed it, but it didn’t really fit, the base was smaller than the old one and the hole showed on the top of the sink. So my husband got the idea to cut a piece of sheet copper in an oval shape and place it under the new base. It looks great and everybody who sees it thinks it’s a custom sink. It is! I just love making do.

  32. Sally Freeman says:

    Oh Shery, what a wonderful piece on my Uncle Ed and Aunt Bernice, your grandparents. I am blessed with two of his gorgeous lamps. One he made for my father and the other one he made for a wedding present when I got married, some 46 years ago. They were quite a couple. Sometime I would love to read an article about your Grandmother’s cooking abilities. I can still taste her homemade noodles, bread and apple pie! Weren’t we lucky to be kids then?
    Much love and keep having fun!

  33. Carolina Sarceno says:

    Dear Shery,
    I love to read your stories. They give me hope. Frugality is spoken about as if it is a modern day sin. I must say that my family falls below the federal poverty level, but I have this little computer (pocketbook), and a roof over my head, land, and love. I have all that one needs to survive. I have been modifying my clothes to make them look ‘modern’. I am frugal. I thank God that he blessed me with the talent to sew. I have began a huge endeavor to start my own sewing business and selling produce. People love my jalapeno chili and salsa, and my sewing. Now, why not make money? Your stories gives me hope. I see your cubby and you inspire me that this frugality is truly art. Who else can see beauty in someone else’s trash? Thank you for inspiration. I AM GOING TO GO FORWARD with my business, and restyle and alter and sew old into new. I will bring out the beauty in someone else’s discards!! Thank you for helping me see the art in my business. I have NEVER thought of myself as artistic, and am far away from the Martha Stewart type crafts, but I know I can sew well, and can bring out a good business. Now I am ready to look forward to writing a business plan. I live on an acre of land, how can I be poor? Sometimes people give wrong titles to poverty and richness. I feel like I am the richest person in the world to have land!!!! My husband and I are planting our seeds for the future, figuratively and literally. I get inspired each time I read your stories. Keep us motivated!!
    Su lectora loyal,
    Your loyal reader,

  34. Howdy, Shery,
    I enjoyed your story so much…partly because your memories of grandparents and childhoold adventures were familiar to mine. I feel blessed that I had that connection with grandparents that taught life lessons just by being. I also enjoyed your story for the pictures that you paint with your words.
    Thank you for your uplifting, comforting picture stories.
    A new fan,

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