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Upcycle and Never Take out the Trash Again

Upcycle and Never Take out the Trash Again

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

In the age of the 5 R’s—Repurpose, Reuse, Refuse, Reduce, Recycle—we are taking a long, hard look at what we call trash. Before tossing something out, I take a moment and ask myself, “Is there something else I could use this for around the house?” Not surprisingly, the answer is most often “Yes!”

For example, it’s amazing how easy it is to turn plastic canisters into handy containers for the kitchen and bathrooms. Some paint and fabric can turn mismatched chairs and a table into an eclectic dining set. And there is no end to the possibilities for Mason jars and glass bottles.

Let’s Get Creative

It is the latest trend—upcycling, or creative reuse. It’s the process of transforming unwanted products and materials into something useful and often beautiful. Do you remember those school art projects when you would need to save up old tin cans? Well, instead of gluing yarn and sequins to a can, you get out a hammer, nails and some paint. And voilà! You have votive candles with a design or letters.

Don’t think of yourself as artistic or super creative? Not to worry—most projects are simple and allow for mishaps. Remember: You are working on items once destined for the trash, so don’t stress out over mistakes. Also, you can “google” step-by-step instructions to guide you through just about any task.

Pallet Projects

Pallet ProjectsMore industrial folks are building furniture and other useful household items from repurposed wood. Jen Gardner builds beautiful furniture from old wooden pallets. What started out as a bookcase project turned into a thriving small business building rustic farmhouse furnishings using the wood reclaimed from pallets and other items destined for landfills. Way to go, Jen!

And she is not alone. Wood pallets can be transformed into just about anything. Check out all the ingenious things people have made out of old pallets! From straightforward and simple to the more complex and demanding, there are a variety of plans and instructions out there. All you have to do is find the one suited to your skill level.

Here’s a great how-to video from Silverline Tools’ Craig Phillips, for building your own bench from a wood pallet.

Meet the Masons

Mason Jar CraftsAnother mainstay for upcycling is glass jars. Whether they are Mason, pickle or spaghetti sauce, good ol’ glass jars can be used for just about any undertaking you have on your mind. So if you’re considering “dipping your toe” into the upcycling craze, start with a Mason jar (or Ball or Kerr). You can create handy containers or cute home décor with a repurposed jar.

No matter what item ignites your passion for upcycling, you can find a dozen different ways to reuse it. In fact, there are even entire websites devoted to upcycling. One such website, upcyclethat.com, is on a mission to encourage people to repurpose and reuse the materials around them.

Others offer inspiration for trash-to-treasure crafts or slideshows with links to unique upcycled items. The DIY Network also devotes an entire webpage to upcycling and how-to videos for projects anyone can do.


Thanks to websites like Pinterest, you can find lots of great upcycling ideas online. Click here to discover other stuff people have repurposed into something awesome.

comment_2What old stuff did you convert into something new for your home? Tell us what you upcycled in the comments below.


Have you ever given something you upcycled as a gift?

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Kimberley Russell
Kimberley Russell(@kimmie)
4 years ago

I take old ragged jeans (and other clothes) and turn them into quilts, bags, etc. I save greeting cards and use them to make handmade cards & tags. I save the yogurt cups (and other small plastic containers) and use them for paint containers for crafts. Glass bottles (wine, beer & olive oil) get turned into drinking glasses, vases,etc. Old jewelry gets taken apart & used for crafts. Plastic ice cream tubs (and any other large plastic container) gets saved & used in my husband’s shed.

4 years ago

We love these ideas, Kimberley—and all you’re doing to keep re-usables out of the landfill! Keep up the good work!

Sabrina Colburn
Sabrina Colburn(@gracefully-clean)
4 years ago

I have turned old jeans into bottle holders, purses and blankets.

Leigh-Ann Ross
Leigh-Ann Ross(@leighannross)
4 years ago

I love these ideas! I’d love to try and make one of these projects!

Kimlee Perigo
Kimlee Perigo(@kperigo)
4 years ago

Empty glass spaghetti jars become vases for flowers or storage containers for dry detergent, knick nacks or I’ve even planted flowers in them and given as gifts.

Angie Scott
Angie Scott(@gracierie)
4 years ago

I save all sorts of plastic containers to reuse for “organizing” my items. I especially love prescription bottles for sewing needles (keep them out of the hands of small children with the safety tops). I am constantly “thinking outside the box” with everyday items. A “Pinterest Project” involved using an old disposable wipes container (sigh – I know! This was Pre-Norwex!) to hold plastic grocery bags in my car – you never know when one of those will come in handy for dirty clothes, trash picked up on a walk, or any number of other applications. My dad asked me to cut the legs off of old jeans to make covers for his ammunition reloading bench items – dust covers basically. I make Tshirt and other quilts out of memorable clothing. I’ve been known to strip what I can use from an item before trashing the remainder (especially bed sheet wrapping materials – I save the zippers, and have used those in my own sewing projects). My grandmother was a child of the depression, so if there is potential for… Read more »

Tonya Johnston
Tonya Johnston(@tonya-h2oonly)
4 years ago

I used old favorite shirts of my dad’s to make my grandson outfits. Also use jeans to make pocketbooks for gifts.

Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman(@domesticgeekgirl)
4 years ago

I am nowhere NEAR as crafty as I would like to be… every time I try to upcycle something (usually something I found on Pinterest!) it comes out such a fail, haha.. but I keep trying! 😉

Lia Thompson
Lia Thompson(@liashine)
3 years ago

The pallet how to is really inspiring. Nice work Craig and all those who upcycling in their lives. I can’t wait to have a garden n get some joinery work done for a fab pallet bench!