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What could be more frugal than repurposing things you already have or can find for free or for just a little money?
Nothing, that’s what! In the spirit of being frugal and being kinder to the environment, here are 9 things you can upcycle.
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is not to be confused with recycling although both are things all of us should do and probably more often than we currently are. Recycling means taking consumer materials like glass and metal and breaking them down so they can be made into new products.
An example would be glass bottles. They can be recycled into things like countertops and tiles, landscaping stones, and highway marking beads (the beads are added to the lines that light up on roadways when your car’s headlights shine on them).
When you upcycle something, you don’t break it down; you repurpose it. Upcycling can be as simple as cutting up old t-shirts to make clothes you use when dusting or wiping down your countertops.
When we upcycle, we are taking a small step to improving the environment. If you aren’t buying something new, less new things have to be manufactured, and the vast majority of manufacturing processes are not green. Every item you upcycle is one less item going to a landfill.
Upcycled items, whether you buy them or make them yourself, are more unique than mass produced things because they aren’t, well, mass produced! There is something to be said for decorating your home or wearing clothes, accessories, or jewelry that hundreds or even millions of other people aren’t decorating with or wearing too.
And of course, there are the frugal benefits which are why you are here! The more items you can upcycle, the less you have to buy.
If that all sounds good to you, let’s start upcycling! Oh, and as a side note. This article will not be about crafting your plastic bags into festive wreaths or anything like that. I’m not very crafty, so this article has more practical advice.
1. Cardboard Tubes
Why throw away all those cardboard tubes that your paper towels, toilet paper, and wrapping paper come wrapped around when you can turn them into these handy things?
-This one is a triple whammy. Stuff those tubes with dryer lint or paper from your shredder and use them as firestarters for your barbecue, campfire, or fireplace.
-Wrap all those cords behind your television around the tubes or stuff the cords inside them so they don’t get tangled and you can keep them organized. Use a marker and write what each cord is on the outside of the tube.
-If you have a skirt or pants that need to be hung up and wrinkle free but you don’t have any of the hangers that have clips, cut a paper towels tube down the middle, slip it over the bottom of a regular hanger, tape the cut, and fold the pants or skirt over the tube. It will prevent the garment from creasing where it comes into contact with the hanger.
-Here’s an upcycling double whammy. Stuff all of your plastic bags inside a cardboard tube to keep them organized. Speaking of plastic bags…
2. Plastic Bags
First of all, cut down on how many you use. If you are buying bananas or avocados in the grocery, they don’t need to be put into a plastic produce bag. And remember to bring your own, reusable carrier bags when you go food shopping or to the drug store. But sometimes, you forget your bags and do need plastic bags.
At least make sure you upcycle them.
-When packing for a move or shipping delicate items, use plastic bags rather than bubble wrap or packing paper.
-If you have zippable cushions on your patio furniture and the stuffing inside starts to wear out or has gotten ruined in a heavy rain, don’t buy new cushions. Stuff the cushions with plastic bags.
-Lay plastic bags under your mulch to deter weeds in your garden.
3. Glass Jars
You don’t have to buy new canning jars. You can often find them in second-hand stores, and you can use the jars that things like roast peppers and mayonnaise come in.
-Put tea light or votive candles in them to make votive cups. Tall jars are great for outdoor lighting, free hurricane lamps!
-Use glass jars as flower vases. If you have short, wide mouth jars, you can float individual flowers like peonies or roses in them.
-Use jars as pots for small plants like herbs and make a windowsill herb garden. Fresh herbs cost a fortune in the grocery store, and you have to buy way more than you can use before they wilt. When you grow your own herbs, you can snip only what you need.
-Fill a jar with all the pens and pencils cluttering up your desk.
4. Plastic Containers
Most of us have tons of these crammed into our kitchen cabinets, old butter containers, plastic containers that coffee comes in, those takeout containers that were just a little too nice to throw away. Put them to use!
-Keep dry goods that bugs like to get into like rice, sugar, and flour in these sealed containers.
-Use them as leftover containers when you want to send guests home with food.
-Use the sealed containers as a place to keep items like matches and batteries when you go camping so they stay dry.
-Fill a container with emergency kit items like band-aids, aspirin, motion sickness medication, and antibacterial wipes and keep it in your car.
5. Eyeglasses Cases
Every time you buy a new pair of glasses or sunglasses, you get a new case. There are lots of ways to use your old cases.
-These cases are great for storing your earbuds and phone charger, so they don’t get lost or tangled in your purse or suitcase.
-Use the case as a tiny clutch purse.
-Glasses cases make great pen and pencil cases.
-Turn your glasses case into a change purse.
-You can use a glasses case to carry your jewelry when you travel. Don’t put it in your checked luggage though.
6. Shoe Boxes
If you have a shoe habit, you have a closet full of these!
-Hang the lid of the box on a nail and stick it full of thumbtacks. You can hang necklaces from the tacks, so they don’t get tangled. You can hang bracelets on there too.
-Use the boxes without tops as drawer organizers for your socks and underwear drawers. All the black socks in one box, the brown socks in another, etc.
-Large boxes like the size boots come in make great under the bed storage drawers for things like extra blankets and sheets or off-season clothing.
7. Clothes Hangers
Everyone who regularly has clothing dry cleaned will have dozens of clothes hangers, er, hanging around.
-Now that you’ve repurposed your glasses cases, you need a place to store your glasses. You can hang several pairs from a wire hanger.
-You can make an interesting installation by hanging clip hangers from nails on a wall and then clipping art prints, photographs, or your kid’s artwork from the clips. As a bonus, you can change what is clipped to the hangers whenever you want, and you’ll get a whole new piece!
