Your Guide to Upcycling Everyday Household Items
It’s time to turn your trash into your treasure.
You can sort your recycling all you want, but the sad reality is that more than 146 million tons of trash end up in landfills every year, with the average American contributing roughly five pounds of trash every day.1
There’s no sugarcoating it — the state of recycling in the U.S. is grim. What’s worse, we can’t really avoid throwing things away. Or, can we?
You might hear Marie Kondo in your head telling you to part with things that no longer “spark joy.” Instead, we challenge you to repurpose those items into things that do spark joy.
Upcycling, also called creative reusing, is a form of repurposing items by transforming them into something perceived to be of greater quality.
To get a better understanding of how creative reuse works, EcoWatch visited the Turnip Green Creative Reuse center in Nashville, TN to learn how they foster creativity and sustainability through reuse.
If you do have things you’d rather part ways with, consider finding a reuse center like Turnip Green. Otherwise, read on to find more ideas for how to upcycle everyday items.
Repurposing Kitchen Items
Feel like you don’t have enough space for everything in your kitchen? Yeah, that feeling is universal. Here are some ideas of how to repurpose old kitchen items to free up some cabinet space.
Cups, Bowls, Etc.
Old cups and bowls have so much more potential for life in them, the list of ideas is endless.
Use them as pencil holders, planters or to make candles. Turn mason jars into light fixtures. Glue a wine glass to an old dish to make a cake stand or an appetizer display. An old coffee pot can become a fish tank, plant pot or terrarium.
Food Storage Containers
If you have mixed-matched Tupperware or can’t seem to find the lid, there are plenty of ways to breathe new life into food storage containers. You can use them as planters, drawer organizers or, if you have the lid, make them into reusable tissue or wipe dispensers.
If you compost, you can use plastic containers in place of an expensive compost bucket.
If your plate is just a bit chipped, you can glue it to a post and make a bird bath for your yard. If it’s shattered, keep the ceramic pieces for a mosaic project, like a picture frame, refrigerator magnets, garden stones or anything else you can think of!
Wine Bottles & Corks
What do bird feeders, lamps, flower centerpieces and wind chimes have in common?
They can all be made out of wine bottles! If you don’t like the color of the bottle, you can paint or frost it, or even use chalkboard paint so you can write on the bottle.
Be sure to hold onto those corks, too. Wine corks can be made into stamps, magnets or keychains. If you have a lot of them, corks can even be used for various household decor items like candle holders, bath mats and succulent planters.
Egg cartons may not be your fanciest upcycled item, but they still can be used for various purposes to stay out of the landfill. Consider using it as a seed starter, ornament organizer, paint palette or make a homemade Mancala board.
Repurposing Bathroom Items
Chances are you go through bathroom items more often than other household items, and a lot of these items can’t be donated. Here are a few ways to upcycle your bathroom things.
Soap & Shampoo Bottles
The first idea is obvious — take empty bottles to your local refillery and fill them up with more soap!
If you’d like to get a bit more creative, you can cut the tops off of soap bottles and paint them to use as pencil holders or unbreakable vases that spruce up your bathroom. A super creative idea — transform them into a sunglasses case.
You can cut your old bath towels and use them as cleaning rags — that way you’re keeping paper towels out of the landfill, too.
If you’re handy with a needle and thread, give your bath towels new life by turning them into a tote bag.
After a toothbrush has served its purpose of keeping your teeth clean, you can use it to keep other things clean. A toothbrush is great for small and hard-to-reach areas, like jewelry, window sills, wood trim, bicycle gears and the spaces around knobs and faucets.
You can also use them to detail your car or brush out dust and crumbs from your keyboard.
Toilet Paper Rolls
Unless you have cardboard-less toilet paper, you probably go through a toilet paper roll every week or so. You can use them for gardening as a seed-starter pot or to protect your seedlings from pests. Or you could rip them up to add to your compost.
You can also consider turning your toilet paper rolls into a bird feeder or stuff them with dryer lint to use as a fire starter for your next bonfire.
Repurposing Bedroom Items
Honestly, we could write a whole article with all of the things you can create out of old linens and clothing items. But here are a few ideas to get your wheels turning.
Old Blankets and Bedding
An obvious choice is to move your old blankets to your car to use as picnic blankets or bench cushions at concerts or sporting events. But if you’d rather upcycle them, you can turn them into shower or window curtains, smocks, aprons, pillows or pet beds.
Another neat idea: make the cloth into a homemade hot pack using rice.
If you’re not as handy with a sewing machine, cut up your bed linens to use as cleaning cloths or rags, or save them for packing material. If you have a garden, cotton sheets make for great natural weed barriers in place of plastic landscaping cloth.
You can turn old shirts into pillowcases, tote bags or even dresses for small children (or dolls). Stuff an old pair of children’s overalls with a bag of sand to use as a doorstop. Or fill a denim pant leg with cotton or linens to use as a draft stopper for doors or windows.
We realize some of these ideas might be reserved for more skilled sewers, but have no fear — there’s a DIY tutorial video for nearly everything on the internet these days!
However, here are a few more ideas that require less crafting:
- Stuff a larger sock with smaller socks and tie a knot at the end to make a dog toy
- Cut strips of cloth to make headbands or hair bows
- Wear socks on your hands to easily clean window blinds or apply shoe polish or furniture stain
- Use socks or cloth to wrap breakable objects when sending packages or putting things in storage
- Use an old shirt as a cheesecloth or a way to strain coffee grounds when making cold brew
- Cut the sleeves off of t-shirts and fringe at the bottom to create reusable tote bags
What to Do If You Can’t Repurpose an Item
There are very few items that can’t be repurposed. If you didn’t find any inspiration from this article, a quick Google or Pinterest search will show you thousands of ideas for how to upcycle everyday household items.
But if you’re trying to declutter your home, remember to think of places you can donate or recycle before throwing anything away. See if there’s a creative reuse center in your city!
How to Recycle Clothes, Jewelry, Etc. In Good Condition
If you have wearable items that are in good condition, you can donate or even try selling them to a consignment store like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, a thrift store or websites like Poshmark or ThreadUp.
Anything that doesn’t sell can typically be dropped off at Goodwill or a local homeless shelter.
How to Recycle Torn, Ripped or Stained Textiles, Towels, Etc.
If you have textiles that are ripped, torn or stained and think you have no choice but to throw them away, think again.
Almost every type of fabric is recyclable, yet only about 15% of the 14.3 million tons of textile waste generated in the U.S. every year is recycled.2
We can change that by turning to textile recycling services that gladly take over-loved textiles for upcycling.
Check out websites like For Days and Retold Recycling — for a small donation, they’ll send you a bag that you can fill with your textiles and ship back to them, typically in exchange for a discount code to their store.
How to Recycle Old Furniture, Wood, Etc.
Moral of the story here: Almost everything you own has the potential for a new life, so think before you toss.