Starting a side business

My Story: One Person's Trash is Another's Treasure

contributed by Donna Napolitan

Having been raised by grandparents who lived through the depression, I learned at a very young age how to look at one person's trash as another one's treasure. Now I am on my own and live in a wonderful little beach community in San Diego.

In Ocean Beach, it is common to find just about anything imaginable discarded in the alleys. About three years ago, while walking my dog, I stumbled onto some discarded wooden wine crates. I dragged them home and set to work figuring out how to convert them into something useful. Using just scrap lumber and leftover hardware, knobs and fabric, I turned that first wooden crate into a storage footstool, which I gave to a friend for her 40th birthday. She suggested that I make more and try selling them at local craft fairs.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. How true it is! As coincidence would have it, my eighth grade son happened to be looking for ways to earn money to help pay for a trip to Washington D.C. with his class. As a single mom, the $1,500 price tag for such a trip was a bit steep, so I told him that I would try making my little footstools and see if they sold. Several hours of research and a few phone calls later, I turned up a ready source of discarded wine crates from a local wine shop, and the wheels were set in motion. Using scrap lumber that I get for free from local builders, I have turned my simple idea into a small crafting success story. I was able to make enough money to help pay for my son's trip and then some in the years since.

Over time, my design has changed and improved, but the overall concept has remained the same. Using about 75% recycled materials, I have been able to produce a unique, one of a kind, customized storage bench, which I call the Pandora's Box. Creating the boxes has become my own personal source of therapy. It feeds my artistic side, while using up what might ordinarily be dumped in our local landfill or used for bonfire wood at the beach. It's a win-win situation. (It's interesting what the right kind of motivation can trigger in one's mind.)

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by email to

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor: Click Here

Take the Next Step

  • Spend half an hour thinking about what you have in abundance that could turn into a money-maker

Debt Book
Stay Connected with TDS

Do you struggle to get ahead financially?

Surviving Tough Times is a weekly newsletter aimed at helping you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources.

Debt Checklist

And get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble?
A Simple Checklist and What You Can Do About It
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.

Debt Book