-Hook shower curtain rings to a hanger and use the rings to hold your scarves or ties, just thread them through the rings.
-Hang a hanger over a drawer pull in your bathroom and use it to store magazines by draping the pages over the hanger. This looks cute and gets the magazines off the bathroom floor in the dusty old basket you had them sitting in. Less stuff to move when you mop the floor too.
8. Muffin Tins
Maybe you went Paleo and don’t eat muffins anymore, or maybe you just don’t have time to bake. Those muffin tins don’t have to languish in the back of the cabinet.
-This is my favorite one. I drink a green smoothie every morning, and it has a lot of ingredients in it, so it’s a pain to make. I love batch cooking, but you need to drink a smoothie relatively soon after you’ve made it or the vitamins in it start to degrade. But not if you freeze them!
Prep enough ingredients to make a week’s worth of smoothies. Blend them all up in batches, pour the mixture into muffin tins and freeze them solid. Once they’re frozen, pop them out of the muffin tins and put a servings worth into individual plastic bags (that you are upcycling).
Toss a few of the cubes into the blender in the morning (or whenever you drink your smoothie) and boom! Batch cooked smoothies!
This little gem has seriously revolutionized my smoothie making experience! You can save leftovers like pasta sauce and soup this way too.
-When you’ve bought more fresh herbs than you can use before they wilt (because you didn’t take my advice higher up in the article and grow your own!), you can freeze them for later. Pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a muffin tin, add chopped herbs, and freeze. Pop the frozen final product out and store in plastic bags.
When you’re ready to cook with them, just melt a cube in a pot or pan. This is an especially nice way to preserve really good herbs that you bought in the summer at the farmer’s market when they were at their peak. You will appreciate the taste of fresh, summery basil all the more in the cruel depths of winter!
-If you’re having a party or a barbecue, you’re going to need a lot of different condiments, mustard, ketchup, chopped onions, pickles, relish! But you don’t want all those containers and jars cluttering up the table, and you don’t want to leave large amounts of those things sitting out.
Fill up muffin cups with condiments. It’s easier to carry in and out than all those jars too.
-If you are serving drinks from a pitcher at a party, make giant ice cubes in muffin tins to cool the big pitcher of liquid. You can fancy up the cubes too by adding things like lemon or cucumber slices or whole berries. They look pretty and add a little extra flavor to your drink so make sure it’s a complimentary flavor.
-Use a muffin tin as a way to serve a tapas type dinner. What is it about having a wide selection of small amounts of food that is so appetizing? I don’t know but I love eating this way, but I don’t have tons of tiny dishes, and if I did, I wouldn’t want to have to wash all of them.
So you can fill up each spot in the tin with things like olives, cheese cubes, roasted red peppers, almonds, grapes, and cured meat. Everyone loved their meal, and you only have one pan to wash!
9. Coffee Mugs
Are you one of those people who’s souvenir of choice is a coffee mug from wherever it was you are visiting? Then you have a kitchen full of coffee mugs. Or even if you aren’t that person, you still have a kitchen full of coffee mugs. I don’t know where some of them even came from!
And if you’re like me, you drink out of the same mug every morning. I may hold a record here. I have been drinking out of the same Garfield mug since high school. And it’s one of those that I don’t know the origin of since I don’t even like Garfield! Well, you have all those mugs, wherever they came from so you might as start putting them to use!
-Don’t buy a fancy Bluetooth Speaker for your phone. Tip a mug on its side, put your phone inside and turn up the volume. The mug amplifies the sound.
Use a coffee mug to cut perfectly round biscuits or cookies from the dough.
-If you don’t have a lot of fancy cocktail glasses but want to host a party, serve the cocktails in coffee mugs and tell everyone, it’s a Prohibition-themed party! Illegal liquor was still sold in many restaurants during Prohibition, but it would be served in coffee mugs to hide the contents.
-If you have a delicate teacup, fill it with water and float a lit tea light candle in it. Floating candles are always a beautiful way to decorate for a party or a romantic evening.
-If you’re trying to portion control your treats, don’t bake a whole cake. There are tons of recipes online to make individual “mug cakes.” Individual cakes are a fun idea for a party too.
-If your office is still using disposable coffee cups, bring in your extra mugs and encourage your colleagues to use them. Sure they will need to take an extra twenty seconds out of their day to wash them but drinking any drink from a real cup is nicer than drinking from a disposable one, and it’s less waste.
-I always wish I had more than one measuring cup. If you’ve measured something sticky like honey in it and then you need to measure something dry like flour, you have to stop in the middle of your cooking process and wash your one measuring cup. But I’m cheaper than I am lazy so I refused to buy a second cup.
Then I got the bright idea to take one of my extra coffee mugs and make measuring lines on it with a permanent marker. I only did this a few months ago. I wish I had figured this simple trick out years ago!
This is Just a Start
I deliberately made this list a collection of things that any of us could do using things that most of us already have in our homes because I just wanted it to be a starting point. Anyone reading this can do any of these things, no special skill required. But I hope that it will encourage you to upcycle a little more eagerly.
It doesn’t take a lot of skill or effort to take your upcycling up a notch and to start using things like plastic bags to fashion reusable shopping bags and doormats. Who knows? Maybe you will find out you really have a talent for this kind of stuff and the next thing you know; you will have a house that has been completely furnished with upcycled furniture!
Because we could all use a little more money and when we upcycle things we already have rather than buying something completely new, we save money. And we could all do with less stuff and when you reimagine what you already have and use it in a new way, you have less stuff cluttering up your house and your mind.
The next time you are going to throw something away, think of a new way to use it. If you can’t come up with anything, Google a new way to use it! More money and less stuff is good for anyone.