The wellbeing of reusing – the feel good factor
The world is a complex place where everything is interconnected in one way or another. I look at upcycling in a positive but also a holistic way. Upcycling has many meanings for me and I have thought about it more deeply now that it's my business. First and foremost, it means a more sustainable way of consuming items/ products. This belief is evident through my posts on social media. However, upcycling means so much more than just sustainable products.
After spending the last week interviewing my ReCreators for video marketing content, there were several messages around upcycling that were repeated over and over again. Upcycling fosters creativity and the satisfying feeling of making something new, and that this can be as good for the mind as it is for the environment.
Bea Lorimer (HeKe Design) aptly said that most artists struggle to earn a living and it’s in their nature to be frugal with resources and think more innovatively about how they can be used. When using discarded materials, you need to be even more creative in thinking about what the end-product will be. You can’t just tootle off to the shops to buy the exact products you need – instead, the upcycler needs to ponder how they can use the materials they have been given.
From creativity to mental well-being
The next step is linking creativity and innovation to positive mental well-being. We all know that feeling when we have completed something or had a Eureka moment figuring something out. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of being worthy, clever and even inspiring. Each of my ReCreators told me again and again that upcycling provides an avenue of creativity, inspiration and innovation - a time and place where you can lose your thoughts in the process of making something new or learning a new skill. This led to them feeling all those positive emotions associated with achievement.
Losing themselves in their upcycling creativity reminded me of something I recently learned about – the experience of flow, which is when you are completely absorbed in a task. This can be when you are learning a new skill, experimenting, or learning from others. What’s interesting is that flow seems to arise quite readily from pushing yourself to try new experiences and learn new things: stepping outside your comfort zone. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and induce positive well-being.
Upcycling can also represent a creative outlet and refuge from the stress of life: work, kids and the responsibilities of being an adult. It’s a place where a person can be creative and happy with their own company, alone with power tools, a sewing machine, or other creative equipment.
In an age where everything is digitised, we have found that our lives are getting faster and faster. Technological improvements with phones and various apps have made life demand so much more productivity of our time. However, it’s important to slow down and embrace the speed at which we once worked without so much technology. Bring things back to basics. Allow the brain to slow down and think deeply, creatively.
Research around this link
After concluding that upcycling is good for positive mental well-being, I wanted to see if there was any research to back this up. We have all heard about artists over the centuries and possible millennia such as Van Gogh or Paul Gauguin, who struggled with demons.
Research has found that there is a link between mental health and creativity, but not in the way you would think. Although many people who suffer from mental illness are in creative fields, studies have found a weak link between the genetic variants for mental illness and creativity. Having mental illness doesn’t make you more creative; rather, many people who suffer from mental illness are drawn to creative work because it can relieve their mental anxiety, and so this can skew the data surrounding links between mental illness and creativity.
This, to me is the more obvious link between art and mental health. Creativity, discovery, and free play make us feel better. Art allows us to be who we are, in our own way. It’s for fun, for pleasure.
Creativity that is good for the environment
Mental illness is a huge topic of conversation, and I feel that this is a growing issue as we become more focused on technology, phones, social media, and purchasing crap we don’t need. These days we are marketed to heavily to consume. We are told that consumerism is the answer to when we are feeling down. I certainly know the feeling of buying something when I feel a little low. But it’s just a quick fix. I look around at my cluttered house thinking how did I accumulate all of this stuff? – And has it made me any happier?
Now that I am living with stuff (hopefully less) that I have recreated myself, I have a better sense of purpose, and my skills around creating have really improved. Making our lives simpler and learning to create and innovate with stuff we have at home can make us feel happier, more self-sufficient, and more confident in our abilities. More importantly, it can remind us of our childlike creativity, where it’s OK to make mistakes, and teach us a willingness to accept flaws because they are our creations.
When we upcycle items – it is about making/ creating rather than just doing. Upcycling is an adult’s form of free play, a play to enjoy and a space to create. Upcycling can become much more than just a creative outlet, and more than the end product – the mental wellbeing is an outcome in itself through the process of making and creating.
The benefits of upcycling go far beyond the environment around us. The creativity and flow it promotes can be therapeutic for the mind as well. I am a firm believer that to be truly happy in life is to get back to basics. That can include a range of activities from drawing, gardening, painting, and my passion – upcycling. These skills have made humankind happy for millennia. We know that sitting on your phone or playing computer games is not good for you. So why not embrace the child in you and learn to create something from stuff that’s been around you all the time?