Repurposing – brave questions for realigning to purpose

I just decanted a bottle of shower gel/body wash into the hand soap container in the bathroom. The kids and I, for whatever reason, have an aversion to the ‘fake aloe’ smell of it so nobody had been using it. Across the bathroom, the hand soap had been watered down a bit to go further (life hack or stupidity? As my eight year old kindly pointed out how much ‘further’ it really goes/how far the soap flies….) The shower gel and the hand soap are connected. Neither was a good fit for purpose.

With the help of some essential oils (we chose citrus – lemon, orange and grapefruit) we decanted the body wash to the hand soap container. It now serves a new purpose as a thicker, citrusy hand soap. Through repurposing we have fixed two problems with one solution. A product that was too thin has been thickened and a product that was not being used now gets to be used every day. But ‘purpose’ isn’t really about body wash and hand soap, is it?

What about all of the other things we commit to and don’t use because they don’t look right or ‘feel’ right? The body wash was not to blame for our olfactory choosiness. It could be the perfect product for someone else, a different family maybe – clearly if it had made it to the supermarket it must have passed some quality control testing. It just wasn’t for us. The end users were not a good fit. The context was wrong (potentially it could have been fine as a hand soap because it is further away from our noses). Either way, it was not aligned to its best purpose for us.

Same product, different purposes?

Repurposing prompts brave questions. Is this right for me? Is this a good fit? Could this be better applied elsewhere? The body wash could have been used up diligently but we all would have secretly started to despise the showering experience OR it could be repurposed with a couple of minor tweaks (new scent, new container). We could continue with the status quo of ‘intended use’ (unhappily) or apply it to a new context (happily). What other brave questions are hiding in this story?

Repurposing applies to so much more than body wash. It is feeling brave to ask the questions: Is this right for me? Could this thing be better somewhere else? Is this aligned with its purpose? What little tweaks can I make to make this better?

Purpose is an important part of wellbeing. Whether you look at Ben Shahar’s happiness (hamburger) model, Ikigai as a concept for finding life balance with purpose or Martin Seligman’s PERMA model (which begins with P for purpose) – all of them require that you identify a greater good/future state that is explicitly tied to purpose in order to find happiness. Are you brave enough to notice that your purpose might be misapplied? Are you the body wash? Are you using a body wash that could be better as a hand soap? Have you thought about where your best self might be?

It is a bit of a life audit question. (It isn’t really about body wash). Are you aligned with your best purpose?

Best purpose is a deliberate choice of words. It implies that it is temporal and subject to shifts depending on variables. I could write ‘true’ purpose, but I think that is harder to audit against. Best purpose is best for now. ‘Best’ is a shift you can make today.

Body wash or handwash – the fake aloe stuff was not discarded. It still gets ‘to wash’. It has been repurposed or shifted to a best purpose based on our specific context. It only took a couple of tweaks to fix two problems.

Think about resources, learning solutions, product designs, drawings, essays – any outputs – they can all be shifted in order to align with their best purpose.

Maybe blog posts would be better as a collection of essays in a book? Maybe a painting would be best shared as a digital postcard? Maybe an infographic would be best as a workshop? Maybe your favourite tee shirt has had its time as clothing and is best repurposed to being garden ties? Maybe garden ties would actually be best as tee string for a macrame project? Maybe a poem would be better as an animation? What amazing tweaks might even be possible?

Repurposing, philosophically, is more than recycling. It is timely realigning.

It feels right to talk about timely alignment. For me, school holidays are always a good time to reconnect with whānau, do more hobbies, clear things out, clear things up and realign a little. How can you shift your work to meet your best purpose? What things can you change to align with your best purpose? What needs to be rebalanced or realigned? What is being avoided or averted and not being used at all? Shifting the context, switching the end user, targeting a different need… some little tweaks could have big results when aligned with purpose.

Repurposing is re-purpose-finding. And if the shower gel could feel, I bet it would feel wonderful.

Further reading:

Ben Shahar’s model:

Ikigai – how to find it:

Martin Seligman’s PERMA model:


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